Quake-hit nuclear plant ‘must be cooled’

2011-03-12 11:50

Hong Kong – A US radiation expert says cooling is the key to averting disaster at the quake-hit nuclear plant in Japan, it was reported today.

The Fukushima No. 1 plant, located about 250km northeast of Tokyo, was hit by an explosion today, raising fears of a radioactive meltdown, a day after a huge quake damaged its cooling system.

Ron Chesser, director for the Center of Environmental Radiation Studies at Texas Tech University, was the first American scientist allowed inside the exclusion zone in 1992 in Ukraine following the Chernobyl disaster.

“The fact they’re having trouble cooling the reactors is going to trigger an emergency,” Chesser told the ScienceDaily website in the US.

Chesser said that though reports have said the plant’s reactors were shut down safely, the reactors must still be cooled constantly to avoid a meltdown of the core.

“There are certain trigger points for declaring an emergency at nuclear reactors. Reduction in cooling capacity would be one of those. Release of radiation would be another.

“Reactors are not like your car that you can turn off and walk away. They’re going to continue generating a great amount of heat until the core is disassembled.

“Without cooling water, then you stand a real chance of a meltdown of core that could result in a large release of radiation, potentially.”

Chesser, who has toured a smaller Japanese nuclear power plant in Chiba, added that Japanese designers put many precautionary measures and contingency plans in place to ensure reactor safety in the event of an earthquake.

“I was very much impressed with the amount of attention to safety, especially regarding potential of earthquakes,” he said.

“I was a little bit surprised when I saw they had a looming crisis at the Fukushima power plant just because of all the great attention the Japanese pay to earthquake safety.”

Also, the Fukushima reactors appear to have containment vessels over them, unlike those in Chernobyl, he told the publication.

“Any time you have a nuclear facility that size that is not meeting requirements for cooling, you have a real emergency on your hands,” he warned.

“My great hope is that they are going to be able to rectify this quickly enough that they can maintain cooling capacity,” Chesser said.

“I think that a reactor meltdown could be a major disaster, especially in a highly populated country such as Japan. It would be a real setback when we are battling to find alternatives to fossil fuels considering the potential that nuclear energy has.”

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