The nuclear reactor situation in Japan has deteriorated significantly. Two more explosions occurred at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on March 15.
The first occurred at 6:10 a.m. local time at reactor No. 2, which had seen nuclear fuel rods exposed for several hours after dropping water levels due to mishaps in the emergency cooling efforts. Within three hours the amount of radiation at the plant rose to 163 times the previously recorded level, according to Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.
Elsewhere, radiation levels were said to have reached 400 times the “annual legal limit” at reactor No. 3. Authorities differed on whether the reactor pressure vessel at reactor No. 2 was damaged after the explosion, but said the reactor’s pressure-suppression system may have been damaged possibly allowing a radiation leak. After this, a fire erupted at reactor No. 4 and was subsequently extinguished, according to Kyodo. Kyodo also reported the government has ordered a no-fly zone 30 kilometers around the reactor, and Prime Minister Naoto Kan has expanded to 30 kilometers the range within which citizens should remain indoors and warned that further leaks are possible.
(click here to enlarge image)
Reports from Japanese media currently tell of rising radiation levels in the areas south and southwest of the troubled plant due to a change in wind direction toward the southwest. Ibaraki prefecture, immediately south of Fukushima, was reported to have higher than normal levels. Chiba prefecture, to the east of Tokyo and connected to the metropolitan area, saw levels reportedly two to four times above the “normal” level. Utsunomiya, Tochigi prefecture, north of Tokyo, reported radiation at 33 times the normal level measured there. Kanagawa prefecture, south of Tokyo, reported radiation at up to nine times the normal level. Finally, a higher than normal amount was reported in Tokyo. The government says radiation levels have reached levels hazardous to human health. Wind direction, temperature, and topography all play a crucial factor in the spread of radioactive materials as well as their diffusion, and wind direction is not easily predictable and constantly shifting, with reports saying it could shift west and then back eastward to sea within the next day. It is impossible to know how reliable these preliminary readings are but they suggest a dramatic worsening as well as a wider spread than at any time since the emergency began.
The Japanese government has announced a 30-kilometer no-fly zone and is expanding evacuation zones and urging the public within a wider area to remain indoors. The situation at the nuclear facility is uncertain, but clearly deteriorating. Currently, the radiation levels do not appear immediately life-threatening outside the 20-kilometer evacuation zone. But if there is a steady northerly wind, the potential for larger-scale evacuations of more populated areas may become a reality. This would present major challenges to the Japanese government. Further, the potential for panic-induced individual evacuations could trigger even greater problems for the government to manage.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this piece incorrectly stated that the fire at the No. 4 reactor took place at a facility in Daini. It also incorrectly reported the range of the government’s no-fly zone as 20 kilometers. The piece has since been corrected.
Read more: Red Alert: Radiation Rising and Heading South in Japan | STRATFOR