Nuclear Power Problems Could Produce Massive Blackout in Tokyo

Mar 17, 2011, 07:45

With nuclear power plants down, a massive blackout could envelop the Tokyo area because of increased power demands due to cold temperatures. On Thursday, the Japanese government warned its people of this possibility.

The possibility of the blackout was raised even as Tokyo Electric Power Co. called for rolling blackouts for a fourth consecutive day Thursday in parts of the Kanto region to counter power shortages in the aftermath of last week's 9-magnitude earthquake, Kyodo News reported.

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Banri Kaieda said a massive blackout could occur despite power-rationing.

Some areas in the Kanto region Thursday could expect scheduled blackouts twice, Kyodo reported.

Meanwhile, the radiation level after a water drop on the No. 3 reactor of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant Thursday was unchanged, said TEPCO, the plant's operator. The water drop was an attempt to cool down the reactor's apparently overheating fuel pool to prevent highly contaminated radioactive materials from escaping.

On the ground, Tokyo police were prepared to spray water with a water cannon truck as the focus of the nuclear crisis shifted to pools storing spent fuel rods at all six reactors in the plant. After Friday's deadly earthquake and tsunami, the facility's fuel pools lost their cooling capabilities.

The plant has been rocked by damaging fires and explosions since the quake, prompting an evacuation of residents within a 12-mile radius of the plant.

Tokyo Electric said it plans to install a temporary electric power source to try to recover the function of pumps that send water to the reactor cores and pools, Kyodo said. A company official said the plan has a "high potential" to be successful, and if it is, power to the plant could be resumed quickly.

The U.S. military is ready to operate an unmanned high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft to capture images inside the building that houses the No. 4 reactor, the Japanese government said.

The plant has six reactors, three of which were shut down for a routine check prior to Friday's disaster.

CNN reported the utility increased the number of workers at the site Wednesday from 50 to 180.

The hydrogen and other blasts have destroyed the buildings housing the reactors at No. 1, No. 3 and No. 4, and damaged the containment vessel's pressure-suppression chamber at the No. 2 reactor.

TEPCO has said an estimated 70 percent of the nuclear fuel rods have been damaged at the No. 1 reactor and 33 percent at the No. 2 reactor.

Gregory Jaczko, head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, told U.S. lawmakers Wednesday Japan's nuclear plant threat was greater than the Japanese government disclosed and "radiation levels are extremely high, which could possibly impact the ability to take corrective measures."

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, the Japanese government's main spokesman, was quoted as saying Thursday there had been "a slight delay conveying to the U.S. side the information about whether or not there is water'' in the pool holding spent fuel rods.

In Vienna, the International Atomic Energy Agency said on its Web site, "The concern about the spent fuel pools at Fukushima Daiichi is that sources of power to cool the pools may have been compromised."

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano announced he would travel to Japan "to see the situation for myself and learn from our Japanese counterparts how best the IAEA can help."

The agency will send its expert team to Japan as soon as possible, he said.

The confirmed death toll and roll of missing from Friday's earthquake and tsunami already has exceeded 10,000 and is expected to increase.

Source: UPI