UPDATED: What is going on in Japan’s Nuclear Power Plants

*update March 16 at 10:06am EST: Click here for an updated list of the state of each reactor

*update March 15 at 10:52pm EST: Japanese officals said the workers have suspended operations because the levels of radiation is to high. It is unclear if the workers have left the building but they “have evacuated to a safe area.” This is not good news

*update March 15 at 2:30pm EST: There are MANY updates in the last two hours so I will try to summarize here. The Union of Concerned Scientists also said a “jerry-rigged” cooling system at the Japanese plant would be hard to maintain if all workers there were evacuated (There are only 50 left there now). Nuclear power and safety experts at the group said they were “very concerned” that ongoing activities at the plant would become more challenging for on-site workers. A larger radiation plume could travel hundreds of miles (km), the scientists said in a telephone briefing. France has advised their nationals there to leave the country and other multinational companies are considering relocating their staff in Toyko, Japan to other parts of the country or out of the country.

*update March 15 at 11:15am EST: France’s ASN nuclear safety authority’s assessment the situation Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant as a 6 out of 7 after Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said radiation had spread from the four stricken reactors. Two reactors exploded on Tuesday at the plant after days of frantic efforts to cool them. Level seven was used only once, for Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986. The 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania was rated a level five. The current situation in Japan is seens as an “in between” Chernobyl and Three Mile Island because on Three Mile Island, the radiation leak was held inside the containment shell — thick concrete armor around the reactor. The Chernobyl reactor had no shell and was also operational when the disaster struck. The Japanese reactors automatically shut down when the quake hit but the containment shell is believed to be comprimised on at least one of the reactors.

*update March 15 at 9:30am EST: MSNBC reports that the nuclear reactors in Japan are now leaking 100 times more than the normal level or radiation. The Prime Minister has ordered 140,000 residents (in a 19 mile radius near the plant) in to seal themselves indoors today after an explosion and a fire dramatically escalated the radiation levels directly into the atmosphere. A fourth reactor that had been shut down before the quake caught fire Tuesday and more radiation was released. The fire was put out. Even though the fourth reactor was shut down, the fire there was believed to be the source of the elevated radiation. Citing information it had received from Japanese authorities, the International Atomic Energy Agency said dose rates of up to 400 millisievert per hour had been reported at the Fukushima power plant site. It did not give details or comparisons on the radiation level, but the yearly background radiation from natural sources is estimated at around 3 millisieverts, a unit the IAEA uses to measure doses of radiation received by people.

*update March 15 at 8:15am EST: Reactor 4 is now compromised CNN is reporting. There was a fire at that reactor over night which is now reported to be out. Reactor 2 continues to have the most issues and may have let out higher than healthy levels of radiation in the last 24 hrs, however nothing has been confirmed. Tokyo is reporting higher radiation levels and residents are encouraged to cover as much of their skin as possible, wear masks, and take all clothes of clothing lines. The winds are blowing the radiation in the opposite direction of Tokyo at this time. The situation at the plant is being presented by the Japanesse government as more dire than before.

*update March 14th at 3:05pm EST: MSNBC is reporting that for the 3rd time today water levels have gone so low as to expose the core of reactor 2. Officals feel that the fuel rods are likely melting down. They are considering spraying water directly on the container to cool it. Officals say they cannot confirm but they suspect all three are melting as all have seen water levels drop at times today. There is debate in the scientific community as whether these events should be classified as meltdown or not.

*update March 14th at 12:15pm EST: The BBC is now reporting the the most severly damaged reactor is reactor 2 and that its core was exposed for an unknown amount of time following the explosion at reactor 3. The core of reactor 2 is now being pumped with sea water but there was a lag in the systems ability to “cover” the core when 4 of the 5 fire pumps that pump teh water into the reactors were damaged by the explosion it simply could not keep up with the demand. Obviously issues getting more material and supplies to the plant is difficult due to the devastation in the area and only making issue harder to resolve.

*update March 14 at 11:34 am EST: NY Times is reporting that radioactive release could continue for weeks or months because the operators of the reactors have little choice but to release radioactive steam into the atmosphere to keep the cores of the 3 reactors in danager cool and prevent a meltdown. Reports continue to say that the levels are “low” and are “lower than what is required to notification to authorities.” The US has moved its naval ships further away from the power plants, they were already 100 miles away and registering contamination from their crew members who flew on relief missions. The wind is currently blowing the steam towards the Pacific Ocean not towards land and officals feel at this point it has no threat to the US including Hawaii and Alaska.

*update Monday, March 14th 8:20am EST: explosion confirmed and recorded at reactor 3. Damage confirmed to reactor 2 from explosion issues related to the cooling of that reactor, explosion like 1 and 3 possible. 6 people injured in blast. US moves ships further away from nuclear plant after servicemen tested positive for exposure.

If there is a meltdown below is a map of where the radiation would go and at what levels.

See my other post about the background about the plant here

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