By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Mar 17, 2011 (IPS)
A global nuclear disaster potentially worse than Chernobyl may be under way in Japan as hundreds of tonnes of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel are open to the sky, and may be on fire and emitting radioactive particles into the atmosphere.
Many countries have advised their citizens in Japan to leave the country.
“This is uncharted territory. There is a 50-percent chance they could lose all six reactors and their storage pools,” said Jan Beyea, a nuclear physicist with a New Jersey consulting firm called Consulting in the Public Interest.
“I’m surprised the situation hasn’t gotten worse faster… But without a breakthrough it’s only a matter of days before spent fuels will melt down,” said Ed Lyman, a physicist at the Union of Concerned Scientists and an expert on nuclear plant design.
Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant was damaged by a powerful earthquake and tsunami on Mar. 11. It has an estimated 1,700 tonnes of used or spent but still dangerous nuclear fuel in storage pools next to its six nuclear reactors, according to Kevin Kamps, a radioactive waste specialist at Beyond Nuclear, a U.S. anti-nuclear environmental group.
The storage pools holding 30 to 35 years worth of spent fuel at reactors No. 3 and No. 4 have lost containment and most if not all of their coolant water. They may be on fire, venting radioactive particles into the atmosphere, Kamps told IPS.
On Thursday, Japanese military helicopters protected by lead shielding managed to dump some seawater on the damaged reactors No. 3 and No. 4 in a desperate and very risky last- ditch effort at the highly radioactive site.