Getting to the core of the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant
TOKYO, March 17 - The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant at the centre of Japan’s crisis has six reactors. The plant is operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO). The following summarises what is happening at each unit, and the major risks: REACTORS MOST AT RISK? REACTOR No 3: 784-MW What is happening: Helicopters and trucks were used to water down reactors as authorities reiterated on Thursday that resolving problems at the plant -the only unit to include plutonium in its fuel mix -- was the priority. Plutonium is considered more hazardous than uranium. White smoke coming from the plant could be steam evaporating from the spent fuel pool, the Japan nuclear agency said on Thursday. It said pressure in the reactor was rising again. Radiation readings at the reactor are the highest at the Daiichi complex, TEPCO said on Wednesday. There was an explosion at reactor 3 on Monday. What are the risks: The major concern is that any steam coming from the plant will carry radiation into the atmosphere. It’s not clear where this could be coming from. Chief Cabinet Minister Yukio Edano said on Wednesday there is a “possibility” the primary containment vessel, the first line of defence against a radiation leak, had been damaged, Kyodo reported. The reactors also have a secondary containment building. (see below: CONTAINMENT -- WHAT IS IT?) However, the Japan nuclear agen-

CONTEXT The operator of a stricken nuclear power plant in northeast Japan said on Thursday pressure was rising again at reactor 3, which includes plutonium and uranium in its fuel mix.

People have been evacuated in a 20-km radius successfuly around Daiichi complex, and a no-fly zone is established for a 30km radius from the facility

FUKUSHIMA Minamisoma 459 Namie Katsurao 288 114 Futaba Okuma 6

30-km 20-km Fukushima Daiichi Fukushima Daini

Reactor 5 Reactor 6

Reactor 1 Reactor 2 Reactor 3 Reactor 4

Mar 11 quake epicentre Fukushima

Mt. Otakine 399 Mt. Kitoya 20 km



10-km 400 m



Reactor 4 Tue.
CH-47 Chinook

Building suffers fire and an explosion. Catches fire again on Wednesday

Reactor 3 Mon.

Concrete building destroyed after an explosion but reactor container still intact

Among the six reactors, getting water to reactor 3 is said to be the priority since it is the only reactor which is part powered by plutonium

Reactor 2 Tue.




4 3 2 1




Explosion reported. Fuel rods were fully exposed for a time on Monday, causing fears it may lead to meltdown. Fuel rod is 33% damaged says Kyodo news

Power plants

Reactor 1 Sat.

Concrete cover of plant destroyed. Fuel rod is 70% damaged says Kyodo news agency

(All times are local) MAR 11 Fri. 19:46 Government reveals a cooling problem at the Daiichi plant MAR 12 Sat. 17:47 Explosion and radiation leak at reactor 1 confirmed by government MAR 13 Sun. 23:37 TEPCO injects seawater into the reactors 1 and 3 MAR 14 Mon. 11:15 Explosion at reactor 3, seawater pumped to reactor 2
Source: Reuters

MAR 15 Tue. 06:20 Explosion at reactor 2. Reactor 4 catches fire
11:57 Explosion reported at reactor 4 16:44 Reactor 4 fire put out 18:01 TEPCO says it has pulled out 750 workers from the plant since Tuesday and only 50 remain 20:54 Radiation levels at reactor 4 become too high to conduct normal work

Reactors 5 and 6 not in the drawing

MAR 16 Wed. 13:27 Operators plan to bulldoze an emergency route to allow access for fire trucks.180 workers are on site at the complex
18:29 Water is being

MAR 17 Thu. Military helicopters spray water on the plant to cool the fuel rods after failed attempts on Wednesday Head of IAEA confirms core damage at reactors 1, 2 and 3, but said reactor vessels still intact

poured into reactors 5 and 6

TEPCO - Tokyo Electric Power Company

IAEA - International Atomic Energy Agency

Graphic NUCLEAR-FUKUSHIMA/UPDATE2 Date 17 / 03 / 11 cy noted the steam could be coming veteran of the nuclear industry who Story Reporter JAPAN-NUCLEAR/ from the spent fuel pool. That would is now chief engineer at Fairwinds Size Research 15 x 16 cm Artist Code Chris Inton/RNGS DIS indicate that water covering the Associates Inc. © Copyright Reuters spent fuel is evaporating,2011. All rights reserved. which in http://thomsonreuters.com/products_services/media/media_products/graphics/ turn could mean the vapour is carryREACTOR No 4: 784-MW ing off radiation. What is happening: The spent fuel pool presents There is no water in the spent a significant radiation risk if its fuel pool and radiation levels are contents are exposed to the atmosextremely high, the chairman of the phere. When fuel rods are exposed U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commisto the air, zirconium metal on the sion said in Washington on Wednesrods will catch fire, which could reday. However, TEPCO said on Thurslease radiation contained in the fuel, day that as of Wednesday the spent said Arnie Gundersen, a 29-year fuel pool still had water in it.

For expanded, multimedia Reuters Top News visit: > Eikon: Top News Tab > 3000 Xtra: visit http://link.reuters.com/myd58r > THOMSON ONE: visit topnews.thomsonone.com/topnews > ReutersStation: view story .134


TV on Wednesday showed smoke or steam rising from the facility after flames were seen earlier in the day. The reactor had been shut down for maintenance when the earthquake and tsunami struck. On Tuesday, the spent fuel pool caught fire and caused an explosion. Japan’s nuclear safety agency says the blast punctured two holes around 8-metres square in the wall of the outer building of the reactor. What are the risks: Exposure of spent fuel to the atmosphere is serious because there is more radiation in the spent fuel than in the reactor, said Gundersen. The spent fuel pool is not inside a containment facility either. “They need to keep water in those pools because the roof over the building housing the pools is already damaged and radiation will escape,” he said. The pools contain racks that hold spent fuel taken from the reactor. Operators need to constantly add water to the pool to keep the fuel submerged so that radiation cannot escape. Exposing the spent fuel to the atmosphere will release radiation.

A handout photo shows Tokyo Electric Power Co. Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant reactor no. 4 (center) and no. 3 (L) in northern Japan March 15, 2011. Picture taken March 15, 2011. REUTERS/Tokyo Electric Power Co./Handout

REACTOR No 2: 784-MW What is happening: TEPCO plans to run a cable to reactors No 1 and No 2 to try to restore power to the water cooling system, the Japan nuclear agency said on Thursday. An explosion rocked the plant on Tuesday, damaging a suppression pool, into which steam is vented from the reactor to relieve pressure.

Water level

Containment structure Condenser

Fuel rods Control rods


1st fail-safe: Control rods rise up to stop nuclear fission but fuel rods still remained hot. Circulation of water should have cooled the fuel rods but a power outage caused by the quake disabled the system 2nd fail-safe: Emergency diesel-powered generator sprays the fuel rods with cold water, but the generator fails an hour later. Experts suggest the failure was caused by the tsunami 3rd fail-safe: System which converts steam to water starts cooling the rods, but the water level went down. Fuel rods’ temperatures continue to rise



Dry well

Wet well


Fuel rods undergoes nuclear fission, emits heat to produce energy Water cools it down and maintains temperature at 270 C If the cooling system fails, the temperature can rise to 1,200 C, melting the zirconium casings of the fuel rods and cause radioactive leak

The roof of the reactor building is damaged, Jiji news agency reported. TEPCO said on Tuesday the fuel rods were fully exposed. An estimated 33 percent of the nuclear fuel rods have been damaged at the No 2 reactor, Kyodo quoted TEPCO as saying on Wednesday. However, on Wednesday, Japan’s nuclear agency said the pumping of sea water into the reactor was proceeding smoothly. What are the risks: When fuel rods are no longer covered in coolant they can heat up and start to melt, raising the risk of a radiation leak and in a worst-case scenario a full meltdown. The suppression pool is part of the primary containment vessel, which is designed to prevent a leak, but the IAEA said the blast “may have affected the integrity of its primary containment vessel.” Still, beyond the primary containment vessel is the containment building, which is also designed to prevent radiation from escaping. REACTOR No 1: 460-MW What is happening: TEPCO plans to run a cable to reactors No 1 and No 2 to try to restore power to the water cooling system,

Sources: Reuters, NHK

Graphic: Chris Inton, RNGS


the Japan nuclear agency said on Thursday. An explosion occurred at the reactor on Saturday. Kyodo quoted TEPCO as saying on Wednesday that an estimated 70 percent of the nuclear fuel rods have been damaged. The Japan nuclear agency said on Wednesday the pumping of sea water into the reactor was proceeding smoothly. What are the risks: The IAEA said on Tuesday the primary containment vessel appeared intact. If the fuel rods in the reactor are not covered by coolant, they can heat up and start to melt. REACTOR No 5: 784-MW What is happening: The reactor had been shut down for maintenance at the time of the quake and tsunami. TEPCO said on Wednesday water was being poured into the reactor and that temperatures in the spent fuel pool were rising slightly. What is the risk: Reactor 5 and reactor 6 are seen less at risk than reactors 1 to 4. REACTOR No 6: 1,100-MW What is happening: TEPCO said on Wednesday water was being poured into the reactor and that temperatures in the spent fuel pool were rising slightly. What is the risk: Reactor 5 and reactor 6 are seen less at risk than reactors 1 to 4. RADIATION, WIND DIRECTION? -- Radiation levels were higher than normal but not dangerous, Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said on Thursday. -- They were measured at 338 microsieverts per hour at the west gate at 2000 GMT March 16 (5 am local time March 17). If a person stands outdoors for a year, they would be exposed to a radiation level of 400 microsieverts, the agency said.
Philippe Van Troeye, general director of production at Belgian energy company Electrabel shows a slide explaining the how a nuclear plant like Japan's Fukushima Daiichi works during a news conference at a nuclear power station in Tihange March 16, 2011. REUTERS/Yves Herman

--The wind is blowing northwestto-southeast, towards the Pacific Ocean, Japan Meteorological Agency said. CONTAINMENT -- WHAT IS IT? Each reactor is surrounded by a primary containment vessel. This is made of strengthened steel fourto-eight inches thick. It provides the most critical line of defence against leaking radiation from the reactor. Should there be a breach, there is another, final line of defence to prevent radiation leaks: a bigger containment building made of steel and concrete. A breach of the containment building would release radiation into the atmosphere.


Compilation by Neil Fullick Publishing by Mathew Veedon

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