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Japan's Nuclear Reactor Crisis Continues

March 12, 2011

On March 12, a buildup of hydrogen caused an explosion in the turbine room at the Fukushima Daiichi Unit-1 reactor in Japan.  The Japanese government is reporting that the reactor vessel is intact, but it is not known if the explosion caused any damage to it. The government is evacuating the 200,000 people living within 20 kilometers (12 miles) of the reactor and is also reported to be distributing potassium iodine pills to reduce the risk of thyroid cancer.  In a desperate effort to prevent a nuclear meltdown, the reactor operator is flooding the reactor with seawater. For more information, listen to the March 12 press conference with nuclear experts, including PSR’s Dr. Ira Helfand. A transcipt is available here.

Background

On Friday March 11, the largest earthquake in Japanese history (8.9) hit the eastern coast of Japan, causing the shutdown of reactors at Fukushima nuclear power station. Backup power for the Fukushima Daiichi Unit-1 reactor failed after an hour likely due to flooding from the tsunami.  Since then, the cooling system of at least one other reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi had also been reported lost, and problems with cooling have been reported with Fukushima Daini reactors. The lack of backup power puts the cooling system at risk. The cooling system keeps the extremely hot nuclear core from melting down, as well as the spent fuel rods in large pools from overheating and causing a fire.

Pressure in the Unit-1 reactor was reported to be 1000 times normal levels and the reactor operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., released some of the pressure by venting radioactive vapor from the containment structure.  In addition, the radionuclide cesium has been reportedly found outside the reactor, which indicates that there has been some fuel damage.

Additional resources:

Japan Earthquake/Nuclear Power – How Big a Risk of Disaster?

Statement from the Japanese organization Citizens' Nuclear Information Center (CNIC) on the Nuclear and Earthquake Disaster Unfolding in Japan

FDA Iodine guidelines in radiological emergency

PSR will continue to update our site on the situation.

PSR Staff and Board Members Available for Media Calls re Medical Consequences of Japan’s Nuclear Reactor Accident:

Michele Boyd
Safe Energy Director
(202) 587-5242 (o)
(202) 494-0785 (c)
mboyd@psr.org

Ira Helfand, MD 
Leeds, MA 01053
413-320-7829 (c)
413-584-5933 (h)
ihelfand@igc.org

Peter Wilk, MD
Executive Director
Washington, DC 20009
202-587-5240 (o)
703-402-0632 (c)
pwilk@psr.org

Robert Gould, MD
San Francisco, CA
408-972-7299 (w)
415-864-6758 (h)
415-407-8972 (cell)
415-407-8806 (cell)
707-677-0502 landline
rmgould1@yahoo.com

Richard Grady, MD
Seattle, WA 98115
206-601-2802 (m)
206 526-0551 (h)
206 987-2130 (o)
 Richard.grady@seattlechildrens.org

Andy Kanter, MD, MPH
PSR President Elect
New York, NY 10033
Office:  212-305 4842 
Cell: +646- 469 2421 
andrew.kanter@dbmi.columbia.edu
andy_kanter@yahoo.com
akanter@imo-online.com

Jeff Patterson, DO
Madison, WI
608-256-3983 (h)
608-206-2101 (c)
jjpatter@wisc.edu

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