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Japan quake: 2nd reactor cooled with seawater to avert meltdown

The last-ditch move indicates that the backup cooling system in a second quake-damaged reactor has failed. Japanese officials say radiation levels at another reactor being pumped with seawater have fallen, but hydrogen gas is building in a third.

March 13, 2011|By Thomas H. Maugh II, Los Angeles Times
  • Images of the No. 1 reactor at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant before Friday's earthquake and tsunami, left, and after an explosion Saturday that tore apart the building and destroyed the reactor's cooling system, forcing officials to begin injecting seawater directly into the reactor containment vessel to avert a core meltdown.
Images of the No. 1 reactor at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant before Friday's… (Tokyo Electric Power Co.…)

Japanese officials have begun pumping seawater into a second nuclear reactor at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant 140 miles north of Tokyo to cool the reactor core in a last-ditch effort to stave off a core meltdown.

The action indicates that the reactor's normal backup cooling system has failed and is no longer able to supply fresh water to the core. Officials at Tokyo Electric Power Co., which owns the plant, have been struggling to keep six shut-down nuclear reactors cooled because seawater from the tsunami that followed Friday's magnitude 9.0 earthquake damaged the diesel generators that power the circulating pumps.

An explosion Saturday night at the No. 1 reactor destroyed the cooling system there and officials had little choice but to begin injecting seawater laced with boron directly into the reactor containment vessel. Seawater is highly corrosive, particularly when heated, and injecting it into the reactor means the company is, for all practical purposes, abandoning the reactor for all future uses.

That action at the No. 1 reactor seems to have been successful so far. Power company officials have reported that radiation levels at the plant have fallen and that the core seems to be cooling effectively.

Now they have been forced into the same decision at the No. 3 reactor at the site.

Power company officials say hydrogen gas has also been building up inside the reactor building at the No. 3 reactor. They have vented some of the gas, but fear that could lead to an explosion similar to the one that destroyed the building at reactor No. 1.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said Sunday evening that Japan had informed it that an emergency had been declared at the nearby Onagawa power plant because excessive radiation had been detected outside the plant.

Power company officials later said, however, that all three reactors at Onagawa had been safely shut down and were under control and that wind had blown the radiation there from the Fukushima plant.

On Monday morning, Japan Atomic Power said that two of the three backup diesel generators at its Tokai No. 2 facility about 75 miles north of Tokyo in Ibaraki prefecture had failed, but that the remaining generator was providing sufficient electricity to power the circulating pumps to keep the three shut-down nuclear reactors there controlled.

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