Fukushima I Nuclear Accidents
Satellite image on 16 March of the four damaged reactor buildings
11 March 2011 – ongoing
Level 5 (Units 1, 2, and 3)
Level 3 (Unit 4):
37 (none reported as due to radiation contamination)
Number of reported missing 2
The Fukushima I nuclear accidents (福島第一原子力発電所事故 fukushima daiichi genshiryoku hatsudensho jiko?) are a series of ongoing equipment failures and releases of radioactive materials at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant, following the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami on 11 March 2011. The plant comprises six separate boiling water reactors maintained by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). Reactors 4, 5 and 6 had been shut down prior to the earthquake for planned maintenance.The remaining reactors were shut down automatically after the earthquake, but the subsequent tsunami flooded the plant, knocking out emergency generators needed to run pumps which cool and control the reactors. The flooding and earthquake damage prevented assistance being brought from elsewhere. On 20 March, The New York Times reported that Yukio Edano, the government’s chief cabinet secretary, “confirmed for the first time … that the nuclear complex would be closed once the crisis was over.”
From 11 March on, there was evidence of partial core meltdown in reactors 1, 2, and 3; hydrogen explosions destroyed the upper cladding of the buildings housing reactors 1, 3, and 4; an explosion damaged the containment inside reactor 2; and multiple fires broke out at reactor 4. In addition, spent fuel rods stored in spent fuel pools of units 1-4 began to overheat as water levels in the pools dropped. Fears of radiation leaks led to a 20 km (12 mile) radius evacuation around the plant.
TEPCO employees and workers from other companies not involved in essential work were temporarily evacuated after an explosion was heard in the suppression chamber of reactor building 2. Employees returned after it was confirmed that there had not been a containment breach but evacuated again on 16 March following a spike in radiation. On 18 March, Japanese officials designated the magnitude of the danger at reactors 1, 2 and 3 at level 5 on the 7 point International Nuclear Event Scale (INES).
Many international leaders have expressed concerns about the accidents. Leaks of radioactive material beyond the plant’s boundaries have not been high enough to constitute any significant danger to the public, but the Japanese Government and TEPCO have been criticized for poor communications over the incident.
Power was restored to parts of the plant on 20 March after a kilometer long grid power cable had been laid to new switch gear, although it was unclear what condition the various pumps and machinery were in after the floods, fires and explosions. On 19 March, Japan banned the sale of food raised in the Fukushima area up to 100 km (65 miles) from the damaged facility due to contamination above safe limits. Traces of radioactive iodine were found in drinking water in Tokyo, 210 km (135 miles) from the reactors, but were not deemed harmful to health.
Summarised daily events
12 March: while evidence of partial meltdown of the fuel rods in unit 1 was growing, a hydrogen explosion destroyed the roof of its reactor building. The explosion injured four workers, but the reactor containment inside remained intact. Hydrogen and steam had been vented from the reactor to reduce pressure within the containment vessel and built up within the building. Operators of the plant began using sea water for emergency cooling, which would permanently damage the reactor. The evacuation zone was extended to 20 km, affecting 170,000–200,000 people, and the government advised residents within a further 10 km to stay indoors. The release of fission products from the damaged reactor core, notably radioactive iodine-131, led Japanese officials to distribute prophylactic iodine to people living around Fukushima I and Fukushima II. One worker was confirmed to be ill.
13 March: a partial meltdown was reported to be possible at unit 3. As of 13:00 JST, both reactors 1 and 3 were being vented to release overpressure and re-filled with water and boric acid for cooling and inhibition of further nuclear reactions. Unit 2 was possibly suffering lower than normal water level but was thought to be stable, although pressure inside the containment vessel was high. The Japan Atomic Energy Agency announced that it was rating the situation at unit 1 as level 4 (accident with local consequences) on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale.
14 March: the reactor building for unit 3 exploded injuring eleven people. There was no release of radioactive material beyond that already being vented but blast damage affected water supply to unit 2. The president of the French nuclear safety authority, Autorité de sûreté nucléaire (ASN), said that the accident should be rated as a 5 (accident with wider consequences) or even a 6 (serious accident) on INES.
15 March: damage to temporary cooling systems on unit 2 by the explosion in unit 3 plus problems with its venting system meant that water could not be added, to the extent that unit 2 was in the most severe condition of the three reactors. An explosion in the “pressure suppression room” caused some damage to unit 2’s containment system. A fire broke out at unit 4 involving spent fuel rods from the reactor, which are normally kept in the water-filled spent fuel pool to prevent overheating. Radiation levels at the plant rose significantly but subsequently fell back. Radiation equivalent dose rates at one location in the vicinity of unit 3 recorded 400 millisieverts per hour (400 mSv/h).
16 March: At approximately 14:30 on 16 March, TEPCO announced its belief that the fuel rod storage pool of unit 4—which is located outside the containment area-may have begun boiling, raising the possibility that exposed rods could reach criticality. By midday, NHK TV was reporting white smoke rising from the Fukushima I plant, which officials suggested was likely coming from reactor 3. Shortly afterwards, all but a small group of remaining workers at the plant had been placed on standby because of the dangerously rising levels of radioactivity up to 1,000 mSv/h. TEPCO had temporarily suspended operations at the facility due to radiation spikes and had pulled all their employees out. A TEPCO press release stated that workers had been withdrawn at 06:00 JST because of abnormal noises coming from one of the reactor pressure suppression chambers. Late in the evening, Reuters reported that water was being poured into reactors 5 and 6.
17 March: During the morning, Self-Defense Force helicopters four times dropped water on the spent fuel pools of units 3 and 4. In the afternoon it was reported that the unit 4 spent fuel pool was full with water and none of the fuel rods was exposed. Construction work was started to supply a working external electrical power source to all six units of Fukushima I. Starting at 7 pm, police and fire water trucks with high pressure hoses attempted to spray water into the unit 3 reactor. Japanese authorities informed the IAEA that engineers were laying an external grid power line cable to unit 2.
18 March: Tokyo Fire Department dispatched thirty fire engines with 139 fire-fighters and a trained rescue team at approximately 03:00 JST. These include a fire truck with a 22 m water tower For the second consecutive day, high radiation levels had been detected in an area 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) northwest of the damaged Fukushima I nuclear plant. The reading was 150 microsieverts per hour. Japanese authorities upgraded INES ratings for cooling loss and core damage at unit 1 to level 5 and issued the same rating for units 2 and 3. The loss of fuel pool cooling water at unit 4 was classified as level 3. In a 24-hour period ending at 11 am local time, radiation levels near the plant had declined from 351.4 to 265 μSv/hour, but it was unclear if the water spraying efforts were the cause of the decrease.
19 March: A second group of 100 Tokyo firefighters replaced the previous team. They used a vehicle that can project water from a height of 22 meters for cooling spent nuclear fuel storage pool inside the reactor of Unit 3. Water was sprayed into the reactor for a total of 7 hours during the day. TEPCO reported afterward that the water had been effective in lowering the temperature around the spent fuel rods to below 100 °C.[verification needed]
20 March: External power was reconnected to unit 2 but work continued to make equipment operational. Repaired diesel generators at unit 6 provided power to restart cooling on units 5 and 6 which were returned to cold shutdown and their fuel cooling ponds returned to normal operating temperatures.  TEPCO announced that pressure in reactor 3’s containment vessel was rising, and that it might be necessary to vent air containing radioactive particles to relieve pressure, Japanese broadcaster NHK reported at 1:06.[dead link] The operation was later aborted as TEPCO deemed it unnecessary. While joining in a generally positive assessment of progress toward overall control, chief cabinet secretary Edano “confirmed for the first time that the nuclear complex — with heavy damage to reactors and buildings and with radioactive contamination throughout — would be closed once the crisis was over.”
21 March: Ongoing repair work was interrupted by a recurrence of grey smoke from the south east side of unit 3 (the general area of the spent fuel pool) seen at 15:55 and dying down by 17:55. Employees were evacuated from unit 3 but no changes in radiation measurements or reactor status were seen. No work was going on at the time (such as restoring power) which might have accounted for the fire. White smoke, probably steam, was also seen coming from unit 2 at 18:22 JST, but this was accompanied by a temporary rise in radiation levels. A new power line was laid to unit 4 and unit 5 was transferred to its own external power from transmission line instead of sharing the unit 6 diesel generators.
22 March: Smoke was still rising from units 2 and 3 but was less visible and was put down to steam following operations to spray water onto the buildings. Repair work resumed after having been halted because of concerns over the smoke, but no significant changes in radiation levels occurred so it was felt safe to resume work. Work continued to restore electricity and a supply cable was connected to unit 4. Injection of sea water into units 1-3 continued.
Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant
Simplified cross-section sketch of a typical BWR Mark I containment, as used in units 1 to 5. Key: DW, dry wellenclosing reactor pressure vessel; WW, Torus-shaped wetwell all around the base enclosing steam suppression pool. Excess steam from the dry well enters the wetwell water pool via downcomer pipes; SF, Spent fuel pool area.
Main article: Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant
The Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant is located in the town of Okuma in the Futaba District of Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, about 210 kilometers (130 miles) north of Tokyo. It consists of six light water, boiling water reactors (BWR) designed by General Electricdriving electrical generators with a combined power of 4.7 gigawatts, making Fukushima I one of the 25 largest nuclear power stations in the world. Fukushima I was the first nuclear plant to be constructed and run entirely by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO).
Unit 1 is a 439 MWe type (BWR3) reactor constructed in July 1967. It commenced commercial electrical production on 26 March 1971. It was designed for a peak ground acceleration of 0.18 g (1.74 m/s2) and a response spectrum based on the 1952 Kern County earthquake. Units 2 and 3 are both 784 MW type BWR-4 reactors, Unit 2 commenced operating in July 1974 and Unit 3 in March 1976. All units were inspected after the 1978 Miyagi earthquake when the ground acceleration was 0.125 g (1.22 m/s2) for 30 seconds, but no damage to the critical parts of the reactor was discovered.
Units 1–5 have a Mark 1 type (light bulb torus) containment structure, unit 6 has Mark 2 type (over/under) containment structure. From September 2010, unit 3 has been fueled by mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel.
At the time of the accident, reactor No. 1 contained 400 fuel assemblies, No. 2, No. 3, and No. 5 548 fuel assemblies, and No. 6 764 fuel assemblies in their respective reactors. Reactor No. 4 was empty of fuel assemblies in its reactor, but had 1,331 spent fuel assemblies in its cooling pool. Reactor No. 1 had 292, No. 2 587, No. 3 514, No. 5 946, and No. 6 876 spent fuel assemblies in their respective cooling pools.
Cooling is needed to remove decay heat even when a plant has been shut down. Nuclear fuel releases a small quantity of heat under all conditions, but the chain reaction when a reactor is operating creates short lived decay products which continue to release roughly 5% to 6% of full thermal heat immediately after shutdown (~140 MW for reactors 2 and 3). This decreases over several days before reaching cold shutdown levels. Nuclear fuel rods require 1–3 years of water cooling before decay heat production gets low enough that they can be transferred to dry storage casks. Boiling water reactors have steam-turbine driven emergency core cooling systems that can be directly operated by steam still being produced after a reactor shutdown, which can inject water directly into the reactor. This results in less dependence on emergency generators but only operates so long as the reactor is safely producing steam, and some electrical power is still needed to operate the valves and monitoring systems.
Diagrammatic representation of the cooling systems of a BWR
When a reactor is shut down, decay heat is usually removed from the fuel by circulating water over it. High pressure systems pump water through the reactor pressure vessel and into heat exchangers. Sea water is passed through the secondary side of the heat exchanger taking away the heat which is pumped out to sea and dispersed. The systems which do this are typically called residual heat removal, for normal removal of decay heat during a planned shutdown, or emergency core cooling systems for core cooling after an accident. They may be the same systems, or share pumps, valves, heat exchangers etc. Diesel generators and pumps driven directly by diesel motors are provided for use in emergency.
Emergency cooling of the reactors has been performed using alternative means while attempts to restore systems continued. External pumps have been used with the fire extinguisher system to get water into the reactors. As a last resort steam has been vented from reactors, cooling them but then requiring new water to be added to keep the reactor cores covered. Damage has occurred to fuel rods in the cores where water levels have dropped leaving them uncovered and overheated.
A decay heat output of 7 MW (typical of a Fukushima reactor a few days after shutdown) has the capacity to boil off about 200-300 tonnes of water per day, which puts the requirement for cooling water in context.
Direct effect of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami
Further information: 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami
The 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, categorised as 9.0 MW on the moment magnitude scale, occurred on 11 March 2011 at 14:46 Japan Standard Time (JST) off the northeast coast of Japan. On that day, reactor units 1, 2, and 3 were operating, but units 4, 5, and 6 had already been shut down for periodic inspection. When the earthquake was detected, units 1, 2 and 3 underwent an automatic shutdown (called scram).
Transport of high capacity pumps from US to Fukushima. 17 March 2011
After the reactors shut down, electricity generation stopped. Normally the plant could use the external electrical supply to power cooling and control systems, but the earthquake had caused major damage to the power grid. Emergency diesel generators started but stopped abruptly at 15:41, ending all AC power supply to the reactors. The plant was protected by a sea wall and designed to withstand a tsunami of 5.7 meters, but the tsunami had a height of over 10 meters and topped this sea wall, flooding the low lying generator building. Article 10 of the Japanese law on Special Measures Concerning Nuclear Emergency Preparedness, heightened alert condition requires authorities to be informed of such an incident: TEPCO did so immediately and also issued a press release declaring a “First Level Emergency”.
After the failure of the diesel generators, emergency power for control systems was supplied by batteries that would last about eight hours. Batteries from other nuclear plants were sent to the site and mobile generators arrived within 13 hours, but work to connect portable generating equipment to power water pumps was still continuing as of 15:04 on 12 March. Generators would normally be connected through switching equipment in a basement area of the buildings, but this basement area had been flooded. After subsequent efforts to bring water to the plant, plans shifted to a strategy of building a new power line and re-starting the pumps, eventually resulting in cable emplacement reported at approximately 08:30 UTC. TEPCO had apparently not anticipated a tsunami as big as the one that damaged the plant.
Reactor unit 1
Cooling problems at unit 1 and first radiation release
Aerial view of the plant area before the accidents. When this photograph was taken in 1975, Unit 6 was under construction.
On 11 March 2011 at 16:36 JST, a Nuclear Emergency Situation (Article 15 of the Japanese law on Special Measures Concerning Nuclear Emergency Preparedness) was declared when “the status of reactor water coolant injection could not be confirmed for the emergency core cooling systems of Units 1 and 2.” The alert was temporarily cleared when water level monitoring was restored for unit 1; however, it was reinstated at 17:07 JST. Potentially radioactive steam was released from the primary circuit into the secondary containment area to reduce mounting pressure.
After the loss of site power, Unit 1 initially continued cooling using the isolation condenser system, but by midnight water levels in the reactor were falling and TEPCO gave warnings of the possibility of radioactive releases. In the early hours of 12 March TEPCO reported that radiation levels were rising in the turbine building for unit 1 and that it was considering venting some of the mounting pressure into the atmosphere, which could result in the release of some radioactivity. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano stated later in the morning the amount of potential radiation would be small and that the prevailing winds were blowing out to sea. At 02:00 JST, the pressure inside the reactor containment was reported to be 600 kPa (6 bar or 87 psi), 200 kPa higher than under normal conditions. At 05:30 JST the pressure inside reactor 1 was reported to be 2.1 times the “design capacity”, 820 kPa. Isolation cooling ceased to operate between midnight and 11:00 JST at which point TEPCO started relieving pressure and injecting water.One employee working inside unit 1 at this time received a radiation dose of 106mSv and was later sent to hospital for checks.
Rising heat within the containment area led to increasing pressure, with both cooling water pumps and ventilation fans for driving gases through heat exchangers within the containment dependent on electricity. Releasing gases from the reactor is necessary if pressure becomes too high and has the benefit of cooling the reactor as water boils off, but this also means cooling water is being lost and must be replaced. Assuming no damage to the fuel elements, water inside the reactor should be only very slightly radioactive.
In a press release at 07:00 JST 12 March, TEPCO stated, “Measurement of radioactive material (iodine, etc.) by monitoring car indicates increasing value compared to normal level. One of the monitoring posts is also indicating higher than normal level.” Dose or dose-equivalent rates recorded on the main gate rose from 69 nGy/h (for gamma radiation, equivalent to 0.069 µSv/h) at 04:00 JST, 12 March, to 866 nGy/h (equivalent to 0.866 µSv/h) 40 minutes later, before hitting a peak of 385.5 μSv/h at 10:30 JST. At 13:30 JST, workers detected radioactive caesium-137 and iodine-131 near reactor 1, which indicated some of the core’s fuel was exposed due to a partial-meltdown or other damage of the nuclear fuel. The NHK website reported that cooling water had lowered so much that parts of the nuclear fuel rods were exposed. Radiation levels at the site boundary exceeded the regulatory limits. Kyodo News Service later reported that partial melting might have occurred. On 14 March 2011, Kyodo News reported radiation levels had continued to increase on the premises, measuring at 02:20 an intensity of 751 μSv/hour on one location and at 02:40 an intensity of 650 μSv/hour at another location on the premises. On 16 March the maximum readings peaked at 10850 μSv/hour.
Explosion of reactor 1 building
At 15:36 JST on 12 March 2011 there was an explosion at Unit 1. Four workers were injured, and the upper shell of the reactor building was blown away leaving in place its steel frame. The outer building is designed to provide ordinary weather protection for the areas inside, but not to withstand the high pressure of an explosion or to act as containment for the reactor. In the Fukushima I reactors the primary containment consists of “drywell” and “wetwell” concrete structures immediately surrounding the reactor pressure vessel.
Visualization of before and after damage to Fukushima power plant, Unit 1
Experts soon agreed the cause was a hydrogen explosion. Almost certainly the hydrogen was formed inside the reactor vessel because of falling water levels, and this hydrogen then leaked into the containment building. Exposed Zircaloy cladded fuel rods became very hot and reacted with steam, oxidising the alloy, and releasing hydrogen. Safety devices normally burn the generated hydrogen when it is vented before explosive concentrations are reached but these systems failed, possibly due to the shortage of electrical power.
Officials indicated the container of the reactor had remained intact and there had been no large leaks of radioactive material, although an increase in radiation levels was confirmed following the explosion. ABC News (Australia) reported that according to the Fukushima prefectural government, radiation dose rates at the plant reached 1.015 micro sievert per hour (1.015 µSv/h). Two independent nuclear experts cited design differences between the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant and the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant, one of them saying he did not believe that a Chernobyl-style disaster will occur.
The IAEA stated on 13 March that four workers had been injured by the explosion at the Unit 1 reactor, and that three injuries were reported in other incidents at the site. They also reported one worker was exposed to higher-than-normal radiation levels but that fell below their guidance for emergency situations.
Seawater used for cooling
At 20:05 on 12 March 2011, under the terms of the Nuclear Regulation Act, paragraph 3, article 64 and a directive issued by the Prime Minister, the Japanese government ordered seawater to be injected into Unit 1 in an ultimate effort to cool the degraded reactor core.At 21:00 JST TEPCO announced they planned to cool the reactor with seawater (started at 20:20 JST), adding boric acid to act as a neutron absorber to prevent a criticality accident. The water was to take five to ten hours to fill the reactor core, after which the reactor would cool down in around ten days. At 23:00 JST TEPCO announced due to the quake at 22:15, workers had temporarily suspended filling of the reactor but filling resumed after a short while. The last resort decision to use seawater as coolant in the reactor implied the reactor would have to be decommissioned because of contamination by salt and other impurities.
NISA reported that injection of seawater into the Reactor Pressure Vessel through the fire extinguisher system commenced at 11:55 on 13 March, though this was corrected to state March 12 in later press releases. Some reports refer to injection into the Primary Containment Vessel and exact details are confused. At 01:10 on 14 March injection of seawater was halted because all available water in the plant pools had run out (similarly, feed to unit 3 was halted). Water supply was restored at 03:20.
NISA stated 70% of the fuel rods were damaged in news reports the morning of 16 March.
On 18 March work was proceeding to install a new electrical distribution panel in an office adjacent to unit 1 which was to supply power from a transmission grid transformer at unit 2. It was anticipated power would be restored to units 1 and 2 by the following Saturday (19 March). Power became available at unit 2 on 20 March As of 21 March injection of sea water for cooling was continuing but the unit seemed to be in a stable conditon. Repairs to restore control instrumentation were proceeding.
Reactor unit 2
Unit two was operating at the time of the earthquake and experienced the same controlled initial shutdown as the other units. Diesel generators and other systems failed when the tsunami overran the plant. Reactor core isolation cooling system (RCIC) initially operated to cool the core but by midnight the status of the reactor was unclear although some monitoring equipment was still operating on temporary power. Coolant level was stable, but preparations were underway to reduce pressure in the reactor containment vessel should this become necessary, though TEPCO did not state in press releases what these were, and the government had been advised that this might happen. RCIC was reported by TEPCO shut down around 19:00 JST on 12 March, but again reported to be operating as of 09:00 JST 13 March. Pressure reduction of the reactor containment vessel commenced before midnight on 12 Marchthough IAEA reported as of 13:15 JST 14 March that according to information supplied to them, no venting had taken place at the plant. A report in the New York Times suggested that plant officials initially concentrated efforts on a damaged fuel storage pool at unit 2, distracting attention from problems arising at the other reactors, but this incident is not reported in official press releases. IAEA report that on 14 March at 09:30 RCIC was still operating and that power was being provided by mobile generator.
Cooling problems at unit 2
On 14 Mar TEPCO reported the failure of the RCIC system. Fuel rods had been fully exposed for 140 minute and there was a risk of a core meltdown. Reactor water level indicators were reported to be showing minimum values at 19:30 JST 14 March.
At 22:29 JST, workers had succeeded in refilling half the reactor with water but parts of the rods were still exposed, and technicians could not rule out the possibility that some had melted. Holes blown in the walls of reactor building 2 by the earlier blast from unit 3 would allow the escape of hydrogen vented from the reactor and hopefully prevent a similar explosion. At 21:37 JST the measured radiation rates at the gate of the plant reached a maximum of 3.13 millisievert per hour, which was enough to reach the annual limit for non-nuclear workers in twenty minutes, but had fallen back to 0.326 millisieverts per hour by 22:35.
It was believed that around 23:00 JST the 4 m long fuel rods in the reactor were fully exposed for the second time. At 00:30 JST of 15 March, NHK ran a live press conference with TEPCO stating that the water level had sunk under the rods once again and pressure in the vessel was raised. The utility said that the hydrogen explosion at unit 3 might have caused a glitch in the cooling system of unit 2: Four out of five water pumps being used to cool unit 2 reactor had failed after the explosion at unit 3. In addition, the last pump had briefly stopped working when fuel ran out. To replenish the water, the contained pressure would have to be lowered first by opening a valve of the vessel. The unit’s air flow gauge was accidentally turned off and, with the gauge turned off, flow of water into the reactor was blocked leading to full exposure of the rods.
Explosion in reactor 2 building
An explosion was heard after 06:14 JST on 15 March in unit 2, possibly damaging the pressure-suppression system, which is at the bottom part of the containment vessel. The radiation level was reported to exceed the legal limit and the plant’s operator started to evacuate all non-essential workers from the plant. Only a minimum crew of 50 men, also referred to as the Fukushima 50, was left at the site. Soon after, radiation equivalent dose rates had risen to 8.2 mSv/h around two hours after the explosion and again down to 2.4 mSv/h, shortly after. Three hours after the explosion, the rates had risen to 11.9 mSv/h.
While admitting that the suppression pool at the bottom of the containment vessel had been damaged in the explosion, causing a drop of pressure there, Japanese nuclear authorities emphasized that the containment had not been breached as a result of the explosion and contained no obvious holes.
In a news conference on 15 March the director general of the IAEA, Yukiya Amano, said that there was a “possibility of core damage” at the No. 2 unit of the damaged Fukushima power plant. He went on to add that the damage was estimated as being “less than five percent”. The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency stated 33% of the fuel rods were damaged, in news reports the morning of 16 March.
Work was to continue through the night aimed at reconnecting mains power to the reactor from the transmission grid once water spraying of unit 3 ceased at 20:09 on 17 March. By midday on 19 March grid power had been connected to the existing transformer at unit 2 but work continued to connect the transformer to the new distribution panel installed in a nearby building. Mains electricity became available at unit 2 at 15:46 JST on 20 March but equipment still had to be repaired and reconnected.
Spent fuel pool
Reactor unit 3
Unlike the other five reactor units, reactor 3 runs on mixed uranium and plutonium oxide, or MOX fuel, making it potentially more dangerous in an incident due to the neutronic effects of plutonium on the reactor, the very long half-life of plutonium’s radioactivity, and the carcinogenic effects in the event of release to the environment. Units 3 and 4 have a shared control room.
Cooling problems at unit 3
Early on 13 March 2011, an official of the Japan Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency told a news conference that the emergency cooling system of Unit 3 had failed, spurring an urgent search for a means to supply cooling water to the reactor vessel in order to prevent a meltdown of its reactor core. At 05:38 there was no means of adding coolant to the reactor due to loss of power. Work to restore power and vent pressure continued. At one point, the top three meters of mixed oxide (MOX) fuel rods were not covered by coolant.
At 07:30 JST, TEPCO prepared to release radioactive steam, indicating that “the amount of radiation to be released would be small and not of a level that would affect human health” and manual venting took place at 08:41 and 09:20. At 09:25 JST on 13 March 2011, operators began injecting water containing boric acid into the primary containment vessel (PCV) via a fire pump. When water levels continued to fall and pressure to rise, the injected water was switched to sea water at 13:12. By 15:00 it was noted that despite adding water the level in the reactor did not rise and radiation had increased. A rise was eventually recorded but the level stuck at 2 m below the top of reactor core. Other readings suggested that this could not be the case and the gauge was malfunctioning.
Injection of sea water into the PCV was discontinued at 01:10 on 14 March because all the water in the reserve pool had been used up. Supplies were restored by 03:20 and injection of water resumed. On the morning of 15 March 2011 (JST), Secretary Edano announced that according to the TEPCO, at one location near reactor units 3 and 4, radiation at an equivalent dose rate of 400 mSv/h was detected. This might have been due to debris from the explosion in unit 4.
Explosion of reactor 3 building
At 12:33 JST on 13 March 2011, the chief spokesman of the Japanese government, Yukio Edano said hydrogen was building up inside the outer building of Unit 3 just as had occurred in Unit 1, threatening the same kind of explosion. At 11:15 JST on 14 March 2011, the envisaged explosion of the building surrounding reactor 3 of Fukushima 1 occurred, due to the ignition of built up hydrogen gas. The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency of Japan reported, as with Unit 1, the top section of the reactor building was blown apart, but the inner containment vessel was not breached. The explosion was larger than that in Unit 1 and felt 40 kilometers away. Pressure readings within the reactor remained steady at around 380 kPa at 11:13 and 360 kPa at 11:55 compared to nominal levels of 400 kPa and a maximum recorded of 840 kPa. Water injection continued. Radiation rates of 0.05 mSv//h were recorded in the service hall and of 0.02 mSv/h at the plant entrance. Eleven people were reported injured in the blast.
Spent fuel pool
Around 10:00 JST, 16 March, NHK helicopters flying 30 km away videotaped white fumes rising from the Fukushima I facility. Officials suggested that the reactor 3 building was the most likely source, and said that its containment systems may have been breached. The control room for reactors 3 and 4 was evacuated at 10:45 JST but staff were cleared to return and resume water injection into the reactor at 11:30 JST. At 16:12 JST Self Defence Force (SDF) Chinook helicopters were preparing to pour water on unit 3, where white fumes rising from the building was believed to be water boiling away from the fuel rod cooling pond on the top floor of the reactor building, and on unit 4 where the cooling pool was also short of water. The mission was cancelled when helicopter measurements reported radiation levels of 50 mSv. At 21:06 pm JST government reported that major damage to reactor 3 was unlikely but that it nonetheless remained their highest priority. Early on 17 March, TEPCO requested another attempt by the military to put water on the reactor using a helicopter and four helicopter drops of seawater took place around 10:00 JST. The riot police used a water cannon to spray water onto the top of the reactor building and then were replaced by members of the SDF with spray vehicles. On 18 March a crew of firemen took over the task with six fire engines each spraying 6 tons of water in 40 minutes. 30 further hyper rescue vehicles were involved in spraying operations.
Grey smoke was reported to be rising from the southeast corner of reactor 3 on Monday afternoon, 21 March 2011. The spent fuel pool is located at this part of the building. Workers were evacuated from the area. Later measurements showed no significant change in radiation levels and the smoke subsided later on the same day.
Reactor unit 4
At the time of the earthquake unit 4 had been shut down for a scheduled periodic inspection since 30 November 2010. All 548 fuel rods had been transferred in December 2010 from the reactor to the spent fuel pool on an upper floor of the reactor building where they were held in racks containing boron to damp down any nuclear reaction. The pool is used to store rods for some time after removal from the reactor and now contains 1,479 rods. Recently active fuel rods produce more decay heat than older ones. At 04:00 JST on Monday 14 March, water in the pool had reached a temperature of 84 °C compared to a normal value of 40–50 °C. IAEA was advised that the temperature value remained 84 °C at 19:00 JST on 15 March, but as of 18 March, no further information was reported.
Explosion of reactor 4 building
At approximately 06:00 JST on 15 March, an explosion—thought to have been caused by hydrogen accumulating near the spent fuel pond—damaged the 4th floor rooftop area of the Unit 4 reactor as well as part of the adjacent Unit 3. At 09:40 JST, the Unit 4 spent fuel pool caught fire, likely releasing radioactive contamination from the fuel stored there. TEPCO said workers extinguished the fire by 12:00. As radiation levels rose, some of the employees still at the plant were evacuated.
On the morning of 15 March 2011 (JST), Secretary Edano announced that according to the Tokyo Electric Power Company, radiation dose equivalent rates measured from the reactor unit 4 reached 100 mSv per hour. Government speaker Edano has stated that there was no continued release of “high radiation”.
Japan’s nuclear safety agency reported two holes, each 8 meters square (64 m2 or 689 sq. feet) in a wall of the outer building of the number 4 reactor after an explosion there. Further, at 17:48 JST it was reported that water in the spent fuel pool might be boiling.
As of 15 March 2011 21:13 JST, radiation inside unit 4 had increased so much inside the control room that employees could not stay there permanently any more. Seventy staff remained on site but 800 had been evacuated. By 22:30 JST, TEPCO was reported to be unable to pour water into No. 4 reactor’s storage pool for spent fuel. At around 22:50 JST, it was reported that the company was considering the use of helicopters to drop water on the spent fuel storage pool but this was postponed because of concerns over safety and effectiveness. and the use of high-pressure fire hoses was considered instead.
A fire was discovered at 05:45 JST on 16 March in the north west corner of the reactor building by a worker taking batteries to the central control room of unit 4. This was reported to the authorities, but on further inspection at 06:15 no fire was found. Other reports stated that the fire was under control. At 11:57 JST, TEPCO released a photograph of No.4 reactor showing that “a large portion of the building’s outer wall has collapsed.” Technicians reportedly considered spraying boric acid on the building from a helicopter.
SDF trucks sprayed water onto the building to try to replenish the pool on 20 March.
On 22 March, the Australian military flew in Bechtel-owned robotic equipment for remote spraying and viewing of the pool. The Australian reported this would give the first clear view of the pool in the “most dangerous” of the reactor buildings.
Possibility of criticality in the spent fuel pool
At approximately 14:30 on 16 March, TEPCO announced that the storage pool, located outside the containment area, might be boiling, and if so the exposed rods could reach criticality. The BBC commented that criticality would not mean a nuclear bomb-like explosion, but could cause a sustained release of radioactive materials. Around 20:00 JST it was planned to use a police water cannon to spray water on unit 4.
On 16 March the chairman of United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Gregory Jaczko, said in Congressional testimony that the NRC believed all of the water in the spent fuel pool had boiled dry. Japanese nuclear authorities and TEPCO contradicted this report, but later in the day Jaczko stood by his claim saying it had been confirmed by sources in Japan. At 13:00 TEPCO claimed that helicopter observation indicated that the pool had not boiled off. The French Institut de radioprotection et de sûreté nucléaireagreed, stating that helicopter crews diverted planned water dumps to unit 3 on the basis of their visual inspection of unit 4.
Reactor units 5 and 6
Both reactors were off line at the time the earthquake struck (reactor 5 had been shut down on 3 January 2011 and reactor 6 on 14 August 2010), although they were still fueled, unlike reactor 4 where the fuel rods had been removed prior to the earthquake.
Government spokesman Edano stated on 15 March that reactors 5 and 6 were being closely monitored, as cooling processes were not functioning well. At 09:16 JST the removal of roof panels from reactor buildings 5 and 6 was being considered in order to allow any hydrogen build-up to escape. At 21:00 on 15 March, water levels in unit 5 were reported to be 2 m above fuel rods, but were falling at a rate of 8 cm per hour.
On 17 March, Unit 6 was reported to have operational diesel-generated power and this was to be used to power pumps in unit 5 to run the Make up Water Condensate System (MUWC) to supply more water. Preparations were made to inject water into the reactor pressure vessel once mains power could be restored to the plant, as water levels in the reactors were said to be declining. It was estimated that grid power might be restored on 20 March through cables laid from a new temporary supply being constructed at units 1 and 2.
Information provided to the IAEA indicated that storage pool temperatures at both units 5 and 6 remained steady around 60–68 °C between 19:00 JST 14 March and 21:00 JST 18 March, though rising slowly. On 18 March reactor water levels remained around 2m above the top of fuel rods. It was confirmed that panels had been removed from the roofs of units 5 and 6 to allow any hydrogen gas to escape. At 04:22 on 19 March the second unit of emergency generator A for unit 6 was restarted which allowed operation of pump C of the residual heat removal system (RHR) in unit 5 to cool the spent fuel storage pool. Later in the day pump B in unit 6 was also restarted to allow cooling of the spent fuel pool there. Temperature at unit 5 pool decreased to 48 °C on 19 March 18:00 JST, and 37 °C on 20 March when unit 6 pool temperature had fallen to 41 °C. On 20 March NISA announced that both reactors had been returned to a condition of cold shutdown. External power was partially restored to unit 5 via transformers at unit 6 connected to the Yonoromi power transmission line on 21 March.
Central fuel storage areas
The central fuel storage pond containing 6375 fuel assemblies was ‘secured’ and temperatures are 55 °C. The dry cask storage showed ‘no signs of abnormal situation’.
Reactor status summary
The Japan Atomic Industrial Forum (JAIF) has developed a status summary table for the Fukushima nuclear power plants and is publishing updates twice each day.
USA, Australia and Sweden have instructed their citizens to evacuate a radius of minimum 80 km. Spain has advised their citizens to leave an area of 120 km, Germany has advised their citizens to leave even the metropolitan area of Tokyo, and South Korea advises to leave farther than 80 km and to have plans to evacuate by all possible means. Travel to Japan is very low, but additional flights have been chartered by some countries to assist those who wish to leave. Official evacuation of Japan have been started by several nations.
Solutions considered or attempted
Radiation levels and radioactive contamination
Fukushima radiation comparison to other incidents and standards, with graph of recorded radiation levels and specific accident events.(Note: Does not include all radiation readings from Fukushima I site)
Secretary Edano on 15 March 2011 said that radiation rates had been measured as high as “30 mSv/h” between units 2 and 3, as high as “400 mSv/h” near unit 3, between it and unit 4, and “100 mSv/h” near unit 4. He said, “there is no doubt that unlike in the past, the figures are the level at which human health can be affected.” Prime Minister Naoto Kan urged people living between 20 and 30 kilometers of the plant to stay indoors, “The danger of further radiation leaks (from the plant) is increasing,” Kan warned the public at a press conference, while asking people to “act calmly”.
A spokesman for Japan’s nuclear safety agency said TEPCO had told it that radiation levels in Ibaraki, between Fukushima and Tokyo, had risen. “The level does not pose health risks,” the spokesman said. The Tokyo metropolitan government said it has detected radioactive material, such as iodine and cesium, up to 40 times normal levels in Saitama, near Tokyo. Radiation levels in Tokyo were at one point measured at 0.8 μSv/hour although they were later measured at “about twice the normal level”. Later, on 15 March 2011, Edano reported that radiation levels were lower. A changed wind direction dispersed radiation away from the land and back over the Pacific Ocean. Thousands of Tokyo residents are reported to have left for cities further south, although Edano insisted that levels in Greater Tokyo were not hazardous.
On 16 March power plant staff were briefly evacuated after smoke rose above the plant and radiation levels measured at the gate surged to 10 mSv/h. Media reported 1,000 mSv/h close to the leaking reactor, with radiation levels subsequently dropping back to 800–600 millisieverts. Japan’s defence ministry criticized the nuclear safety agency and TEPCO after some of its troops were possibly exposed to radiation when working on the site. Japan’s ministry of science measured radiation levels of up to 0.33 mSv/h 20 kilometers northwest of the power plant. Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission recommended local authorities to instruct evacuees leaving the 20-kilometre area to ingest stable (not radioactive) iodine.
On 17 March IAEA radiation monitoring over 47 cities, showed that levels of radiation in Tokyo had not risen. They had received no new radiation level information from the Fukushima power plant site. Although at some locations around 30 km from the Fukushima plant, the dose rates rose significantly in the preceding 24 hours (in one location from 80 to 170 μSv/h and in another from 26 to 95 μSv/h), but levels varied according to the direction from the plant. A level of iodine on spinach grown in open air in Kitaibaraki city in Ibaraki, around 75 kilometers south of the nuclear plant, was 24,000 becquerels, 12 times more than the limit of 2,000 becquerels, with cesium levels of 690 becquerels, 190 more than the limit, also found in the spinach.
On 18 March IAEA clarified that, contrary to several news reports, the IAEA to date has not received any notification from the Japanese authorities of people sickened by radiation contamination.
On 19 March the science ministry said a minuscule amount of radioactive substances was detected in tap water in Tokyo, as well as Tochigi, Gunma, Chiba and Saitama prefectures. The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare announced that radiation levels exceeding legal limits had been detected in milk produced in the Fukushima area and in certain vegetables in Ibaraki. Measurements made by Japan in a number of locations have shown the presence of radionuclides—i.e. isotopes such as Iodine-131 and Caesium-137—on the ground.
Published measurements and measurements alleged by media of dose rates can be found in the table below (all dose rates converted to millisievert per hour):
Wind and radioactive cloud
The United Nations predicted that a radiation plume from the stricken Japanese reactors would reach the United States by 18 March. Health and nuclear experts emphasized that radioactive isotopes in the plume will be diluted, and even if detectable would have at worst extremely minor health consequences in the United States. A simulation by the Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy shows trace amounts of radioactivity reaching California and Mexico around 19 March.
File:Fukushima trajectory animation from 2011-03-19 to 2011-03-25.
Due to an anticyclone south of Japan, favorable westerly winds were dominant during most of the first week of the accident, depositing most of the radioactive material out to sea and away from population centers, with some unfavorable wind directions depositing radioactive material over Tokyo. Low-pressure area over Eastern Japan is giving less favorable wind directions for 21–22 March. For Monday, 21 March, the prevailing wind direction was from the North-North-East. Wind shift to West-South-West is predicted on Tuesday, 22 March between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. Japanese time. After the shift, the plume would again be pushed out to the sea for the next becoming days. Roughly similar prediction results were presented by the Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI) for 22 March 2011. Jeff Masters has evaluated similar NOAA predictions. In spite of winds blowing towards Tokyo, he comments, “From what I’ve been able to gather from official reports of radioactivity releases from the Fukushima plant, Tokyo will not receive levels of radiation dangerous to human health in the coming days, should emissions continue at current levels.”
Norwegian Institute for Air Research have continuous forecasts of the radioactive cloud and its movement. These are based on the FLEXPART model, originally designed for forecasting the spread of radioactivity from the Chernobyl disaster.
Effects on human health
Radiation exposure of up to 0.17 millisieverts per hour (mSv/h) (measured Thursday, down to 0.15 mSv/h Friday) has been reported 30 km (19 miles) away from the damaged nuclear reactors. This is within the 20 to 30 km “stay in your house” zone being used. Experts say exposure to this amount of radiation for 6 to 7 hours would result in absorption of the maximum level considered safe for one year.  For comparison, one chest x-ray is about 0.1 mSv. Some residents have been in the area for 1 week. An acute exposure to radiation is much more harmful than the same dose spread out over a longer period of time, making comparisons between short-term and yearly doses problematic. One exception to this rule is that exposure to penetrating radiation is less harmful than long term exposure to ingested or inhaled radioactive dust. People can mitigate their exposure to radiation through a variety of protection techniques.
Normal background radiation varies from place to place but delivers a dose equivalent in the vicinity of 2.4 mSv/year, or about 0.3 µSv/h. The international limit for radiation exposure for nuclear workers is 20 mSv per year, averaged over five years, with a limit of 50 mSv in any one year, however for workers performing emergency services EPA guidance on dose limits is 100 mSv when “protecting valuable property” and 250 mSv when the activity is “life saving or protection of large populations.” A 250 mSv dose is estimated to increase one’s lifetime risk of developing fatal cancer from about 20% to about 21%, and chronic exposure of 100 mSv per year is the “lowest level at which any increase in cancer is clearly evident,” according to the International Commission on Radiological Protection. Symptoms of radiation poisoning typically emerge with a 1000 mSv total dose over a day.
Radiation dose rates at one location between reactor units 3 and 4 was measured at 400 mSv/h at 10:22 JST, 13 March, causing experts to urge rapid rotation of emergency crews as a method of limiting exposure to radiation. 1,000 mSv/h were reported (but not confirmed by the IAEA) close to the leaking reactor units on 16 March, prompting a temporary evacuation of plant workers, with radiation levels subsequently dropping back to 800–600 millisieverts. Prior to the accident, the maximum permissible dose for Japanese nuclear workers was 100 mSv in any one year, but on 15 March 2011, the Japanese Health and Labor Ministry increased that annual limit to 250 mSv, for emergency situations.
Isotopes of possible concern
The IAEA confirmed that measurements made by Japan in a number of locations have shown the presence of radionuclides—i.e. isotopes such as Iodine-131 and Caesium-137—on the ground. These isotopes can have serious effects on health, depending on the quantity inhaled or ingested.
The isotope iodine-131 is easily absorbed by the thyroid. Persons exposed to releases of I-131 from any source have a higher risk for developing thyroid cancer or thyroid disease, or both. Notably, radio-iodine has a short half-life at approximately 8 days. Children are particularly more vulnerable to I-131 than adults. Increased risk for thyroid neoplasm remains elevated for at least 40 years after exposure. Potassium iodide tablets prevent iodine-131 absorption. Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission recommended local authorities to instruct evacuees leaving the 20-kilometre area to ingest stable (not radioactive) iodine. CBS news reported that the number of doses of potassium iodide available to the public in Japan was inadequate to meet the perceived needs for an extensive radioactive contamination event.
Caesium-137 is also a particular threat because it behaves like potassium and is taken-up by the cells throughout the body. Prussian blue helps the body excrete caesium-137. Cs-137 can cause acute radiation sickness, and increase the risk for cancer because of exposure to high-energy gamma radiation. Internal exposure to Cs-137, through ingestion or inhalation, allows the radioactive material to be distributed in the soft tissues, especially muscle tissue, exposing these tissues to the beta particles and gamma radiation and increasing cancer risk.
Strontium-90 behaves like calcium, and tends to deposit in bone and blood-forming tissue (bone marrow). 20–30% of ingested Sr-90 is absorbed and deposited in the bone. Internal exposure to Sr-90 is linked to bone cancer, cancer of the soft tissue near the bone, and leukemia. Risk of cancer increases with increased exposure to Sr-90.
Plutonium is also present in the MOX fuel of the Unit 3 reactor and in spent fuel rods, although there has been no official indication that plutonium has been detected outside the reactors. Officials at the International Atomic Energy Agency say the presence of MOX fuel does not add significantly to the dangers. Plutonium-239 is particularly long-lived and toxic with a half-life of 24,000 years, and if it escaped in smoke from a burning reactor and contaminated soil downwind, it would remain hazardous for tens of thousands of years.
Rush for iodine
Fear of radiation from Japan prompted a global rush for iodine pills, including in the United States, Canada, Russia, Korea, China, Malaysia and Finland. There is a rush for iodized salt in China. A rush for iodine antiseptic solution appeared in Malaysia. WHO warned against consumption of iodine pills without consulting a doctor and also warned against drinking iodine antiseptic solution. The United States Pentagon said troops are receiving potassium iodide before missions to areas where possible radiation exposure is likely.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says it has received reports of people being admitted to poison centres around the world after taking iodine tablets in response to fears about harmful levels of radiation coming out of the damaged nuclear power plant in Fukushima.
See also: Operation Tomodachi
Humanitarian flight is checked for radiation at Yokota
In Operation Tomodachi, the United States Navy dispatched the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and other vessels in the Seventh Fleet to fly a series of helicopter operations. A U.S. military spokesperson said that low-level radiation forced a change of course en route to Sendai. The Reagan and sailors aboard were exposed to “a month’s worth of natural background radiation from the sun, rocks or soil” in an hour and the carrier was repositioned. Seventeen sailors were decontaminated after they and their three helicopters were found to have been exposed to low levels of radioactivity.
The aircraft carrier USS George Washington was docked for maintenance at Yokosuka Naval Base, about 280 kilometres (170 mi) from the plant, when instruments detected radiation at 07:00 JST, 15 March 2011. Rear Admiral Richard Wren stated that the nuclear crisis in Fukushima, 320 kilometres (200 mi) from Yokosuka, was too distant to warrant a discussion about evacuating the base. Daily monitoring and some precautionary measures were recommended for Yokosuka and Atsugi bases, such as limiting outdoor activities and securing external ventilation systems. As a precaution, the Washington was pulled out of its Yokosuka port later in the week.The navy has also stoped moving its personnel to japan as well.
Reaction in Japan
Assessment and requests for help
The Prime Minister of Japan, Naoto Kan, visited the plant for a briefing on 12 March 2011. He has been frequently quoted in the press, calling for calm and minimizing exaggerated reports of danger. Prime Minister Kan met with Tokyo Electric Power Company on 15 March and lamented the lack of information. According to press accounts, he bluntly asked, “What the hell is going on?” Secretary Edano about 18 March stated, “We could have moved a little quicker in assessing the situation.”
The Japanese government asked the United States to provide cooling equipment to the plant. As of 15 March, the U.S. had provided 3,265 kilograms (7,200 lb) of “special equipment”, a fire truck, to help monitor and assess the situation at the plant.
The French nuclear accident response organization Groupe INTRA has shipped some of its radiation-hardened mobile robot equipment to Japan to help with the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident.  So far, 130 tonnes of equipment has been shipped to Japan.
Fukushima I and II Nuclear Accidents Overview Map showing evacuation and other zone progression and selected radiation levels.
After the declaration of a nuclear emergency by the Government at 19:03 on 11 March, the Fukushima prefecture ordered the evacuation of an estimated 1,864 people within a distance of 2 km from the plant. This was extended to 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) and 5,800 people at 21:23 by a directive to the local governor from the Prime Minister, together with instructions for residents within 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) of the plant to stay indoors. The evacuation was expanded to a 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) radius at 5:44 on 12 March, and then to 20 kilometres (12 mi) at 18:25, shortly before ordering use of sea water for emergency cooling.
The Guardian reported at 17:35 JST on 12 March that NHK advised residents of the Fukushima area “to stay inside, close doors and windows and turn off air conditioning. They were also advised to cover their mouths with masks, towels or handkerchiefs” as well as not to drink tap water. Air traffic has been restricted in a 20-kilometre (12 mi) radius around the plant, according to a NOTAM. The BBC has reported as of 22:49 JST (13:49 GMT) “A team from the National Institute of Radiological Sciences has been dispatched to Fukushima as a precaution, reports NHK. It was reportedly made up of doctors, nurses and other individuals with expertise in dealing with radiation exposure, and had been taken by helicopter to a base 5 km from the nuclear plant.”
Evacuations were also ordered around the nearby Fukushima II (Daini) plant. Residents within 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) were ordered to evacuate at 07:45 on 12 March, again with instructions for those within 10 km to stay indoors. Evacuation was extended to 10 km by 17:39. A journalistic investigation was stopped 60 kilometres (37 mi) from the plants by police. Over 50,000 people were evacuated during 12 March. The figure increased to 170,000–200,000 people on 13 March, after officials voiced the possibility of a meltdown.
On the morning of 15 March, the evacuation area was again extended. Prime Minister Naoto Kan issued instructions that any remaining people within a 20 km (12 mile) zone around the plant must leave, and urged that those living between 20 km and 30 km from the site should stay indoors. A 30 km no-fly zone has been introduced around the plant.
On 16 March, the U.S. Embassy advised Americans in Japan to leave areas within “approximately 50 miles” (80 km) from the plant. Gregory Jaczko, the chairman of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said before the United States Congress, believing the Japanese government was not telling the full story, “We would recommend an evacuation to a much larger radius than has currently been provided by Japan.” Spain advises to leave an area of 120 km, Germany advises to leave even the metropolitan area of Tokyo, and South Korea advises to leave farther than 80 km and plans to evacuate by all possible means. Travel to Japan is very low, but additional flights are chartered to evacuate foreigners. Official evacuation of Japan was started by several nations.
Of 90 bedridden patients moved from a hospital in the town of Futaba-machi, a sample of three patients were tested and shown to have been exposed to radiation. The patients had been waiting outdoors for rescuers before being moved by helicopter at the time an explosion happened.
Statements on meltdown possibility
In a press conference, the chief spokesman of the Japanese nuclear authorities was translated into English as having said that a nuclear meltdown may be a possibility at Unit 1. Toshihiro Bannai, director of the international affairs office of Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety, in a telephone interview with CNN, stated that a meltdown was possible. However, the Japanese prime minister soon indicated that a nuclear meltdown was not in progress and emphasized that the containment of Unit 1 was still intact. After the statement, the government added that the claim of a meltdown had been mistranslated. The temperature inside the reactor was not reported, but Japanese regulators said it was not dropping as quickly as they wanted. At 12:33 JST on 13 March 2011, the Chief Cabinet Secretary of the Japanese government, Yukio Edano, was reported to have confirmed that there was a “significant chance” that radioactive fuel rods had partially melted in Unit 3 and Unit 1, or that “it was ‘highly possible’ a partial meltdown was underway”. “I am trying to be careful with words … This is not a situation where the whole core suffers a meltdown”. Soon after, Edano disclaimed that a meltdown was in progress. He stated that the radioactive fuel rods had not partially melted and he emphasized that there was no danger for the health of the population. Cabinet Secretary Edano later said that there were signs that the fuel rods were melting in all three reactors. “Although we cannot directly check it, it’s highly likely happening”.
At 01:17 JST on Sunday 13 March 2011, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency announced that it was rating the Fukushima accidents at Unit 1 at Level 4 (accident with local consequences) on the 0–7 International Nuclear Event Scale (INES), below the Three Mile Island (TMI) accident in seriousness which was at Level 5.
On Monday, 14 March 2011, three Russian experts stated that the nuclear accident should be classified at Level 5, perhaps even Level 6. One day later, the French nuclear safety authority ASN said that the Fukushima plant could be classified as a Level 6.
On 18 March, Japanese nuclear officials raised the level of the events at Unit 1 from 3 to 5 on the INES scale, while also giving this level to the accidents at reactors 2 and 3. The incident at reactor 4 was classified as level 3.
In financial markets, the plant operator TEPCO’s shares halved in value as it dropped over four consecutive trading days, before rising again on Thursday. Japan’s Nikkei 225 stock index fell 6% on Monday. The Nikkei then plunged another 11% on 15 March after the government warned of elevated radiation risks. On 16 March the index recovered 5.7%. On Friday 18 March at 10 am Tokyo time, the G7 group of nations began an unprecedented coordinated currency market intervention to stabilize the value of the yen above 80 JPY/USD.
The International reaction to the nuclear accidents has been a humanitarian response to the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, also to those people affected by the events at Fukushima I. The response has also included the expression of concern over the developments at the reactors and the risk of escalation. The accidents have furthermore prompted re-evaluation of existing and planned national nuclear energy programs, with some commentators questioning the future of the nuclear renaissance.