by Ken Timmerman | Newsmax.com | March 13, 2011
U.S. officials have been meeting virtually non-stop at the White House since the Japanese earthquake and the tsunami that damaged the Fukushima nuclear power plant, trying to find ways of helping Japan avert a nuclear core meltdown in ways the Japanese can accept.
So far, it hasn’t been easy, a senior U.S. official told Newsmax.
“We tried to airlift generators to Fukushima right at the beginning, but the Japanese refused our help,” the official said. “They are very proud.”
The U.S. now fears that a third reactor at the Fukishima plant could be in danger. Three of the six reactors shut down correctly when the earthquake hit, but the tsunami cut short the cooling sequence on three other reactors by knocking out emergency power.
“The Japanese had back-up generators, but they weren’t sealed as ours are,” the official said. “They have been bringing in these small batteries, but they only work for a few hours at a time.”
Without the back-up power, officials at Fukushima weren’t able to pump water into the reactors to keep the fuel covered, and had to vent steam from a cooling vessel on Saturday to prevent a catastrophic nuclear accident.
“We think they have a core meltdown in one of the reactors, but because the containment hasn’t been breached it won’t be anything like Three Mile Island,” the official said.
The U.S. offered to airlift water-sealed generators “as big as a house” to Fukushima during an all-night session at the White House on Friday, but the Japanese government refused the help.
Only now are the Japanese and the rest of the world beginning to realize the scope of the catastrophe. “They are using all their helicopters trying to save people and bring in aid,” the official said. “They just don’t have enough airlift capacity to handle this.”
President Obama and vice-president Biden are both “big supporters” of nuclear power, the official said. “They want to make sure this doesn’t develop into another Three Mile Island, which shut down the U.S. nuclear power industry for thirty years.”
Japan’s solution has been to use small back-up batteries to operate pumps to flood the reactors with borated sea water, but it could take up to ten days to completely fill the containment vessel, a spokesman for Tokyo Electric Power said on Saturday.
Boric acid absorbs neutrons, slowing down the nuclear reaction, and is regularly added to cooling water in pressurized water reactors. The decision to use seawater, which is likely to corrode the reactor beyond repair, indicates just how close to a catastrophic meltdown the three reactors had come.
“These are forty-year old reactors. You wouldn’t be having these problems with newer generation reactors,” the official said.
While President Obama has been widely criticized for caving in to demands from Senate Democrat Leader Harry Reid to shut down work on the Yucca Mountain nuclear storage site, the Department of Energy has come up with an alternate plan to store spent fuel from U.S. nuclear power plants at dry storage sites in the desert for fifty years, then burn it up in new generator reactors expected to come on line by then.
“In the end, this is a better alternative to burying the stuff for thousands of years,” the official said.