US expert warns of widespread nuclear fallout in Japan

The crippled Japanese nuclear complex has lost most of its water, a US atomic expert has warned.

Updated: Mar 17, 2011, 18:43 PM IST

Washington: There is a possibility of a
widespread nuclear fallout as a pool cooling spent fuel rods
at the crippled Japanese nuclear complex has lost most of its
water, a top US atomic expert has warned.

Saying that a "potentially catastrophic situation"
could be round the corner, the chief of the US Nuclear
Regulatory Commission (NRC) has told Congress that all the
water has gone from one of the spent fuel pools at the
Fukushima nuclear complex, ABC News reported.

"There is no water in the spent fuel pool and we
believe that radiation levels are extremely high, which could
possibly impact the ability to take corrective measures," the
NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko told a Congressional hearing
yesterday.

But, hours later the Japanese officials challenged his
statement, denying that the pool was dry and said the
situation at the Unit 4 of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power
plant was stable.

Jaczko said the situation was also alarming at the
Unit 3 of the complex where he said there was a crack in the
spent fuel pool which could lead to loss of water in that pool
too.

American experts say that spent fuel rods are kept in
pools of water to prevent them from overheating and ultimately
melting down.

They warned that the outer shell of the rod could also
ignite with enough force to propel the radioactive fuel inside
over a wide area.

"It would be hard to describe how alarming this is
right now and that a suicide mission might not be enough to
avoid disaster," ABC quoted a US official as saying.

To grapple with the situation, Jaczko has counselled
the Japanese to widen the evacuation zone from the current 30
kms to 50 kms radius.

The TV channel said that US officials were alarmed at
how the Japanese were handling the escalating nuclear crisis
and fear that if American experts are not given control of the
plant within the next 24 to 48 hours, the Japanese could have
a situation that could be "deadly for decades".

The channel said that President Barack Obama had been
briefed by nuclear experts on the Japanese crisis.

Quoting US officials, ABC said the Americans were
urging the Japanese to get more people back inside in the
crippled reactor buildings to cool down the reactor rods
before they trigger a meltdown.

"They need to stop pulling out people....and step up
with getting them back in the reactor to cool it. There is a
recognition this is a suicide mission," the official said.

The official said the US is in very deep consultations
with Japanese about the way forward and that the only thing
that has been favourable is the wind pattern that is blowing
the contaminated material out to sea instead of south towards
Tokyo and other populated areas, but that cannot be counted
upon long.

The US official say there is a rupture in two, may be
three of the six reactors at the Fukushima power plant, but as
worrisome is the fact that spent fuel rods are now exposed to
the air, which means that substance like cesium, which have a
long half-life, could become airborne.

"That could be deadly for decades," the official said,
adding that there was a growing concern around the world that
a nuclear catastrophic disaster is in the works.

PTI