Workers evacuate Japan nuke plant as smoke rises
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Monday, March 21, 2011 11:57AM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 4:15AM EDT
Japanese officials were forced to pull workers out of a disaster-ravaged nuclear power plant Monday for radiation safety reasons after unexplained grey smoke was spotted coming out of two reactor buildings.
It was the latest setback for officials trying to stabilize the troubled Fukushima Dai-ichi plant that has suffered explosions, fires and radiation leaks in several reactors since the massive earthquake and tsunami struck Japan on Mar. 11.
CTV's Tom Walters reported Monday that the first smoke was seen coming out of Dai-ichi's Unit 3 reactor building, but officials were unable to immediately identify the cause.
Smoke was later seen coming out of the Unit 2 reactor and remains under investigation.
Both reactors have previously overheated and suffered explosions since the natural disasters hit Japan and disabled the Dai-ichi plant's cooling systems.
Mycle Schneider, a European-based nuclear energy analyst, says the colour of the smoke coming out of the reactor buildings is a clue that what is burning below is not a benign substance.
"It was sort of greyish smoke, which means that something is burning," Schneider told CTV News Channel during a telephone interview from Paris.
"This is not vapour. That is bad news."
Walters said officials had determined that the smoke seen coming out of the Unit 3 reactor on Monday was not related to an electrical cause, because that reactor remains without power.
Plant workers had been trying to provide outside power to the Unit 3 reactor at the time that the smoke was detected. Power has currently been restored to three of the six reactors at the Dai-ichi plant. Tokyo Electric Power Co. says it expects to connect the rest of the reactors by Tuesday.
Within hours the smoke had dissipated and Hidehiko Nishiyama, a nuclear safety agency official, said there had been no spike in radiation at the plant.
Nishiyama said he did not believe the smoke was linked to the spent fuel storage pool, though the Kyodo News Agency and Japan's NHK broadcaster both reported that the smoke appeared to be emanating from the southeast part of the reactor building where the pool is located.
Gordon Edwards, the president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, said the pool in Unit 3 has become depleted in the wake of the disasters, which has made the reactor too hazardous for workers to approach in person.
Speaking from Montreal, Edwards told CTV's Canada AM on Monday morning that "nobody can get anywhere close to it without getting a lethal dose of radiation."
On the weekend, officials also determined that there has been an unexpected surge in pressure within Unit 3's reactor core.
"In order to relieve that pressure, they would have to give off a large puff of radioactive steam with radioactivity in it, probably a lot more than previously," Edwards said.
The deliberate release of steam from the reactor also holds the risk of explosion -- the same type that has already occurred at the Dai-ichi plant.
Meanwhile, Japanese officials are also dealing with contamination issues stemming from the problems at the Dai-ichi plant.
Elevated levels of iodine have been found in spinach, raw milk, vegetables and tap water, which is making Japanese citizens worried about what they are ingesting and what they are being told about the health risks they are facing.
Yukio Edano, the government's chief cabinet spokesperson, said the public should stay calm.
"Even if you eat contaminated vegetables several times, it will not harm your health at all," Edano said Monday.
Yuhei Sato, the governor of Fukushima prefecture, said officials are doing "everything we can to bring this to an ened."
Residents of the town of Iitate, a village about 30 kilometres northwest of the Dai-ichi plant, were advised not to drink tap water due to iodine levels that were about three times the normal amount.
Tsugumi Hasegawa, a 29-year-old mother who lives in a small town near the Dai-ichi plant, said she is skeptical of government claims that the general radiation levels are currently too small to cause health risks.
I still have no idea what the numbers they are giving about radiation levels mean. It's all so confusing," said Hasegawa.
"And I wonder if they aren't playing down the dangers to keep us from panicking. I don't know who to trust."
Schneider believes Japan should move people further away from Fukushima, especially pregnant women, children and women who might be pregnant, the groups he said are "most sensitive to radioactivity."
With files from The Associated Press