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Fukushima Reactor #3 in Danger of Fire Like Reactor #4? (Updated)

John on March 16, 2011 at 11:06 pm

Helicopters dropped water on reactor #3. Recall that’s the reactor that uses plutonium fuel:

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The water is going into the spent reactor fuel pool on top of the reactor. Does this pool contain plutonium fuel? I assume the concern is that if the pool dries out it could catch fire exactly like the pool at reactor #4 did yesterday. However this pool may contain plutonium which is significantly more dangerous and may make the area impossible to work in. Watch to the end and you’ll see that the conclusion is that the drops did little to help the release of radioactivity. They are going to use trucks next. I don’t envy the brave men doing this work.

There is a plan that might help resolve this situation currently underway:

The Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) will attempt to connect a new power line to the damaged Fukushima No. 1 power plant in an effort to restore electricity knocked out by the tsunami, hopefully re-enabling use of cooling equipment at the plant, it was learned on March 16.

TEPCO intends to use power provided by northern power company Tohoku Electric Power for the operation. If the plant’s power is restored, the emergency core cooling system (ECCS) may become operational, allowing workers to stop the melting of the reactor cores and the resultant spread of radioactive material.

Of course the key word in that second graph is “may.” After the fires and explosions there’s probably no telling whether or not the cooling systems are still operations.

Update: It sounds as if the effort to shoot water from trucks was suspended Thursday night (local Japan time) after about 40 minutes. The report says police couldn’t reach the building due to high radiation levels:

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Update 2: I’ve been corrected on my statement above about plutonium vs. uranium. Via Twitter, I’m being told by someone who knows the difference that plutonium can actually be less dangerous unless it is inhaled or ingested. He provided a link to this helpful pdf about the health dangers of Plutonium. My question: Isn’t inhalation the danger workers at the plant would face if the #3 cooling pool catches fire? His response, hazardous material suits can probably keep out most stuff, though it gets dicey once fire and smoke is involved.

Robert Howard, the guy I’ve been communicating with mentioned the “Spock scenario.” Remember that scene from Wrath of Khan where Spock locks himself in the radiation chamber to save the Enterprise? In other words, this could get to a point where the radiation is deadly but someone has to stop it from catching fire anyway. Now there’s a horrible but real possibility to contemplate. To some degree, the 50 guys on site may already be doing that.

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