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Japan Reactor Crisis Deepens With Reports that Fuel Rods Are Fully Exposed

Posted May. 12, 2011 / Posted by: Nick Berning

For Immediate Release

Contact:

Nick Berning, 202-222-0748, nberning@foe.org
Kelly Trout, 202-222-0722, ktrout@foe.org

Radioactive fuel rods are fully exposed and melting, TEPCO reports, but U.S. regulators continue to downplay severity of crisis and refuse to extend 90-day review

WASHINGTON, D.C.—According to news reports, Japanese utility TEPCO has announced that it has learned that radioactive fuel rods in reactor 1 at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility are fully exposed and melting.

Melting fuel has reportedly dropped to the bottom of reactor 1’s pressure vessel. According to U.S. nuclear experts, fuel may have already melted through the reactor itself and could be in the process of melting through the concrete containment structure—the last barrier between the radioactive fuel and the outside environment.

“This is an extremely precarious situation,” said Damon Moglen, the climate and energy director at Friends of the Earth, who has decades of experience on nuclear issues. “If the radioactive fuel burns through its containment structure, there’s no telling where the crisis ends. The human and economic consequences could be absolutely devastating, with large swaths of land rendered uninhabitable for lifetimes.”

Yet earlier today, the executive director of operations at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Bill Borchardt, downplayed the challenges, saying developments are not causing “any undue concern,” and adding that the situation in Japan is “static.”

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been criticized by outside experts for being too close to the industry it is supposed to regulate and for refusing to extend its 90-day review of U.S. nuclear facilities in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

“We have 23 reactors in the U.S. that are of the same design as the reactor melting down in Japan. We need a thorough, independent analysis of the threats these U.S reactors pose. Instead, the NRC, well known for acting like an industry lap dog, is moving forward with a farcical 90-day review,” Moglen said. “The 90-day review will be concluded before the reactors in Japan are brought under control. How can U.S. regulators assert with a straight face that this is a timetable that will allow for a thorough accounting of lessons learned, when the situation in Japan is in actuality anything but static?”

Opposition to new nuclear reactor construction is rising among the public as investor interest is cooling to the idea of investing billions of dollars in risky, dirty and dangerous reactors.  Opposition is swelling abroad as well: German Chancellor Angela Merkel is moving to shut a number of reactors immediately and eventually phase out all nuclear power in her country, and the Japanese government has announced that it will focus on clean energy investments. But the Obama administration continues to support an expansion of the nuclear industry, with President Obama pushing for more bailout guarantees that would compensate investors if the nuclear industry defaults on loans it takes out for new reactors.

“Given this latest news, it’s time for the Obama administration to seriously reevaluate its support for the nuclear industry. Clean energy alternatives like wind and solar and energy efficiency make a lot more sense, and don’t endanger the public,” Moglen said.

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