Crack in Japanese reactor core opens up nightmare scenario, expert says


After the hands and feet of emergency workers were burned by highly radioactive water and public apologies for the release of false information to the public, signs still point to the possibility of a crack in the reactor core of unit three at the troubled nuclear plant in Japan. 

“This is the nightmare that haunts every physicist – a crack in the vessel,” Physicist Michio Kaku PhD, a professor at City University of New York, said on Good Morning America.  A crack in the vessel implies core damage, he noted. 

Michio Kaku

On March 25, Tepco officials apologized for allowing workers into the troubled nuclear plant without adequate footwear. Two days later they apologized for releasing incorrect data on radiation levels. Due to Tepco’s slow and seemingly inept response to the crisis, and opaque or conflicting communications, Dr. Kaku believes the time is overdue for an overhaul of the crisis management team. 

“If I had the ear of the Prime Minister, instead of accepting their apology, I would remove them entirely from leadership of this crisis and bring in a top team of the world’s best nuclear physicists and engineers with the authority to call up the Japanese military,” Dr. Kaku said. “Only the military, led by an international team of top scientists, using Tepco as a consultant, can tame this monster.” 

The use of saltwater to cool the reactor cores seems to have produced an undesirable side effect. “They were late in putting in saltwater, because saltwater is corrosive and they knew it would damage their reactors,” Dr. Kaku said. “It was never meant to be a long-term solution. The use of saltwater is a band-aid.” 

“You have to remove the saltwater because it contains corrosive salt, which gums up the rods, raises temperatures, and could cause a hydrogen gas explosion. Once again they are behind the eight ball,” Dr. Kaku lamented. 

The United States announced on March 25 it would dispatch a naval vessel filled with fresh water from the Yokosuka naval base to attempt to reverse this problem.  

Still, the dreadful potential of a Chernobyl-style release of radiation causes Dr. Kaku the greatest concern. “The most dangerous nightmare that haunts the dreams of every nuclear physicist is a huge crack in the vessel that actually contains the uranium rods itself. It means there is core damage. It means there could be a steam explosion or hydrogen gas explosion that blows the vessel apart,” he noted. 

“That’s what happened at Chernobyl. That’s why you had an uncontrolled release of 25 percent of the core into the air over Kiev.” 

The New York Times has been reporting a large crack in the reactor core of Unit 3, but they are using an unnamed source and this information is still uncorroborated by Tepco or Japan’s government. 

On Dr. Kaku’s blog, he explained Tepco’s confusion over their faulty radiation readings. “Workers at Unit 2 were astonished to find that radiation levels in the water were extremely high,” he notes. Apparently, when they saw these readings they rushed out so fast that they did not do a second measurement of the water. 

Their first readings were slightly incorrect, according to Dr. Kaku. “The workers got iodine-134 (with a half-life of 53 minutes) confused with iodine-131 (with a half-life of 8 days). Also, cesium-137 was also found in the water (with a half – life of about 30 years).” 

“By confusing the two, they also go the wrong level of radioactivity.”  Their calibration of iodine-134 was incorrect, yielding the false number of 10 million. Without double-checking, they went public with this incorrect number, he notes.  

Still, even the corrected numbers reveal a highly dangerous exposure to emergency workers. “Radiation levels are 1,000 milliseverts/hour. This means that workers will come down with radiation sickness with only 15 min. of exposure. Some workers will die after 6 hours of exposure.” 

When lethal radiation levels make evacuation mandatory, then a further downward spirial of the crisis is unavoidable.

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