News that one Japanese reactor contains a substance far more toxic than regular uranium fuel is leading experts to warn that Japan’s nuclear meltdown could displace Chernobyl as the worst nuclear accident in history.
David Albright, president and founder of the Institute for Science and International Security, told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd Thursday morning: “There’s a risk that this could seriously, or significantly outpace Chernobyl.”
It was Albright who predicted that at least trace amounts of radioactivity from Japan would reach the United States. International monitoring stations now confirm a very small level of radiation is spreading toward the U.S. West Coast.
Albright emphasized there’s still time for the Japanese government to mitigate the worst effects of the disaster. But he added that the United States, while respecting Japan’s sovereignty, must also step up and become more directly involved in the crisis response.
One sign the Obama administration may indeed be prepared to take a more active role: The announcement that it will deploy Global Hawk drone aircraft to provide surveillance of the Fukushima nuclear facility where the multiple reactor melt downs are occurring.
The Global Hawk would provide more information to Japan authorities fighting to stop the meltdowns, but it would also provide more information to U.S. officials, who have begun to openly criticize the dearth of accurate information about the crisis flowing out of Japan.
|Japan's Fukushima Daiichi Plant
It appears the Japanese are now focusing all their efforts on one last objective: Stopping the meltdown of the fuel rods in reactor No. 3. Helicopter crews are braving intense radiation to drop water there. Also, first responders are desperately trying to target the No. 3 reactors with water from high-pressure hoses. But so far the radiation levels have been too high for them to get close enough to be effective.
Why the special attention on reactor No. 3, when the other reactors are also at risk of experiencing a meltdown? Apparently, No. 3 is the only reactor that contains mixed oxide, or Mox fuel. Mox fuel rods contain about 6 percent plutonium as well as uranium.
Dr. Arjun Makhijani, an electrical and nuclear engineer for nearly four decades, who serves as president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental research, tells Newsmax that plutonium is “much more” toxic than uranium.
No. 3 is the containment vessel authorities believe may have been breached by an explosion. The fear is that another explosion would loose a plume containing fine particles of plutonium which, if inhaled, could cause a major risk of lung and other cancers.
That danger is increased by the fact that Mox is made by grinding the plutonium into fine particles, increasing the potential threat.
Makhijani tells Newsmax that plutonium is “a very hazardous carcinogen,” and is the most toxic substance that can also be used to create a nuclear reaction.
He also tells Newsmax that inhalation of as little as one-millionth of an ounce – an almost undetectable particle size -- has been linked to elevated risks of lung cancer.
If emitted by energy plant in Tokyo, tiny airborne particles of plutonium would cause an extraordinary health hazard. The radioactive material has an extraordinary half-life of 88 years, meaning the particles would be a silent killer for generations if someone would inhale them.
Activists have warned about the dangers of MOX fuel for years. But the meltdown in Japan is the first nuclear accident involving Mox fuel.
It’s not clear if the containment in No. 3 has been breached. Japanese authorities said that was unlikely, but they detected a surprising drop in pressure readings from within the containment vessel on Wednesday. That would either suggest faulty sensor readings, or a rupture in containment.
The New York Times is reporting Japan’s focus on No. 3 indicates that is seen as the biggest threat.
“Western nuclear engineers have said that the release of Mox into the atmosphere would produce a more dangerous radioactive plume than the dispersal of uranium fuel rods at the site,” the newspaper reported Thursday.
Japan’s Self-Defense Forces dropped some 8,000 gallons of water on the No. 3 reactor Wednesday, in a last-ditch attempt to cool it. But it later reported that led to only a small drop in temperatures.
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