It's Tuesday morning in Japan now, and the country's damaged nuclear reactors still face the prospect of melting down. The desperate move to cool overheated fuel rods with seawater has run into some problems. The death toll is above 10,000. As if this weren't enough, estimates are already trickling in for the country's staggering reconstruction costs. If you have the masochistic need to read any further, here's a roundup of the latest news.
- Even though a spokesman for the plant's owner doesn't think a "critical event is imminent," the efforts to cool the most dangerously damaged reactor by pumping it with seawater is "failing," according to the New York Times. Workers bought themselves some time by opening a malfunctioning valve to release the built-up pressure. On the other hand, there's this: "Government and company officials said fuel melting has almost certainly occurred in that reactor, which can increase releases of radioactive material through the water and steam that escapes from the container vessel."
- The death toll is now expected to be well above 10,000, which is how many there are in Miyagi province alone.
- 17 U.S. military personnel who were aiding with helicopter relief missions were exposed to radiation, but are now contamination-free after a thorough soap scrubbing.
- Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan will personally lead operations at the new joint response center in Tokyo.
- Whenever it's able to stop the loss of life, restore power, prevent apocalyptic nuclear meltdowns and so on, Japan could have a bill of approximately $180 billion to pay, and that's on the low side. The country's debt is already double its GDP, and the borrowing costs to finance this reconstruction could be crippling. But again, they can deal with that later.
- Wikileaks, as always, has a timely State Department cable to share. A Japanese politician had warned U.S. diplomats that "Japanese electric companies are hiding the costs and safety problems associated with nuclear energy.'"
News from earlier this afternoon:
- The Associated Press reports that nuclear fuel rods "appear to be melting" in three reactors. This terrifying news comes from Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edan — the government's top spokesperson — who said about the melting rods, "Although we cannot directly check it, it's highly likely happening." But does "melting nuclear fuel rods" even count as a "partial meltdown"? That all depends: "Some experts would consider that a partial meltdown of the reactor. Others, though, reserve that term for times when nuclear fuel melts through a reactor's innermost chamber but not through the outer containment shell." So the two camps of experts have significantly different definitions of "meltdown." C'mon, Science.
- Some 350,000 Japanese have become homeless and are staying at shelters, according to the New York Times.
- The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission "has announced that the Japanese government has formally asked the US for assistance with cooling nuclear reactors," the Guardian writes. Why of course we'll help! Unless we don't, because the NRC says it's still "considering" providing Japan "with technical advice." Let's not be cads, NRC.
- Japan — the third largest oil-consuming country in the world — has lost a devastating chunk of its refining capacity. According to one estimate, "the capacity loss (1.7mn bbl/d) accounts for about 36% of total Japanese oil refining capacities or 6% of Asia refining capacities."
- A German commentator is comparing the would-be impact of a nuclear disaster to that of 9/11. Hey Germany: It's our job, in America, to peg every global disaster of any kind to 9/11, okay?
- Speaking of America, the nuclear industry had been "poised for a comeback" in recent years here as the 1979 Three Mile Island disaster had receded into the distant past. But then this crisis in Japan comes along and hello, the "fragile bipartisan consensus" supporting nuclear energy expansion could fall apart now, just like everything else.
[Image via AP]