Japan faces radiation during nuclear power plant battle

On Tuesday, an unpredicted series of dangerous explosions in the reactors at three of Japan’s 54 nuclear power plants were triggered by last Friday’s massive earthquake and tsunami, causing rising fear of levels in radiation that could dramatically affect human health, Japanese officials have said. The crisis with Japan’s reactors began on Friday, when the magnitude- 9.0 quake cut power to the plants.

"The damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant sends a column of smoke over the town of Okuma in the Futaba District of Fukushima following an explosion that injured 11 workers." --DIGITAL GLOBE, AFP/GETTY IMAGES @ USAtoday.com

Soon after the rumble, the tsunami took out the plants’ backup generators, which were being used to power the cooling systems for the reactor cores. In one reactor at the Fukishima Dai-ichi plant, nuclear fuel rods were exposed when they were dangerously drained of cooling water. In the other two reactors, the roofs of the surrounding buildings have been blown off due to sudden explosions caused by hydrogen build-up in the outer buildings that surround the reactor. As radiation levels near the plants rise and officials struggle to tame reactors, people are being thouroughly checked for radiation exposure and contamination. “Radiation levels around Fukushima for one hour’s exposure rose to eight times the legal limit for exposure in one year,” said the plant’s operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. So far Japan has evacuated nearly 200,000 people from the areas near the plants, and the International Atomic Energy Agency has distributed more than 230,000 units of iodine to evacuation centers as a precaution. Iodine is a substance that can counteract radiation’s effects on the thyroid. Cautious steps are currently being taken to successfuly cool the reactor without any furthur incidents. Nuclear engineer John Gilligan of North Carolina State University believes that the reactors should cool in the next few weeks, and that engineers will continue to have to vent small amounts of radioactive gas from the reactors for the next few months to keep the pressure off.




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