Two reactors now have power from diesel generators, and two other reactors are hooked up to new electrical cables that could soon provide juice to the cooling systems. Meanwhile, fire trucks Sunday launched seawater onto a boiling pond that stores the spent nuclear fuel rods from one of the other reactors.
Officials sweated out a touch-and-go decision Sunday on whether to vent radioactive gases to the air to keep the primary containment vessel for reactor unit 3 from building up too much pressure.
A similar pressure buildup led to a March 15 explosion on a different reactor, triggering a dramatic spike in radiation near the plant. Officials decided not to vent any gas but said the move may yet be necessary.
“We consider that now we have come to a situation where we are very close to getting the situation under control,” Deputy Cabinet Secretary Tetsuro Fukuyama said.
Graham Andrew, a senior official at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), gave a more equivocal assessment Sunday. “There have been some positive developments in the last 24 hours, but overall the situation remains very serious,” he said.
General Electric, designer of the nuclear reactors used at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, pointed Sunday to a new report from the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry trade association of which GE is a member, defending the controversial Mark I containment vessels that house the reactors. The vessels “appeared to have held pressure to well above the design pressure,” the report said.
Japan’s nuclear emergency has raised concerns about U.S. nuclear power plants. U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” said that although U.S. nuclear plants are decades old, they have had numerous safety upgrades in recent years. But he said all the plants will be reexamined in the wake of the Japan crisis, and he hedged on the future of the Indian Point reactor in southern New York state, within 50 miles of more than 20 million people.
“The evacuation plans of the Indian Point reactor will be looked at and studied in great detail,” Chu said. He added that “we’re going to have to look at whether this reactor should remain,” but said the government believes the reactor is safe.
“Where we site reactors going forward will be different than where we might have sited them going in the past,” Chu said.
With each day there are new recriminations and doubts about the Japanese government’s and Tepco’s response to the March 11 disaster. News reports have raised questions about whether Tepco hesitated to dump seawater on the overheating nuclear reactors because the use of seawater will corrode and ruin these valuable corporate assets. And the government acknowledged that it had been slow in distributing potassium iodide pills to people vulnerable to the invisible atomic clouds emerging from the nuclear plant.