Japan's nuclear crisis will last weeks, U.S. official says

People watch a television broadcasting Japan's Emperor Akihito's address to the nation in Tokyo. Japanese Emperor Akihito said on Wednesday problems at Japan's nuclear-power reactors were unpredictable and he was "deeply worried".
People watch a television broadcasting Japan's Emperor Akihito's address to the nation in Tokyo. Japanese Emperor Akihito said on Wednesday problems at Japan's nuclear-power reactors were unpredictable and he was "deeply worried". (Reuters)

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Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, March 17, 2011; 8:55 PM

The nuclear power plant crisis in Japan will probably take weeks to resolve, forcing Japanese workers to intensify their risky efforts to bring the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant under control, a top U.S. official said Thursday.

"This is something that will likely take some time to work through, possibly weeks, as eventually you remove the majority of the heat from the reactors and then the spent-fuel pools," Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko told reporters at a White House briefing. "So it's something that will be ongoing for some time."

Jaczko's statement came after Japanese military and police personnel risked exposure to dangerous levels of radiation to use helicopters and water canons to douse unit 3 at the plant with thousands of gallons. Reports of steam rising from one of the stricken reactors indicated that the dramatic efforts had delivered at least some water. But it remained unclear whether it was enough to keep radiation levels from spinning out of control.

"It hasn't gotten worse, which is positive," Graham Andrew of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said. "The situation remains very serious but there has been no significant worsening since yesterday."

Tokyo Electric Power Co., which owns the plant, said radiation levels had dropped following the hour-long effort. But Andrew, a senior aide to IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano, cautioned at a news conference: "It is still possible that it could get worse."

At the same time, Tokyo Electric reached unit 2 at the facility with a new electric cable in the hopes of restoring power and restarting the plant's on-site cooling system using seawater. Power had not yet been reactivated to the facility, but officials said they hoped to connect the line, perhaps as early as Friday, after they had finished spraying water at the nearby unit 3 reactor.

President Obama, addressing the crisis in a statement issued from the Rose Garden, said, "We are working aggressively to support our Japanese ally. " He reiterated assurances that the disaster posed no threat to the United States, adding he had instructed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to review the safety of U.S. nuclear plants in the wake of the crisis. There was no reason to believe they were unsafe, he stressed.

"Our nuclear plants have undergone exhaustive study and been declared safe," Obama said.

Obama also made an unannounced visit to the Japanese Embassy and signed a condolence book.

"My heart goes out to the people of Japan during this enormous tragedy. Please know that America will always stand by one of its greatest allies during this time of need," Obama wrote. "Because of the strength and wisdom of its people, we know that Japan will recover, and indeed will emerge stronger than ever. And as it recovers, the memory of those who have been lost will remain in our hearts, and will serve only to strengthen the relationship between our two countries. May God bless the people of Japan."

Obama then told reporters he hoped to communicate how "heartbroken" America is over the tragedy.

A U.S. C-17 military plane had landed in Japan carrying a team of 33 and 17,000 pounds of supplies, including equipment to monitor air measurements for radiation, Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman told reporters earlier in the day.


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