Competitive Exams: Current Affairs 2011: Fukushima I Nuclear Accidents

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Fukushima I Nuclear Accidents

  • The Fukushima I nuclear accidents are a series of ongoing equipment failures and releases of radioactive materials at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant, following the 9.0 magnitude Tahoku earthquake and tsunami on 11 March 2011
  • The plant comprises six separate boiling water reactors maintained by the Toky-Electric Power Company (TEPCO) .
  • This accident is the largest of the 2011 Japanese nuclear accidents arising from the Tahoku earthquake and tsunami, and experts consider it to be the second largest nuclear accident after the Chernobyl disaster, but more complex as all reactors are involved.
  • At the time of the quake, reactor 4 had been de-fueled while 5 and 6 were in cold shutdown for planned maintenance.
  • The remaining reactors shut down automatically after the earthquake, with emergency generators starting up to run the control electronics and water pumps needed to cool reactors.
  • The plant was protected by a seawall designed to withstand a 5.7 m (19 ft) tsunami but not the 14 m (46 ft) maximum wave which arrived 41 60 minutes after the earthquake.
  • The entire plant was flooded, including low-lying generators and electrical switchgear in reactor basements and external pumps for supplying cooling seawater.
  • The connection to the electrical grid was broken.
  • All power for cooling was lost and reactors started to overheat, due to natural decay of the fission products created before shutdown.
  • The flooding and earthquake damage hindered external assistance.
  • Evidence soon arose of partial core meltdown in reactors 1,2, and 3; hydrogen explosions destroyed the upper cladding of the buildings housing reactors 1,3, and 4; an explosion damaged the containment inside reactor 2; multiple fires broke out at reactor 4.
  • Despite being initially shutdown, reactors 5 and 6 began to overheat.
  • Fuel rods stored in pools in each reactor building began to overheat as water levels in the pools dropped.
  • Fears of radiation leaks led to a 20 km (12 mi) radius evacuation around the plant while workers suffered radiation exposure and were temporarily evacuated at various times. One generator at unit 6 was restarted on 17 March allowing some cooling at units 5 and 6 which were least damaged. Grid power was restored to parts of the plant on 20 March, but machinery for reactors 1 through 4, damaged by floods, fires and explosions, remained inoperable.
  • Flooding with radioactive water through the basements of units 1 4 continues to prevent access to carry out repairs
  • Leaked Radiation levels varied widely over time and location, from well below 1 mSv/h to as high as 400 mSv/h.
  • Japanese officials initially assessed the accident as level 4 on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES) despite the views of other international agencies that it should be higher. The INES level was eventually raised successively to 5 and then the maximum 7.

Courtesy: The Hindu and Times of India