Japanese military helicopters on Thursday dumped water onto the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plantâ€™s damaged reactors, although reports say it was not initially clear whether or not the water drops succeeded in cooling down the reactors, the first line of defense in preventing a full-scale nuclear meltdown.Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the facility, said radiation levels had remained the same since the operations were completed, Kyodo News reported.
Three twin-rotor CH-47 Chinooks from the Japanese Self-Defense Forces were used in the operation, working to drop seawater on the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors.
A nearly completed new power line could also restore electric cooling systems in the facility that were damaged after last weekâ€™s 9.0-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami. But TEPCO spokesman Naoki Tsunoda did not specify when the project would be finished. The line would allow the company to maintain a steady water supply to troubled reactors and spent fuel storage ponds.
The situation at Fukushima Dai-ichi grows more dire as agencies, officials and TEPCO disagree on whether or not there is any water left in the spent fuel pools at the plant.
Without water, there’s nothing to stop the fuel rods from getting hotter and ultimately melting down.
“There is no water in the spent fuel pool and we believe that radiation levels are extremely high, which could possibly impact the ability to take corrective measures,” NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko said at a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing.
The White House said it would cooperate closely with Japan during the recovery period, and President Obama spoke with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan by phone on Wednesday evening.
The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed Wednesday that three reactors had partially melted down. Yukiya Amano, the head of the nuclear watchdog agency, says he plans on going to Japan as soon as possible.
When asked if events were out of control, he answered: “It is difficult to say.”
Meanwhile, 50 employees at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant — dubbed the Fukushima 50 — have put their health and well-being on the line as they try to prevent a total nuclear meltdown with conditions worsening at the plant, while the National Police Agency has been asked to send a water cannon to cool a pool storing spent fuel rods at the Unit 4 reactor, according to NHK.
Workers were briefly order to stop work Tuesday after radiation levels spiked while they were dousing the nuclear reactors with seawater to cool them, but were ordered to resume efforts several hours later after radiation levels decreased.
The government has now raised the maximum radiation dose allowed for nuclear workers to 250 millisieverts from 100 millisieverts.
It is not known how much radiation has leaked from the crippled nuclear plant because the computer system that forecasts the spread of radioactivity has not been working due to malfunctioning monitoring posts, according to NHK.
There are six reactors at the plant. Units 1, 2 and 3, which were operating last week, shut down automatically when the quake hit. Since then, all three have been rocked by explosions.
Units 4, 5 and 6 were shut at the time of the quake, but even offline reactors have nuclear fuel — either inside the reactors or in storage ponds — that need to be kept cool.
“We don’t know the nature of the damage,” said Minoru Ohgoda, spokesman for the country’s nuclear safety agency. “It could be either melting, or there might be some holes in them.”
Japan ordered 140,000 people to seal themselves indoors after a series of explosions and fires at the plant. Hospitals had to be evacuated and thousands were screened for radiation exposure.
The grim search for survivors continues in areas the earthquake and tsunami as the mayor of a northeastern city said his town has been wiped out.
Mayor Kameyama Hiroshi told Kyodo News that 10,000 people remain missing in the city of Ishinomaki. Before the tsunami wiped out the coastal town, 164,000 people were living there.
Japan’s National Police Agency says more than 12,000 people are reported missing or dead. More than 5,300 people are officially listed as dead, but officials believe the toll will climb to well over 10,000.
The country’s Defense Ministry tells Japan news agency NHK that more than 25,000 have been rescued and another 23,000 are still believed to be stranded on islets near the coast.
Nearly a week after the disaster, police said more than 452,000 people were staying in schools and other shelters, as supplies of fuel, medicine and other necessities ran short. Both victims and aid workers appealed for more help.
“There is enough food, but no fuel or gasoline,” said Yuko Niuma, 46, as she stood looking out over Ofunato harbor, where trawlers were flipped on their sides.
Along the tsunami-savaged coast, people must stand in line for food, gasoline and kerosene to heat their homes. In the town of Kesennuma, they lined up to get into a supermarket after a delivery of key supplies, such as instant rice packets and diapers.
Each person was only allowed to buy 10 items, NHK television reported.
With diapers hard to find in many areas, an NHK program broadcast a how-to session on fashioning a diaper from a plastic shopping bag and a towel.
In an extremely rare address to the nation Thursday, Emperor Akihito expressed condolences and urged Japan not to give up.
“It is important that each of us shares the difficult days that lie ahead,” said Akihito, 77, a figure deeply respected across the country. “I pray that we will all take care of each other and overcome this tragedy.”
– AP & NewsCore.