Saturday, March 12, 2011
For locals in Fukushima prefecture, still reeling from frequent aftershocks and clearing up after the first disaster, the prospect of another on the way in the form of nuclear meltdown was unwelcome in the extreme.
"It is frightening. You get used to living with the nuclear plants and then something like this happens. When I saw smoke from the plant, I thought, 'Uh oh'," said Kato Tomiyama, a convenience store employeet. "I couldn't believe it," said Seiko Sato, a teacher. "We need more information."
For several hours, observers feared the worst: loss of coolant inside one of the plant's six reactors had caused a dangerous build-up of heat. A second, more deadly explosion – one that would have released a vast radioactive plume over the nation – seemed a real prospect until it was announced that, although the outer structure of the 40-year-old reactor building had been blown off by the blast, the actual reactor inside had not been breached.
Disaster had been avoided – but by the narrowest of margins. It was confirmed last night that radioactive caesium, one of the elements released when overheating causes core damage, had been detected around the plant. The discovery indicates that meltdown, caused by a nuclear reaction running out of control, had indeed affected the reactor's fuel rods – although possibly only to a limited extent. The revelation did little to reassure local people.