Japan ambassador plays down nuclear risks

Japan’s ambassador to the United States said he was “gratified” by the outpouring of global aid after the earthquake and affirmed that the country is taking important steps toward averting further crises at its many damaged nuclear reactors.

Ichiro Fujisaki, a guest on “State of the Union” and “Meet the Press,” described how sea water is now being used to cool crippled reactor No. 1 at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. He also said engineers are trying to “relax the pressure in the container” by allowing vapor to exit through a filter.

Outside of Japan, many media outlets described the move as a last-ditch effort to avoid partial meltdown. Cooling also failed at a second reactor on Sunday, according to The New York Times, and core melting was presumed at both.

A report from “This Week” said that at least half the reactor core is exposed at Fukushima’s reactor No. 1.

“The Japanese government is very seriously coping with this issue. Everyone within 20 kilometers has been evacuated,” Fujisaki said.
He also noted that, according to new studies in Japan, Friday’s quake measured 9.0 on the Richter scale rather than the previous estimate of 8.
James Acton, a nuclear power associate at the Carnegie Endowment, said on “State of the Union” that comparisons to Chernobyl are “unhelpful.”

“Even ‘meltdown’ is an unhelpful word,” he said. “There is a huge spectrum of possibilities … [In Chernobyl] there was an explosion of the entire reactor, which spewed radiation everywhere. That worst-case outcome is unbelievably unlikely in this case.”

Acton also said that even significant melting of a reactor core does not guarantee a substantial amount of radiation will be released into the environment.

Former Federal Emergency Management Agency Director James Lee Witt emphasized on “State of the Union” that more areas in the United States are vulnerable to earthquakes than just the West Coast. New York sits on a fault line, and more are being discovered in Arkansas, he said.

Whether those areas and the coastal states of California, Oregon and Washington could withstand major quakes, experts debated.

Acton said that, “the Japanese authorities take safety extremely seriously. Their buildings are designed for a certain size of earthquake … but the shaking could be up to twice that.”