Workers Race To Cool Fuel Rods At Crippled Plant
LINDA WERTHEIMER, Host:
NPR's Christopher Joyce is in Tokyo, covering this effort, and he joins us now. Chris, good morning.
CHRISTOPHER JOYCE: Good morning to you.
WERTHEIMER: Chris, this idea of dumping water from helicopters, it sounds a bit desperate. What happened?
JOYCE: And you could see the images on the television, and they were trying, gamely, to get the water into the reactor area. But it didn't work. They missed most of the time. And afterwards, they measured the radiation level, and it was no lower than it was before they've made the attempt, so they abandoned that. It was actually quite dangerous because the radiation levels above the reactor are quite high.
WERTHEIMER: What happened with water cannon?
JOYCE: Well, that was the second tier of the approach, and that was very much delayed. They kept saying they were going to try it, they were going to try it. They had trucks lined up. These are actually water cannons that are designed for crowd control. They had 11 of them. And they drove them, finally, onto the nuclear power complex, and they were not able to get close enough. They have a range of about 100, 150 feet. But in the end, it was also very hot, very radioactive in the area, and they weren't able to get it into the - these spent fuel pools. And it was a failure.
WERTHEIMER: Now, when this all started, Chris, it was the reactors that were in danger of going dry and overheating, maybe even melting down. Why is the attention now on these pools for spent fuel rods?
JOYCE: But in the meantime, they sort of lost control of these spent fuel pools. These things do get hot even though they're old rods that - they've been used before. And apparently, the water that keeps them cool has been evaporating - either that, or there's been some water that's leaked out because the pools - they're not on the ground. They're 150 feet up inside these buildings. And they could have lost water, or it could be evaporating because they haven't been able to keep them cool enough. And you know, these things are quite dangerous. They can create a lot of heat, and they're very radioactive. And now, they've become the center - or the focus of the desperate attempt to try to keep these things from burning up.
WERTHEIMER: Is there an end in sight here?
JOYCE: Well, they've tried just about everything. It's not as if they're not trying. After this, they've been talking about getting the electric power back into the nuclear complex. They can't get the pumps to drive the water up into these nuclear - the ponds that they end up - in the pools that they keep these spent fuel rods in. And until they get good alternating current and lots of power, everything else seems to be sort a stopgap attempt.
WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much, Chris.
JOYCE: You're welcome.
WERTHEIMER: We've been speaking to NPR's Christopher Joyce in Tokyo.
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