Skip to Content

New Concern at Nuclear Plant in Japan

Pools storing spent fuel are overheating, posing the threat of increased radiation leaks.
March 15, 2011

There have been several reports of a fire at a spent fuel facility at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan, where plant operators are struggling to cool down reactors. There were also spikes in radiation measurements in the area. The fire has since been extinguished.

From the New York Times:

Japan’s nuclear watchdog said a pool storing spent fuel rods at [a] fourth reactor had overheated and reached boiling point and had become unapproachable by workers. The fire earlier Tuesday morning was sparked by a hydrogen explosion caused by rising temperatures at the fuel pool, which released radioactivity directly into the atmosphere. The government said late Tuesday that radiation levels at the plant also appeared to be falling sharply from levels earlier in the day.

The fourth reactor had been turned off and was under refurbishment for months before the earthquake and tsunami hit the plant on Friday. But the plant contains spent fuel rods that were removed from the reactor. If these rods had become dry, they could overheat and catch fire.

That is almost as dangerous as the fuel in working reactors melting down because the spent fuel can also spew radioactivity into the atmosphere.Shigekatsu Oomukai, a spokesman for the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, said the substantial capacity of the pool at reactor No. 4 meant that the water in it was unlikely to evaporate soon. But he said workers were having difficulty reaching the pool to cool it because of the high temperature of the water.Worryingly, temperatures appeared to be rising in the spent fuel pools at two other reactors at the plant, No. 5 and No. 6, said Yukio Edano, the chief cabinet secretary.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

Here’s how a Twitter engineer says it will break in the coming weeks

One insider says the company’s current staffing isn’t able to sustain the platform.

Technology that lets us “speak” to our dead relatives has arrived. Are we ready?

Digital clones of the people we love could forever change how we grieve.

How to befriend a crow

I watched a bunch of crows on TikTok and now I'm trying to connect with some local birds.

Starlink signals can be reverse-engineered to work like GPS—whether SpaceX likes it or not

Elon said no thanks to using his mega-constellation for navigation. Researchers went ahead anyway.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.