Japan Nuke Alert Spreads - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

BREAKING NEWS: Radiation Leaks Force 140,000 Indoors

UPDATE>>> 30-km no-fly zone declared for stricken Japan nuke plant, atomic watchdog says

UPDATE>>> Dangerous levels of radiation leaking from a crippled nuclear plant forced Japan to order 140,000 people to seal themselves indoors Tuesday after an explosion and a fire dramatically escalated the crisis spawned by a deadly quake and tsunami.

The international nuclear agency said a fire in a storage pond for spent nuclear fuel at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex had released radioactivity "directly into the atmosphere".

In a nationally televised statement, Prime Minister Naoto Kan confirmed that radiation had leaked from the nuclear plant.

Though Kan and other officials urged calm, Tuesday's developments fueled a growing panic in Japan and around the world amid widespread uncertainty over what would happen next.

In the worst-case scenario, the reactor's core would completely melt down, a disaster that would spew large amounts of radioactivity into the atmosphere.

Tokyo reported slightly elevated radiation levels, but officials said the increase was too small to threaten the 39 million people in and around the capital, about 170 miles away. Closer to the stricken nuclear complex, the streets in the coastal city of Soma were empty as the few residents who remained there heeded the government's warning to stay indoors.

Officials just south of Fukushima reported up to 100 times the normal levels of radiation Tuesday morning, Kyodo News agency reported. While those figures are worrying if there is prolonged exposure, they are far from fatal.

'Please do not go outside'
Kan and other officials warned there is danger of more leaks and told people living within 19 miles of the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex to stay indoors to avoid exposure that could make people sick.

"Please do not go outside. Please stay indoors. Please close windows and make your homes airtight," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told residents in the danger zone.

"These are figures that potentially affect health. There is no mistake about that," he said.

Weather forecasts for Fukushima were for snow and wind from the northeast Tuesday evening, blowing southwest toward Tokyo, then shifting and blowing west out to sea. That's important because it shows which direction a possible nuclear cloud might blow.

BREAKING UPDATE>>> Officials have detected slightly higher-than-normal radiation levels in Tokyo but insist there are no health dangers.

The radiation increase follows a nuclear crisis in northeastern Japan, where a series of reactors were hit by last Friday's earthquake and tsunami.

BREAKING UPDATE>>> Japan's nuclear safety agency says a fire in a reactor at a crippled nuclear power plant in tsunami-ravaged northeastern Japan has been extinguished.

The fire broke out Tuesday at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in one of the hardest-hit provinces in last week's massive earthquake and tsunami.

Meanwhile, radiation is spewing from the Dai-ichi plant in a dramatic escalation of the 4-day-old catastrophe, forcing the government to tell people nearby to stay indoors to avoid exposure.

In a nationally televised statement, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said radiation had spread from four reactors and told people living within 19 miles (30 kilometers) of the Dai-ichi complex to stay indoors to avoid radiation sickness.

BREAKING UPDATE>>> Radiation is spewing from damaged reactors at a crippled nuclear power plant in tsunami-ravaged northeastern Japan in a dramatic escalation of the 4-day-old catastrophe. The prime minister has warned residents to stay inside or risk getting radiation sickness.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said Tuesday that a fourth reactor at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex was on fire and that more radiation was released.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan warned that there are dangers of more leaks and told people living within 19 miles (30 kilometers) of the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex stay indoors.

BREAKING UPDATE>>> Japan's nuclear safety agency says it suspects an explosion at a nuclear power plant may have damaged a reactor's container and fears a radiation leak.

An agency spokesman, Shigekazu Omukai, says the nuclear core of Unit 2 of the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant was not damaged in the explosion early Tuesday. But the agency says it suspects the bottom of the container that surrounds the generator's nuclear core might have been damaged. Another agency spokesman, Shinji Kinjo, says that "a leak of nuclear material is feared."
   

BREAKING UPDATE>>> An explosion was heard at a third nuclear reactor in northeastern Japan on Tuesday, Japan's nuclear safety agency reported.

An agency spokesman speaking Tuesday on national television said the explosion was heard at 6:10 a.m. local time.

Radiation levels passed legal limits after the blast, Kyodo news network reported, and some workers at the No. 2 reactor were evacuated.

The explosion comes as Japanese engineers pumped seawater into Unit 2 of the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant after coolant water levels there dropped, exposing uranium fuel rods.

The water drop left the rods no longer completely covered in coolant, thus increasing the risk of a radiation leak and the potential for a meltdown at the Unit 2 reactor, Tokyo Electric Power Co. said.

Workers managed to raise water levels after the second drop Monday night, but they began falling for a third time, according to Naoki Kumagai, an official with Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Agency.

TEPCO later said it was opening a valve on the reactor's pressure vessel to let in seawater.

Units 1 and 3 earlier saw drops in water levels. Seawater was then used at those units, which were also crippled by last Friday's quake and tsunami.

A senior government official said it now seems that the nuclear fuel rods inside all three functioning reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex are melting.

"Although we cannot directly check it, it's highly likely happening," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said.

Some experts would consider melting fuel rods a partial meltdown. Others, though, reserve that term for times when nuclear fuel melts through a reactor's innermost chamber but not through the outer containment shell.

Officials held out the possibility that, too, may be happening. "It's impossible to say whether there has or has not been damage" to the vessels, Kumagai said.

If a complete reactor meltdown — where the uranium core melts through the outer containment shell — were to occur, a wave of radiation would be released, resulting in major, widespread health problems.

Also unknown was the status of any nuclear waste that might be stored at the site, and whether the pools housing used fuel were still being cooled to prevent a radiation release.

The cabinet secretary's comments followed a hydrogen explosion at Unit 3 on Monday that injured 11 workers and was heard 25 miles away. A similar explosion happened at Unit 1 on Saturday.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan later said the government was setting up a joint response headquarters with TEPCO to better manage the crisis.

Of all these troubles, the drop in water levels at Unit 2 had officials the most worried.

"Units 1 and 3 are at least somewhat stabilized for the time being," said Nuclear and Industrial Agency official Ryohei Shiomi. "Unit 2 now requires all our effort and attention."

The blast occurred as authorities tried to cool the reactor with seawater.

Authorities said operators knew an explosion was a possibility as they struggled to reduce pressure inside the reactor containment vessel, but apparently felt they had no choice if they wanted to avoid a complete meltdown. In the end, the hydrogen in the released steam mixed with oxygen in the atmosphere and set off the blast.

In some ways, the explosion at Unit 3 was not as dire as it might seem.

BREAKING UPDATE>>> The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency says the Japanese government has asked for experts to help with an imperiled nuclear plant.

Plunging water levels left uranium rods completely exposed today -- and although the water was restored, the rods are again exposed after a second episode. That increases the risk that radiation will spread -- and that there may eventually be a meltdown.

A top Japanese official said the fuel rods in all three of the most troubled reactors at the site appeared to be melting.

An explosion earlier today tore through a building housing one of the reactors. But officials say that explosion may have actually reduced pressure that was building inside the reactor. And they are most concerned with the problems at a different reactor, Unit 2. The other two, they say, are "somewhat stabilized."

The troubles at the Fukushima (foo-koo-SHEE'-mah) plant are among the serious challenges facing Japan's government in the aftermath of Friday's quake and tsunami. Officials are struggling to get relief to hundreds of thousands of people along the country's northeastern coast, where at least 10,000 people are believed to have died.

The blast actually lessened pressure building inside the troubled reactor, and officials said the all-important containment shell — thick concrete armor around the reactor — had not been damaged. In addition, officials said radiation levels remained within legal limits, though anyone left within 12 miles of the scene was ordered to remain indoors.

"We have no evidence of harmful radiation exposure" from Monday's blast, Deputy Cabinet Secretary Noriyuki Shikata told reporters.

On Saturday, a similar explosion took place at the plant's Unit 1, injuring four workers and causing mass evacuations. A Japanese official said 22 people had been confirmed to have suffered radiation contamination and up to 190 may have been exposed. Workers in protective clothing used hand-held scanners to check people arriving at evacuation centers.

While four Japanese nuclear complexes were damaged in the wake of Friday's twin disasters, the Dai-ichi complex, which sits just off the Pacific coast and was badly hammered by the tsunami, has been the focus of most of the worries over Japan's deepening nuclear crisis. All three of the operational reactors at the complex now have faced severe troubles.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE:

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Navy says helicopter crews flying a search and rescue mission near a damaged nuclear power plant in northeast Japan have been exposed to low amounts of radiation, and it's moving ships away from the Fukushima  plant as a precaution.

A spokesman for the 7th fleet says air monitoring equipment on the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan indicated that the warship had been exposed and it's assumed that the seven other ships traveling were too. The Reagan has the monitoring gear to detect problems with its own nuclear power.

Separate hand-held equipment also picked up the contamination on the 17 crew members.

But Cmdr. Jeff Davis says the amount was low enough that after the crew stripped off their clothes and washed with soap and water, follow-up tests were clean. Davis compared the level of contamination with about a month's worth of background radiation a
person normally gets from the sun and other sources.

He says the Navy remains committed to the relief operation in Japan. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama says he's offered Japan any assistance the United States can provide in the wake of Friday's earthquake and tsunami.

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