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Japan Nuke Watch, Thurs am JST: Water Drops and Fire Hoses

Reactor Containment & Fuel Storage from UCS; (h/t commenter lobster)

Update below, 9:48 a.m. JST: Commencement of Helicopter Water Drops

Update II: Obama Talks with Japanese Prime Minister

Why Are Senior US Officials Presuming to Lecture the Japanese on Courage?

I’m struggling to understand why Obama Administration officials appear to be trying to lecture the Japanese government and particularly its nuclear emergency workers on the seriousness of the situation at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Generation Station. How is this helpful?

You would think that the US would be bending over backwards to provide whatever help the Japanese request or need but without presuming to suggest that we know better than they how to handle a situation that has gone well beyond previous events and experience and off the charts when one checks the “what should you do if” manual.

Yet there was Chairman Jaczko, head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission telling Congress with certainty that all the cooling water in Unit 4’s spent fuel storage pool was gone and that given the extreme levels of radiation, evacuations should expand to about 50 miles. That was bad enough.

The Chairman did not explain how the US had superior or different information from the information the Japanese officials have been providing. One can draw an inference from the fact that the temperature levels reported for the storage pool, while elevated on Tuesday were not available on Wednesday. Did that mean there was no water to measure? We don’t know.

Far worse, however, was the anonymous statement given to ABC from an unnamed White House (or senior) official, presuming to tell the Japanese that they face a long and dire future:

“It would be hard to describe how alarming this is right now,” ABC quoted the anonymous official as saying. . . .

“They need to stop pulling out people — and step up with getting them back in the reactor to cool it. There is a recognition this is a suicide mission,” the unnamed U.S. official was quoted by ABC as saying.

First, there is no public policy reason why this unnamed US official should be left “unnamed.” What is ABC’s excuse? More important, what are these people thinking?

The Japanese have just suffered one of the worst triple catastrophes in their or anyone’s history. Thousands have been killed, more thousands may never be found. Whole towns and villages have been destroyed by the quakes or wiped away by the tsunami. And now they face a desperate situation at this nuclear facility with no assured solutions and all options involving huge dangers to workers. But they hardly need to be told this by some anonymous smuck sitting in Washington, especially one representing a US government that is failing to address the needs of America.

Nor do the Japanese need to be told by an unnamed American official to buck up and be more courageous. Dozens of workers dealing with the quakes, the tsunami and now the reactor crisis have risked their lives. The fifty or more people who have been working close to the failed reactors may already have been exposed to lethal doses. These people know what they’re facing and yet they’re still confronting the dangers and have been doing so for a week. The helicopter pilots now dropping water over Units 3 and 4, and the firemen working the hoses below, are also risking their lives, as are control room crews.

Earth to cowardly US official: STFU.

John Chandley

Update, 9:48 a.m. JST: Japanese just began a helicopter drop of water over the Unit 3 reactor. They used two CH-47 twin rotor “chinook” type helicopters, manned by Japanese Defense Forces. The drops required the helicopters slowly pass over the unit to increase the odds the spray hit the target. Video showed several separate drops, but one pass seemed to be too high and widely dispersed. Others were only slightly better. More drops are planned, but each crew will be limited to a total of 40 minutes exposure per day.

Officials said that the initial passes may have been too dispersed, but lower more targeted drops will be more dangerous. After this phase, about a dozen water trucks including a high-power water “cannon” truck will continue water spraying from the ground.

In the press conference during the drop, officials stressed the challenge of getting the water drops and spray from the truck hoses sufficiently targeted. It’s unclear how long before we know whether there has been any change in storage pool water levels or temperatures.

Other items: They’re continuing efforts to provide a transmission link to the grid, to allow a make shift pumping system that would use sea water for cooling.

Unit 5 is water level lowering and pressure rising. So they’ll have to rig another cooling system for Units 5 and 6.

Units 1 and 2, they’ve been able to provide sea water.

Update II. President Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Talk.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano announced that President Obama called the Prime Minister today to express sympathy and to offer assistance for the nuclear crisis and for subsequent “rehabilitation.” The PM expressed gratitude.

Regarding the water in Unit 4, in light of NRC statement, the Minister says they have provided data to the US to allow analysis. Whether water has been depleted, there has been a lag in providing information. ??

Regarding the evacuation radius controversy, it’s understood the US would take a more conservative approach over a situation that it doesn’t control.

Live tv feed showing the water drops is here.

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley