As we noted was likely to happen just after posting last night's update on the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, the "calm" over the last day or two that we reported was somewhat broken shortly thereafter. Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan took to the air for a rare press conference to discuss the situation at the crippled nuclear plant, and to mark the two weeks which have passed since an unprecedented, three-prong earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster rocked the country.
Kan described the situation at Fukushima as "very grave and serious", adding, "we are not in a position where we can be optimistic. We must treat every development with the utmost care."
He did not, however, offer much in the way of new information. In the meantime, other government officials have now recommended (but not ordered) that those living between 20 and 30 kilometers from the plant voluntarily leave the area. They stress that the new recommendations are due to the difficulty in supplying food and other resources to the area, not because of an increase in radiation levels.
Last week, those living within 20 kilometers of the plant were forced to evacuate from that "exclusion zone", and those within 20 to 30km of the plant were instructed to stay indoors to avoid radioactive fallout. The U.S. government has recommended a larger exclusion zone of 80 kilometers (50 miles) around the plant, though Japan has not felt it necessary to widen their own mandatory exclusion zone.
The most noteworthy hard news development since our report yesterday is the speculation --- and yes, we'll still call it speculation until there is hard confirmation --- that the containment vessel at Unit 3 has ruptured in some fashion, and that a meltdown may be occurring in the core of the reactor. Those details seem to be largely speculative still at this hour, based on the investigation into what caused the water at the reactor building to be as radioactive as it was to lead to "beta burns" on the feet and ankles of three workers yesterday who stepped in water while trying to restore electricity to the unit. Two of them were hospitalized. (See dispiriting photo at top of this article.)
Whether the extraordinarily high levels of radiation in the water is coming from a crack in the steel containment vessel housing the reactor core there, or from water leaking out of the spent fuel pool at Unit 3 --- or even from something else --- doesn't seem to be conclusively known at this point. But the radiation in the water was reportedly 10,000 times the "normal" limit, with some reports pegging the radiation at 100,000 times higher.
That's not the only disturbing news, however, as we now have more scientists ringing in on the data we discussed in detail yesterday from Austrian researchers suggesting that some 50% of the radioactive cesium-137 that spewed from Chernobyl in 1986 has already been emitted to surrounding areas in Japan from one or more of the crippled reactors at Fukushima...