Conflicting reports, mounting fear, over Japanese nuclear disaster

Friday, March 18, 2011

The odds are pretty good that no one has good information.

—Peter Bradford, former Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner

U.S Nuclear Regulatory Secretary Steven Chu reported to Congress Wednesday that the incidents at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant may end up as a larger disaster than the Three Mile Island meltdown faced by the U.S. in 1979. However, he said reports from Japan officials are contradictory, and concluded that "[w]e don't really know in detail what's happening. We hear conflicting reports."

International frustration is focusing on the slow pace and lack of detail characterizing the updates from Japan. The director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, said Japan needs to provide more frequent and detailed information on the crisis to the world.

File photo of Fukushima I.
Image: KEI.

Currently, the lack of information is particularly important regarding the threat posed by reactor number four. The building housing the reactor is no longer on fire, but smoke or steam is visible on television pictures. Yoshitaka Nagayama, a spokesman for Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, admitted that "[b]ecause we have been unable to go the scene, we cannot confirm whether there is water left or not in the spent fuel pool at Reactor No. 4."

Thomas Neff, a reactor safety expert with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said: "The problem is that nobody knows. If you don't know and you're TEPCO, you probably underplay it. If you're the regulator, you probably see it in a worse light."

"The odds are pretty good that no one has good information," said a former Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner, Peter Bradford, who was on the commission at the time of the Three Mile Island disaster.