Japan Reactor Nuclear Core May Have Breached

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TOKYO – Japanese nuclear safety officials said Friday that they suspect that the reactor core at one unit of the troubled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant may have breached, raising the possibility of more severe contamination to the environment.

TOKYO – Japanese nuclear safety officials said Friday that they suspect that the reactor core at one unit of the troubled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant may have breached, raising the possibility of more severe contamination to the environment.

Workers in protective gear conduct a cooling operation by spraying water at the damaged No. 4 unit of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex in Japan on March 22. Newer nuclear plant designs rely on integrated "passive safety" systems for cooling in the event of power loss, but they are not yet deployed

"It is possible that somewhere at the reactor may have been damaged," said Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman for the nuclear safety agency. But he added that "our data suggest the reactor retains certain containment functions," implying that the damage may have occurred in Unit 3's reactor core but that it was limited.

Officials say the damage could instead have happened in other equipment, including piping or the spent fuel pool.

Crew members of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN76) receive supply from USNS Carl Brashear (T-AKE 7) in waters off Japan's northeastern coast. The USS Ronald Reagan participates "Operation Tomodachi" rescue missions to transport supplies to survivors in an earthquake- and tsunami-devastated area.

Operators have been struggling to keep cool water around radioactive fuel rods in the reactor's core after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami cut off power supply to the plant and its cooling system.

Damage could have been done to the core when a March 14 hydrogen explosion blew apart Unit 3's outer containment building.

In this photo released by Tokyo Electric Power Co. via Kyodo News, lighting becomes available in the control room of Unit 1 reactor at the tsunami-damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okumamachi, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan. (AP Photo/Tokyo Electric Power Co. via Kyodo News) JAPAN OUT, MANDATORY CREDIT, NO LICENSING IN CHINA, HONG KONG, JAPAN, SOUTH KOREA AND FRANCE

This reactor, perhaps the most troubled at the six-unit site, holds 170 tons of radioactive fuel in its core. Previous radioactive emissions have come from intentional efforts to vent small amounts of steam through valves to prevent the core from bursting. However, releases from a breach could allow uncontrolled quantities of radioactive contaminants to escape into the surrounding ground or air.

Operators stopped work Friday at units 1 through 3 to check on radiation levels.

AP