By By Anna Watanabe
There’s been a lot of panic over the past 48 hours surrounding the temperature of the No. 2 reactor at the TEPCO’s Fukushima nuclear plant.
One of the three thermometers at the base of the reactor shows the core temperature is increasing at an alarming rate.
Temperature readings have been rising slowly since the beginning of the month but increased suddenly on Friday night to 71 degrees.
NHK reports that at 10am (+9 GMT) today, the temperature may have reached 91.2 degrees Celsius (196 degrees F) despite the two other thermometers showing a more reassuring 33 degrees.
In response to the scare, TEPCO has increased the flow of cooling water to 15 tonnes an hour in an attempt to reduce the temperature but insists it is not critical because there has been no detection of xenon gas, a by-product of nuclear reaction, inside the containment vessel.
The Japanese government declared the Fukushima reactor in a state of cold shutdown in December last year, but if it is confirmed the reactor temperature has exceeded 80 degrees, the government will be forced to revoke their “equivalent of cold shut down” declaration.
To be considered “cold shut down” government requires that the reactor temperature remain below 100 degrees, but as the margin of error associated with the thermometers is up to 20 degrees, it must remain under 80 degrees.
No one is sure what caused the temperature rise, but TEPCO said it’s possible cooling water has not been circulating regularly, or has had an unstable flow rate, failing to cool the reactor properly.
But it seems a more likely scenario is that the thermometer recording the unusually high temperatures is faulty. At one point over the last two days, the “temperature” dropped almost 3 degrees in the space on an hour.
If it is true that the thermometer is faulty, then although this hullabaloo will have been for nothing, it’s a welcome change of character from TEPCO to be so on guard. Although tragic, perhaps the disaster at Fukushima was the wake-up call the Japanese Government and people needed to stand up to big business.
In September 2002, TEPCO admitted that it “may have failed to accurately report cracks at its nuclear reactors in the late 1980s and 1990s” and the then-president and vice-president subsequently quit.
The BBC also reported that TEPCO conceded that information had been falsified on over 200 occasions between 1977 and 2002.
But the major concern is that the Japanese government has been turning a blind eye to these goings on. University of Southern California Engineering Professor, Najmedin Meshkati, told PBS: “In one case, they [the government] gave the whistleblower’s name to the utility company. That tells you about culture of regulatory oversight.”
But now that TEPCO and it’s doomed Fukushima reactor are under the world’s microscope, perhaps they will finally step up to the mark and “ensure transparency through information disclosure” as they so proudly say they do on their website.