The spent fuel rods that have been exposed to the air at reactor 4 at the Fukushima power plant have begun emitting "extremely high" levels of radiation according to US officials. This means that they have almost certainly gone critical.
A Tokyo Electric Power representative has said that "the possibility of recriticality is not zero" because of an unexpected fall in water levels in the pool storing the rods. Because the material is now apparently critical, it could explode. If so, this would be the third nuclear explosion on Japanese soil, after the US dropped bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945.
The New Scientist says, "This is a real surprise. These ponds are a standard feature of nuclear reactors, and are typically designed to ensure that nuclear reactions cannot restart in the fuel rods. Among other things, the rods should be widely spaced in the pond." If the rods go critical, even if there is no explosion, there will be a very dangerous release of radioactivity, and a wide area of Japan will be contaminated. Because nuclear fallout is heavy, however, only trace amounts are likely to reach the western hemisphere, but experts concede that even this is now an unknown. Tokyo Electric is attempting to drop boric acid into the pools in order to stave off the restart of a nuclear reaction.
People are attempting to leave Tokyo at this time, with the wealthy paying as much as $140,000 to charter private jets to fly them out. Narita Airport is jammed, and two airlines, KLM and Lufthansa, have just announced that they are no longer flying in.
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