Slashdot posted a story linking a highly speculative piece in The Guardian saying that high levels of radiation might be a sign that molten fuel has leaked through the reactor vessel (not the containment vessel, as the Slashdot summary breathlessly announces). I have not seen any confirmation of this speculation, or indeed seen this speculation repeated outside Slashdot and a few other newspapers in the UK, and it is not confirmed by the most recent IAEA report.
Here’s the official (and comprehensive) report on the current state of the six nuclear reactors at Fukushima Daiichi from the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum.
Things are plenty bad at Fukushima, but (with the caveat that I am not even remotely a nuclear engineer) I see no solid evidence to suggest that there has been even a partial meltdown, much less that the core has melted through the reactor pressure vessel, much less that the containment vessel has been breached. Indeed this statement from the IAEA report would suggest a better cause for the radioactivity spike recently observed: “The Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan suggests that higher activity in the water discovered in the Unit 2 turbine building is supposed to be caused by the water, which has been in contact with molten fuel rods for a time and directly released into the turbine building via some, as yet unidentified path.”
Japan suffered a real tragedy, with over 11,000 confirmed dead from the earthquake and tsunami, and Western journalists and bloggers seem unnaturally fixated on a serious but limited nuclear accident that hasn’t claimed any lives yet.
(This and all previous posts on the Sendai earthquake and tsunami can be found here.)