The Fukushima nuclear plant has - once again - reached a crisis point. Reports yesterday announced that radiation levels at the crippled plant are leaking out at an all-time high, surpassing 2200 millisieverts [mSv] per hour. According to the United States' Nuclear Regulatory Commission, exposure to 50 mSv above normal background radiation per year is considered the absolute highest level of 'safe' exposure; at over 4400% above this threshold, the levels Fukushima is producing would be fatal to anyone exposed in no more than a few hours.
Researchers are in panic mode at this point. When the initial crisis began in March 2011 it was ranked a level seven; only one other incident, the Chernobyl accident, had been categorized as such. Now there are fears that Fukushima could return to that level of emergency, something which did not transpire with the Russian catastrophe; it currently sits at a level four. This has people worried about what effect such a fluctuating, long-term emergency could have, both on the immediate area and to the overall planet.
On top of that groundwater issues have caused the building which houses unit #4 to sink 31 inches into the ground; if left unchecked this could result in a major fission accident. In 1999 such an accident occurred at the Tokaimura plant, and it was viewed as a critical incident. That event sent several workers to the hospital, while driving Authority to lock-down 300,000 citizens for the duration of the emergency. Tokaimura was still a fully-functioning plant when it occurred, yet leaking 4 mSv per hour was considered a major catastrophe; based on this it is understandable that bleeding out over 550 times those levels - from a damaged, defective plant - would cause a certain degree of panic.
As covered here on The Apocalyst early last month Authority in Japan reversed previous assertions about the safety of the plant, announcing that run-off water irradiated to dangerous levels had in fact been draining into the Pacific Ocean at an alarming rate. This eventually lead normally sluggish officials in the US and Canada to call for radiation studies of fish in the region, finally adding their voices to watchdog groups which have been demanding such studies since the accident first occurred.
Japanese officials scrambling to address the crisis are now also dealing with Tropical Storm Toraji; while it is currently stalled (having lost much of its punch), Toraji is still capable of producing extensive severe-storm conditions in and around the crisis area through the end of the week, which will only hamper containment efforts.
Fukushima was extensively damaged due to an earthquake which produced a massive tsunami two and a half years ago. Critics have long asserted that containment efforts since have focused more on containing leaks of information about the true condition of the plant than containing its leaking radiation; at this point, those critics appear vindicated in their assertions.