In the latest of a string of disturbing reports coming out of the Japanese nuclear crisis, plutonium contamination has been confirmed outside of reactor building #3, which contained fuel assemblies made with mixed-oxide fuel. This "MOX" fuel is comprised of normal reactor uranium fuel mixed with re-purposed weapon plutonium. This is a significant and very unfortunate development because while there has been steadily worsening contamination of the environment with every passing day, this is the first confirmation that the MOX fuel reactor has been breached fully and that plutonium, the most toxic and deadly of all the materials present in the plants, is being released.
The same week that we hear of high-level ocean contamination and radioactive rain falling as far away from Japan as my home state of Massachusetts, we now get the grim smoking gun of core breach at reactor 3: plutonium in the soil and water outside of the plant. There have been numerous anonymous leaks of information from insiders careful not to be identified that suggest large and growing breaches in multiple reactor vessels and their containment structures, and even relying only on the officially confirmed news it has been clear to this writer for days that there has been breach of containment. It is not known how much plutonium has been spread into the environment, but soil tests found plutonium isotopes in five outdoor locations that were tested today.
We can only hope that those on the ground at the Fukushima site who are putting their health, and their lives, on the line struggling to contain this runaway reactor complex are getting better information than the outside world. Judging from the radiation burns, and possibly far worse, that struck three electrical contractors who seemed completely unprepared for work around radiation, many of those on the front lines seem to be less-informed than many in the general public. The man in charge of the effort to recover control of the plant and contain the radioactive material was removed from the site and taken to the hospital suffering from nervous exhaustion, leading one to wonder just how much he knows. All of this taken together point to a crisis that is not only far from being over, but one that is getting worse. The major uncertainty at this point is how much worse it will get, and how suddenly it might happen.