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IN THE ARENA
New Blast Heard at Nuclear Reactor; Tokyo Electric Power's History; Evacuated from Nuclear Zone
Aired March 14, 2011 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ELIOT SPITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, I'm Eliot Spitzer. Welcome to our program.
Breaking news right now. It just keeps getting worse. The last of the three reactors of the Fukushima nuclear power plant in northern Japan is now the scene of an explosion. This was reported just minutes ago on NHK, the Japanese television network.
In recent days, there had been explosions in the other reactors. But number two was the one they were desperately trying to keep cool.
This is deeply troubling news. We've heard reports of exposed rods in that number two reactor. And a water level that is dangerously low, keeping the rods from being cooled. It's difficult to say what this means but obviously our thoughts turns to that frightening phrase we've heard so often in the last couple days, possible nuclear meltdown.
In fact, NHK has just reported that the containment vessel, the last defense to prevent a massive leak of radiation, may in fact be damaged. Scary stuff indeed.
Let's try and get some answers now from our experts and CNN contributor Jim Walsh of MIT.
Jim, you heard me report this explosion now at the number two reactor. What do you make of this?
JAMES WALSH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, this is definitely not good news.
You know, when I first heard about it, Eliot, I thought, well, you know, we had an explosion at reactor one because the hydrogen built up. But it didn't threaten the integrity of the containment vessel. And then they put seawater in unit number three and they had a hydrogen explosion. And it didn't threaten the integrity of the containment vessel.
So when I first heard this, I thought, you know this is the same movie being played a third time. But -- and of course, we don't know. You know it's important to emphasize we do not know. But we're going to know soon because they're going to be able to send monitors out, you know, and helicopters to collect air samples, and they're going to figure out whether this thing is breached or not. SPITZER: Look --
WALSH: If it breached, it will be bad news.
SPITZER: OK. Explain to us -- you're using a lot of lingo in there. What does the containment vessel do? And when you say breached, you mean busted open, and explain to the folks listening, if that happens then what are we worried about?
WALSH: Yes. I want to give a CNN -- a shoutout to a CNN viewer who e-mailed me today and suggested that I use this metaphor. She says it's like this. The Russian dolls that fit inside one another, the wooden dolls?
WALSH: You ever been to Moscow?
WALSH: So the outside doll is the building that contains the reactor. And then within that, there is a containment vessel. That's, you know, five, six more feet of concrete with reinforced steel that houses the reactor so that if there is a meltdown, partial or full, that that radioactivity does not escape out into the environment.
So that's the doll inside the doll. And then the final doll is the reactor itself. It's inside this containment vessel. And the idea is if it runs into major problems, at least we have the containment vessel to keep everything inside from leaking outside into the environment.
SPITZER: So --
WALSH: Well -- so if the --
SPITZER: Go ahead, Jim.
WALSH: Go ahead.
SPITZER: Finish up.
WALSH: Yes. If the containment vessel is breached, that is to say if there are cracks in it, if there's other problems with it that somehow it's not whole but broken, then that means that the material inside the reactor is able to escape to the outside environment.
And this reactor, by the way, is the reactor that was earlier reported today as having had exposed fuel rods which is the other thing you don't want to have happen. Because when they're exposed, they begin to decompose, they can melt, they can catch fire. A lot of unpleasant things.
And so if the last line of defense on preventing that material from escaping outside into the environment is, in fact -- and we don't know that, but is in fact the case, then that is -- that's the news no one wants to hear.
SPITZER: Look, I want to pick up on something you just said. Because at the same press conference they reported that half of the rods were exposed, meaning there was no water surrounding them which, as you know in our conversations over the course of the day, you made it clear that means there are likely to melt down and then you got a crisis.
You put that together without a containment vessel, what do you get? You get a real dangerous situation.
WALSH: No doubt about it. And, you know -- you know, obviously one of the questions here, and I'm not a nuclear engineer. I'm a nuclear expert, not a nuclear engineer. But you should -- you know one of the questions here is, OK, well maybe the containment vessel is cracked or you know -- or maybe it's blown apart.
But if it's cracked it's -- you know, like a crack on your windshield, you can't help but wonder if it's under tremendous pressure, will that crack widen and widen? I doubt anyone has the capacity to go in and seal it or close it. So it really is going to pose some big challenges to the utility and to the folks on the ground as they try to manage it.
And if there is in fact -- if, if, if in fact this report is true, and it's not confirmed, there is radiation leaking up, you can imagine how that complicates everything in the area. All the workers, all the people on the ground there trying to pour the seawater in at the other two reactors.
Suddenly, they face risks that they didn't face before. So you know, this thing becomes much more complex and much more difficult if -- if the story is true.
SPITZER: Well, you know, in line with what you just said in terms of the workers, the power company there, Tokyo Electric Company, is withdrawing -- the words here, the operators are being told to evacuate which is the first time they've done that.
So clearly, they view this as being substantially more serious than what has been going on before. And the phrase they used was the suppression chamber, the wall at the bottom of the containment vessel, in fact may be breached.
And so there is another layer of protection. I gather where is this suppression chamber? Where does that fit into this?
WALSH: Well, I want to come back to what you just said for a second and then I'll get to your question there, Eliot.
If they -- you know, if they are withdrawing personnel that is definitely a bad sign. You know. And, again, we don't want to over- read this. We don't want to jump to conclusions. They're maybe erring on the side of caution.
These folks are brave. You know several people have been exposed. Several of those workers have been exposed to radiation. I think one or two have actually died on the line in their job trying to help fix this situation.
But if they're pulling people back, that means they are concerned that this is the case. That there is some sort of breach that is allowing -- that may allow radioactivity to escape. So you can imagine what the implications are of that. That means all those workers who are there who are trying to manage the situation now have to pull back.
So, you know, who's going to be there to try to maintain the integrity of the other two reactors, try to manage the situation with reactor number two? And oh, by the way, you know, one of the unknowns here and we've had lots of unknowns, lots of uncertainties, is the reactor number two was using a different type of fuel.
It wasn't using the standard fuel that we traditionally associate with light water reactors. But a mixed oxide fuel, a fuel that probably has uranium and plutonium mixed together which created another uncertainty.
And, you know, I -- my heart goes out to people of Japan. You know this is just one punch after another after another. And I'm sure folks are scared. But I still think we should try to, you know, take a deep breath here and let the facts catch up with the speculation. But if -- it certainly doesn't look very good.
SPITZER: Well, Jim, I want to pick up -- you just talked that moxed (ph) fuel that you -- in our conversation earlier today. Again you were saying that this was stuff that was bought from Russia that had been -- had been used, am I right, in their nuclear weapons program?
And rather than let them keep it or just bury it where who knows whose hands it would have turned up in, we decided to buy it and use it for nuclear power. So -- but it raises all these other issues. We don't know how it's going to act if it in fact gets out into the atmosphere.
WALSH: Eliot, that's exactly right. You know, and it's sort of deeply ironic and unfortunate. So, you know, the U.S. and the Soviet Union are reducing their nuclear arsenals. We want them to reduce their nuclear arsenals. We want the reduction in the nuclear threat.
But when you start to dismantle these weapons, the question is, what do you do with all this nuclear material that was inside the nuclear weapons? And so there is a big sort of debate between the U.S. and Russia about this.
The U.S. said, let's just bury the stuff, right? Let's just get rid of it and bury it. But the Russians thought of it quite differently. They thought of it as an asset. And so -- but -- and so there is disagreement here but in the early mid -- I should say the mid '90s, the decision was the main thing is let's just get it out of here in whatever way so terrorists don't get it, so we don't have an environmental catastrophe. So the decision was, OK, what we'll do with it. We'll take the stuff that used to be in nuclear weapons. We'll make it into fuel for nuclear reactors. We'll burn it in the nuclear reactor and that way we get energy out of it.
And there are a lot of U.S. plants using that. Other plants are using it, seems to work fine. But of course, we've never been in this situation before where this particular fuel has been exposed.
SPITZER: Jim, I want to throw -- we got only precious few seconds left. But I want to ask one more -- throw one more complication in here. Again, you and I were chatting earlier today. The issue of the spent fuel rods that are being stored at these facilities that are not inside this containment vessel. They pose another whole type of problem that hasn't gotten a whole lot of attention.
Quickly tell us what this is and what the ramifications of that might be.
WALSH: Yes. Yes, you know, this is a big deal. And no one is talking about it. I'm glad you raised it, Eliot.
You know, first of all, these plants, when they run normally, they create waste. And that waste is a deadly, ugly brew of highly toxic radioactive material. And normally they store it on site until -- in the case of Japan, anyway, they send it off to be reprocessed.
Where do they store it? They store it in the reactor up on the upper levels of the reactor outside the containment vessel.
So my colleagues and I have been on Facebook wondering well, what has happened to this fuel that's up there? Is it at risk? Will it lose water? Will it catch on fire? And we haven't been able to get any good answers to that.
SPITZER: And the reality is if that loses water, the same sorts of things could happen to those rods as the rods in the reactor itself.
And, you know, Jim, just hang out there. Stand by. We'll be back with you in just a couple of moments.
We want to turn to something else for right now.
As devastating as this latest news is, the truth may be much worse. Turns out that when it comes to safety, the company that owns these reactors has lied before.
Drew Griffin from CNN's Special Investigations Unit is with us from Atlanta to tell us more.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT CORRESPONDENT: And Eliot, I just want to add to your conversation because I just listened to a very confusing news conference held by this company TEPCO in which they were trying to explain what the two of you, Jim and you, were speculating on.
And they do say now that there was a sound of an explosion in the suppression pool inside the chamber. That is different from the other two explosions. And they do say that workers are being evacuated though 50 workers will remain on site to try to carry out the continuing cooling operations.
Obviously, number two reactor is something much different than the other two explosions has happened which is now prompted the evacuations.
And as you said, Eliot, there is a lot of information coming from this one company -- from this one company that really has had problems in the past. And that's why so many people are listening to these, sometimes reassuring, sometimes not so reassuring words from a company that they are very skeptical of.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant are now almost certainly dead. Never to be used again. The question is, can the danger inside be contained? Can the nuclear material be continuously cooled? And can the potential for a dangerous radiation leak into the environment be averted?
The Tokyo Electric Power Company, TEPCO, says so far yes. But nuclear watchdogs say TEPCO has misinformed the public before which is why they carefully follow what's happening on the ground.
And on the ground, so far, exposure testing is under way and the government has ordered 200,000 people living within 12 miles of the plant to be evacuated.
ARJUN MAHKIJANI, INSTITUTE OF ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH: The history of the Japanese nuclear industry and the government that is very closely tight with the industry is less than glorious in regard to public information and full disclosure. And what is going on now is actually an illustration of that?
GRIFFIN: Arjun Mahkijani is an anti-nuclear activist and is extremely concerned that this crisis, seemingly under some control, may not be under control at all. Both Japanese government officials and the private owners of nuclear power plants deny that.
But TEPCO doesn't have a history to inspire confidence. In 2002, the president of the power company and four executives resigned after it was discovered repair and inspection records were falsified. "Dishonest practices," the company admitted later.
PHILLIP WHITE, CITIZEN NUCLEAR INFORMATION CENTER: It was discovered that TEPCO, Tokyo Electric Power Company, had covered up incidents of cracking in one of the important pieces of equipment within the reactor vessels of its -- all its reactors. And as a result, they were forced to close down all 17 of their reactors.
GRIFFIN: And the plant with the worst record, Fukushima Daiichi, the plant now in trouble.
WHITE: There's a pattern emerged that TEPCO isn't frank and deliberately covers up to protect its own interests.
GRIFFIN: Despite promises to regain public confidence, TEPCO's honesty was questioned again in 2007 when a 6.8 earthquake struck western Japan, shaking the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant. TEPCO reporter only a minor fire at the plant and less than a gallon of water leakage.
Later the public learned the fire burned for two hours and hundreds of gallons of radioactive water had leaked into the sea.
The plant that is now in trouble survived the most recent quake. A quake stronger than it was designed for. By design, the reactors immediately shut themselves down. Good news, according to the spokesperson, for the group that lobbies the U.S. Congress on pro- nuclear power issues.
TONY PIETRANGELO, NUCLEAR ENERGY INSTITUTE: I think as we've seen in Japan, despite the magnitude of that earthquake, they hold up quite well.
GRIFFIN: But it turns out surviving the quake was not the end of the crisis. At Fukushima Daiichi, the backup power supply, 13 diesel electric generators, ran for a while then failed. When the generators failed, so did the water pumps that cooled the reactors.
WHITE: You have in total six reactors that have been under great stress with problems cooling the core and just as you think you might have gotten control of one, then another one goes.
GRIFFIN: Eliot, I think that is evident tonight as we're learning of this yet another explosion and of a different type that has happened at this plant. Danger could linger for months if not longer if they don't get this thing under control and soon. Eliot?
SPITZER: You know, Drew, clearly nobody is going to be trusting the company to be honest at this moment about whether or not there's been a breach in the containment vessel.
Who is in charge right now? Is the government out there doing testing? Is the company reporting this to the public? And where is the information coming from and who does the public turn to right now to find out what the magnitude of this potential breech is, whether they got to worry about a Chernobyl or whether this is all a lot of overwrought rhetoric and concerns that will dissipate over the next 48 hours?
GRIFFIN: Right. Well, there is an agency similar to our national, you know, nuclear regulatory agency, Eliot. It's called NISA, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency. That also has been putting out statements. But almost as soon as they're put out, they're proven wrong. I've been watching their Web site as well. And, you know, the timelines they're putting out are changing constantly. They're obviously getting their information from the company. And we've learned that the U.S. has now been asked to step in and help with this monitoring situation or perhaps offer some technical expertise.
I think right now what we have -- and Jim Walsh can better explain this -- is a panic situation going on. People have been working for days. The problems keep developing. They keep trying to put them out. And I'm not seeing any clear focus coming out of TEPCO telling the public what's really going on.
The news conference I watched was abysmal. The -- people couldn't answer the questions.
SPITZER: And Jim, you've been hearing what Drew has been saying both about the lack of integrity of this company and also what appears to be massive uncertainty in terms of any question that's asked of them.
What do you make of this? I mean who would you turn to right now? And what can be done given the potential for leaks in the containment vessel, rods that are exposed, water levels that are inadequate? What do you do at this moment?
WALSH: Well, I think number one, Drew is right. First, he's right about the fact that the history of TEPCO is, you know, a pretty bad one. You know one filled with errors and cover-up and not one that inspires confidence.
I will also agree with Drew. I've been watching these press conferences. Not only the TEPCO press conferences but the press conferences from the government. And they're terrible. You know? And I think part of it is understandable.
You know, the government, they're not nuclear experts. They don't know what's going on. Events are changing every day. They're playing catch-up. They don't want to make people panic. People always fear about panic. And they don't understand that actually panic is a very narrow class of behavior. And it normally doesn't happen under these conditions.
So they sort of stonewall. They don't answer questions. And then that creates a void for speculation. And then they make positive statements that get contradicted. And they lose credibility. So, again, I'm sympathetic. My god, they have a tsunami and an earthquake they're dealing with. I get that.
But if they lose credibility now, they're going to pay for it tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year, and believe me, we're going to be talking about this -- they'll be dealing with it for quite a while to come. Whether it's cleanup, contamination, moving people back, compensation -- you know, there are million issues here. And if they lose their credibility, they're in deep trouble.
And I agree that they -- so far, they're getting better. I think they're getting better over the last couple of days. They've gotten better. But you know you listen to these press conferences and they just don't answer any of the questions.
SPITZER: All right. Jim and Drew, thank you so much for this conversation. We'll be continuing it over the next hour and days ahead, no doubt.
Coming up, is it possible that the Japanese government along with the power company officials are deliberately keeping the worst news from us?
Up next a shocking report that raises some scary questions. But first, I want you to take a look at some startling images. These pictures show what a Japanese village looked like before the tsunami. And then the terrible change. Take a look.
SPITZER: We're back with breaking news.
Another explosion at the nuclear plant in Japan. A reactor number three, the one they've been working to cool all day and all nonessential employees have been evacuated, we're told. Very few are left. This is a crisis getting worse every moment.
Right now we're going to go to Anderson Cooper standing by in Sendai. The port area of that city is one vast wasteland.
Anderson, you're about 60 miles from Fukushima. But last night you were a lot closer. And were you concerned you were getting radiation crossing into the air you were breathing and hitting you?
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN'S AC 360: Well, I certainly hope not, Eliot. Yes. I mean obviously any time you're in Fukushima or anywhere near there, that's certainly the foremost on your mind. I mean at that point the evacuation within the 20 kilometers which is about 12 miles or so.
We're about 100 kilometer away and upwind from what -- we were north of it, the wind was blowing to the west. So we felt OK where we were. But, look, it's certainly a concern. And even here in Sendai, which is about 100, 120 kilometers away from the Fukushima plant, it's certainly a concern.
But it's amazing how calm people are here. You know, you see there's long lines for food. There's long lines of people standing in line for water often for hours. And sometimes the water runs out. And yet, you don't see people yelling or arguing. People are just kind of feel like they're all in it together and that there's not much else they can do. And they just have to kind of make the best of the situation.
And the situation at Sendai, you know, a lot say this is a city of about a million people. And a lot of the city is (INAUDIBLE) untouched. I mean there's places away from the water that the tsunami never reached. But down, for instance in this area where I am right now which is the port, I mean there's vehicles tossed all around. There were a lot of fatalities in this area. People are trapped in their cars as the waters came washing through.
The bodies have been taken away. But their vehicles just strewn all around here. And I was in the area called Shiogama yesterday -- earlier on Monday when I was in a place that used to be rice fields. But you couldn't tell it was rights fields. It's now just completely a debris field. The debris is about 10 feet thick at the very least.
So there's really no telling who or how many people may be trapped or dead underneath the debris encased in mud and the wood and the concrete and the metal that forms this 10-foot layer there.
Japanese Defense Forces had arrived in the area later in the day just as we were leaving. But they didn't have any heavy earth moving equipment. They didn't have any dogs. It was just a handful of soldiers with sticks walking around basically trying to smell if there were any fatalities.
But there's no telling really how many people in an area like that may be buried underneath the rubble. It's a very strange sight to see this debris field that just goes on often as far as the eye can see. And -- it takes a while for your eyes to kind of adjust to what you're actually looking at. And then you realize you're actually standing on an upside down car that's crashed into a house and that house wasn't even there in the first place.
That house has moved, you know, hundreds of yards, picked up by the tsunami and deposited in what was once a rice field. So, you know, it's a very fluid situation here. There's a lot of people still now in need of food, in need of water. But more than 400,000 people -- 450,000 people, according to the last report I saw had been evacuated -- have been -- are now in shelters.
About 200,025 people have been evacuated from the Fukushima area, Eliot. But there's a lot of need and certainly there's going to be many days before any kind of normal routine returns for people -- Eliot.
SPITZER: You know, Anderson, it is absolutely shocking. We're just seeing the video, the footage. You're there, the emotions must be that much more raw when you actually see it and smell it and the enormity of it is just hard to comprehend, even on video.
How does this compare to Haiti? I mean it's not long ago, unfortunately, we remember that tragedy. No tsunami there, just the earthquake. How do the two compare in terms of order of magnitude and the sense of despair and the sense of crisis in a society just completely torn apart by natural disaster?
COOPER: Well, I mean, you know, here you have a functioning government. In Haiti, you had inept leadership, you know, and for generations. And leadership that was based on stealing and corruption. So here there is at least, you know, very good infrastructure. This is a -- honestly, you know, very, very well developed society up in northeastern Japan. You know, who are prepared for these kinds of things. So a number of the buildings which, you know, lasted through the earthquake in tact. Even in Sendai, the high-rise buildings were doing fine in shape but you can stay in and that there's electricity in some parts of town.
It's really in the coastal area that you just get these debris fields that used to be neighborhoods. And you know the true toll, they're still -- they're still trying to figure it out. I mean the official death toll is now nearly 2,000 people. But the actual death toll may be much higher than that.
We, frankly, just don't know. There was about a 30-minute gap from the time that the earthquake struck and the time that the tsunami actually hit. And there were warnings so people were often able to seek higher ground. Except for in some cases elderly people and some of the smaller villages.
But again, you know, it's a completely different situation than you had in Haiti. You really -- you know, you do see military personnel here on the ground walking around in a lot of different areas.
In Haiti, you know, you never saw any government officials. You never saw any Haitian police officers helping people in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake. It was -- you know, civilians were left up to themselves. Here you really do see a big government effort to try to reach some of these outlying areas -- Eliot.
SPITZER: And I guess one of the things you're suggesting is that those who have been moved, who have been displaced by this horror have a confidence that the government is going to be able to get them the food, the water, the shelter they need. Because you're talking an enormous logistical issue here with half a million people being moved just in that one city, the health -- just the health needs of this group of people must be vast.
But people seem to have the confidence and the comfort that the government will be able to do it.
COOPER: Yes. It's really interesting. I mean I was at a place where they were distributing water yesterday. And people were waiting in line, you know, for more than an hour. Hundreds of people waiting in line. It was a small truck distributing water. It was only -- it was in a town of 60,000 people.
There were only two small trucks. And they ran out of water. Another vehicle was able to come and kind of help refill a couple of other gallons of water. But there were a lot of people who left empty handed. They were only allowed three liters of water a day. But you didn't hear people yelling when the government official was saying, you know, I'm sorry, I apologize. They say, I'm sorry, we've run out of water.
People just kind of accepted it. And, you know, some people continued to stand in line in the hopes that water might come. Others just walked off to kind of maybe find some food or water somewhere else. So there is kind of this acceptance of the situation.
And the same thing I think goes with the nuclear situation. People are kind of watching it up here in Sendai. But there's not much they can actually do about it and there's not really any place that they can go. So they're just kind of accepting it and waiting to see what happens.
SPITZER: All right. Anderson, thank you for that report. We'll be checking back in with you later. Take care.
Now we turn to someone we've spoken with who was also been close to the nuclear danger in northern Japan.
You'll remember we spoke on Friday to American schoolteacher Ryan McDonald who was in Fukushima when the earthquake hit and shared this astonishing footage.
He said because of the radiation danger, he has backed away from Koriyama which was only 40 miles from the reactor. Now he's in Kitakata which is twice as far away. He joins us from there.
Welcome back, Ryan. How are you doing?
RYAN MCDONALD, AMERICAN EVACUATED AFTER NUCLEAR SCARE: I'm doing 100 percent better than we were when you spoke to me on Friday. Thank you.
SPITZER: Well, that's good to hear. And tell us why. You've been evacuated. You have food, shelter and water at this point. Tell us where you are and how you're doing and what the government there has been able to do for you?
MCDONALD: Well, at Sunday morning at about 1:00 a.m. Japan time, a friend of ours heard from one of her friends, a Japanese friend, that evacuations are probable and if we were to get on the road at that time, Sunday morning at 1:00 a.m., if we were to get on the road that time and just drive west, then that would be pretty safe for us. That would be a good idea. So we did that. We drove. We didn't know where we were going. We just knew we had to get out of there right now.
So we're currently in Kitakata which, like you said, is 60 miles away from the reactor, twice as far as we were. And I would really like to just take a moment to thank Mark Erickson (ph) and Kim Steel (ph). They're our friends that allowed us to just completely crash their apartment, four of us. It's not built for four people.
SPITZER: Well --
MCDONALD: But we're safe where we are. We have food. There are long lines just like Anderson was saying. There are long lines for food and water. Gasoline, they're limited to about 2.5, maybe 2.5 gallons per vehicle. And there are 40 cars lined up down the road. But other than that, I had a shower. I've had a few meals per day. I've been able to sleep a little. We're doing 100 percent better.
SPITZER: Well, that's good to hear. Certainly better than Friday when we were chatting. I'm sure you remember right in the middle of our conversation two or three tremors came through and we could see how you reacted to that having gone through just the 9.0 earthquake a couple days before.
SPITZER: Well, let me ask you, are you concerned right now about what's going on at the nuclear facility about your own exposure? I mean, we're getting such inconsistent reports on this thing, unfortunately, seems to be going in not a terribly positive direction with the explosion of the third reactor, reactor number two, but a third of the three, it's operational to have the serious explosion. What are they telling you and what are your concerns right now on that front?
MCDONALD: Well, yes. That's exactly right. We're getting complicated information from the Japanese media, and Anderson Cooper just said the feeling is that we're all in this together. And that's a big part of Japanese culture is group. We're all in this together. We have to hang in there. The word for that is ganbarimas (ph). It means to hang in, to just don't give up. And that's a word that we're hearing a lot locally. People usually say konichiwa (ph) on the street, which means hello in Japanese but now they're saying ganbarimas (ph), which means, you know, we're in this together.
Another thing that a previous guest on your show said was the media is not answering direct questions. And that is our current problem. I don't believe they're being intentionally deceptive. Another component of Japanese culture is appearance, how things look and not being direct. They often scold me as an American for being so direct. Just asking, can I have a day off? Can I do this? Whereas in Japanese, you go around the subject and the other person figures out what you're talking about. But the problem is the world is watching now and we're trying to see how we're going to survive. And I don't want to -- I don't want you to talk around the point. I want you to just say it. This is the problem. This is the level. This is the danger. But they're not doing that. They're not answering direct questions. And that's our fear.
We're still in limbo. We're in a different limbo when I talked to you on Friday. We did have food or water. Now we have food and water, we just don't know what to do. We don't have a plan past the end of this sentence because we're -- we have no solid information about the radiation levels. Is it going to melt down? Did it just explode? Is it OK? Is it not OK? That's our biggest problem right now. We just don't know.
SPITZER: All right. Well, Ryan, look, we will do our best to make sure that whatever we hear we get out there on the airwaves. And I can see you're an English teacher teaching English to Japanese students over there. You love the language, and I appreciate those little heads up you gave us about not only the culture, but language. And we'll be back in touch. Stay safe. And we'll be chatting very shortly.
MCDONALD: Thank you.
SPITZER: All right. Where could all this radiation go? The answer may be as the old line in the song goes, blowing in the wind. Stay with us.
SPITZER: And IN THE ARENA, regular Will Cain joins me now. Will, as always, thank you.
As you know, we've been reporting there's another explosion at that nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan. Tonight, more concerns about how dangerous the situation may be or how dangerous it will become. We know radiation is leaking from the plant. The big questions now are how much and where does it go. The wind plays a huge role in who is affected. Here to tell us about this and where the wind is going is CNN meteorologist Chad Myers.
Chad, what's the latest?
CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Eliot, for the next 24 hours, conditions could be worse. We have a low pressure center almost like a nor'easter off the east coast of the U.S. It's off the east coast of Japan. It is going to bring in winds and it already is in Tokyo from the northeast.
When we see the "e," the winds are always from where they're from. A northeast wind is coming from the northeast. When we see the "e," that is a bad thing. When we see a "w" from the west, that's good because the radiation gets pushed off into the ocean and away from land. When we see this northeast, we get concerned. And for the next 20 hours, we will have an "e" in our forecast.
The winds will come out of the northeast because of one low. And then another low that develops behind it. There's your southeast east. And then finally, the cold front goes by late tomorrow night and the wind will be off shore. But for the next 20 to 24 hours, any major radiation release will be pushed back on to the people of Japan.
WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Hey, Chad, Will Cain here. There's been a lot of questions about what the levels of radiation are and where they're going to go. There's at least some concern that some of it could reach the United States, whether or not the western edge of Canada or Washington, California. What would impact that? Is there other jet streams running across the Pacific that could potentially bring any kind of radioactive particles our way?
MYERS: Boy, the word "potential" is big. I mean, because literally, there would have to be a mass amount of radiation discharged. We haven't seen anything like that. And a lot of this radiation, literally, its half life might be eight seconds or less. It's released. All of a sudden it's radioactive and then it's gone. And it's not radioactive any longer. So in eight seconds it's not going to make it to America. So the longer life isotopes may get up into the wind, may get up into the jet stream which always comes from the west. If you ever fly from Atlanta or New York to L.A., it always takes longer than going from L.A. to New York because the wind is always coming from the west up in our jet stream and our hemisphere.
So, yes, the wind could get here seven to 10 days after a major radiation exposure or leak. We haven't seen anything like the word "major" yet. And let's hope it doesn't happen. But it's possible. But not yet.
SPITZER: You know, Chad, I just got to ask you this question. I don't know if this is a fair question to ask you. But in a major show of massive ignorance on my part, but I did never understood that the wind could affect radiation. I thought it was kind of like sunlight that it was like gamma rays or rays that kind of went through the wind and the elements and somehow the wind wouldn't move it around. I mean, the wind doesn't affect how much sunlight we get. Clouds might but not wind. Can you explain that to me? You know, if it's not in your zone or expertise, I get it because this was complete news to me when I was reading about this today.
MYERS: I read about it yesterday. And then I asked a bunch of nuclear physicists at Georgia Tech about it. And I said wait a minute, radiation just goes in all directions, doesn't it? And they said, yes. At the site, if there's a major release of radiation, then, yes. If the core melts down, and that's not even close to talking about yet. But if the core melts down, radiation does go everywhere, yes. But it is also all these rays, all these particles, any piece of water vapor or dust or whatever that is radioactive will get picked up by the wind and it will get pushed downwind.
Yes, there's a major radioactive that all goes in all directions from there originally. But it gets picked up. The mass of it will get picked up and pushed along. So, don't feel that. You're only one day behind me. You're good.
SPITZER: All right. In that case, I feel good.
CAIN: Hey, Chad, I have one more question. Non-radiation related here. So we see pictures of these massive rescue attempts going on in Japan. We hear stories that there's no food, water and importantly power in Japan.
CAIN: What kind of weather are those rescuers dealing with? What's the temperature on the ground and so forth in Japan?
MYERS: Yes, good point. This cold front, this west wind that comes in behind this next low is going to be very, very cold. The jet stream is coming in. The low comes in. This cold front is going to be very important to the air temperatures.
We'll be down to 27 degrees Fahrenheit in the morning hours and a high of only 39 tomorrow. Now that's a high of 39. You don't even get a chance to warm up and there's going to be snow in the forecast soon. Not a lot of it. We even saw some snowflakes coming down in some of the video we picked up today. Cold, cold air. It's winter time. You know, this is the same latitudes that we have as well. And so it's going to be 27, 28 for all these rescuers. But more importantly, people that are trapped in a void that they're still alive, they're going to be very cold as well for the next few days. It doesn't warm up until it looks like Saturday or Sunday of next weekend.
SPITZER: All right. Chad, thank you so much.
SPITZER: Coming up, growing fears over nuclear power here at home. Just how safe are we? That's coming up next.
SPITZER: If Japan's nuclear emergency continues, fears about the safety of nuclear energy are growing here at home. Some 100 reactors in operation across the country, can we risk the president's push to build more?
Jeffrey Sachs is here joining us. He's the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and I should add, one of my favorite economists in the whole world.
Jeff, thanks so much. Before we even get to nuclear power, though, take a look at the charts up on the screen. The Nikkei which dropped six percent, that's the Japanese stock market, dropped six percent on Friday. Down five percent just after the open this morning, Tuesday morning now in Japan. Are they about to dive into a precipice in terms of their equity markets?
JEFFREY SACHS, DIRECTOR, EARTH INSTITUTE: Well, the equity markets are reflecting this huge loss of wealth. But I think the economy, as devastated as it is in that area, probably will recover nationwide. The experiences even with these terrible, terrible hits like this one, the Kobe earthquake in 1995, the Chilean earthquake last year, an economy as a whole, if it's not a desperate situation like you were talking about in Haiti, but a rather modern and well- managed economy like Japan's should bounce back. We shouldn't see a huge economic crisis other than the human and economic devastation in the area of concern.
SPITZER: And if I'm right, the prefecture which is the geographic or this sort of governmental unit where these tsunami hit and where the power plants are, only constitutes two percent of the total Japanese economy. So it's a reasonably small number in the overall expanse of an enormous Japanese economy.
SACHS: Yes. We've seen estimates up to seven or eight percent of the affected area. But it is a modest part, it's shocking. It's heartbreaking what we're seeing. But the Japanese economy as a whole is very large. And even when the estimates of $200 or 300 or $400 billion of losses are given, that should be compared with the $6 trillion annual output. So this is still modest from the point of view of the overall economy. It's horrific. But it does mean that Japan will bounce back from this.
SPITZER: They have the resources to bounce back to invest, rebuilding the infrastructure. They'll have to overcome some energy shortages obviously with the nuclear power plants being out for a while, but they have the wealth to do that is what you're saying.
SACHS: And even they have some spare capacity that they'll be able to draw upon. That was not an economy running at the very edge of employment. So they have some spare capacity that they can draw in and they have great capacity to invest. And they'll do that.
SPITZER: Meaning they'll be able to borrow to spend the money.
SACHS: They will be borrowing, of course. They have a big debt that they've accumulated over a long time. But the amounts that they'll have to borrow for this won't be so large as to stop them from rebuilding.
SPITZER: All right. Now I'm going to ask you to do something that may seem virtually impossible at this precise moment in time. You are, if I'm -- correct me if I'm wrong, a huge fan of nuclear power.
SACHS: Well --
SPITZER: You defend it. Against these images of what's going on.
SACHS: You know, I believe that we'll see after this also in Japan, in China, in the United States and Europe, that nuclear power will remain part of the mix. The problem is there are no great energy sources where everything is wonderful. What we do for most of our electricity is coal. That doesn't kill us this way. It just wrecks the global climate. And so we end up with the droughts, the floods, the disastrous hurricanes. They show up in a different way.
Nuclear power, we have more than 100 nuclear power plants in this country that have run safely for decades. We had, of course, the Three Mile Island disaster. But even there, there wasn't a massive loss of life. Just four or five incidents. And so, nuclear power on the whole is safe to now resist a 9.0 earthquake, one of the biggest in modern history, biggest in Japan in 300 years, and a giant tsunami, they didn't do that. And there's a lot of learning also about backup systems and backup systems of backup systems. But I would very much doubt that this will derail the role of nuclear because it has a role to play in almost all high income economies.
SPITZER: Look, so against the backdrop of Chernobyl which, of course, is the worst nuclear disaster I'm aware of that we've ever experienced in modern civilization, and then Three Mile Island, the domestic horror story. But as you said without loss of life and ambiguous health consequences even in that region. What you're saying is the alternatives pose their own problems and in fact other nations -- France is what? Eighty percent of its energy --
SACHS: For electricity. SPITZER: Yes, for electricity is nuclear powered. So is there a moment still when nukes will be viewed as a stopgap to carry us over until we get solar renewables of some other sort? That is the argument you're making.
SACHS: Well, someday solar power potentially could power the world because there's enough incoming solar radiation that if we're effectively captured could provide all the electricity needs on the planet that's clear and renewable at least for a few billion years, we think. But right now, it's not economic. And so there is a very practical transition which could be decades and decades that we have to find ways not to wreck the climate, wreck the planet, have an economy that functions and not be so dangerous. And, of course, the engineers are going to have to go back and say what are we learning from this disaster other than the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami is devastating. What can one learn about the backup systems so that you don't get the kind of partial or full meltdown?
SPITZER: You are making the very rational data based argument that economists love to make about nuclear power versus coal or some of the alternatives, even oil which have their own environmental problems and risks to human life as we just saw with the horror show in the gulf with the drilling rigs that blew up just recently. However, the backdrop to this is politics. After Three Mile Island, it's been basically 30 years without any nuclear construction in the United States because the political backlash was so strong. How can you push back against that? Is there a coalition still to be formed that can survive what inevitably will be the sort of horrific public relations at a minimum that the nuclear power industry will face because of this?
SACHS: Well, of course, you know, this is not the day to make that case and I think that the point that I would just remind all of us, maybe won't make people feel better but the fact of the matter is that since Three Mile Island which was 1979, we have more than 20 percent of our electricity provided year in and year out by nuclear. So it's not a question should the U.S. adopt nuclear power? We have nuclear power. It's a major part of our economy. It will remain a major part tomorrow as well.
SPITZER: Quickly, in the last moments we have left, our domestic economy, will it be affected by what's going on in Japan? And are we beginning to see some nations' recovery in any way, shape or form? Are we still bouncing along without any direction to our domestic economy?
SACHS: I don't think the Japanese events, as horrible as they are, are going to do much here at all. We have a very grudging still high unemployment, modest recovery. We have a lot of crazy policies going on in Washington. One of them is that the Republicans are cutting the science and the warning systems that protect us from this kind of disaster. And I just -- I want to say to the majority leader, Eric Cantor. He says we have no money to monitor earthquakes and tsunamis and to keep the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration running. What is he talking about? Tax a few rich people, you could easily pay for what would keep the 300 million of us safe. They're making terrible decisions. And this should be a wakeup call to our Congress to stop being so anti- scientific, to stop neglecting these powerful forces of nature which is what they're doing all the time.
SPITZER: Jeff, you're saying you want a heads up before that tsunami comes over the coastline?
SACHS: I think it would be nice if we had some science and monitoring here and not to cut these agencies right now when we see what this means.
SPITZER: Well, look, my editorial comment is not only are you exactly correct but where the cuts are being discussed is in the worst possible place. It's actually where the investments for the future are going to be made. But that's the nature of politics in Washington right now. Hopefully that will change.
All right. Jeff, as always, thanks so much for being here.
SACHS: A pleasure.
SPITZER: Still ahead, the latest on the crisis in Japan in a live report. Stay tuned.
SPITZER: Breaking news we've been telling you about, the reported explosion at the number two nuclear facility in Fukushima. This is what the last of the three that was operating. This is the worst perhaps because we are hearing reports that the containment vessel itself may be breached. And we hate to be overreacting, but the words meltdown are being repeated over and over again. And now that the pressure is built up, leaks are being discussed. And what we're going to do now is go live to the NHK press conference which is in Japan where they're discussing this new development again, an explosion at the last of the three major nuclear facilities there that was in the path of the earthquake and the tsunami.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): -- were damaged in the vessel. So that something has leaked out causing the pressure to go down. Meaning, that some radioactive material could have seeped out. So we understand that the radioactive reading is 965.5 micro-sievert which is quite high. So if there is some crack or damage because the dosage is quite high, it may be very difficult to try to repair the crack or damage. So how we deal with the situation is going to be very critical from now on.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): On site, the operators are told to evacuate because if they remain in the area, they're not immediately exposed to health risks. But if they stay there for many hours, they may be exposed to a large amount of those. So that's why they are ordered to be evacuated.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The radiation level measured in and around compound, how do you assess what seems radioactive substance is being released to some extent?
That why that we are getting the higher level of readings. But we don't know --
SPITZER: All right. Well, this is devastating news now. This third explosion, what we're hearing from the reports at NKH live from Japan, they're reporting leaks of radiation out of this containment vessel. This is the last possible piece of bad news one wants to hear.
CAIN: It seems we keep getting hit in the gut over and over and over with bad news in Japan. You know, it's worth putting it in context as well. As we see this nuclear problem compound upon itself, there's already been a horrible natural disaster and thousands upon thousands of people have died.
SPITZER: It is going to get worse every day, unfortunately, as more bodies are discovered.
That's it from here tonight. Thanks for watching.
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