CORRECTION: The original headline mischaracterized the remarks of Japanese officials. The nuclear fuel rods appear to be melting.
Japanese officials said Monday that nuclear fuel rods appear to be melting inside three reactors compromised by Friday’s earthquake, sparking discussion among officials in the U.S. over domestic nuclear policy.
Nuclear experts differ on whether to call what's happening at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in northeastern Japan a partial “meltdown.”
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said Monday that "although we cannot directly check it, it's highly likely happening."
Unit 3 of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station exploded earlier Monday, wounding 11 workers; it had been under emergency watch for an explosion after a hydrogen blast at Unit 1 of the plant on Saturday. Edano said the Unit 3 reactor’s inner containment vessel was intact.
(PICTURES: Rescue, recovery and reaction in Japan)
More than 180,000 people have been evacuated from the area, and as many as 1,500 have been examined for radiation, according to USA Today.
The worsening situation in Japan, where 11 nuclear reactors have been shut down following Friday’s earthquake, is raising concerns among officials in the U.S. and around the world.
“We just have to call a time-out and examine whether or not those safety features necessary in the future are built into new nuclear power plants in our country,” Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said Monday on CNN’s American Morning.
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., said on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday the U.S. government should “put the brakes on” building more nuclear power plants.
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., argued that the U.S. should not back down from nuclear expansion.
“This discussion reminds me somewhat of the conversations that were going on after the BP oil spill last year,” he said on Fox News Sunday. “I don’t think right after a major environmental catastrophe is a very good time to be making American domestic policy.”
These concerns are expected to be brought up again this week before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko and Energy Secretary Steven Chu will testify on Wednesday.
“We will use that opportunity to explore what is known in the early aftermath of the damage to Japanese nuclear facilities,” Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., said in a statement about the hearing, which was scheduled as a fiscal 2012 budget discussion for the Department of Energy and NRC.