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Colorado Nuclear Expert: Limited Risk From Japanese Reactor Problems

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Dr. Jeff King talks with CBS4's Paul Day (credit: CBS)

Dr. Jeff King talks with CBS4’s Paul Day (credit: CBS)

DENVER (CBS4) – A nuclear energy expert in Colorado believes a full meltdown is unlikely at any of the troubled reactors in Japan’s hard-hit quake zone.

“Half of the building is gone,” said Dr. Jeff King, the interim director of the Nuclear Science and Engineering Program at the Colorado School of Mines.

But King is encouraged because the explosion at the Fukushima Reactor No. 1 left the reactor’s steel containment vessel intact.

“Radioactive material for the most part is being contained,” he said.

Visit CBSNews.com for the latest on the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

It’s true a couple of troubled reactors had their nuclear fuel rods exposed instead of being bathed in cooling water. This problem, caused by the earthquake, could theoretically allow the rods to become so hot they actually melt down.

“That’s not what is happening,” asserted the assistant professor.

Instead, he suspects some fuels rods may be damaged and, at the very worst, there has been a partial meltdown.

How worrisome is this?

“Not very,” he said.
space Colorado Nuclear Expert: Limited Risk From Japanese Reactor Problems

King commends the Japanese for responding appropriately to the crisis caused by the earthquake. But pumping seawater to cool the reactor is an extreme step.

“It sacrifices the assets,” he noted, meaning the costly power plant is likely ruined in the process.

Offshore readings have detected escaping radioactive material as far as 100 miles from the crippled reactors. But King, who used to work as a nuclear waste inspector with the U.S. Department of Energy, says the readings need to be put into context.

Visit CBSNews.com for the latest on the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

“Right now, the levels they’re seeing at the site boundary are the equivalent to four chest X-rays,” he explained.

King is confident what little radioactive material does escape is not significant enough to pose a health problem for U.S. citizens, including those living in Hawaii, which is much closer to Japan than the U.S. mainland.

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