TODAY   |  March 14, 2011

Is Japan facing a Chernobyl-like crisis?

Robert Alvarez, a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, says the operators of the stricken Japanese nuclear plants are using a “hail Mary” method by pumping in seawater to cool the reactors.

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>> alvarez is with the institute for policy studies . good morning to you.

>> good morning.

>> any time we hear the words "explosion" and "nuclear power plant " in the same sentence people fear the worst. we have seen two explosions at this plant. one in reactor number 1 and one in reactor number 3 's building. put them in perspective for me.

>> well, i think these events are unprecedented. i think that the evidence that's been made public as to what's happening there indicates that the reactor operators, the government probably with the help of the united states military are still wrestling to gain control over the situation.

>> you know, one of the problems here is we seem to be getting conflicting information. let me read different pieces of information. officials say they have lost the ability to cool three of the reactors at daiichi and three others at a nearby plant. one said he thought unit 3 had partly melted telling a news conference, i don't think the fuel rods have been spared damage. a chief cabinet secretary said reports of a meltdown are inaccurate. are we talking semantics here? cut through the terminology for me.

>> well, i think that the -- what i understand the situation to be is that there is at least one reactor that has had some sort of partial meltdown. the unit number 3 may be on the verge or may be undergoing a meltdown and unit number 3 reactor has a steel core that also contains plutonium in it which makes things much more complicated and risky. that you have reactors where they lost the ability to cool them is a very serious matter. i'm hoping they can restore the ability to cool them.

>> they are pumping seawater into the reactors to accomplish this. is this a black and white situation? in other words if the seawater fails, is a meltdown inevitable?

>> i think the sea water in terms of the menu of options is sort of what i would describe as the last ditch or hail mary option. if that fails, i'm not sure what else they have available to them and hope and pray that the primary reactor vessel will be able to with stand a severe core melt and that the secondary containment and thick concrete dome that surrounds that will also hold up and prevent any escape of a major amount of radioactive ti.

>> and these events are rated on a scale of 1 to 7. chernobyl was a 7. japanese authorities said they think the situation at daiichi is a 4. do you agree with that?

>> in my own personal opinion i think it's closer to 5 or 6.

>> that's not good news. we appreciate your perspective on this. mr. alvarez, thank you very much.

>> thank you for having me on.