An awful lot of focus is being placed on the absence of radiation release and whether release will occur. However, this focus misses the larger issue. As long as the fuel rods remain in coolant, any radiation release that occurs will be modest. The real risk is exposure of the rods to air, which will eventually (hours to days) cause them to melt and burn. Having just been removed from use, these rods are highly radioactive and contain 1000s of times the radiation present in unused fuel. It sounds as it the operator is considering a controlled release of water vapor from the reactor to relieve pressure and aid their efforts at preventing a fuel fire. Even if some radiation is released from the containment building, as long as the rods remain intact this is relatively minor problem, particularly considering other consequences of the catastrophic tsunami.
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