The cooling system at unit 3 was turned off the day before the massive explosion. The plant director was not informed for an hour of the action. Suspension of cooling caused the reactor to be without water for 6.5 hours. The RCIC cooling system was running low on battery power. Without checking the reactor pressure, workers shut off the RCIC system and attempted to start a fire pump system to feed water into the reactor. This fire pump system is low pressure and can only operate at 7 atmospheres or less of pressure. Pressure at the time of the attempt was about 40 atmospheres.
The fire pump system was unable to inject water due to the high pressure and the batteries required to operate the containment venting system were not working. Workers then attempted to switch back to the RCIC system but the batteries to run that were now dead. 7 hours later a brave worker dragged a car battery into unit 3 to manually open the venting valve. According to the IAEA the venting was successful in lowering pressure enough to begin water injection by the fire pump system.
The worker that dragged the batteries into unit 3 to vent the reactor was later taken to the hospital. He received more than 100mSv of radiation in the venting effort, the report does not say what his actual exposure level was.
One worker’s statement in TEPCO’s report describes the conditions inside the reactors during the venting attempt. It is not clear what reactor he is speaking of but gives an idea what these attempts were like.
“We put on the full protection gear but couldn’t possibly let young workers do the task, as we had to go into an area where the radiation levels were high,” one worker recalled.
“When I got to the place to open the valve, I heard eerie, deep popping noise from the torus (a donut-shaped structure at the bottom of the reactor),” he said.
“When I put one of my feet on the torus to reach the valve, my black rubber boot melted and slipped (due to the heat).”
The venting attempt allowed the fire pump to inject water into unit 3 but it suffered the massive hydrogen explosion the next day
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