Students in Japan to return to MTSU

The ongoing nuclear threat that followed a 9.0 magnitude earthquake in Japan led MTSU officials on Thursday to request nine undergraduate students studying abroad to return home, according to the university.
At least one of the students has returned already.

“We are always going to be sensitive to the response and welfare of our students and make sure they are safe wherever they are in the world,” said Brad Bartel, MTSU provost. “We have reached a point where we urge these students to come home for their own good.”

Suggested by Bartel and fully supported by university President Sidney A. McPhee, MTSU plans to provide funds for airfares of the students who agree to return as soon as they can book a flight.

MTSU students have been attending Kansai Gaidai University in Hirakata, Nagoya Gakuin University, Saitama University, Seinan Gakuin University in Fukuoka and Tokyo University in Tokyo. Eight of nine students had a year-long commitment.

Rhonda Waller, director of the Education Abroad and Student Exchange Office at MTSU, said eight study-abroad students from Japan at MTSU this semester have indicated their immediate family members are OK. She said her office has been communicating with the MTSU students and their families by phone, e-mail and Facebook.

The move is necessary for safety concerns, according to Michael D. Allen, vice provost for research and dean of the College of Graduate Studies at MTSU.

Allen is a nuclear engineer who spent 12 years of his career studying severe nuclear reactor accidents that produce results similar to what is occurring at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant on Japan’s north-east coast.

“I have performed experiments on all of the phenomena that can occur in a severe nuclear reactor accident, such as hydrogen explosions, steam explosions, melting of the lower head of the reactor pressure vessel, high-pressure melt ejection of molten core debris into the reactor cavity and core concrete interactions,” he said. “In addition, I have melted down a nuclear reactor inside an annular core research reactor to study core relocation and fission product release.”

Allen was tapped for interviews by multiple media outlets around the country, including Fox News, on Thursday.

The U.S. Embassy, earlier this week, at the urging of U.S. scientists warned American citizens in Japan to evacuate a much broader area (50 miles) around the plant than has been requested by Japanese officials (about 12 miles).

Allen, in a Thursday interview with The Daily News Journal, said he would suggest “getting as far away (from the plant) as possible.”
“There is significant potential, if the winds blow in a certain direction, for disaster,” he explained. “If the winds shifted south and blew the radiation towards Tokyo, for example, the impact could be catastrophic and that is the worst-case scenario.”

Scientists in the United States and Japan have said it is likely that any radiation emitting from the plant would be blown out of the area toward the Pacific Ocean by the area’s trade winds, where the radiation would then disperse in the ocean.

Allen agreed and added there’s no risk of any of the radiation reaching the United States.

He expects that officials at nuclear plants around the world will evaluate the need for greater security of diesel generators, especially during disasters.

The destruction of diesel generators at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station on Japan’s northeast coast by a tsunami, following the magnitude 9.0 earthquake, led to the dire situation.

“You’ve got to have power at a nuclear power plant to cool the fuel inside,” he said.

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