Category: earthquake


http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110412/ap_on_bi_ge/as_japan_earthquake

By YURI KAGEYAMA and RYAN NAKASHIMA, Associated Press Yuri Kageyama And Ryan Nakashima, Associated Press 53 mins ago

TOKYO – Japan raised the crisis level at its crippled nuclear plant Tuesday to a severity on par with the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, citing high overall radiation leaks that have contaminated the air, tap water, vegetables and seawater.

Japanese nuclear regulators said they raised the rating from 5 to 7 — the highest level on an international scale of nuclear accidents overseen by the International Atomic Energy Agency — after new assessments of radiation leaks from the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant since it was disabled by the March 11 tsunami.

The new ranking signifies a “major accident” that includes widespread effects on the environment and health, according to the Vienna-based IAEA. But Japanese officials played down any health effects and stressed that the harm caused by Chernobyl still far outweighs that caused by the Fukushima plant.

The revision came a day after the government added five communities to a list of places people should leave to avoid long-term radiation exposure. A 12-mile (20-kilometer) radius already had been cleared around the plant.

The news was received with chagrin by residents in Iitate, one of the five communities, where high levels of radiation have been detected in the soil. The village of 6,200 people is about 40 kilometers from the Fukushima plant.

“It’s very shocking to me,” said Miyuki Ichisawa, 52, who runs a coffee shop in Iitate. “Now the government is officially telling us this accident is at the same level of Chernobyl.”

Iitate’s town government decided Tuesday to ban planting of all farm products, including rice and vegetables, said local official Shinichi Momma. The national government earlier banned rice growing there but not necessarily vegetables.

Japanese officials said the leaks from the Fukushima plant so far amount to a tenth of the radiation emitted in the Chernobyl disaster, but said they eventually could exceed Chernobyl’s emissions if the crisis continues.

“This reconfirms that this is an extremely major disaster. We are very sorry to the public, people living near the nuclear complex and the international community for causing such a serious accident,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano.

But Edano told reporters there was no “direct health damage” so far from the crisis. “The accident itself is really serious, but we have set our priority so as not to cause health damage.”

Click image to see photos of quake, tsunami damage

Hironobu Unesaki, a nuclear physicist at Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute, said the revision was not a cause for worry, that it had to do with the overall release of radiation and was not directly linked to health dangers. He said most of the radiation was released early in the crisis and that the reactors still have mostly intact containment vessels surrounding their nuclear cores.

The change was “not directly connected to the environmental and health effects,” Unesaki said. “Judging from all the measurement data, it is quite under control. It doesn’t mean that a significant amount of release is now continuing.”

Prime Minister Naoto Kan, in a national television address, urged the public not to panic and to focus on recovering from the disaster.

“Right now, the situation of the nuclear reactors at the Fukushima plant has been stabilizing step by step. The amount of radiation leaks is on the decline,” he said. “But we are not at the stage yet where we can let our guards down.”

Continued aftershocks following the 9.0-magnitude megaquake on March 11 are impeding work on stabilizing the Fukushima plant — the latest a 6.3-magnitude one Tuesday that prompted plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co., or TEPCO, to temporarily pull back workers.

Officials from Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said that the cumulative amount of radioactive particles released into the atmosphere since the incident had reached levels that apply to a Level 7 incident. Other factors included damage to the plant’s buildings and accumulated radiation levels for its workers.

“We have refrained from making announcements until we have reliable data,” said NISA spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama said. “The announcement is being made now because it became possible to look at and check the accumulated data assessed in two different ways,” he said, referring to measurements from NISA and Japan’s Nuclear Security Council.

NISA and the NSC have been measuring emissions of radioactive iodine-131 and cesium-137, a heavier element with a much longer half-life. Based on an average of their estimates and a formula that converts elements into a common radioactive measure, the equivalent of about 500,000 terabecquerels of radiation from iodine-131 has been released into the atmosphere since the crisis began.

That well exceeds the Level 7 threshold of the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale of “several tens of thousands of terabecquerels” of iodine-131. A terabecquerel equals a trillion becquerels, a measure for radiation emissions.

The government says the Chernobyl incident released 5.2 million terabecquerels into the air — about 10 times that of the Fukushima plant.

If the leaks continue, the amount of radioactivity released in Fukushima could eventually exceed the amount emitted by Chernobyl, a possibility that Naoki Tsunoda, a TEPCO spokesman, said the company considers “extremely low.”

In Chernobyl, in the Ukraine, a reactor exploded on April 26, 1986, spewing a cloud of radiation over much of the Northern Hemisphere. A zone about 19 miles (30 kilometers) around the plant was declared uninhabitable, although some plant workers still live there for short periods and a few hundred other people have returned despite government encouragement to stay away.

In 2005, the Chernobyl Forum — a group comprising the International Atomic Energy Agency and several other U.N. groups — said fewer than 50 deaths could be confirmed as being connected to Chernobyl. It also said the number of radiation-related deaths among the 600,000 people who helped deal with the aftermath of the accident would ultimately be around 4,000.

The U.N. health agency, however, has said about 9,300 people are likely to die of cancers caused by radiation. Some groups, including Greenpeace, have put the numbers 10 times higher.

The Fukushima plant was damaged in a massive tsunami that knocked out cooling systems and backup diesel generators, leading to explosions at three reactors and a fire at a fourth that was undergoing regular maintenance and was empty of fuel.

The magnitude-9.0 earthquake that caused the tsunami immediately stopped the three reactors, but overheated cores and a lack of cooling functions led to further damage.

Engineers have pumped water into the damaged reactors to cool them down, but leaks have resulted in the pooling of tons of contaminated, radioactive water that has prevented workers from conducting further repairs.

A month after the disaster, more than 145,000 people are still living in shelters. The quake and tsunami are believed to have killed more than 25,000 people, but many of those bodies were swept out to sea and more than half of those feared dead are still listed as missing.

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Associated Press writers Shino Yuasa and Noriko Kitano in Tokyo and Eric Talmadge in Soma contributed to this report.

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http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110408/ap_on_re_as/as_japan_earthquake

By JAY ALABASTER and TOMOKO A. HOSAKA, Associated Press Jay Alabaster And Tomoko A. Hosaka, Associated Press 32 mins ago

SENDAI, Japan – Nearly a half-million homes suffered blackouts in Japan’s northeast Friday after a new earthquake killed three people and piled more misery on a region buried under the rubble of last month’s devastating tsunami.

The northeastern coast was still reeling from the destruction wrought by a jumbo 9.0-magnitude earthquake on March 11, with tens of thousands of households without power or water. The 7.1-magnitude aftershock Thursday threw even more areas into disarray and sent communities that had made some gains back to square one.

Gasoline was scarce again, and long lines formed at stations. Stores that had only recently restocked their shelves sold out of basics Friday and were forced to ration purchases again.

Still, the latest quake did far less damage, generated no tsunami and largely spared the region’s nuclear plants. Some slightly radioactive water spilled at one plant, but the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi complex reported no new problems.

Matsuko Ito, who has been living in a shelter in the small northeastern city of Natori since the tsunami, said there’s no getting used to the terror of being awoken by shaking. She said she started screaming when the quake struck around 11:30 p.m.

“It’s enough,” the 64-year-old while smoking a cigarette outside. “Something has changed. The world feels strange now. Even the way the clouds move isn’t right.”

The latest tremor — the strongest since the day of the tsunami — cut power to more homes, though it was quickly restored to many. More than 450,000 households were still without electricity Friday evening, said Souta Nozu, a spokesman for Tohoku Electric Power Co., which serves northern Japan. That includes homes in prefectures in Japan’s northwest that had been spared in the first quake.

Six conventional plants in the area were knocked out, though three have since come back online and the others should be up again within hours, Nozu said. But with power lines throughout the area damaged, it was not clear whether normal operations would be restored, he said.

In Ichinoseki, lines formed outside a supermarket when it opened Friday morning. An employee with a flashlight escorted each customer around the store and jotted the price of each selected item in a pad.

Most businesses were closed in the city, 240 miles (390 kilometers) northeast of Tokyo. One restaurant owner, Suzuki Koya, bought a small gas stove and made free meals in big boiling pot.

Click image to see photos of quake, tsunami damage

“I saw the meat at the supermarket and I thought, ‘We should do a hot pot,'” the 47-year-old said. “It’s good to keep warm in times like these.”

Several nuclear power plants briefly switched to diesel generators but were reconnected to the grid by Friday afternoon. One plant north of Sendai briefly lost the ability to cool its spent fuel pools, but quickly got it back.

At a plant in Onagawa, some radioactive water splashed out of the pools but did not leave a containment building, Tohoku Electric said. Such splash-out is “not unusual, although it is preferable that it doesn’t happen,” according to Japanese nuclear safety agency official Tomoho Yamada.

“Closer inspection could find more problems,” said agency spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama, but no radiation was released into the environment at Onagawa.

The plant began leaking oil into the ocean in the first earthquake, and the flow escaped a containment boom in Thursday’s tremor but was contained again by Friday, coast guard spokesman Hideaki Takase said.

Thursday’s quake prompted a tsunami warning of its own, but it was later canceled. Three people were killed. A 79-year-old man died of shock and a woman in her 60s was killed when power was cut to her oxygen tank, national fire and disaster agency spokesman Junichi Sawada reported Friday. The third death was an 85-year-old man, according to a doctor at the Ishinomaki Red Cross Hospital. He declined to give his name because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

That pales in comparison to the original quake and tsunami, in which more than 25,000 people are believed to have died.

Many of those bodies have still not been found: A significant portion were likely washed out to sea and never will be, but some are buried in areas that have been largely off-limits to search teams.

As radiation spilling from the troubled Fukushima Dai-ichi plant has fallen in recent days, however, police have fanned out inside a no-go zone near the complex to dig for the dead.

On Friday, hundreds of police, many mobilized from Tokyo, used their hands or small shovels, pulling four bodies in an hour from one small area in the city of Minami Soma. The had found only five bodies the previous day.

The searchers, wearing white radiation gear and blue gloves, struggled to bring the remains across the rubble to vans and minibuses that would take them to the nearest morgue. Each body was carefully hosed off to rid it of radiation before being placed in the vehicles.

“The area is literally a mountain of debris. It is an extremely difficult task,” said an official with police in Fukushima prefecture who declined to be named because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

The epicenter of Thursday’s temblor was in about the same location as the original 9.0-magnitude tremor, off the eastern coast and about 40 miles (65 kilometers) from Sendai, an industrial city on the eastern coast, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It was strong enough to shake buildings for about a minute as far away as Tokyo, about 200 miles (330 kilometers) away.

At a Toyota dealership in Sendai, most of a two-story show window was shattered, and thick shards of glass were heaped in front of the building. Police directed cars through intersections throughout the city on Friday because traffic lights were out. Small electrical fires were reported.

At the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, where nuclear workers have been toiling to plug radiation leaks and restore cooling systems ruined in the March 11 quake and tsunami, workers briefly retreated to a shelter and suffered no injuries. The plant operator said the tremor caused no new problems there.

Despite the new aftershock, automakers announced Friday that they were beginning to bounce back from the March monster. Toyota will resume car production at all its plants in Japan at half capacity from April 18 to 27.

The world’s No. 1 automaker said it remained unclear when it would return to full production in Japan.

Nissan also said it would start up domestic production at half capacity from April 11.

Operations had been halted at both companies because of part shortages.

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Associated Press writers Shino Yuasa, Malcolm Foster, Ryan Nakashima, Mari Yamaguchi and Cara Rubinsky in Tokyo, Eric Talmadge in Minami Soma, and Colleen Slevin in Denver contributed to this report.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110407/ap_on_bi_ge/as_japan_earthquake

By ERIC TALMADGE and SHINO YUASA, Associated Press Eric Talmadge And Shino Yuasa, Associated Press 2 hrs 9 mins ago

MINAMI SOMA, Japan – Japanese police raced Thursday to find thousands of missing bodies before they completely decompose along a stretch of tsunami-pummeled coast that has been largely off-limits because of a radiation-leaking nuclear plant.

Nearly a month after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake generated the tsunami along Japan’s northeastern coast, more than 15,000 people are still missing. Many of those may have been washed out to sea and will never be found.

In the days just after the March 11 disaster, searchers gingerly picked through mountains of tangled debris, hoping to find survivors. Heavier machinery has since been called in, but unpredictable tides of radiation from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex have slowed progress and often forced authorities to abandon the search, especially within a 12-mile (20-kilometer) evacuation zone around the plant.

Officials now say there’s not much time left to find and identify the dead, and are ramping up those efforts.

“We have to find bodies now as they are decomposing,” said Ryoichi Tsunoda, a police spokesman in Fukushima prefecture, where the plant is located. “This is a race against time and against the threat of nuclear radiation.”

More than 25,000 people are believed to have been killed, and 12,600 are confirmed dead. There is expected to be some overlap in the dead and missing tolls because not all the bodies have been identified.

Recent progress at the plant — which the tsunami flooded — appears to have slowed the release of radiation into the ocean. Early Wednesday, technicians there plugged a crack that had been gushing contaminated water into the Pacific. Radiation levels in waters off the coast have fallen dramatically since then, though contaminated water continues to pool throughout the complex, often thwarting work there. A floating island storage facility — which officials hope will hold the radioactive water — arrived at the port near Tokyo on Thursday and will soon head to Fukushima.

After notching a rare victory, technicians began pumping nitrogen into the chamber of reactor Thursday to reduce the risk of a hydrogen explosion.

Three hydrogen blasts rocked the complex in the days immediately following the tsunami, which knocked out vital cooling systems. An internal report from March 26 by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission warned such explosions could occur again and recommended adding nitrogen. The gas will be injected into all three of the troubled reactors over the next six days.

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. has been under intense pressure to get the crisis under control, and the company’s president was hospitalized last week amid reports he’d had a breakdown. Masataka Shimizu spent eight days in the hospital with dizziness and high blood pressure, but was back at work Thursday, according to spokesman Takashi Kurita.

Click image to see photos of quake, tsunami damage

Radiation in the air, soil and water in Fukushima prefecture has also been declining since Saturday, and Tsunoda said a small team resumed the search there a day later. But the operation dramatically increased on Thursday, when 330 police and 650 soldiers fanned out, wearing white protective gear from head to toe. They are concentrating on areas between six and 12 miles (10 and 20 kilometers) from the plant — all of which are within the zone evacuated because of radiation fears.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the government is studying ways to allow residents in the evacuation zones to return briefly to check on their homes and retrieve any possession that may be left, but they would have to be escorted and wear protective gear.

“I understand that many residents have eagerly waiting for a chance to go back, but this is not something we can approve just to mark one month from the disaster,” Edano said. “If we provide an opportunity, we cannot allow anyone to go anytime.”

The government has said it may expand the evacuation zone due to concerns about longer-term radiation exposure as the crisis wears on.

Iitate village, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) from Fukushima Dai-ichi, said Thursday it is advising pregnant women and children under 3 to go to hotels farther from the plant. The International Atomic Energy Agency last month reported high levels of contamination in Iitate’s soil. Village officials did not say why they are just now telling some people to leave.

On the fringes of Minami Soma, a city that straddles the no-go zone and was flattened in the crush of water, teams patrolled deserted streets Thursday. Packs of dogs caked with mud and the searchers were the only beings roaming the emptied streets.

One area inside the evacuation area seemed frozen in time: Doors swung open, bicycles lined the streets, a lone taxi sat outside the local train station.

One body was pulled out of the rubble Thursday morning.

“We just got started here this morning, so we expect there will be many more,” said one officer, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

More than 1,000 people are missing in the city alone.

“I believe the search will continue until they find as many of the missing as they can, but we fear many of the missing were washed out to sea or are buried under rubble,” said Takamitsu Hoshi, a city official. “We haven’t been able to do much searching at all because of the radiation concerns. It was simply too dangerous.”

Last weekend, U.S. and Japanese troops conducted a massive, all-out search of coastal waters, finding about 70 bodies over three days. While such operations haven’t stopped completely, they’ll be severely limited going forward. The death toll for the 2004 Asian tsunami includes tens of thousands of bodies that were never found, likely sucked out to sea.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department confirmed the death of Montgomery Dickson — the second American confirmed killed in the disaster. It gave no other details.

While some progress has been made at the nuclear complex in recent days, radiation spewed over the past few weeks continues to travel — in trace amounts — farther afield. On Thursday, one South Korean province allowed schools to cancel classes after rain containing small amounts of radiation fell in the area. The contamination posed no health threat, according to the prime minister’s office.

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Yuasa reported from Tokyo. Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo and Matthew Daly in Washington also contributed.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110404/ap_on_bi_ge/as_japan_earthquake

By MARI YAMAGUCHI and YURI KAGEYAMA, Associated Press Mari Yamaguchi And Yuri Kageyama, Associated Press 2 hrs 55 mins ago

TOKYO – Workers used a milky bathwater dye Monday as they frantically tried to trace the path of radioactive water seeping into the ocean from Japan’s tsunami-damaged nuclear plant.

The crack in a maintenance pit discovered over the weekend was the latest confirmation that radioactivity continues to spill into the environment. The leak is a symptom of the primary difficulty at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex: Radioactive water is pooling around the plant and preventing workers from powering up cooling systems needed to stabilize dangerously vulnerable fuel rods.

The plant operators also deliberately dumped 10,000 tons of tainted water — measuring about 500 times above the legal limit for radiactivity — into the ocean Monday to make space at a storage site for water that is even more highly radiactive.

Engineers have turned to a host of improvised and sometimes bizarre methods to tame the nuclear plant after it was crippled in Japan’s magnitude 9.0 quake and tsunami on March 11.

Efforts over the weekend to clog the leak with a special polymer, sawdust and even shredded newspapers failed to halt the flow at a cracked concrete maintenance pit near the shoreline. The water in that leak contains radioactive iodine at rates 10,000 times the legal limit.

Suspecting they might be targeting the wrong channel to the pit, workers tried to confirm the leak’s pathway by dumping several pounds (kilograms) of salts used to give bathwater a milky hue into the system, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Monday.

“There could be other possible passages that the water may be traveling. We must watch carefully and contain it as quickly as possible,” said Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman for the Nuclear Safety and Industrial Agency.

Radioactive water has pooled throughout the plant because the operator has been forced to rely on makeshift ways of pumping water into the reactors — and allowing it to gush out wherever it can — to bring down temperatures and pressure in the cores.

Government officials conceded Sunday that it will likely be several months before the cooling systems are completely restored. And even after that happens, there will be years of work ahead to clean up the area around the complex and figure out what to do with it.

The makeshift system makes it difficult to contain the radiation leaks, but it is aimed a preventing fuel rods from going into a full meltdown that would release even more radiactivity into the environment.

Click image to see photos of quake, tsunami damage

“We must keep putting water into the reactors to cool to prevent further fuel damage, even though we know that there is a side effect, which is the leakage,” Nishiyama said. “We want to get rid of the stagnant water and decontaminate the place so that we can return to our primary task to restore the sustainable cooling capacity as quickly as possible.”

To that end, the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., said it jettisoned the 10,000 tons of water Monday, clearing space in a waste-storage facility. The government decided to allow the step as “an unavoidable emergency measure,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said.

An additional 1,500 tons will be dumped from a trench under the plant’s units 5 and 6. That water is threatening to interfere with the workings at those units, whose reactors are under control.

Radioactivity is quickly diluted in the ocean, and Edano said the dump should not affect the safety of seafood in the area.

The crisis has unfolded as Japan deals with the aftermath of twin natural disasters that decimated large swaths of its northeastern coast. Up to 25,000 people are believed to have died in the disaster, and tens of thousands lost their homes. Thousands more were forced to flee a 12-mile (20-kilometer) radius around the plant because of the radiation.

The 8-inch-long (20-centimeter-long) crack was discovered in the maintenance pit over the weekend. It is sending radioactive water into area that is normally blocked off by a seawall, but a crack was also discovered in that outer barrier Monday.

Though it later authorized the dumping of slightly radioactive water, the government said Monday it was growing concerned about the sheer volume of contaminated materials spilling into the Pacific. It is not clear how much water has leaked from the pit so far.

“Even if they say the contamination will be diluted in the ocean, the longer this continues, the more radioactive particles will be released and the greater the impact on the ocean,” Edano said. “We are strongly urging TEPCO that they have to take immediate action to deal with this.”

The crisis has sparked protests in Japan and raised questions around the world about the safety of nuclear power. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency told delegates at a nuclear safety conference Monday that the industry cannot afford to ignore these concerns.

“We cannot take a ‘business as usual’ approach,” Yukiya Amano said.

The operator said Monday it is ordering fencing that is typically used to contain oil spills. The screens are not designed to trap radioactivity but might curtail the flow of water and thus reduce the spread of contamination, said TEPCO manager Teruaki Kobayashi. It was not clear when they would arrive.

All of the plant’s reactors were designed by General Electric, and the company’s CEO met Sunday with TEPCO’s chairman. Jeffrey Immelt told reporters Monday that more than 1,000 engineers from GE and its partner Hitachi are helping to analyze the problems at the plant.

Immelt also offered assistance in dealing with the electricity shortage brought on by damage to Dai-ichi and other power plants. Japan is expecting a shortfall of at least 10 million kilowatts come summer.

Gas turbines are on their way from the U.S. with both long- and short-term capabilities, Immelt said.

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Associated Press writer Ryan Nakashima in Tokyo contributed to this report.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/as_japan_earthquake

By SHINO YUASA and JAY ALABASTER, Associated Press Shino Yuasa And Jay Alabaster, Associated Press 11 mins ago

TOKYO – A suspected breach in the reactor at the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant could mean more serious radioactive contamination, Japanese officials revealed Friday, as the prime minister called the country’s ongoing fight to stabilize the plant “very grave and serious.”

A somber Prime Minister Naoto Kan sounded a pessimistic note at a briefing hours after nuclear safety officials announced what could be a major setback in the urgent mission to stop the plant from leaking radiation, two weeks after a devastating earthquake and tsunami disabled it.

“The situation today at the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant is still very grave and serious. We must remain vigilant,” Kan said. “We are not in a position where we can be optimistic. We must treat every development with the utmost care.”

The uncertain situation halted work at the nuclear complex, where dozens had been trying feverishly to stop the overheated plant from leaking dangerous radiation. The plant has leaked some low levels of radiation, but a breach could mean a much larger release of contaminants.

The possible breach in Unit 3 might be a crack or a hole in the stainless steel chamber of the reactor core or in the spent fuel pool that’s lined with several feet of reinforced concrete. The temperature and pressure inside the core, which holds the fuel rods, remained stable and was far lower than would further melt the core.

Suspicions of a possible breach were raised when two workers waded into water 10,000 times more radioactive than levels normally found in water in or around a reactor and suffered skin burns, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said.

Kan apologized to farmers and business owners for the toll the radiation has had on their livelihoods: Several countries have halted some food imports from areas near the plant after milk and produce were found to contain elevated levels of radiation.

He also thanked utility workers, firefighters and military personnel for “risking their lives” to cool the overheated facility.

The alarm Friday comes two weeks to the day since the magnitude-9 quake triggered a tsunami that enveloped cities along the northeastern coast and knocked out the Fukushima reactor’s cooling systems.

Police said the official death toll jumped past 10,000 on Friday. With the cleanup and recovery operations continuing and more than 17,400 listed as missing, the final number of dead was expected to surpass 18,000.

Click image to see photos of quake, tsunami damage

The nuclear crisis has compounded the challenges faced by a nation already saddled with a humanitarian disaster. Much of the frigid northeast remains a scene of despair and devastation, with Japan struggling to feed and house hundreds of thousands of homeless survivors, clear away debris and bury the dead.

A breach could mean a leak has been seeping for days, likely since the hydrogen explosion at Unit 3 on March 14. It’s not clear if any of the contaminated water has run into the ground. Radiation readings for the air were not yet available for Friday, but detections in recent days have shown no significant spike.

But elevated levels of radiation have already turned up in raw milk, seawater and 11 kinds of vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower and turnips. Tap water in several areas of Japan — including Tokyo — also showed radiation levels considered unsafe for infants, who are particularly vulnerable to cancer-causing radioactive iodine, officials said.

The scare caused a run on bottled water in the capital, and Tokyo municipal officials are distributing it to families with babies.

Previous radioactive emissions have come from intentional efforts to vent small amounts of steam through valves to prevent the core from bursting. However, releases from a breach could allow uncontrolled quantities of radioactive contaminants to escape into the surrounding ground or air.

Government spokesman Yukio Edano said “safety measures may not be adequate” and warned that may contribute to rising anxiety among people about how the disaster is being managed.

“We have to make sure that safety is secured for the people working in that area. We truly believe that is incumbent upon us,” the chief Cabinet secretary told reporters.

Edano said people living 12 to 20 miles (20 to 30 kilometers) from the plant should still be safe from the radiation as long as they stay indoors. But since supplies are not being delivered to the area fast enough, he said it may be better for residents in the area to voluntarily evacuate to places with better facilities.

“If the current situation is protracted and worsens, then we will not deny the possibility of (mandatory) evacuation,” he said.

NISA spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama said later that plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. was issued a “very strong warning” for safety violations and that a thorough review would be conducted once the situation stabilizes.

Meanwhile, damage to factories was taking its toll on the world’s third-largest economy and creating a ripple effect felt worldwide.

Nissan Motor Co. said it may move part of its engine production line to the United States because of damage to a plant.

The quake and tsunami are emerging as the world’s most expensive natural disasters on record, wreaking up to $310 billion in damages, the government said.

“There is no doubt that we have immense economic and financial damage,” Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda said. “It will be our task how to recover from the damage.”

At Sendai’s port, brand new Toyota cars lay crushed in piles. At the airport, flooded by the tsunami on March 11, U.S. Marines used bulldozers and shovels to shift wrecked cars that lay scattered like discarded toys.

Still, there were examples of resilience, patience and fortitude across the region.

In Soma, a hard-hit town along the Fukushima prefecture coast, rubble covered the block where Hiroshi Suzuki’s home once stood. He watched as soldiers dug into mounds of timber had been neighbors’ homes in search of bodies. Just three bodies have been pulled out.

“I never expected to have to live through anything like this,” he said mournfully. Suzuki is one of Soma’s lucky residents, but the tsunami washed away the shop where he sold fish and seaweed.

“My business is gone. I don’t think I will ever be able to recover,” said Suzuki, 59.

Still, he managed to find a bright side. “The one good thing is the way everyone is pulling together and helping each other. No one is stealing or looting,” he said.

“It makes me feel proud to be Japanese.”

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Alabaster reported from Onagawa. Associated Press writers Elaine Kurtenbach, Tomoko A. Hosaka, Kristen Gelineau, Jean H. Lee and Jeff Donn in Tokyo, Eric Talmadge in Soma and Johnson Lai in Sendai contributed to this report.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/yblog_thelookout/20110316/ts_yblog_thelookout/japans-nuclear-crisis-where-things-stand

The ongoing crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has turned into what one analyst calls “a slow-moving nightmare,” with fires, leaks of poisonous radiation, and mass evacuations.

With events shifting quickly, and a sometimes confusing succession of announcements coming from authorities, it can be hard to get a clear sense of exactly what’s happening, and of what to expect going forward. So here’s a rundown, based on several recent news reports, on where things stand five days in…

 

What’s at the root of the problem?

Friday’s earthquake and tsunami caused power outages across northern Japan — including at the Daiichi plant, which comprises six separate reactors. That in turn caused a failure of the reactors’ cooling systems, which are needed to keep the nuclear fuel from overheating and melting down and/or triggering an explosion, releasing poisonous radiation into the atmosphere.

What’s the current situation at the plant?

Yesterday, an explosion caused the containment vessel covering the Number 2 reactor to crack, releasing into the air a surge of radiation 800 times more intense than the recommended hourly exposure limit in Japan. One third of the fuel rods at the reactor were reportedly damaged. In addition, another powerful explosion blew a 26-foot wide hole in the side of Number 4 reactor, causing fires to break out and a pool containing spent fuel rods to begin dangerously overheating.

The Japanese military tried to use helicopters to dump water from the air to cool the Number 4 reactor, but that plan was abandoned after a third explosion — this one damaging the roof and cooling system of the Number 3 reactor — because it would have meant flying a helicopter into radioactive steam. Gregory Jaczko, the top U.S. nuclear official, said today that all the water was gone from the pool containing the fuel rods at the Number 4 reactor — an assertion denied by a spokesman for the Japanese power company that runs the plant. If Jaczko is correct, it would mean there is nothing to stop the fuel from melting down, spewing radiation.

Water was also poured into the Numbers 5 and 6 reactors, suggesting that essentially the entire plant could be at risk of overheating.

In what appears to have been an understatement, the plant operator described the situation at the Number 4 reactor as “not so good.” But in some ways the rupture at the Number 3 reactor is especially troubling, because it’s the only reactor that uses plutonium as part of its fuel mix. If absorbed into the bloodstream, plutonium can stay in the liver or bone marrow and cause cancer.

Japanese officials said early Thursday they’re close to completing a new power line which would restore the cooling systems for the reactors, but it’s unclear when the line will be up and running.

How much of the surrounding area is likely to be affected by the radiation?

The government has told the roughly 140,000 people who live within 18 miles of the plant to stay indoors, but has said that people outside that zone can safely go outside. However, some experts have accused the Japanese authorities of underplaying the severity of the crisis. The U.S. embassy has recommended that Americans within 50 miles of the plant evacuate the area or stay indoors.

Tokyo, 180 miles south of the plant, has recorded radiation levels only slightly above normal. Still, both France and Australia have urged their nationals throughout the country to leave, and many Tokyo residents have been staying indoors. One American couple living in Tokyo told family they don’t yet see a need to leave, but are monitoring the situation closely.

What other ideas are being considered?

In what experts describe as a last-ditch effort, police are hoping to use a water cannon — usually used to quell riots — to cool the nuclear fuel. Officials have also proposed using boric acid, which can help slow nuclear reactions by absorbing neutrons.

On Monday, 750 workers were withdrawn from the facility, leaving a core of 50 to battle the crisis alone while exposing themselves to potentially deadly levels of radiation. But even those workers appeared to have been withdrawn today after a surge in radiation caused by new explosions made the area too dangerous.

What are the best- and worst-case scenarios?

The best case scenario is that efforts to cool the fuel rods succeed, and damage to the surrounding environment is limited to an area within about 15 miles of the plant. The worst is a full-scale meltdown of the reactors caused by overheating, which would release much larger amounts of radiation into the air than has yet occurred.  In that case, the damage could potentially approach the level of the Soviet Union’s 1986 Chernobyl disaster, for which estimates of deaths vary from 4000 to close to one million.

How does the crisis rank, in terms of nuclear plant accidents?

On Saturday, Japanese authorities ranked the incident a Level Four on a one-to-seven scale used to rank nuclear accidents. but things have worsened since then, and yesterday France’s nuclear authority said it should be classified as a Level Six. Chernobyl is the only Level 7 accident ever to have occurred.

In this image released by Tokyo Electric Power Co., smoke billows from the No. 3 unit among four housings cover four reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex in Okumamachi, Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan, on Tuesday, March 15, 2011.  (AP Photo/Tokyo Electric Power Co.)

Largest earthquake in 35 years hits Arkansas

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110301/ap_on_re_us/us_arkansas_earthquakes

By SARAH EDDINGTON, Associated Press Sarah Eddington, Associated Press Tue Mar 1, 12:07 am ET

GREENBRIER, Ark. – The central Arkansas town of Greenbrier has been plagued for months by hundreds of small earthquakes, and after being woken up by the largest quake to hit the state in 35 years, residents said Monday they’re unsettled by the increasing severity and lack of warning.

The U.S. Geological Survey recorded the quake at 11 p.m. Sunday, centered just northeast of Greenbrier, about 40 miles north of Little Rock. It was the largest of more than 800 quakes to strike the area since September in what is now being called the Guy-Greenbrier earthquake swarm.

The activity has garnered national attention and researchers are studying whether there’s a possible connection to the region’s natural gas drilling industry. The earthquake activity varies each week, though as many as nearly two dozen small quakes have occurred in a day.

“You don’t know what to expect. It’s unnerving,” said Corinne Tarkington, an employee at a local flower and gift shop. “I woke up last night to the sound of my house shaking.”

What woke Tarkington was a magnitude 4.7 earthquake that was also felt in Oklahoma, Missouri, Tennessee and Mississippi. No injuries or major damage have been reported, but the escalation in the severity of quakes in and around the small north-central Arkansas town has many residents on edge. Some said they’re seeing gradual damage to their homes, such as cracks in walls and driveways.

“We probably had 40 to 50 calls last night,” Greenbrier police Sgt. Rick Woody said, noting that the tone of the calls had changed. After pervious quakes, most callers simply wanted to find out if a loud noise they’d heard was an earthquake, he said.

“The fear had calmed down until last night,” Woody said Monday. “People’s biggest concerns (now) are whether or not these earthquakes are going to get any bigger.”

Scott Ausbrooks, seismologist for the Arkansas Geological Survey, said Sunday’s record quake was at the “max end” of what scientists expect to happen, basing that judgment on this swarm and others in the past. It’s possible that a quake ranging from magnitude 5.0 to 5.5 could occur, but anything greater than that is highly unlikely, he said.

Ausbrooks said he plans to hold a town hall meeting in Greenbrier next month to address people’s concerns.

“This quake actually scared folks,” he said. “It lasted longer than a lot of the others did.”

Ausbrooks said scientists continue to study whether there may be a connection between the earthquakes and local injection wells, where the natural gas industry pumps waste water that can no longer be used by drillers for hydraulic fracturing. Fracturing, or “fracking,” involves injecting pressurized water to create fractures deep in the ground to help free the gas.

Geologists don’t believe the fracturing is the problem, but possibly the injection wells.

A major source of the state’s natural gas is the Fayetteville Shale, an organically-rich rock formation in north-central Arkansas. A six-month moratorium was established in January on new injection wells in the area to allow time to study the relationship — if any — between the wells and the earthquakes.

In Greenbrier, many residents are starting to notice gradual damage. Tarkington said her house has started to show cracks in ceilings and walls.

“You can see the wear and tear on our houses,” she said. “I wish they’d go away.”

Taylor Farrell, 29, a Greenbrier resident and employee at a local flea market, said a large crack formed in her driveway several months ago, and as the earthquakes continue, the crack has spread into her garage.

She said she and her husband had removed everything from the walls of their house, including family photos and television sets, because many photos had fallen in recent quakes.

“Other than that, there’s really not much more you can do,” she said. “It’s Mother Earth. It’s going to do what it’s going to do. All we can do is wait for the big one and hope and pray it doesn’t happen.”

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