Tag Archive: Japanese earthquake


Japanese Prime Minister Kan leaves a gathering with members of his ruling Democratic Party of Japan in Tokyohttp://beta.news.yahoo.com/japan-pm-kan-says-wants-3-bills-passed-132108781.html

 

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said on Monday he wanted to oversee the passage of a small extra budget to help finance post-disaster reconstruction, a bill on deficit financing bonds and a law on renewable energy before stepping down.

Kan, under fire for his response to a March 11 earthquake and tsunami and ensuing nuclear crisis, pledged early this month to step down to quell a rebellion in his party and survive a no-confidence vote, but has declined to say when he will go.

(Reporting by Yoko Kubota, writing by Tomasz Janowski)

 

 

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How one Japanese village defied the tsunami

In this photo taken Tuesday, April 26, 2011, a construction worker walks on Fudai flood gate in Fudai town, Iwate Prefecture, northeastern Japan. The http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110513/ap_on_re_as/as_japan_village_that_survived

By TOMOKO A. HOSAKA, Associated Press Tomoko A. Hosaka, Associated Press Fri May 13, 2:04 pm ET

FUDAI, Japan – In the rubble of Japan’s northeast coast, one small village stands as tall as ever after the tsunami. No homes were swept away. In fact, they barely got wet.

Fudai is the village that survived — thanks to a huge wall once deemed a mayor’s expensive folly and now vindicated as the community’s salvation.

The 3,000 residents living between mountains behind a cove owe their lives to a late leader who saw the devastation of an earlier tsunami and made it the priority of his four-decade tenure to defend his people from the next one.

His 51-foot (15.5-meter) floodgate between mountainsides took a dozen years to build and meant spending more than $30 million in today’s dollars.

“It cost a lot of money. But without it, Fudai would have disappeared,” said seaweed fisherman Satoshi Kaneko, 55, whose business has been ruined but who is happy to have his family and home intact.

The floodgate project was criticized as wasteful in the 1970s. But the gate and an equally high seawall behind the community’s adjacent fishing port protected Fudai from the waves that obliterated so many other towns on March 11. Two months after the disaster, more than 25,000 are missing or dead.

“However you look at it, the effectiveness of the floodgate and seawall was truly impressive,” Fudai Mayor Hiroshi Fukawatari said.

Towns to the north and south also braced against tsunamis with concrete seawalls, breakwaters and other protective structures. But none were as tall as Fudai’s.

The town of Taro believed it had the ultimate fort — a double-layered 33-foot-tall (10-meter-tall) seawall spanning 1.6 miles (2.5 kilometers) across a bay. It proved no match for the tsunami two months ago.

In Fudai, the waves rose as high as 66 feet (20 meters), as water marks show on the floodgate’s towers. So some ocean water did flow over but it caused minimal damage. The gate broke the tsunami’s main thrust. And the community is lucky to have two mountainsides flanking the gate, offering a natural barrier.

The man credited with saving Fudai is the late Kotaku Wamura, a 10-term mayor whose political reign began in the ashes of World War II and ended in 1987.

Fudai, about 320 miles (510 kilometers) north of Tokyo, depends on the sea. Fishermen boast of the seaweed they harvest. A pretty, white-sand beach lures tourists every summer.

But Wamura never forgot how quickly the sea could turn. Massive earthquake-triggered tsunamis flattened Japan’s northeast coast in 1933 and 1896. In Fudai, the two disasters destroyed hundreds of homes and killed 439 people.

“When I saw bodies being dug up from the piles of earth, I did not know what to say. I had no words,” Wamura wrote of the 1933 tsunami in his book about Fudai, “A 40-Year Fight Against Poverty.”

He vowed it would never happen again.

In 1967, the town erected a 51-foot (15.5-meter) seawall to shield homes behind the fishing port. But Wamura wasn’t finished. He had a bigger project in mind for the cove up the road, where most of the community was located. That area needed a floodgate with panels that could be lifted to allow the Fudai River to empty into the cove and lowered to block tsunamis.

He insisted the structure be as tall as the seawall.

The village council initially balked.

“They weren’t necessarily against the idea of floodgates, just the size,” said Yuzo Mifune, head of Fudai’s resident services and an unofficial floodgate historian. “But Wamura somehow persuaded them that this was the only way to protect lives.”

Construction began in 1972 despite lingering concerns about its size as well as bitterness among landowners forced to sell land to the government.

Even current Mayor Fukawatari, who helped oversee construction, had his doubts.

“I did wonder whether we needed something this big,” he said in an interview at his office.

The concrete structure spanning 673 feet (205 meters) was completed in 1984. The total bill of 3.56 billion yen was split between the prefecture and central government, which financed public works as part of its postwar economic strategy.

On March 11, after the 9.0 earthquake hit, workers remotely closed the floodgate’s four main panels. Smaller panels on the sides jammed, and a firefighter had to rush down to shut them by hand.

The tsunami battered the white beach in the cove, leaving debris and fallen trees. But behind the floodgate, the village is virtually untouched.

Fudai Elementary School sits no more than a few minutes walk inland. It looks the same as it did on March 10. A group of boys recently ran laps around a baseball field that was clear of the junk piled up in other coastal neighborhoods.

Their coach, Sachio Kamimukai, was born and raised in Fudai. He said he never thought much about the floodgate until the tsunami.

“It was just always something that was there,” said Kamimukai, 36. “But I’m very thankful now.”

The floodgate works for Fudai’s layout, in a narrow valley, but it wouldn’t necessarily be the solution for other places, Fukawatari said.

Fudai’s biggest casualty was its port, where the tsunami destroyed boats, equipment and warehouses. The village estimates losses of 3.8 billion yen ($47 million) to its fisheries industry.

One resident remains missing. He made the unlucky decision to check on his boat after the earthquake.

Wamura left office three years after the floodgate was completed. He died in 1997 at age 88. Since the tsunami, residents have been visiting his grave to pay respects.

At his retirement, Wamura stood before village employees to bid farewell: “Even if you encounter opposition, have conviction and finish what you start. In the end, people will understand.”

___

Follow Tomoko A. Hosaka at http://twitter.com/tomokohosaka

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110509/ap_on_re_as/as_japan_earthquake_changing_terrain

ISHINOMAKI, Japan – When water begins to trickle down the streets of her coastal neighborhood, Yoshiko Takahashi knows it is time to hurry home.

Twice a day, the flow steadily increases until it is knee-deep, carrying fish and debris by her front door and trapping people in their homes. Those still on the streets slosh through the sea water in rubber boots or on bicycle.

“I look out the window, and it’s like our houses are in the middle of the ocean,” says Takahashi, who moved in three years ago.

The March 11 earthquake that hit eastern Japan was so powerful it pulled the entire country out and down into the sea. The mostly devastated coastal communities now face regular flooding, because of their lower elevation and damage to sea walls from the massive tsunamis triggered by the quake.

In port cities such as Onagawa and Kesennuma, the tide flows in and out among crumpled homes and warehouses along now uninhabited streets.

A cluster of neighborhoods in Ishinomaki city is rare in that it escaped tsunami damage through fortuitous geography. So, many residents still live in their homes, and they now face a daily trial: The area floods at high tide, and the normally sleepy streets turn frantic as residents rush home before the water rises too high.

“I just try to get all my shopping and chores done by 3 p.m.,” says Takuya Kondo, 32, who lives with his family in his childhood home.

Most houses sit above the water’s reach, but travel by car becomes impossible and the sewage system swamps, rendering toilets unusable.

Scientists say the new conditions are permanent.

Japan’s northern half sits on the North American tectonic plate. The Pacific plate, which is mostly undersea, normally slides under this plate, slowly nudging the country west. But in the earthquake, the fault line between the two plates ruptured, and the North American plate slid up and out along the Pacific plate.

The rising edge of plate caused the sea floor off Japan’s eastern coast to bulge up — one measuring station run by Tohoku University reported an underwater rise of 16 feet (5 meters) — creating the tsunami that devastated the coast. The portion of the plate under Japan was pulled lower as it slid toward the ocean, which caused a corresponding plunge in elevation under the country.

Some areas in Ishinomaki moved southeast 17 feet (5.3 meters) and sank 4 feet (1.2 meters) lower.

“We thought this slippage would happen gradually, bit by bit. We didn’t expect it to happen all at once,” says Testuro Imakiire, a researcher at Japan’s Geospatial Information Authority, the government body in charge of mapping and surveys.

Imakiire says the quake was powerful enough to move the entire country, the first time this has been recorded since measurements began in the late 19th century. In Tokyo, 210 miles (340 kilometers) from Ishinomaki, parts of the city moved 9 inches (24 centimeters) seaward.

The drop lower was most pronounced around Ishinomaki, the area closest to the epicenter. The effects are apparent: Manholes, supported by underground piping, jut out of streets that fell around them. Telephone poles sank even farther, leaving wires at head height.

As surrounding areas clear rubble and make plans to rebuild, residents in this section of Ishinomaki are stuck in limbo — their homes are mostly undamaged and ineligible for major insurance claims or government compensation, but twice a day the tide swamps their streets.

“We can’t really complain, because other people lost so much,” says Yuichiro Mogi, 43, as his daughters examine a dead blowfish floating near his curb.

The earthquake and tsunami left more than 25,000 people either dead or missing, and many more lost their homes and possessions.

Mogi noticed that the daily floods were slowly carrying away the dirt foundation of his house, and built a small embankment of sandbags to keep the water at bay. The shipping company worker moved here 10 years ago, because he got a good deal on enough land to build a home with a spacious front lawn, where he lives with his four children and wife.

Most of the residences in the area are relatively new.

“Everyone here still has housing loans they have to pay, and you can’t give away this land, let alone sell it,” says Seietsu Sasaki, 57, who also has to pay off loans on two cars ruined in the flooding.

Sasaki, who moved in 12 years ago with his extended family, says he hopes the government can build flood walls to protect the neighborhood. He never paid much attention to the tides in the past, but now checks the newspaper for peak times each morning.

Officials have begun work on some embankments, but with much of the city devastated, resources are tight. Major construction projects to raise the roads were completed before the tsunami, but much of that work was negated when the ground below them sank.

The constant flooding means that construction crews can only work in short bursts, and electricity and running water were restored only about two weeks ago. The area still doesn’t have gas for hot water, and residents go to evacuee shelters to bathe.

“We get a lot of requests to build up these areas, but we don’t really have the budget right now,” says Kiyoshi Koizumi, a manager in Ishinomaki’s roads and infrastructure division.

Sasaki says he hopes they work something out soon: Japan’s heavy summer rains begin in about a month, and the higher tides in autumn will rise well above the floor of his house.

Workers enter Japan nuclear reactor building

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110505/ap_on_re_as/as_japan_earthquake

By TOMOKO A. HOSAKA, Associated Press Tomoko A. Hosaka, Associated Press 2 hrs 10 mins ago

TOKYO – Workers entered one of the damaged reactor buildings at Japan’s stricken nuclear power plant Thursday for the first time since it was rocked by an explosion in the days after a devastating earthquake, the plant’s operator said.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said workers connected ventilation and air filtration equipment in Unit 1 in an attempt to reduce radiation levels in the air inside the building.

The utility must lower radiation levels before it can proceed with the key step of replacing the cooling system that was knocked out by the March 11 quake and subsequent tsunami that left more than 25,000 people dead or missing along Japan’s northeastern coast.

Workers have not been able to enter the reactor buildings at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, about 140 miles (230 kilometers) northeast of Tokyo, since the first days after the tsunami. Hydrogen explosions at four of the buildings at the six-reactor complex in the first few days destroyed some of their roofs and walls and scattered radioactive debris.

TEPCO spokesman Junichi Matsumoto called Thursday’s development “a first step toward a cool and stable shutdown,” which the utility hopes to achieve in six to nine months.

In mid-April, a robot recorded radioactivity of about 50 millisieverts per hour inside Unit 1’s reactor building — a level too high for workers to realistically enter. Readings taken later in April in another part of the building were as high as 1,200 millisieverts.

The decision to send the workers in was made after robots last Friday collected fresh data that showed radiation levels in some areas inside the building were safe enough for workers to enter, said Taisuke Tomikawa, another TEPCO spokesman.

Two utility workers, wearing a mask and air tank similar to those used by scuba divers, entered the reactor building for about 25 minutes to check radiation levels. They were exposed to 2 millisieverts during that time, Tomikawa said. Outside the building, the utility erected a temporary tent designed to prevent radioactive air from escaping.

Later, 11 other workers — two from TEPCO and nine from its subcontractors — wearing similar gear went into the reactor building to install ducts for the air filtering equipment. Twenty other workers provided help from outside.

The utility hopes to start allowing workers into the building to set up a cooling system around mid-May. In addition to reducing radioactivity with the new air filtering system, it hopes to reduce it further by removing or covering up contaminated debris inside the building, Matsumoto said.

TEPCO is proceeding with a plan to fill the Unit 1 containment vessel with water to soak the core and cool it, and also plans to install big fans as an external cooling system, he said. TEPCO hopes to take similar steps at Units 2 and 3 but is struggling with tougher obstacles such as contaminated water leaks and debris.

Radiation leaking from the Fukushima plant has forced 80,000 people living within a 12-mile (20-kilometer) radius to leave their homes. Many are staying in gymnasiums and community centers.

___

Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi contributed to this report.

Japan PM under pressure after party falters in local

A reporter raises his hands to ask Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan a question in Tokyohttp://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110425/wl_nm/us_japan_politics

By Shinichi Saoshiro and Linda Sieg Shinichi Saoshiro And Linda Sieg 35 mins ago

TOKYO (Reuters) – Unpopular Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan is likely to face fresh pressure to quit after his ruling party’s poor performance in local elections on Sunday, weakening his clout as he struggles to contain a nuclear crisis and find ways to finance rebuilding from a massive earthquake and tsunami.

Kan is unlikely to step down easily, but the outcome of the polls will likely make it harder to get opposition cooperation in figuring out how to fund rebuilding from disasters that caused up to $300 billion in damage, a tough task given a public debt twice the $5 trillion economy.

Such cooperation is vital given a divided parliament.

“I don’t think the results of the elections will lead to any quick resolution, but it is true that the opposition parties will feel emboldened to be obstructionist,” said Sophia University professor Koichi Nakano.

Japan’s Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) lost six out of nine mayoral races in which it faced off directly against its main opposition, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and lagged behind in a spate of city assembly elections across the country, Japanese media reported, although the LDP itself lost seats.

An LDP candidate also romped to victory in a lower house by-election in the former Democratic Party stronghold of Aichi, central Japan, after the DPJ failed even to field a contender.

“The election results show that (voters) have filed a huge complaint against the Kan cabinet over its handling of the disasters,” LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki told a late night news conference. “This shows that many voters are worried whether he is really capable.”

DECLINING CLOUT, CONTINUING DEADLOCK

Kan brushed aside criticism of his handling of the disasters.

“We must accept the results (of the election) sincerely, but as for disaster response, the government as a whole is doing what needs to be done,” he told a parliamentary panel.

Kan’s critics in the DPJ were also expected to step up their attacks, but the party has no obvious successor in sight. Japanese media said the LDP was considering submitting a no-confidence motion against Kan in coming months — but more than 70 DPJ lawmakers would have to back the motion for it to pass.

“It is certain that Kan’s clout has declined. It has become clear to the DPJ that they cannot fight the next general election under Kan,” said independent analyst Minoru Morita.

No general election is mandated until 2013, and the crisis has muted opposition calls for an early vote for parliament’s powerful lower house.

“But while there are those (in the DPJ) who speak about a no-confidence vote, that would be very difficult,” Morita added. “Unless Kan makes a fresh gaffe or a cabinet member quits … it would be hard to move to that stage. So unless Kan resigns on his own, the situation will remain deadlocked.”

Public opinion polls have shown that most Japanese want a new prime minister, but many would prefer Kan to stay until the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co’s quake-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is resolved. When that will be is uncertain but it is likely to take many more months at least.

(Reporting by Shinichi Saoshiro and Linda Sieg; Editing by Chris Gallagher)

GM likely to retake No. 1 sales spot from Toyota

FILE - This May 31, 2009 file photo shows a row of unsold 2009 Buick Lacrosse sedans at a General Motors dealership in the south Denver suburb of Englhttp://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110422/ap_on_bi_ge/us_gm_back_on_top

By TOM KRISHER and SHARON SILKE CARTY, AP Auto Writers Tom Krisher And Sharon Silke Carty, Ap Auto Writers 20 mins ago

DETROIT – General Motors is almost certain to claim the title of world’s biggest automaker this year, retaking the top spot from Toyota, which has been hurt by production problems since the Japanese earthquake and still can’t escape the shadow of major safety recalls.

The No. 1 title, a morale booster for the winner’s employees and managers, would cap GM’s remarkable comeback from bankruptcy.

GM’s sales are up, mainly in China and the U.S, the world’s top two markets. Its cars are better than in the past, especially small ones.

But even though GM came within 30,000 sales of Toyota last year and began strong in 2011, any sales victory this year has more to do with Toyota’s problems.

First, a series of big recalls has ballooned to 14 million vehicles worldwide and damaged Toyota’s reputation for reliability. That has spurred loyal buyers to look at other brands.

Second, a March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan curbed Toyota’s car production. On Friday, Toyota Motor Corp. said its factories worldwide won’t return to full production until November or December. That means buyers across the globe may not be able to get the models they want. Already the crisis has cost the company production of 260,000 vehicles.

Last year, Toyota sold 8.42 million cars and trucks, barely ahead of a resurgent GM, which sold 8.39 million. GM held the No. 1 spot from 1932 until 2008.

Here’s why GM is almost a lock to retake the lead this year:

A BETTER GM: General Motors Co. was dysfunctional three years ago, hobbled by enormous debt and a giant bureaucracy. Its quality was suspect, it lost billions, and it had few products other than pickups that buyers found appealing. After a government bailout, a leaner GM emerged from a 2009 bankruptcy with new vehicles and a focus on Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac. Since then, GM has come up with hits including the Chevrolet Equinox small SUV, the Buick LaCrosse luxury car, and the Chevrolet Cruze compact. Its quality is better. Sales so far this year are up 25 percent in the U.S. and 10 percent in China. The efficient Cruze compact and Chevrolet Volt car both hit the market as U.S. gasoline prices started rising.

TOYOTA TROUBLES: Bad publicity from the recalls, mainly for cars that can accelerate without warning, was hurting Toyota long before the earthquake. The recalls began late in 2009, and came just as GM, Ford, Hyundai, and others introduced more competitive cars and trucks. With a bunch of nice alternatives and doubts about quality, customers who once dutifully returned to Toyota started considering other brands. Many Toyota models look old and need upgrades. Despite rebates and low-interest financing, Toyota was the only major automaker with lower U.S. sales last year. Sales are up 12.5 percent so far in 2011, but only at half the growth of GM.

Toyota is scrambling to keep factories open after the earthquake, and U.S. dealers expect to run out of some models. Already dealers are reporting shortages of the Prius gas-electric hybrid, a high-demand model because of gas prices.

Merle Gothard, general manager of North Park Toyota in San Antonio, says he’s not worried about GM retaking the title because it still has a tarnished image from bankruptcy.

“It’s important from a marketing standpoint,” he says. “But Toyota has other things going for it.” He notes that Toyota is still profitable and never took a dime of stimulus money from the government.

THE CHINA FACTOR: Toyota has nowhere near GM’s presence in China, now the world’s largest auto market. Through March, Toyota sold 208,000 vehicles there, but GM and its joint ventures sold more than three times that number. Growth in China by itself probably would have moved GM ahead of Toyota in worldwide sales. Toyota’s lead was only about one day’s worth of sales for GM.

CAVEATS: Toyota still has a loyal customer base that believes the cars are safe and will last forever. Many Toyotas run for hundreds of thousands of miles with little more than routine maintenance. It also has a reputation for fuel efficiency, led by the Prius.

GM would have to run into major problems to let No. 1 slip away this year. So far it has not been seriously hurt by parts shortages, but if some key electronic components from Japan can’t be made elsewhere, the company could run short of models. A new management team also is pushing to speed up introduction of new models, and that could hurt quality.

If GM takes No. 1 this year, it won’t crow much, says Jesse Toprak, vice president of industry trends and insights for TrueCar.com, an auto price tracking website.

“It’s because of (factory) capacity restrictions, and that’s not something they want to brag about,” he says.

Evacuees choose clothes distributed at an evacuation center in Fukushima City, Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan, Friday, April 22, 2011. (AP Phttp://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110422/ap_on_bi_ge/as_japan_earthquake

By RAVI NESSMAN and YURI KAGEYAMA, Associated Press Ravi Nessman And Yuri Kageyama, Associated Press 1 hr 29 mins ago

TOKYO – Japan’s government proposed a special $50 billion (4 trillion yen) budget to help finance reconstruction efforts Friday and plans to build 100,000 temporary homes for survivors of last month’s devastating earthquake and tsunami.

The twin disasters destroyed roads, ports, farms and homes and crippled a nuclear power plant that forced tens of thousands of more people to evacuate their houses for at least several months. The government said the damage could cost $309 billion, making it the world’s most expensive natural disaster.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan said he was moved by his conversations with victims during a recent tour of shelters.

“I felt with renewed determination that we must do our best to get them back as soon as possible,” he told reporters.

The extra $50 billion (4 trillion yen) the Cabinet approved is expected to be only the first installment of reconstruction funding. About $15 billion (1.2 trillion yen) will go to fixing roads and ports and more than $8.5 billion (700 billion yen) will go to build temporary homes and clearing rubble.

“This is the first step toward rebuilding Japan after the major disasters,” Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda said. Parliament is expected to approve the special budget next week.

More than 27,000 people are dead or missing after the earthquake and tsunami hit northern Japan on March 11. About 135,000 survivors are living in 2,500 shelters, and many others have moved into temporary housing or are staying with relatives.

As part of the government’s recovery plan, it will build 30,000 temporary homes by the end of May and another 70,000 after that, Kan said.

Japan already was mired in a 20-year economic slowdown, Kan said, and he hoped the disaster recovery effort would help lift Japan economically. He urged Japanese to spend money during the upcoming Golden Week holidays to help spur the economy.

“People are feeling that we all must do something, and that will turn into a big strength,” he said. “And it will work to help the recovery, and we will overcome both crises.”

Recovery efforts have been complicated by the crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, which lost its power and cooling systems in the earthquake and tsunami, triggering fires, explosions and radiation leaks in the world’s second-worst nuclear accident.

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co., which said it will take six to nine months to bring the plant under full control, has been heavily criticized for its handling of the crisis.

TEPCO President Masataka Shimizu was received harshly when he toured a shelter of 1,600 people in Koriyama.

“We’re angry, angry, angry,” one man shouted at him, according to television footage.

“How about you spend a month here?” another shouted.

“Take your nuclear energy back to Tokyo with you,” a third said.

Shimizu apologized to the governor of Fukushima prefecture, Yuhei Sato, an outspoken critic of the response by the government and company to the nuclear crisis.

Sato bluntly told Shimizu the era of nuclear power plants in Fukushima had ended.

“No way. The resumption of nuclear power plants … no way,” he said.

Meanwhile, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko visited Kita Ibaraki, a port wrecked by the tsunami about 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of Tokyo.

The royal couple surveyed the damage along the waterfront, where blocks of concrete were jumbled by the huge waves. When told that a man died there, they showed their respects with a deep bow toward the sea. They also visited an evacuation center.

An extra 250 police were sent to man roadblocks with flashing “Off Limits” signs Friday to stop some of the 80,000 evacuees from sneaking back to homes inside the now-sealed 12-mile (20-kilometer) evacuation zone around the stricken plant.

Authorities planned to erect fences on side streets, said Fukushima police spokesman Yasunori Okazaki. The order that took effect Friday is meant to limit radiation exposure and theft in the mainly deserted zone.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano appealed for residents of five areas with relatively high levels of radiation outside the sealed zone to prepare for evacuation within a month.

But Norio Kanno, chief of Iitate, a village of 6,200, questioned whether everyone would be able to move in time.

“It is really vexing. Just one nuclear accident is destroying everything,” he said.

Japan seals off no-go zone around nuclear plant

A man wearing a protective suite walks in the yard in the deserted town of Futaba, inside the 20-kilometer (12-mile) evacuation zone, in Fukushima Prehttp://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110421/ap_on_bi_ge/as_japan_earthquake

By ERIC TALMADGE, Associated Press Eric Talmadge, Associated Press 19 mins ago

FUTABA, Japan – Japan sealed off a wide area around a radiation-spewing nuclear power plant on Friday to prevent tens of thousands of residents from sneaking back to the homes they quickly evacuated, some with little more than a credit card and the clothes on their backs.

Fearing they might not see their homes again for months, evacuees raced into the deserted towns Thursday before the ban took effect to grab whatever belongings they could cram into their cars.

“This is our last chance, but we aren’t going to stay long. We are just getting what we need and getting out,” said Kiyoshi Kitajima, an X-ray technician, who dashed to his hospital in Futaba, a town next door to the plant, to collect equipment before the order took effect at midnight.

Nearly 80,000 people were hurriedly evacuated from a 12-mile (20-kilometer) zone around the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant on March 12, after an earthquake and a tsunami destroyed its power and cooling systems. The order had no teeth, however, and people began increasingly returning to check on the remains of their lives. Some had stayed all along.

With ongoing concerns about radiation exposure — as well as theft in the mainly deserted zone — government officials imposed the formal closure barring anyone from entering the area.

Under a special nuclear emergency law, people who enter the zone will now be subject to fines of up to 100,000 yen ($1,200) or possible detention for up to 30 days. Until now, defiance of the evacuation order was not punishable and the police manning the roadblocks had no authority to stop people from entering.

“We beg the understanding of residents. We really want residents not to enter the areas,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters.

The order angered some residents who had fled nearly empty-handed when told to evacuate.

“I initially thought we would be able to return within a few days. So I brought nothing except a bank card,” said Kazuko Suzuki of Futaba.

“I really want to go back. I want to check if our house is still there,” said the 49-year-old woman, who fled with her teenage son and daughter. “My patience has run out. I just want to go home.”

With the deadline approaching for the area to be sealed off, evacuees ventured into the evacuation zone, some in white protective suits and others in face masks and rain gear they hoped would protect against radiation. Most raced through the zone with car windows closed, their vehicles stuffed with clothing and valuables.

While the levels of radioactivity in the evacuated area have been quite low, the government wants to keep people away out of concerns that long-term exposure can be dangerous.

As of Thursday night, about 40 people remained in the area, many of them dairy farmers who are refusing to leave their cattle, and elderly people who cannot move, the government said. Local officials were working to persuade them to leave, rather than punishing them, according to Kenji Kawasaki of Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

About 3,400 cows, 31,000 pigs and 630,000 chickens were left in the zone, according to government figures, though most were assumed to have died by now.

The no-go order was not issued because of any particular change in plant conditions, which appear to have somewhat stabilized. Even under the best-case scenario, however, the plant’s operator says it will take six to nine months to bring its reactors safely into a cold shutdown.

Equipment damage and glitches, high radiation inside the facility and powerful aftershocks have frequently stymied the work. The latest strong aftershock Thursday registered 6.1 magnitude, but Kyodo News Agency reported no apparent damage.

In a visit to the region, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said the government would do everything possible to speed up the timetable of shutting down the reactors. Kan also gave a pep talk to workers at a nuclear crisis management center in Fukushima.

Edano said in the next month or two, authorities would allow one person per household to return to the area by bus for a maximum of two hours to collect necessary belongings. Participants would have to go through radiation screening, he said.

Residents chafed at the limit of one person per household.

Details were still being worked out, but Edano said when the situation stabilizes, families will be allowed further visits.

No visits will be allowed in the two-mile (three-kilometer) area closest to the plant, said Hidehiko Nishiyama of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

Katsunobu Sakurai, mayor of Minami Soma, where about half the 71,000 residents lived in areas that are now off-limits, questioned the rationale for the way the evacuation zone was decided.

“It feels like some outsider who doesn’t know anything about our geography sat at a desk and drew these circles,” Sakurai said. “The zones have zero scientific basis. Radiation doesn’t travel in neat circles. Just putting up circles around the plant is unreasonable.”

Fukushima’s governor, who has been critical of the government’s performance, said he urged Kan to ensure the government properly handles the disaster and related compensation issues.

“I told the prime minister that I strongly hope that evacuees can return home as early as possible,” said the governor, Yuhei Sato.

Meanwhile, new police data showed that at least 65 percent of the 11,108 identified victims from the earthquake and tsunami were aged 60 or older and almost all of them had drowned. Another 1,899 victims were of unknown age.

Adding those still missing, the twin disasters killed an estimated 27,500 people. The police agency said nearly 93 percent of the victims had drowned. Others perished in fires, were crushed to death or died from other causes.

The northeastern coast hardest hit by the disasters had a high concentration of elderly residents.

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Associated Press writers Jacob Adelman, Shino Yuasa and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.

Operator airs plan to control Japan nuclear crisis

Tsunehisa  Katsumatahttp://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110417/ap_on_bi_ge/as_japan_earthquake

By RAVI NESSMAN and YURI KAGEYAMA, Associated Press Ravi Nessman And Yuri Kageyama, Associated Press 1 hr 14 mins ago

TOKYO – The operator of Japan’s crippled nuclear plant laid out a blueprint Sunday for stopping radiation leaks and stabilizing damaged reactors within the next six to nine months as a first step toward allowing some of the tens of thousands of evacuees to return to the area.

While the government said the timeframe was realistic, those forced to flee their homes, jobs and farms were frustrated that their exile is not going to end soon. And officials acknowledge that unforeseen complications, or even another natural disaster, could set that timetable back even further.

“Well, this year is lost,” said Kenji Matsueda, 49, who is living in an evacuation center in Fukushima after being forced from his home 12 miles (20 kilometers) from the plant. “I have no idea what I will do. Nine months is a long time. And it could be longer. I don’t think they really know.”

Pressure has been building on the government and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. to resolve Japan’s worst-ever nuclear power accident since a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami hit the country March 11, knocking out power and cooling systems at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex.

On orders from Prime Minister Naoto Kan, TEPCO drew up the blueprint and publicly explained its long-term strategy — for the first time since the disaster — for containing the crisis that has cast a cloud of fear over the country.

“We sincerely apologize for causing troubles,” TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata said. “We are doing our utmost to prevent the crisis from further worsening.”

Under the roadmap, TEPCO will deal with the crisis in two stages.

In the first stage, the company will focus on cooling the reactors and spent fuel pools and reducing the level of leaking radiation. It will also aim to decontaminate water that has become radioactive, reduce the amount of radiation released into the atmosphere and soil, and lower radiation levels in the evacuation area, Katsumata said.

In the next stage, TEPCO aims to firmly control the release of radioactive materials, achieve a cold shutdown of the reactors and temporarily cover the reactor buildings, possibly with a form of industrial cloth. Longer-term goals include removing fuel from the spent fuel pools and putting permanent covers over the buildings.

TEPCO also plans to establish a system to recycle cooling water that will remove radioactivity as well as corrosive salt left behind by seawater that was earlier used as an emergency cooling measure.

“Given the conditions now, this is best that it could do,” said Hidehiko Nishiyama of the government’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, adding that conditions at the facility remain unstable.

Explosions, fires and other malfunctions have hindered efforts to repair the stricken plant and stem radiation leaks.

In a show of support for a staunch American ally, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Tokyo on Sunday to express admiration and sympathy for the Japanese.

Clinton had tea with the emperor and empress, who have been visiting evacuation centers to commiserate with the victims of the earthquake and tsunami, which left nearly 28,000 people dead or missing.

“We pledge our steadfast support for you and your future recovery. We are very confident that Japan will demonstrate the resilience that we have seen during this crisis in the months ahead,” Clinton said.

She also met with government officials, including Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto, who asked for U.S. feedback on TEPCO’s plan to combat the nuclear crisis, Clinton said.

Goshi Hosono, an adviser to the prime minister and member of his nuclear crisis management task force, said the government would closely monitor TEPCO’s implementation of the plan and hoped the work could be concluded ahead of the six to nine month schedule. He said he understood people were frustrated by the timeline, but he called it “realistic.”

“There is no shortcut to resolving these issues. Though it will be difficult, we have to go step by step to resolve these problems,” he said.

Even with the announcement of the timeline, it remained unclear when evacuees might be able to return home.

The area would need to be decontaminated, including removing and replacing the soil, Nishiyama said.

Hosono said the evacuees would not have to stay in gymnasiums for such a long period, but would be moved into temporary housing.

Some evacuees were unswayed by TEPCO’s plan.

“I don’t believe a word they say,” said Yukio Otsuka, 56, a private school owner whose home is about 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the power plant. “I don’t trust them. I don’t believe it is possible. We have really drawn the short stick on this one.”

Activists criticized the delay in the roadmap’s announcement.

“TEPCO has taken far too long to provide an indication of the direction it plans to take to bring the situation at Fukushima Dai-ichi under control,” said Philip White of the Tokyo-based Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center, a group of scientists and activists who have opposed nuclear power since 1975. “We hope TEPCO meets its targets, but there are many challenges ahead and many uncertainties.”

The unveiling of the roadmap came two days after TEPCO — also under pressure from Kan’s government — announced plans to give 1 million yen ($12,000) in initial compensation to each evacuated household, with much more expected later.

Katsumata, the TEPCO chairman, was hammered Sunday by questions over his managerial responsibility and told reporters he was considering stepping down because of the crisis.

“I feel very responsible,” he said.

Kan said in a weekend commentary in the International Herald Tribune that ending the nuclear crisis as soon as possible was his “top priority.”

As Japan has begun planning for reconstruction and mulling how to pay for it, Kan’s political opponents have resumed calls for his resignation after refraining from criticism in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.

Government officials fanned out across the affected areas over the weekend seeking to explain evacuation decisions and calm nerves. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano met Sunday with the governor of Fukushima, who has vigorously protested the predicament the nuclear crisis poses for his prefecture.

“The safety of residents is our foremost priority,” Edano said. “I told the governor that the government will do everything it can to prevent the crisis from worsening.”

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

Ala. lab is 1st defense for radiation from Japan

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110330/ap_on_re_us/us_epa_radiation_lab

By JAY REEVES, Associated Press Jay Reeves, Associated Press 1 hr 38 mins ago

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – At a government laboratory in Alabama, workers in blue coats unload envelopes packed with small filters that trapped air particles in Hawaii, Alaska and elsewhere. The discs are placed in lead-lined, barrel-like devices for testing to make sure no traces of radioactive materials have wafted across the Pacific Ocean from Japan.

So far, the sea breeze in places like Honolulu is no more dangerous than the pollen-laden air of the Deep South, according to officials. Still, the 60 or so workers in the 72,000-square-foot building will be the first to know if the Japanese disaster spreads harmful amounts of radiation to the U.S.

Minute amounts of radiation from Japan’s reactor have spread as far as the U.S. East Coast, though officials say it’s less harmful than the radiation people are exposed to on a routine basis. Alabama is one of several states where the lab has detected those traces, it said Tuesday.

Using super-sensitive equipment and computers linked to West Coast monitors by satellite connections that download new air-quality data each hour, experts hunched over monitors are scouring the atmosphere for any radioactive materials that could pose a threat to U.S. public health. There’s always some radiation in the environment — the testers are looking for abnormally high amounts.

Located on an annex of Maxwell Air Force base just a few miles from Alabama’s white-domed Capitol, the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Air and Radiation Environmental Laboratory has added a few extra contract workers because of the threat from Japan, officials say. And, as a precaution, it plans an early start to an annual program that tests milk for traces of radiation.

“I don’t expect to see anything, but we’ll have the data if we’re asked for it,” lab director Ronald G. Fraass said.

An electric plant with six nuclear reactors on Japan’s northeast shore was badly damaged by the earthquake and tsunami that struck March 11, prompting mass evacuations as the plant spewed radiation into the environment. Since then in Japan, radiation has been found in raw milk, seawater and 11 kinds of vegetables grown near the complex.

President Barack Obama, other leaders and scientists have tried to assure Americans that radiation from the Japanese disaster doesn’t pose a threat to the United States, but a hotline set up by health officials in California still was flooded with more than 1,000 calls about radiation.

And across the country, people have been ordering potassium iodide. The pills protect the thyroid from absorbing radioactive iodine, but they protect no other body parts nor against any other radioactive elements. Health officials have said there is no need to stock up on the pills.

The EPA’s monitoring system is aimed at providing another layer of assurance.

Long before the Japanese quake became a nuclear scare, EPA had a network of 124 monitoring stations scattered nationwide from California to Maine that were deployed mostly because of the threat of nuclear terrorism after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The boxlike devices have bell-shaped inlets that constantly pull in air and test it for radiation. Data from those sites is sent by satellite links to the Alabama laboratory, where technicians monitor it constantly on computers for any unusual spikes.

After the earthquake, Fraass said, the agency added seven additional monitors in Hawaii, Alaska, Saipan and Guam as a first line of defense to detect any dangerous radiation moving across the Pacific Ocean. Expected to detect radiation amounts as little as a single hundredth of the government’s level of concern, the fixed monitors actually are detecting far smaller amounts, he said.

“Our system in the field is quite adequate to be able to see anything that would be of concern to the public,” Fraass said.

Aside from the digital monitoring, the detection devices are outfitted with circular white fiber filters that are bombarded with air pulled in from the environment. Those filters are removed twice weekly and sent by regular mail to the lab in Montgomery. The filters are small and the amount of radiation they contain poses no health risk to postal workers, Fraass said.

None of the tests run since the Japanese earthquake has detected dangerous amounts of radiation, he said. And the stepped-up monitoring is expected to continue until the last traces of radioactivity linked to the Japanese crisis are gone.

“Right now we’re only seeing a few that would trigger even a tenth of the level we normally count at, so in effect we’re not seeing anything that should be any concern for the American people,” Fraass said.

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