Tag Archive: Japan’s tsunami


Japan’s evacuees annoyed at compensation offer

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110415/ap_on_bi_ge/as_japan_earthquake

By SHINO YUASA and RYAN NAKASHIMA, Associated Press Shino Yuasa And Ryan Nakashima, Associated Press 8 mins ago

TOKYO – The crisis at Japan’s tsunami-crippled nuclear plant forced Kazuko Suzuki to flee her home without packing, ended her job at a welfare office and cost her 18-year-old son an offer for work of his own.

The plant operator’s announcement Friday that it would pay $12,000 in initial compensation to each evacuated household struck her as far too little to repay her family for the economic turmoil it has already suffered.

“I’m not satisfied,” said the 49-year-old single mother from Futaba, who has lived for the past month with her two teenage sons at a shelter in a high school north of Tokyo. “I feel like this is just a way to take care of this quickly.”

Suzuki is among tens of thousands forced to leave their homes because of radiation leaking from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, unsure of when, if ever, they will be able to return. The complex’s cooling systems were disabled by the March 11 tsunami, which was spawned by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake.

Some have traveled hundreds of miles (kilometers) to Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s headquarters in the capital to press their demands for compensation. Pressed by the government as well, TEPCO announced it would begin distributing money April 28.

“We have decided to pay provisional compensation to provide a little help for the people (who were affected),” TEPCO President Masataka Shimizu told a news conference.

Roughly 48,000 households living within about 20 miles (30 kilometers) of the crippled plant would be eligible for the initial payments — 1 million yen (about $12,000) for families and 750,000 yen (about $9,000) for single adults, the government said. The government said more was expected to be paid later.

TEPCO expects to pay 50 billion yen (about $600 million) in the initial round of compensation. As costs mount for the utility, Shimizu said the company would consider cutting executive salaries as well as a number of its employees.

Suzuki said the evacuation has placed a serious financial burden on her family, forcing it to buy clothes, food and other basics.

“We’ve had to spend money on so many extra things, and we don’t know how long this could go on,” she said.

Akemi Osumi, a 48-year-old mother of three also from Futaba, said the money was a “small step” but that it didn’t fairly compensate larger families. Her family is living at the same shelter but also must rent an apartment for her eldest son to go to a vocational school.

“One million yen doesn’t go very far,” she said. “I’m not convinced at just 1 million yen per family. If it was dependent on the size of the family I’d understand, but it’s not.”

In the small fishing town of Namie, about six miles (10 kilometers) from the plant, store owner Masami Watanabe hurriedly inspected his shop while scores of police searched the evacuated area for bodies of those slain by the tsunami.

Watanabe, who received special permission from the government to return for a quick survey of his shop, was also critical of TEPCO’s offer.

“There is no way they can compensate us for what happened here. What they are offering isn’t enough. I have a mortgage to pay. And besides, it’s not all about money,” he said.

Watanabe rented an apartment in the northeastern city of Sendai after the evacuation, but wants to move back home.

“Who knows how long that will take,” he said, as he put a garbage can in front of his shop doorway to keep burglars out.

TEPCO is still struggling to stabilize the nuclear plant and restore cooling systems that failed after the tsunami wrecked emergency backup systems as well as much of the plant’s regular equipment.

Radiation leaks from the crisis have contaminated crops and left fishermen in the region unable to sell their catches, a huge blow to an area heavily dependent on fishing and farming.

The governor of Fukushima, Yuhei Sato, has vigorously criticized both TEPCO and the government for their handling of the disaster, demanding faster action.

“This is just a beginning. The accident has not ended. We will continue to ask the government and TEPCO to fully compensate evacuees,” he said.

Japan’s nuclear compensation law exempts the operator from liability when the accidents are “caused by a grave natural disaster of an exceptional character, or by an insurrection.” However, it would be politically untenable for TEPCO to cite the tsunami as a rationale for not paying damages, given the complex nature of the problems that have unfolded at the plant, and questions over its preparedness, among other issues.

It is unclear whether TEPCO is likely to face lawsuits going forward. Most Japanese prefer to avoid the cost and publicity of going to the courts for redress, and the country relies heavily on nonjudicial resolution of disputes.

With Tokyo still suffering a power crunch because of the loss of power generated by its stricken plants, TEPCO said it planned to install gas turbines at two thermal power plants to boost output.

TEPCO, the main power supplier to the Tokyo region, said the new turbines would raise its capacity to between 50 million and 52 million kilowatts, still well below the nearly 60 million kilowatts of power consumed during peak hot weather days last summer.

The company earlier said it would only be able to provide 46 million kilowatts of capacity.

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Associated Press writers Elaine Kurtenbach, Mari Yamaguchi and Noriko Kitano in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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Japan shaken by quake after more evacuations urged

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110411/ap_on_bi_ge/as_japan_earthquake

By JAY ALABASTER and ERIC TALMADGE, Associated Press Jay Alabaster And Eric Talmadge, Associated Press 57 mins ago

SENDAI, Japan – A strong new earthquake rattled Japan’s northeast Monday as the government urged more people living near a tsunami-crippled nuclear plant to leave, citing concerns about long-term health risks from radiation.

The magnitude 7.0 aftershock, which trapped some people in collapsed homes, came just hours after residents bowed their heads and wept in ceremonies to mark a month since a massive earthquake and tsunami killed up to 25,000 people and set off radiation leaks at the nuclear plant by knocking out its cooling systems.

“Even after a month, I still cry when I watch the news,” said Marina Seito, 19, a student at a junior college who recalled being in a basement restaurant in Sendai when the original 9.0-magnitude earthquake hit on March 11. Plates fell and parts of the ceiling crashed down around her.

Officials said Monday’s aftershock did not endanger operations at the tsunami-flooded Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex, where power was cut but quickly restored. The epicenter was just inland and about 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of Tokyo.

But a nuclear safety official said repeated strong aftershocks — another large quake hit last Thursday — were slowing work at the plant, and said that if one of them were to spawn a tsunami, the complex would be just as vulnerable as on March 11.

“At the moment, no tsunami resistance has been added to the plant. At the moment, there is nothing we can do about it,” said Hidehiko Nishiyama of Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

With the crisis dragging on, residents of five more communities, some of them more than 20 miles (30 kilometers) from the plant, were urged to evacuate within a month because of high levels of radiation, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters. People living in a 12-mile (20-kilometer) radius around the plant already have been evacuated.

“This is not an emergency measure that people have to evacuate immediately,” he said. “We have decided this measure based on long-term health risks.”

Edano sounded a grave note, acknowledging that “the nuclear accident has not stabilized” and that “we cannot deny the possibility the situation could get worse.”

The latest quake spooked people yet again in a disaster-weary northeastern Japan. Customers in a large electronics store in Sendai screamed and ran outside and mothers grabbed their children.

Click image to see photos of quake, tsunami damage

In Iwaki, a city close to the quake’s epicenter, three houses collapsed and up to seven people were believed trapped inside. Two were later rescued, city fire department spokesman Takumi Namoto said. Their condition, and the fate of the others, was not immediately known.

Japanese officials said the quake had a magnitude of 7.0, but the U.S. Geological Survey said it measured 6.6.

With workers still far from bringing the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant under control, the bodies of thousands of tsunami victims yet to be found and more than 150,000 people living in shelters, there was little time Monday for reflection on Japan’s worst disaster since World War II.

People in hard-hit towns gathered for ceremonies at 2:46 p.m., the exact moment of the massive quake a month earlier.

“My chest has been ripped open by the suffering and pain that this disaster has caused the people of our prefecture,” said Yuhei Sato, the governor of Fukushima, which saw its coastal areas devastated by the tsunami and is home to the damaged plant at the center of the nuclear crisis. “I have no words to express my sorrow.”

In a devastated coastal neighborhood in the city of Natori, three dozen firemen and soldiers removed their hats and helmets and joined hands atop a small hill that has become a memorial for the dead. Earlier, four monks in pointed hats rang a prayer bell there as they chanted for those killed.

The noisy clatter of construction equipment ceased briefly as crane operators stood outside their vehicles and bowed their heads.

In the industrial town of Kamaishi, Iwate Gov. Takuya Tasso led a moment of commemoration as a loud siren rang through a high school gymnasium being used as a shelter. He bowed while people who have lived there since the tsunami kneeled on makeshift futons, bowed their heads and clasped their hands.

The school’s students will return to classes Tuesday even though 129 people are living in their gym. Some, like 16-year-old Keisuke Shirato, wore their baseball uniforms for Monday’s ceremony. Shirato’s family was not affected by the tsunami, but about half of his teammates lost their homes.

“A new school year starts tomorrow,” Shirato said. “Hopefully that will help give people hope and allow them to look toward a new start.”

The earthquake and tsunami flattened communities along hundreds of miles (kilometers) of coastline, causing what the government estimates could be as much as $310 billion in damage. About 250,000 are without electricity, although some of them because of the latest two quakes Monday and last Thursday.

Adding to the misery is radiation spewing from the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex, 140 miles (220 kilometers) northeast of Tokyo. The 70,000 to 80,000 people who lived within 12 miles (20 kilometers) of the plant must stay away from their homes indefinitely.

“We have no future plans. We can’t even start to think about it because we don’t know how long this will last or how long we will have to stay in these shelters,” said Atsushi Yanai, a 55-year-old construction worker. The tsunami spared his home, but he has to live in a shelter anyway because it is in the evacuation zone.

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said its president, Masataka Shimizu, went to Fukushima prefecture Monday to relay his gratitude and apologies. Shimizu recently spent eight days in the hospital with dizziness and high blood pressure, but has since returned to work.

Shimizu told reporters in Fukushima that people who live near the plant are “suffering physically and mentally due to the nuclear radiation leak accident,”

“We sincerely apologize for this,” he said.

At TEPCO headquarters in Tokyo, hundreds of employees bowed their heads for a moment of silence at 2:46.

Japan’s government marked the one-month period by putting an ad in newspapers in China, South Korea, Russia, France, the United Kingdom and the United States — a letter from Prime Minister Naoto Kan thanking people for the outpouring of support that followed the tsunami. The Red Cross alone said it has collected $107 million (9.1 billion yen) from overseas.

Kan described the outpouring as “kizuna,” the bond of friendship.

“We deeply appreciate the kizuna our friends from around the world have shown and I want to thank every nation, entity, and you personally, from the bottom of my heart.”

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Talmadge reported from Fukushima. Associated Press Writers Tomoko Hosaka in Kamaishi and Shino Yuasa, Mari Yamaguchi and Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo contributed to this report.

Japan sets new radiation safety level for seafood

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110405/ap_on_re_as/as_japan_earthquake

By YURI KAGEYAMA and RYAN NAKASHIMA, Associated Press Yuri Kageyama And Ryan Nakashima, Associated Press 1 hr 35 mins ago

TOKYO – The government set its first radiation safety standards for fish Tuesday after Japan’s tsunami-ravaged nuclear plant reported radioactive contamination in nearby seawater measuring at several million times the legal limit.

The plant operator insisted that the radiation will rapidly disperse and that it poses no immediate danger, but an expert said exposure to the highly concentrated levels near the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant could cause immediate injury and that the leaks could result in residual contamination of the sea in the area.

The new levels coupled with reports that radiation was building up in fish led the government to create an acceptable radiation standard for fish for the first time, and officials said it could change depending on circumstances. Some fish caught Friday off Japan’s coastal waters would have exceeded the new limit.

“Even if the government says the fish is safe, people won’t want to buy seafood from Fukushima,” said Ichiro Yamagata, a fisherman who used to live within sight of the nuclear plant and has since fled to a shelter in Tokyo.

“We probably can’t fish there for several years,” he said.

The coastal areas hit by by the March 11 tsunami make up about a fifth of Japan’s huge industry, but radiation fears could taint all of the country’s catch through guilt by association. Japan imports far more than it exports, but it still sent the world $2.3 billion worth of seafood last year. And in the home of sushi, the worries over contamination could deal a blow to its brand.

Radiation has been leaking into Pacific near the plant on the northeastern Japanese coast since a 9.0-magnitude earthquake spawned a massive tsunami that inundated the complex. Over the weekend, workers there discovered a crack where highly contaminated water was spilling directly into the ocean. They said Tuesday that they had finally found the source of the leak and were injecting coagulant that seemed to be slowing it.

The tsunami pulverized about 250 miles (400 kilometers) of the northeastern coast, flattening whole towns and cities and killing up to 25,000 people. Tens of thousands more lost their homes in the crush of water, and several thousand were forced from the area near the plant because of radiation concerns.

Many of those “radiation refugees” have grown frustrated with the mandatory 12-mile (20-kilometer) no-go zone, and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. — whose stock value has plunged to the lowest level in its 60-year history — said Tuesday it would give affected towns 20 million yen ($240,000) each. That would be on top of any legally required compensation.

Also Tuesday, TEPCO announced that samples taken from seawater near one of the reactors contained 7.5 million times the legal limit for radioactive iodine on April 2. Two days later, that figure dropped to 5 million.

Click image to see photos of quake, tsunami damage

The company said in a statement that even those large amounts would have “no immediate impact” on the environment but added that it was working to stop the leak as soon as possible.

The readings released Tuesday were taken closer to the plant than before — apparently because new measuring points were added after the crack was discovered — and did not necessarily reflect a worsening of the contamination. Other measurements several hundred yards (meters) away from the plant have declined to levels about 1,000 times the legal limit — down from more than four times that last week.

Experts agree that radiation dissipates quickly in the vast Pacific, but direct exposure to the most contaminated water measured would lead to “immediate injury,” said Yoichi Enokida, a professor of materials science at Nagoya University’s graduate school of engineering.

He added that seawater may be diluting the iodine, which decays quickly, but the leak also contains long-lasting cesium-137, which can build up in fish over time. Both can build up in fish, though iodine’s short half-life means it does not stay there for very long. The long-term effects of cesium, however, will need to be studied, he said.

“It is extremely important to implement a plan to reduce the outflow of contaminated water as soon as possible,” he said.

Fukushima is not a major fishing region and no fishing is allowed in the immediate vicinity of the plant, but fishermen in the prefecture fret that demand will collapse for catches elsewhere — whether or not they are contaminated.

“Our prefecture’s fisherman have lost their lives, fishing boats, piers and buildings” in the earthquake and tsunami and now must suffer the added effects of radioactive runoff from the plant, local fishermen’s federation head Tetsu Nozaki said in a letter faxed to the company.

Some government assurances of safety have done little to quell panic. In Tokyo, for instance, there were runs on bottled water after officials said radiation in tap water there was above the level considered safe for infants, though insisted it was still OK for adults.

On Tuesday, officials decided to apply the maximum allowable radiation limit for vegetables to fish, according to Edano.

“We will conduct strict monitoring and move forward after we understand the complete situation,” he said.

The move came after the health ministry reported that fish caught off Ibaraki prefecture — at a spot about 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the plant — contained levels of radioactive iodine that would have exceeded the new provisional limit. Cesium also was found, at just below the limit. The fish were caught Friday, before the new provisional safety limits were announced.

Such limits are usually very conservative. After spinach and milk tested at levels far exceeding the safety standard, health experts said you would have to eat enormous quantities of tainted produce or dairy before getting even the amount of radiation contained in a CT scan.

Radioactivity is pouring into the ocean, in part, because workers at the plant have been forced to use a makeshift method of bringing down temperatures and pressure by pumping water into the reactors and allowing it to gush out wherever it can. It is a messy process, but it is preventing a full meltdown of the fuel rods that would release even more radioactivity into the environment.

The government on Monday gave the go-ahead to pump more than 3 million gallons of less-contaminated water into the sea — in addition to what is leaking — to make room at a plant storage facility to contain more highly radioactive water.

TEPCO’s reputation has taken a serious hit in the crisis. On Tuesday, its stock dropped 80 yen — the maximum daily limit, or 18 percent — to just 362 yen ($4.3), falling below its previous all-time closing low of 393 yen from December 1951.

Since the quake, TEPCO’s share price has nose-dived a staggering 80 percent.

In what could be an effort to counter the bad publicity, Takashi Fujimoto, TEPCO’s vice president, said it was offering 20 million yen ($240,000) to each town or city affected by a mandatory evacuation zone. He called the cash “apology money” and noted that one town had refused it because it disagreed with the approach. He did not give further details.

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Associated Press writers Malcolm Foster, Ryan Nakashima and Noriko Kitano in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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.

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