Tag Archive: Naoto Kan


Japan utility delays decision on halting reactors

A police officer walks in rubble at recovery operation in the area destroyed by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Kesennuma,  Miyagi Prefecture,http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110507/ap_on_bi_ge/as_japan_earthquake

By MARI YAMAGUCHI, Associated Press Mari Yamaguchi, Associated Press 1 hr 48 mins ago

TOKYO – A Japanese power company postponed its decision Saturday on a government request that it halt three reactors at a coastal nuclear plant until safety measures can be improved to guard against future earthquakes and tsunamis.

Shutting down the reactors would likely worsen power shortages expected this summer.

On Friday, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said he had asked Chubu Electric Power Co. to suspend operation of the reactors at the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Station in Shizuoka prefecture until a seawall is built and backup systems are improved. Though not legally binding, the request is a virtual order.

The government is reviewing the safety of the country’s 54 atomic reactors since a March 11 earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in the north. The disaster left more than 25,000 people dead or missing on the northeast coast.

The Hamaoka plant, which is about 125 miles (200 kilometers) west of Tokyo in an area where a major quake is expected within decades, has been a major concern for years.

Chubu Electric executives failed to reach a decision after discussing the request Saturday afternoon and decided to meet again after the weekend, company official Mikio Inomata said.

At issue is how to make up for the power shortages that would result from the shutdown of the three reactors. Inomata said they account for more than 10 percent of the company’s power supply.

Chubu Electric has estimated maximum output of about 30 million kilowatts this summer with the three Hamaoka reactors running, with estimated demand of about 26 million kilowatts.

“It would be tight,” Inomata said, adding that officials are discussing the possibility of boosting output from gas, oil and coal-fueled power plants and purchasing power from other utility companies.

Kan said the shutdown request was for the “people’s safety.”

“If an accident occurs at Hamaoka, it could create serious consequences,” he said Friday.

He noted that experts estimate there is a 90 percent chance that a quake with a magnitude of 8.0 or higher will strike the region within 30 years.

Since the March 11 disasters, Chubu Electric has drawn up safety measures that include building a 40-foot-high (12-meter-high) seawall nearly a mile (1.5 kilometers) long over the next two to three years, company officials said. The company also promised to install additional emergency backup generators and other equipment and improve the water tightness of the reactor buildings.

The plant does not have a concrete sea barrier now. Sand hills between the ocean and the plant are about 32 to 50 feet (10 to 15 meters) high, deemed enough to defend against a tsunami around 26 feet (8 meters) high, officials said.

Shizuoka Gov. Heita Kawakatsu called Friday’s government request “a wise decision” and vowed to secure alternative sources of energy.

Residents of Shizuoka have long demanded a shutdown of the Hamaoka reactors. About 79,800 people live within a 6-mile (10-kilometer) radius of the plant.

The Hamaoka plant provides power to around 16 million people in central Japan including nearby Aichi, home of Toyota Motor Corp.

Automakers and other industries have had troubles with interrupted supply lines, parts shortages and damage to manufacturing plants because of the March 11 disasters.

The nationwide newspaper Yomiuri welcomed the government request to shut down the reactors despite concerns about a power crunch.

“The idea is to use the lesson we learned (from Fukushima),” the Yomiuri said, urging other utilities to also improve safety. “An accident and subsequent release of radiation could paralyze the entire country.”

Thousands of people joined an anti-nuclear march Saturday in Tokyo’s crowded Shibuya shopping and entertainment district, chanting “No nuke plants!”

The Fukushima Dai-ichi plant lost its power and cooling systems in the magnitude-9.0 earthquake and ensuing tsunami, triggering the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

Radiation leaks have forced 80,000 people living within a 12-mile (20-kilometer) radius of the plant to leave their homes.

Since the Fukushima crisis unfolded, officials have acknowledged that tsunami safety measures at Japanese nuclear power plants are insufficient.

Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the Fukushima plant, has said the tsunami that wrecked critical power and cooling systems there was at least 46 feet (14 meters) high.

It said radioactivity inside the No. 1 reactor building has fallen to levels deemed safe for people wearing protective suits to enter after workers rapidly installed air filtering equipment Thursday — their first entry since shortly after the tsunami. Workers are to begin preparations as early as Sunday to install a cooling system.

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Associated Press writer Shino Yuasa contributed to this report.

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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)

Japan plans disaster budget, building 100K homes

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 nuke plants starts pumping radioactive water

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110419/ap_on_bi_ge/as_japan_earthquake

By MARI YAMAGUCHI and YURI KAGEYAMA, Associated Press Mari Yamaguchi And Yuri Kageyama, Associated Press 1 hr 54 mins ago

TOKYO – The operator of Japan’s crippled nuclear plant began pumping highly radioactive water from the basement of one of its buildings to a makeshift storage area Tuesday in a crucial step toward easing the nuclear crisis.

Removing the 25,000 metric tons (about 6.6 million gallons) of contaminated water that has collected in the basement of a turbine building at Unit 2 of the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant will help allow access for workers trying to restore vital cooling systems that were knocked out in the March 11 tsunami.

It is but one of many steps in a lengthy process to resolve the crisis. Tokyo Electric Power Co. projected in a road map released over the weekend that it would take up to nine months to reach a cold shutdown of the plant. But government officials acknowledge that setbacks could slow the timeline.

The water will be removed in stages, with the first third of it to be handled over the coming 20 days, said Hidehiko Nishiyama of Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency. In all, there are 70,000 tons (about 18.5 million gallons) of contaminated water to be removed from the plant’s reactor and turbine buildings and nearby trenches, and the entire process could take months.

TEPCO is bringing the water to a storage building that was flooded during the tsunami with lightly contaminated water that was later pumped into the ocean to make room for the highly contaminated water.

The operator plans to use technology developed by French nuclear engineering giant Areva to reduce radioactivity and remove salt from the contaminated water so that it can be reused to cool the plant’s reactors, Nishiyama said, adding that this process would take “several months.”

Once the contaminated water in the plant buildings is safely removed and radioactivity levels decline, workers can begin repairing the cooling systems for the reactors of Units 1, 2 and 3, which were in operation at the time of the tsunami. Workers must also restore cooling functions at the plant’s six spent fuel pools and a joint pool for all six units.

When the tsunami struck, units 5 and 6 were going through a regular inspection. On March 20, they were put in cold shutdown, which is when a reactor’s core is stable at temperatures below 212 Fahrenheit (100 Celsius).

With the nuclear crisis dragging on, public frustration with the government is growing. Opinion polls show more than two-thirds of Japanese are unhappy with the leadership of Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who was grilled for hours Monday by opposition politicians, many demanding he resign.

TEPCO has offered residents forced to evacuate from homes around the plant about $12,000 per household as interim compensation. People elsewhere in the disaster zone who lost houses to the tsunami — which also left more than 27,000 dead or missing — say help has been slow to materialize.

“I don’t understand what the politicians are doing, there are new committees and meetings everyday,” said Hiroshi Sato, who lost his house in Kesennuma and now lives in a fabric warehouse from his old business.

“We need support, financial assistance, and nothing has come yet,” he said.

In TEPCO’s blueprint for stabilizing the reactors, the utility aims to cool the reactors and spent fuel pools and reduce radiation leaks over the next three months. Within 6-9 months, the goal is achieve a cold shutdown of the reactors and cover the buildings, possibly with a form of industrial cloth, to further tamp deter any possible radiation leaks.

Two remote-controlled robots sent into the reactor buildings of Unit 1 and Unit 3 on Sunday showed that radiation levels inside — up to 57 millisieverts per hour — were still too high for humans to realistically enter.

The U.S.-made Packbots, which resemble drafting lamps on tank-like treads, also were briefly sent into Unit 2 on Monday, officials said, and the radiation level was found to be a much lower 4.1 millisieverts per hour.

But the high level of humidity inside the reactor building fogged up the robot’s camera lens, making it difficult to see conditions inside. They were pulled out after less than an hour, officials said.

“We didn’t want to lose sight of where the robot was and then not be able to retrieve it,” TEPCO manager Hikaru Kuroda said.

The reason for the higher humidity wasn’t clear, but it suggests that workers — if they were to go inside — also would have difficulty seeing through their masks, Kuroda said.

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Associated Press Writer Jay Alabaster in Kesennuma 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.

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.

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.

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.

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