Tag Archive: Tokyo


Japan Quake Caused Surprisingly Severe Soil Collapse

http://news.yahoo.com/s/livescience/20110419/sc_livescience/japanquakecausedsurprisinglyseveresoilcollapse

The scale of Japan’s March 11 earthquake and tsunami wasn’t the only thing that surprised geologists.

The 9.0 earthquake in Japan — the fourth most powerful quake ever recorded — also caused an unusually severe and widespread shift in soil through liquefaction, a new study suggests.

Near coastlines, harbors and rivers, earthquakes can make the wet, sandy soil jiggle, turning it temporarily from a solid to a liquid state, a process known as liquefaction. Heavy sand and rock sinks, while water and lighter sand bubble to the surface. The slurry spreads, often toward the water, and the surface shifts.

Japan’s liquefaction occurred over hundreds of miles, surprising even experienced engineers who are accustomed to seeing disaster sites, including from the recent earthquakes in Chile and New Zealand.

Other areas vulnerable

The study raises questions about whether existing building codes in other vulnerable locations can enable structures to withstand massive liquefaction, including in areas of Oregon, Washington and California.

“We’ve seen localized examples of soil liquefaction as extreme as this before, but the distance and extent of damage in Japan were unusually severe,” said Scott Ashford, a study team member from Oregon State University.

“Entire structures were tilted and sinking into the sediments, even while they remained intact,” said Ashford, who is based in Corvallis, Ore. “The shifts in soil destroyed water, sewer and gas pipelines, crippling the utilities and infrastructure these communities need to function. We saw some places that sank as much as 4 feet,” or 1.2 meters.

Long-lasting quake

The duration of the Japanese earthquake, about five minutes, could be the key to the severity of the liquefaction and may force researchers to reconsider the extent of liquefaction damage possible.

“With such a long-lasting earthquake, we saw how structures that might have been okay after 30 seconds just continued to sink and tilt as the shaking continued for several more minutes,” Ashford said. “And it was clear that younger sediments, and especially areas built on recently filled ground, are much more vulnerable.”

An event almost exactly like Japan’s is expected in the Pacific Northwest from the Cascadia Subduction Zone, and the new findings make it clear that liquefaction will be a critical issue in the young soils there.

“Young” sediments, in geologic terms, are those deposited within the past 10,000 years or so. In Oregon, for instance, that describes much of downtown Portland, the Portland International Airport, nearby industrial facilities and other cities and parts of the Willamette Valley.

About 1,100 bridges in Oregon are at risk from an earthquake on the Cascadia Subduction Zone, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation. Fewer than 15 percent of them have been retrofitted to prevent collapse.

Some damage may be reduced or prevented by different construction techniques or retrofitting, Ashford said. But another reasonable goal is to at least anticipate the damage — to know what will probably be destroyed, make contingency plans for what will be needed to implement repairs, and design ways to help protect and care for residents until services can be restored, the researchers say.

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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.

Employees of Toyota Motor Corp. , arrive at a factory in Toyota, central Japan Monday, April 18, 2011. The company resumed production at all its Japanhttp://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110418/ap_on_re_as/as_japan_earthquake_automakers

By SHINO YUASA, Associated Press Shino Yuasa, Associated Press 1 hr 9 mins ago

TOKYO – Toyota Motor Corp. resumed car production at all of its plants in Japan on Monday for the first time since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, but said the factories will run at half capacity due to parts shortages.

The world’s No. 1 automaker said it was still struggling to secure around 150 types of auto components. The magnitude-9.0 earthquake and ensuing tsunami destroyed parts factories in northeastern Japan, causing severe shortages.

The twin disasters forced Toyota to shut down all output in Japan except at three plants, which have been running at limited capacity since late March and early April to produce hot-selling Prius, Lexus and Corolla cars.

The 900 workers at Toyota’s auto plant in Miyagi, one of the worst-hit areas in the disasters, observed a minute’s silence for tsunami victims before starting work Monday. The quake and tsunami left nearly 28,000 people dead or missing. In Miyagi alone, police said over 8,400 people have been killed.

Toru Kuzuhara, president of Toyota subsidiary Central Motor Co. Ltd., which operates the Miyagi plant, said he hoped the resumption of auto production would help spur reconstruction efforts in the tsunami-battered region.

“We will make top-quality cars and deliver them to many customers as early as possible. I believe this will lead to broader reconstruction efforts in Miyagi,” he said.

Yasuhiro Tadokoro, an official at the Miyagi plant, said he felt relieved that the factory was again running.

“Finally, we can operate our plant. I am so relieved that we can get back to work for the first time since the tsunami,” he said.

The Miyagi plant — Toyota’s newest auto factory in Japan — began operations in January. The plant suffered minor damage due to the quake, Tadokoro said. Toyota makes Yaris compact sedans at the Miyagi factory for export to North America.

Other Japanese automakers have also had to halt or slow operations in the wake of the disasters.

Honda’s operation in Britain has been running at 50 percent of planned weekly production since April 11 due to shortages of parts supplied from Japan, a cutback expected to last until the end of May. The company announced Friday that it was extending slowdowns at plants in Canada and the U.S. until at least early May.

Toyota will keep production at all its Japanese plants at half capacity until April 27, and then halt output from April 28 to May 9, a period that includes Golden Week holidays when factories would normally close.

The company will resume production in Japan from May 10 to June 3 at half of normal levels. Toyota has said it will make a decision in coming weeks about production plans beyond that period.

It remains unclear when Toyota will return to full production in Japan, Toyota spokeswoman Shiori Hashimoto said. Last month’s disasters have caused Toyota a production loss of 260,000 cars, she said.

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Associated Press Business Writer David McHugh in Frankfurt contributed to this report.

Radiation near Japan reactors too high for workers

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110418/ap_on_bi_ge/as_japan_earthquake

By MARI YAMAGUCHI, Associated Press Mari Yamaguchi, Associated Press 10 mins ago

TOKYO – A pair of thin robots on treads sent to explore buildings inside Japan’s crippled nuclear reactor came back Monday with disheartening news: Radiation levels are far too high for repair crews to go inside.

Nevertheless, officials remained hopeful they can stick to their freshly minted “roadmap” for cleaning up the radiation leak and stabilizing the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant by year’s end so they can begin returning tens of thousands of evacuees to their homes.

“Even I had expected high radioactivity in those areas. I’m sure (plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co.) and other experts have factored in those figures when they compiled the roadmap,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said.

Officials announced for the first time Monday that spent fuel rods in Unit 2 were damaged, and contaminated water was discovered in other areas of the plant, underscoring the growing list of challenges facing TEPCO in cleaning up and containing the radiation. They also described in more detail the damage to fuel in three troubled reactors, saying pellets had melted.

Angry at the slow response to the nuclear crisis and to the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami that caused it, lawmakers tore into Prime Minister Naoto Kan.

“You should be bowing your head in apology. You clearly have no leadership at all,” Masashi Waki, a lawmaker from the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, shouted at Kan.

“I am sincerely apologizing for what has happened,” Kan said, stressing the government was doing all it could to handle the unprecedented disasters.

TEPCO’s president, Masataka Shimizu, appeared ill at ease as lawmakers heckled and taunted him.

Workers have not been able to go inside the reactor buildings at the stricken plant since the first days after the its cooling systems were wrecked by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that left more than 27,000 people dead or missing. Hydrogen explosions in both buildings in the first few days destroyed their roofs and scattered radioactive debris.

On Sunday, a plant worker opened an outer door to one of the buildings and two Packbots, which resemble drafting lamps on tank-like treads, entered. After the worker closed the door, one robot opened an inner door and both rolled inside to take readings for temperature, pressure and radioactivity. They later entered a second building.

Click image to see photos of quake, tsunami damage

The robots reported radioactivity readings of up to 49 millisieverts per hour inside Unit 1 and up to 57 inside Unit 3, levels too high for workers to realistically enter.

“It’s a harsh environment for humans to work inside,” said Hidehiko Nishiyama of Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

Japanese authorities more than doubled the legal limit for nuclear workers since the crisis began to 250 millisieverts a year. Workers in the U.S. nuclear industry are allowed an upper limit of 50 millisieverts per year. Doctors say radiation sickness sets in at 1,000 millisieverts and includes nausea and vomiting.

The robots, made by Bedford, Massachusetts, company iRobot, which also makes the Roomba vacuum cleaner, explored Unit 2 on Monday, but TEPCO officials had yet to analyze that data.

The radioactivity must be reduced, possibly with the removal of contaminated debris and stagnant water, before repair crews would be allowed inside, said NISA official Masataka Yoshizawa.

Sturdier robots can remove some of the debris, but workers are needed to test the integrity of the equipment and carry out electrical repairs needed to restore the cooling systems as called for in the road map, Yoshizawa said.

“What robots can do is limited, so eventually, people must enter the buildings,” TEPCO official Takeshi Makigami said.

The robots, along with remote-controlled miniature drones, have enabled TEPCO to photograph and take measurements of conditions in and around the plant while minimizing workers’ exposure to radiation and other hazards.

Separately, readings from a water tank in Unit 2 showed a severe spike in radiation that indicates likely damage to the fuel rods inside the spent fuel pool there, TEPCO officials said. That was the first indication of damage to those rods. The radiation was far higher than that measured in the spent fuel pool of Unit 4, suggesting the damage to the fuel in Unit 2 is greater.

NISA also sent a report to the government watchdog Nuclear Safety Commission, saying that some fuel pellets and rods in the reactors in Units 1, 2 and 3 had become overheated and melted during the crisis, the first time it had provided details of the damage to the fuel. Nishiyama, said the agency can only say “more than 3 percent” of the fuel rods have melted.

A pool of stagnant radioactive water was also discovered in the basement of Unit 4.

With evacuees’ ordeal stretching into the long-term, some began moving out of school gymnasiums into temporary housing. Hundreds who have not found apartments or relatives to take them in began filling up inns at hot springs.

“The government has asked us to be ready to take in as many as 200 evacuees for the next four months at least,” said Masaki Hata, whose family has run the Yoshikawaya Hot Springs Inn on the outskirts of Fukushima for seven generations.

Michiaki Niitsuma, a 27-year-old office worker, said he was glad to have a comfortable place to stay while he waited to go home.

“My kids got sick in the shelter. It was cold. It’s much better here. It’s a relief,” he said.

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Associated Press writers Eric Talmadge in Fukushima and Noriko Kitano 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.

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.

What Does Fukushima’s New “Level 7” Status Mean?

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By KRISTA MAHR Krista Mahr Tue Apr 12, 3:15 am ET

Japanese officials announced on Tuesday morning that they were planning to raise the event level at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant from a 5 to the maximum level of 7, the highest on the international scale for nuclear incidents and the same level assigned to the 1986 disaster at Chernobyl in the Ukraine.

The decision was made after Japan’s nuclear safety body determined that at one point after the March 11 earthquake, the plant was releasing 10,000 terabecquerels of iodine-131 for several hours; level 7 accidents are defined as releasing tens of thousands of terabecquerels. “The INES rating itself is not an indicator of a daily phenomena, but the assessment after careful consideration and calculation on the event that happened in the past,” Ken Morita of NISA told TIME on Tuesday morning. (See inside Japan’s nuclear wasteland.)

NISA has also noted, however, that the amount of radioactive material being released at Fukushima today is less than 1 terabecquerel. The agency says that, to date, Fukushima has only released about 10% of total radiation released 25 years ago in Chernobyl, or about 1.8 million terabecquerels. About 30 people, mostly workers, died in the immediate aftermath of Chernobyl, though the UN has estimated that the long-term death toll due to exposure could eventually be as high as 4000.

The International Nuclear Event Scale (INES), designed in 1989 by the IAEA and the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) of the OECD, ranges from 1 (anomaly) to 7 (major accident). The scale is intended to help easily communicate with the public to indicate the seriousness of a nuclear event. Chernobyl is the only other nuclear accident to have been given a 7, an accident classified as having a major radioactive release with widespread impact on the environment and public health. According to INES, “Such a release would result in the possibility of acute health effects; delayed health effects over a wide area, possibly involving more than one country; long-term environmental consequences.” (Read the IAEA’s glossary of short- to long-term health effects of radiation exposure here.) (See the world’s top 10 environmental disasters.)

Besides Chernobyl, the only event that’s come close to a 7 before was a 1957 accident at a fuel processing plant (where spent nuclear fuel is recycled into new fuel) in Russia, in which an off-site release of radiation prompted preventative evacuations. The Three Mile Island accident in the U.S. in 1978, in which a reactor core was severely damage but off-site release of radioactivity was limited, was classified as a 5. Almost all reported events at nuclear facilities are a level 3 or under, according to INES.

Tuesday’s announcement comes on the back of a minor fire spotted by workers outside Fukushima’s reactor 4 on Tuesday morning, shortly after the second of three major aftershocks to hit the beleaguered northeast in the space of 24 hours. Three people in Iwaki died in landslides triggered by the 7.1 aftershock on Monday evening. The government also expanded the exclusion zone around Fukushima on Monday to include several towns within a 30-km (19-mile) radius that had formerly been told that they could remain at home, but were recommended to stay indoors. The towns now added to the mandatory evacuation zone were found to have high levels of radiation. (See the battle to hold Fukushima’s cores.)

Meanwhile, Greenpeace has said that in a survey conducted in Fukushima last week, its team of experts found radiation levels 75 times higher than the government recommendation in 11 samples of vegetables from gardens and small farms. The environmental group also announced that it found radiation levels equivalent to an annual exposure of 5 millisieverts – the evacuation threshold for Chernobyl – in a playground in Fukushima City, population 300,000. Greenpeace is urging the government to delay the start of the school year.

Though raising Fukushima’s level to 7 may not herald any immediate worsening of events, it is sure to add to many residents’ growing concern – and feelings of helplessness – over what could happen at dozens of other nuclear reactors spread across this seismic archipelago. On Sunday, over 17,000 people protested at two separate demonstrations in Tokyo against nuclear power. It was the first time that Yohei Nakamura, 45, had ever been to a protest. “For a long time I’ve been suspicious of nuclear power, but now I realize it’s a serious problem,” he said amidst the crowds carrying placards and shouting slogans. He said anti-nuclear demonstrations were undercovered in the Japanese press because of the influence of Tokyo Power and Electric Power Company, which owns Fukushima. “TEPCO is one of the most powerful companies in Japan,” Nakamura said. “They use a tremendous amount of money for adverstising. If the mass media shows anti-nuclear power activities like demonstrations, they risk losing TEPCO as an advertiser.”

– With reporting by Lucy Birmingham / Tokyo

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/20110408/ap_on_re_as/as_japan_earthquake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click image to see photos of quake, tsunami damage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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