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Thread: 9.0 Earthquake Strikes Japan

  1. #106


    APRIL 12, 2011

    Japanese Declare Crisis at Level of Chernobyl


    Japanese police searched for victims inside
    the deserted evacuation zone in Minamisoma in Fukushima Prefecture.

    TOKYO—The Japanese government raised its assessment of the monthlong crisis at its Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to the highest severity level by international standards—a rating only conferred so far upon the Chernobyl accident.

    Japan's nuclear regulators said the plant has likely released so much radiation into the environment that it must boost the accident's severity rating on the International Nuclear Event scale to a 7 from 5 currently. That is the same level reached by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the former Soviet Union, which struck almost exactly 25 years ago, on April 26, 1986.

    "Based on the cumulative data we've gathered, we can finally give an estimate of total radioactive materials emitted,'' Hidehiko Nishiyama, spokesman for Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, said at a press conference Tuesday.

    Even as they upgraded their assessment of the situation, Japanese officials went to lengths to say that the problem they are struggling to contain isn't anywhere near the disaster of Chernobyl.

    "It is quite different from Chernobyl," said Mr. Nishiyama. "First, the amount of released radiation is about a tenth of Chernobyl," he said, adding that while there were 29 deaths resulting from short-term exposure to high doses of radiation at Chernobyl, there were no such deaths at Fukushima.

    "At Chernobyl, the nuclear reactor itself exploded," he said, adding that at the Fukushima plant, the pressure vessel and the containment vessel were largely intact.

    Still, Fukushima Daiichi operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. warned Tuesday that since the Fukushima Daiichi plant is still releasing radioactive materials, the total level of radiation released could eventually exceed that of Chernobyl, a spokesman said.

    The new assessment comes as Japan admits that the effects of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident—which has already caused the evacuation of tens of thousands of people and spread radiation through groundwater and farms over a broad section of eastern Japan—are likely to be long-lasting and grave. The accident was precipitated by the massive March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which knocked out Fukushima Daiichi's power and cooling systems, causing several of the reactors to overheat.

    The International Nuclear Event scale, whose development is coordinated by the International Atomic Energy Agency, measures the severity of accidents based on how much radiation is released, the degree of damage to the nuclear cores and how widespread and long-lasting the effects are likely to be.

    Level 5—the previous level given the Fukushima Daiichi accident—indicates a "limited release'' of radioactive materials requiring "some planned countermeasures.'' The 1978 Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania was rated a 5.

    Level 7 labels this "a major accident," the most serious on the international scale. It means high levels of radiation have been released, and that the amount of time needed to bring the plant under control will require an extended period. But not all "major accidents" are equal in severity.

    The decision to upgrade formally the severity of the accident came a day after Japan broadened the 12-mile nuclear evacuation zone around the plant to include all or part of five towns and villages that housed tens of thousands of people before the disaster, a sign that officials now see the long-term risks as far higher than originally estimated.

    And the crisis appears far from over, with constant reminders that efforts to bring the crippled reactors under control are far from complete. Operator Tepco scrambled to keep reactors stable in the wake of another big earthquake Monday and a battery fire Tuesday morning, signs of how vulnerable the plant remains a month after the quake.

    Experts have predicted it could take months for Tepco to bring Fukushima Daiichi's reactors truly under control, and years to clean up the plant itself.

    Japanese nuclear regulators determined that after the accident, the plant has likely released tens of thousands of terabecquerels—or a mind-boggling tens of thousands of trillions of becquerels—of radiation in the immediate area. That's a level that's been recorded only during the Chernobyl accident.

    While the new assessment puts Fukushima on a par with Chernobyl, there are key differences between the two, suggesting the Ukraine disaster was still far more serious.

    In the case of Chernobyl, a graphite fire burned uncontrolled for days, spewing out radioactive smoke that spread around the world. Fukushima, unlike Chernobyl, has a containment structure, which, even if damaged, has meant that the Japanese accident has shown "much, much, much lower'' traces of far-flung radiation, Wolfgang Weiss, chair of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, said in Vienna last week.

    The release from Fukushima of tens of thousands of terabecquerels of iodine-131, while huge, appears to be smaller than the 5.2 million terabecquerels released from Chernobyl. Japanese government officials said the radiation release was between 370,000 and 630,000 terabecquerels so far from Fukushima. The permissible level of iodine-131 for vegetables and fish is 2,000 becquerels per kilogram, or just a tiny fraction of what has been released.

    A 2005 United Nations study said up to 4,000 people could eventually die from radiation exposure to Chernobyl.

    In Japan, so far, a handful of workers have been hospitalized, but they were released a few days later, and regulators said they showed no signs of lasting injury.

    There are, however, regular reports in the Japanese press of elevated radiation exposure for the workers trying to contain Fukushima, and it could be months, or years, before the real impact is known. The same is true for the population in and around the plant.

    Officials said they expanded the original evacuation zone because the acccident had lasted longer than expected.

    "Japan has been doing drills for possible nuclear accidents, but they assumed that the accidents would be resolved in about 10 days," said Mr. Nishiyama, the spokesman. "We are now dealing with a crisis of a historic proportion. This has necessitated different kinds of responses than initially planned."

    Even in announcing the expanded evacuation zone, Japanese officials said residents of the affected areas weren't in danger of surpassing government exposure limits anytime soon and that they have about a month to move.

    Testing by Japanese, U.S. and IAEA officials shows that the radioactive contamination is spreading unevenly from the plant, creating what are known as hot spots due to wind, topography and other natural conditions that show a higher density of radioactive material compared with some areas closer to the plant.

    The move will present major logistical hurdles for communities already battered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that damaged the plant as well as much of the surrounding countryside. The area includes towns and villages with a population totaling about 115,000 people before the crisis, though the number of people affected is likely to be far less because the government's order applies only to particular hot spots believed to have higher radiation levels, not a set radius from the plant.

    Meanwhile, efforts to stabilize reactors at Fukushima Daiichi continue to be dogged by setbacks and scares, in a sign of how fragile the situation on the ground remains. On Tuesday morning, Tepco said there was a small fire at a battery unit outside reactor No. 4, which was put out shortly after being reported.

    On Monday, a 7.1 magnitude quake centered in coastal Fukushima temporarily shut down power supply and makeshift cooling systems to three reactors at the plant, causing the evacuation of workers to the compound's command center. The systems remained down for nearly an hour while the evacuation remained in effect, keeping workers from switching to emergency power generators.

    Tepco said the suspension didn't appear to have caused significant safety issues. But the scramble to restore power served as a reminder of how aftershocks and the risk of tsunami could upset the delicate efforts to stabilize the problems at the plant.

    —Mitsuru Obe contributed to this article.

    Copyright ©2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

    Three "much-es"

  2. #107


    April 13, 2011

    A month after quake, Tokyo is a city of shadows

    by Tim Hornyak

    TOKYO--If there's one sound you don't want to hear in Tokyo these days, it's the earthquake alarm. The two jarring chords came crashing through the cherry blossoms from a public-address speaker the other morning and sent me bounding into the street in my pajamas. The room started wobbling seconds later.

    The 6.3-magnitude aftershock followed a 7.0 quake the evening before that made the skyscraper I was in feel like a ship at sea. On the 20th floor, I could sense the building sway for several minutes as it absorbed the shock waves.

    I lived in Tokyo for a long time and I'm used to quakes rattling the capital. But returning after the 9.0 temblor and tsunamis that smashed northern Japan on March 11, Tokyo feels more dangerous than ever.

    There have been nearly a thousand quakes in the past month, including one as I write this. Not to mention the threat from the crisis-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, where radiation leaks have led Japan to rank it on par with Chernobyl on the International Nuclear Events Scale.

    Some people have left Tokyo, or even Japan altogether. Fukushima differs vastly from Chernobyl, but for every scientist who downplays the radiation danger, there seems to be another who will emphasize the unknowns in the equation and play it up. It's hard to know whom to believe.

    People are coping in different ways. The famous Japanese stoicism, born out of centuries of earthquakes, fires, and war, is evident everywhere as Tokyoites quietly go about their business, making sushi, holding elections, and playing baseball. But there's a pronounced sobriety in the air.

    When the aftershocks do come, and cell phones squawk out those warning chords, people brace themselves and then check NHK TV for the quake report. Some say the dots on the map are getting closer to the capital, and that the Big One will hit right under Tokyo Bay. The capital region is home to more than 30 million people.

    Long ago, Japanese believed giant catfish underground caused quakes when they thrashed about. They would pray to the god Kashima to subdue the catfish with a magic stone.

    These days, people are more practical. Walking down a backstreet in the Meguro district when an aftershock hit, I heard the sound of an acoustic guitar coming from a tiny shop selling Hawaiian shirts. Inside was a lone merchant, strumming away.

    I knew the tune well--"Ue wo Muite Arukou" (aka Sukiyaki) by Kyu Sakamoto, a 1960s hit about holding one's chin up. "It's a song of peace," the guitarist said. He plays to pacify the earth.

    Fear of the ground shaking is perhaps entirely subjective, but it didn't help to arrive from Narita airport at night. The biggest change I saw was that many escalators had been stopped, with signs reading "setsuden" (electricity conservation).

    It's a slogan seen everywhere as Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) struggles to raise its capacity from 40 million kilowatts, down from 64.5 million kilowatts; it anticipates a 20-25 percent supply gap with summer demand. Subway corridors and shop signs are dark or half-lit. Many streetlights are out and buildings are dim. Tokyo has become a city of shadows.

    The hill of Kagurazaka, an old geisha quarter that's home to some of my favorite watering holes, seems like a tenebrous alien land. The garish lights of the Akihabara electronics district are muted. Even the great wall of neon along Kabukicho, the massive red light district by Shinjuku Station, is half-off. The sex trade is still swinging, but times seem harsh.

    "A soapland pimp invited me," an American habitue told me, referring to Kabukicho's massage parlors. "It was the first time in 25 years. You know business must be terrible if they're soliciting gaijin (foreigners)."

    The other watchword here is "jishuku" (self-restraint). Events such as concerts and welcome ceremonies for new employees have been canceled out of sympathy for victims of the disaster in northern Japan, which left nearly 30,000 dead or missing.

    But as plans for annual summer festivals are shelved, people have started groaning about excessive government dourness. When Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara called on Tokyoites to refrain from the traditional spring "hanami" drinking parties under the cherry blossoms, many companies canceled official parties.

    Yet that hasn't stopped thousands of people from boozing it up under the white petals, much to the delight of sake brewers in northern Japan who fear further economic hardships if no one is spending money on alcohol for the hanami season. There's still public division over the merits of jishuku, but there is a growing sense that self-restraint won't help Japan get back on its feet.

    And on that note, I'm off to knock back a few cups of rice wine under the cherry trees.

    Tim Hornyak is the author of "Loving the Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots." He has been writing about Japanese culture and technology for a decade. Tim is a member of the CNET Blog Network

  3. #108



    Tepco makes Lehman seem a mere bagatelle

    By David Pilling

    Published: April 13 2011 21:26 | Last updated: April 13 2011 21:26

    Tokyo Electric Power is Lehman Brothers times 10. It really is too big to fail. The company supplies 29 per cent of Japan’s electricity to more than 2m businesses and 26m households in the Tokyo metropolitan area. Not only is Fukushima Daiichi now out of permanent action, 13 of the company’s 17 nuclear reactors are offline, as are half of its 20 oil-fired thermal plants and both of its coal-fired thermal plants.

    Tepco’s loss of power generation – about one-quarter of its normal output – is already having a profound effect, even before the intensely hot summer months when demand surges. The government is expected to exercise a legal provision, not invoked since the 1974 oil shock, to restrict electricity use this summer to just three-quarters of last year’s level. Keidanren, the big business lobby, worries that enforced cuts will damage swaths of industry – railways, pulp and paper, steel, chemicals, breweries, computer chip makers, auto and auto-parts makers all rely heavily on power. It is desperately trying to persuade the government to accept voluntary cuts.

    In short, all talk about the earthquake and tsunami affecting only a small part of Japan’s gross domestic product looks optimistic. If power cuts carry on for the rest of the year, or longer, the very heart of Japan’s economy will be on life support.

    Modern Japan simply cannot function without Tepco. That is precisely the problem. Like the big banks, the commercial lifeblood of any economy, Tepco is indispensable. If it has been negligent in its planning for, and response to, last month’s disaster – and there is ample evidence to suggest that it has – Tepco’s status as a too-big-to-fail utility is largely to blame. Moral hazard is not restricted to banking.

    It should be acknowledged that, for the customer, Tepco is not a bad company. True, Japan’s electricity prices are high. But Tepco has done wonders at maintaining a stable electricity supply. Blackouts per household have been kept to a remarkably low four minutes a year. That compares with 45 minutes in France, 69 minutes in the US and 73 in the UK, according to Paul Scalise, an energy expert at Temple university’s Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies.

    But Tepco has been afflicted by moral hazard behind the scenes. The company has a shoddy history of cover-ups and sloppy safety standards. In 2002, it was found to have routinely lied about safety data relating to cracks in its reactors. Now we know it located back-up generators at Fukushima in the basement, below the level of what turned out to be a wholly inadequate sea defence wall. There are also suggestions – denied by the company – that it delayed cooling the reactors with sea water to avoid scrapping billions of yen worth of assets.

    One explanation for Tepco’s track record is the amakudari (descend from heaven) system by which civil servants drop into cushy jobs in the industries they once regulated. Toru Ishida, a former energy official with the ministry that regulates nuclear power, landed a senior position advising Tepco this year. Masataka Shimuzu, the president of Tepco who went awol after the Fukushima plant started spewing out radiation last month, is the vice-president of Keidanren, a sign of the power company’s huge clout.

    The number of people moving between regulator and industry may not be that large. But the ties between regulator and regulated are too close. Structurally that is because the nuclear regulator is part of the trade ministry, which sees its job as promoting the use of nuclear energy as a way of weaning the country off foreign oil. More fundamentally, both Tepco and the government are on the same side. After the first oil shock, the public overcame its antipathy to nuclear power born of Japan’s experience in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    But accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl have severely blunted public support. In response, the regulator and the nuclear industry have both played down risks, a state of affairs almost designed to encourage the sort of lax behaviour of which Tepco has been guilty.

    Like the banks, Tepco has assumed that, if anything goes badly wrong, the government will stand behind it. The company is already furiously lobbying for favourable interpretation of a law that could exonerate it of liabilities incurred because of natural disaster. Without such largesse, Tepco looks doomed. It has a debt-to-equity ratio of nearly 300 per cent, three times the industry average.

    Unless it can raise electricity prices sharply – something the public will not stand for – it is hard to see how it can generate sufficient cashflow to pay for the scrapping of old reactors, the building of new ones and, in the meantime, securing alternative sources of energy. That is even without the litigation from farmers and disgruntled users that are bound to follow.

    From the shareholders’ point of view Tepco could either go the way of British Petroleum or Enron. Those who bought BP shares after the blowout in the Gulf of Mexico last year are sitting on gains of 70 per cent. Enron, of course, went bankrupt, taking its shareholders with it. Unless Tepco is allowed to go the same way, Japan’s nuclear industry will join western banking as a case of private gains and socialised losses.

    © Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2011.

  4. #109


    I was at a checkout counter in Narita airport, to the NE of Tokyo, last week when a rather large aftershock shook. The middle-aged lady behind the counter was noticeably disturbed by the shaking. Everyone is edgy, but life goes on.

  5. #110
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    Bob Woodruff did a piece for ABC News last night and was interviewing people in an office in Japan when a large aftershock hit. He jumped up like a scared little girl with a deer in the headlights look while the other half dozen people just brushed it off like nothing was happening, lol. Man I can't imagine having that pounded into you every day to the point where it's just like the wind blowing

  6. #111
    Chief Antagonist Ninjahedge's Avatar
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    GG, I know what you are saying, but I still have to ask...

    How does a little girl jump when she is scared of a deer in her headlights?

  7. #112
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    Here's the video:

    Look from about 1:25 to 1:45

  8. #113
    Chief Antagonist Ninjahedge's Avatar
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    I was commenting on the mixed metaphor GG.

    If you are driving, you can't jump up. If you are a little girl, you can't drive, and the deer in headlights usually does not jump up.........

    So it is just a bit weird your merging of analogies.... Thanks for the link though (and I do know what you mean! )

  9. #114


    Taiwan stands out as supporter of Japan with massive amount of donations

    (Mainichi Japan) April 18, 2011

    As support has poured in from around the globe to Japan after the deadly March 11 earthquake and tsunami, Taiwan has stood out with over 4.85 billion Taiwan dollars (around 13.9 billion yen) in relief donations to Japan as of April 13, in what is possibly the largest amount of money per person donated from any country since the disaster.

    With a population of 23 million, Taiwan's donations average out to about 600 yen per person. It's support stands out even in comparison to South Korea, which with a population of 49 million had donated over 55.6 billion won (over 4.2 billion yen) as of the middle of April, according to Korean news service Yonhap News Agency. The United States, with a population of 300 million, had as of the end of March donated around 120 million U.S. dollars (around 9.9 billion yen) to the American Red Cross.?

    Japan omits largest donor Taiwan from thank-you note


    Japanese internet surfers have been angry that their government missed Taiwan from a note expressing gratitude for international aid following last month's earthquake as Taiwan has been the country which has given the higest amount of donations as of press time on April 16.

    Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that a total of NT$4.8 billion (US$165 million) in donations from the government and the public has been collected and delivered to Japan, more than the US$125 million from the United States, US$19 million from South Korea and US$4 million from China. Japan's foreign ministry, however, did not make public details of the individual amounts donated but only announced on April 14 that the Japanese government has received a total of US$8 million in public donations from 65 countries.

    On April 11, Japan's foreign ministry published a thank-you note in seven foreign newspapers as a token of appreciation for the donations but Taiwan, as the largest donor, was not menyioned. The Taiwan-based China Times reported that Japanese netizens have attributed this to fears by the Japanese government that an expression of gratitude to Taiwan may become a political issue and irritate China. In response, foreign ministry officials said that they did not decide the thank-you list by the amount of donations received but by "the size of the country and the impact it may have on its neighbor countries."

  10. #115


    Emergency housing ideas emerge in earthquake ravaged Japan.

    Arch record article here-

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    Default Japanese Reactor Damage Is Worse Than Expected

  12. #117


    I saw several reports like this yesterday. Considering this --

    Still, the worst fears did not materialize. Experts have long worried that such melting would allow a nuclear chain reaction to restart, producing enough heat to burn through all barriers — resulting in a full meltdown and a catastrophic release of radioactive material.

    Mr. Matsumoto said relatively low temperature readings on the surface of the reactor, between 100 and 120 degrees Celsius (or 212 to 248 degrees Fahrenheit), suggested that the slumped fuel was being kept cool to some extent by the water inside the reactor and therefore was not as dangerous as some expected.

    “We are not seeing a China Syndrome,” Mr. Matsumoto said, using a term coined in the United States in the 1970s to describe a severe nuclear meltdown of the fuel, which could sink into the ground and cause an explosion. The term is a satiric reference to the idea that in such an uncontrolled reaction, the core could burn through the earth.
    -- it seems like the titles of these stories are on the alarmist side. We already knew things were really bad, but they could be even far worse. There has been no complete meltdown (no "China Syndrome") but the situation still sucks.

  13. #118
    Chief Antagonist Ninjahedge's Avatar
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    Wiouldn't we be dealing more with a "Brazil Situation" here anyway?

  14. #119


    Cherry blossoms cover a tree among tsunami wreckage in Natori city, Miyagi prefecture, Japan, on April 18, 2011.
    (Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images)

    Japan Earthquake: Two Months Later

  15. #120

    Default Japan earthquake: Then and now

    A slide show of shots from March 11 and June 11 --

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