Tag Archives: Japan

Radioactive water leaks into ocean

By Eugene Hoshiko,Mari Yamaguchi, The Associated PressThe Canadian Press

RIKUZENTAKATA, Japan – Highly radioactive water spilled into the ocean from a tsunami-damaged nuclear power plant Saturday as Japan’s prime minister surveyed the damage in a town gutted by the wave.

The Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex has been spewing radioactivity since March 11, when a magnitude-9.0 earthquake and ensuing wave knocked out power, disabling cooling systems and allowing radiation to seep out of the overheating reactors. Authorities said the leak they identified Saturday could be the source of radioactivity found in coastal waters in recent days.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan went to the plant and flew over the tsunami-ravaged coast soon after the wave hit, but Saturday was the first time he set foot in one of the pulverized towns.

Dressed in the blue work clothes that have become almost a uniform for officials, Kan stopped in Rikuzentakata, where the town hall is one of the few buildings still standing. All its windows are blown out and a tangle of metal and other debris is piled in front of it.

The prime minister bowed his head for a minute of silence in front of the building. He met with the town’s mayor, whose 38-year-old wife was swept away in the wave and is still missing. Officials fear about 25,000 people may have been killed, many of whose bodies have not been found.

“The government fully supports you until the end,” Kan later told 250 people at an elementary school that is serving as an evacuation centre.

Megumi Shimanuki, whose family is living in a similar shelter 100 miles (160 kilometres) away in Natori, said Kan didn’t spend enough time with people on the ground. Kan returned to Tokyo in the afternoon.

“The government has been too focused on the Fukushima power plant rather than the tsunami victims,” said Shimanuki, 35. “Both deserve attention.”

Saturday’s leak was from a newly discovered crack in a maintenance pit on the edge of the Fukushima complex, Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama said.

The crack was apparently caused by the quake and may have been leaking since then, said spokesman Osamu Yokokura of Tokyo Electric Power Co., which runs the plant.

Measurements showed the air above the radioactive water in the pit contained more than 1,000 millisieverts per hour of radioactivity. Even just two feet (60 centimetres) away, that figure dropped to 400 millisieverts. Workers have taken samples of the water in the pit and seawater and are analyzing them to determine the level of contamination.

Radiation quickly disperses in both air and water, and experts have said that it would be quickly diluted by the vast Pacific Ocean, where even large amounts have little effect. TEPCO is trying to pour concrete to seal the 8-inch-long (20-centimetre-long) crack, spokesman Takashi Kurita said.

“This could be one of the sources of seawater contamination,” Nishiyama said. “There could be other similar cracks in the area, and we must find them as quickly as possible.”

Radioactive iodine-131 at concentrations higher than the legal limit was first detected in waters off the plant more than a week ago. Readings released Saturday showed radiation in seawater had spread to 25 miles (40 kilometres) south of the plant; the concentration of iodine there was twice the legal limit, but officials stressed it was still well below levels that are dangerous to human health.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether workers who have been rushing to bring the reactors under control were exposed. People living within 12 miles (20 kilometres) of the plant have been evacuated, and no fishing is taking place in the waters just off the plant.

Because of the evacuations, the plant workers have been the primary people exposed to the radiation leaks.

A worker fell into the ocean Friday while trying to board a barge carrying water to help cool the plant, the nuclear safety agency said Saturday. He was immediately plucked from the water and rinsed off, and he tested negative for skin contamination. He said he did not think he had swallowed any water, but officials are still waiting for test results to make sure he was not exposed to unsafe levels of radiation.

Another crew member described difficult conditions inside the complex in an interview published Saturday.

The plant has run out of the nylon protective booties that workers put over their shoes. Earlier, TEPCO acknowledged that the tsunami had destroyed many of the gauges used to measure radiation, forcing workers to share. More gauges have since arrived at the site.

“We only put something like plastic garbage bags you can buy at a convenience store and sealed them with masking tape,” said the worker, who spoke to the national Mainichi newspaper. Such interviews have been exceedingly rare and always anonymous.

The worker also said the tsunami littered the grounds with dead fish that remained scattered throughout the plant, attracting birds.

Radiation concerns have rattled the Japanese public, already struggling to return to normal life after the earthquake-generated tsunami. Three weeks later, more than 165,000 people are living in shelters, while 260,000 households still do not have running water and 170,000 do not have electricity.

People whose houses are within the evacuation zone are growing increasingly frustrated and some have been sneaking back in. Government officials warned Friday that there were no plans to lift the evacuation order anytime soon.

After the quake, Tadashi and Ritsuko Yanai and their 1-month-old boy fled their home, which is six miles (10 kilometres) from the plant. Baby Kaon has grown accustomed to life in a shelter, but his parents haven’t.

When asked if he had anything he would like to say to Kan, the 32-year-old father paused to think and then replied: “We want to go home. That’s all, we just want to go home.”

Thousands of families are also still awaiting news of their loved ones. More than 15,500 people are still missing.

U.S. and Japanese troops launched an all-out search of the coastline Friday for any remaining bodies in what could be their last chance to find those swept out to sea. They have found nearly 50 bodies since Friday, most floating in coastal waters. So far, 11,800 deaths have been confirmed.

Up and down the coast, helicopters, planes and boats carrying U.S. and Japanese troops scoured for the dead again Saturday.

Some bodies may have sunk and just now be resurfacing. Others may never be found.

Coast guard crews conducting similar searches rescued a dog Friday that was drifting on a rooftop. It took several hours to grab the dog because it initially scampered across other floating wreckage as crews winched down from a helicopter. It was unclear how long the dog had been at sea.

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/japans-pm-visits-tsunami-hit-villages-us-japanese-20110401-211211-756.html

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Japan’s earthquake shifted balance of the planet

By Liz Goodwin | US News – The Lookout

Last week’s devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan has actually moved the island closer to the United States and shifted the planet’s axis.

The quake caused a rift 24 kilometres below the sea floor that stretched nearly 300 kilometres long and 150 kilometres wide, according to the AP. The areas closest to the epicenter of the quake jumped a full 13 feet closer to the United States, geophysicist Ross Stein at the United States Geological Survey told The New York Times.

The world’s fifth-largest, 8.8 magnitude quake was caused when thePacific tectonic plate dived under the North American plate, which shifted Eastern Japan towards North America by about 13 feet (see NASA’s before and after photos at right). The quake also shifted the earth’s axis by 6.5 inches, shortened the day by 1.6 microseconds, and sunk Japan downward by about two feet. As Japan’s eastern coastline sunk, the tsunami’s waves rolled in.

Why did the quake shorten the day?  The earth’s mass shifted towards the center, spurring the planet to spin a bit faster. Last year’s massive 8.8 magnitude earthquake in Chile also shortened the day, but by an even smaller fraction of a second. The 2004 Sumatra quake knocked a whopping 6.8 micro-seconds off the day.

After the country’s 1995 earthquake, Japan placed high-tech sensors around the country to observe even the slightest movements, which is why scientists are able to calculate the quake’s impact down to the inch. “This is overwhelmingly the best-recorded great earthquake ever,” Lucy Jones, chief scientist for the Multi-Hazards project at the U.S. Geological Surveytold The Boston Herald.

The tsunami’s waves necessitated life-saving evacuations as far away as Chile. Fisherman off the coast of Mexico reported a banner fishing day Friday, and speculated that the tsunami knocked sealife in their direction.

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/blogs/dailybrew/japan-earthquake-shifted-balance-planet-20110314-065608-417.html


Analysis: Worst case nuclear cloud seen limited to Japan

By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent | Reuters

OSLO (Reuters) – In the worst case, any radioactive cloud from Japan’s damaged nuclear plant is likely to be limited to the densely populated nation — unlike the wider fallout from the Chernobyl disaster, experts say.

The 1986 blast in then-Soviet Ukraine, when the reactor exploded, contaminated large parts of Europe in the world’s worst nuclear disaster. At the Fukushima plant, the explosive potential within the six reactors is easing with time.

“In the worst case, a radioactive cloud would not go that far up in the atmosphere,” said Jan Beranek, head of environmental groupGreenpeace’s International Nuclear Campaign.

“That is good news for the world, but bad news for Japan.”

Despite assurances by Japanese authorities about low health risks, the crisis at the Fukushima plant has worsened since Friday’s quake-caused tsunami, with desperate, unsuccessful attempts on Wednesday to water-bomb the facility.

“We are at the beginning of the catastrophic phase,” Sebastian Pflugbeil, president of the private, German-based Society for Radiation Protection, said of Japan’s efforts to pull the Fukushima plant back from the brink.

“Maybe we have to pray,” he said, adding that a wind blowing any nuclear fallout east into the Pacific would limit any damage for Japan’s 127 million population in case of a meltdown or other releases, for instance from spent fuel storage “ponds.”

Japan placed top priority on Wednesday on efforts to cool down a plutonium-fueled nuclear reactor at Fukushima — the only one of six not fueled by less hazardous uranium. Some countries advised their nationals to leave the country.

Many experts expect the outcome to be worse than the partial reactor meltdown at Three Mile Island in the United States in 1979, which caused no widespread health damage, but less severe than Chernobyl.

A U.N. study estimated that there could be 4,000 to 9,000 extra cancer deaths from Chernobyl, but Greenpeace has said that the disaster could cause more than 250,000 cancer cases, including 100,000 fatalities.

“In Chernobyl the whole plant core exploded,” said Malcolm Crick, Secretary of the U.N. Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR). “But there was also a lot of heat and that lifted it high into the atmosphere.”

He said Fukushima was “a serious situation but it’s too early to say” what the worst outcome could be.

Malcolm Grimston, a nuclear expert at the Chatham House think-tank in Britain, said Fukushima was not like Chernobyl.

“We’re nearly five days after the fission process was stopped, the levels of radioactive iodine will only be about two-thirds of where they were at the start, some of the other very short-lived, very radioactive material will be gone altogether by now,” he said.

“The situation may recede or deteriorate and lead to a massive radiation leak to the atmosphere,” said Professor Javier Dies, head of Nuclear Engineering at the Polytechnic University of Barcelona. “As things stand, this cannot be ruled out.”

Greenpeace’s Beranek said that heavy pollution from cesium could make some areas of Japan near the plant uninhabitable, at least for decades, as happened around Chernobyl. Pflugbeil also said some areas might be off-limits.

Laurence G. Williams, Professor of Nuclear Safety at the John Tyndall Institute for Nuclear Research in Britain, said he did not see a Chernobyl-type blast as likely.

“I can’t think of anything at the moment that would drive that explosive force,” he said. “It will just be a melting, or a degrading, heating up of the fuel which will just crumble into a heap like what happened at Three Mile Island.”

Richard Wakeford, of the Dalton Nuclear Institute at the University of Manchester, said in a statement that words like “apocalypse” and “catastrophe” were “utterly inappropriate” about the situation at Fukushima and could cause unnecessary panic.

Leaks from Fukushima have already spread some radiation from the plant, briefly raising levels in Tokyo to 10 times normal levels, but are far below the level of a catastrophic release that would pose a wide threat to human health, experts say.

Crick at UNSCEAR said that long-term exposure after Chernobyl for people living in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia was about 10 millisieverts, the equivalent of the radiation in one CT scan, a special type of x-ray. People pick up about 2.4 millisieverts a year in background radiation.

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/worst-case-nuclear-cloud-seen-limited-japan-20110316-094830-218.html

 


Japan wakes up to scenes of destruction in aftermath of tsunami and quake

By Malcolm Foster, The Associated Press | The Canadian Press

TOKYO – A ferocious tsunami unleashed by Japan’s biggest recorded earthquake slammed into its eastern coast Friday, killing hundreds of people as it carried away ships, cars and homes, and triggered widespread fires that burned out of control.

Hours later, the waves washed ashore on Hawaii and the U.S. West coast, where evacuations were ordered from California to Washington but little damage was reported. The entire Pacific had been put on alert — including coastal areas of South America, Canada and Alaska — but waves were not as bad as expected.

In northeastern Japan, the area around a nuclear power plant was evacuated after the reactor’s cooling system failed and pressure began building inside.

Police said 200 to 300 bodies were found in the northeastern coastal city of Sendai, the city in Miyagi prefecture, or state, closest to the epicenter. Another 178 were confirmed killed, with 584 missing. Police also said 947 people were injured.

The magnitude-8.9 offshore quake triggered a 23-foot (seven-meter) tsunami and was followed for hours by more than 50 aftershocks, many of them more than magnitude 6.0. In the early hours of Saturday, a magnitude-6.6 earthquake struck the central, mountainous part of the country — far from the original quake’s epicenter. It was not immediately clear if this latest quake was related to the others

Friday’s massive quake shook dozens of cities and villages along a 1,300-mile (2,100-kilometre) stretch of coast, including Tokyo, hundreds of miles (kilometres) from the epicenter. A large section of Kesennuma, a town of 70,000 people in Miyagi, burned furiously into the night with no apparent hope of being extinguished, public broadcaster NHK said.

Koto Fujikawa, 28, was riding a monorail when the quake hit and had to pick her way along narrow, elevated tracks to the nearest station.

“I thought I was going to die,” Fujikawa, who works for a marketing company, said. “It felt like the whole structure was collapsing.”

Scientists said the quake ranked as the fifth-largest earthquake in the world since 1900 and was nearly 8,000 times stronger than one that devastated Christchurch, New Zealand, last month.

“The energy radiated by this quake is nearly equal to one month’s worth of energy consumption” in the United States, U.S. Geological Survey Scientist Brian Atwater told The Associated Press.

President Barack Obama pledged U.S. assistance following what he called a potentially “catastrophic” disaster. He said one U.S. aircraft carrier is already in Japan, and a second is on its way. A U.S. ship was also heading to the Marianas Islands to assist as needed, he added.

An American man working at one of the nuclear plants near the coast when the quake hit said the whole building shook and debris fell from the ceiling. Danny Eudy, 52, a technician employed by Pasedena, Texas-based Atlantic Plant Maintenance, and his colleagues escaped the building just as the tsunami hit, his wife told The Associated Press.

“He walked through so much glass that his feet were cut. It slowed him down,” said Pineville, Louisiana, resident Janie Eudy, who spoke to her husband by phone after the quake.

The group watched homes and vehicles be carried away in the wave and found their hotel mostly swept away when they finally reached it.

The government later ordered about 3,000 residents near that plant — in the city of Onahama — to move back at least two miles (three kilometres) from the plant. The reactor was not leaking radiation but its core remained hot even after a shutdown. The plant is 170 miles (270 kilometres) northeast of Tokyo.

Japan’s nuclear safety agency said pressure inside the reactor at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant has risen to 1.5 times the level considered normal, and slightly radioactive vapour may be released to reduce the pressure.

The Defence Ministry said it had sent dozens of troops trained to deal with chemical disasters to the plant in case of a radiation leak.

Trouble was reported at two other nuclear plants, but there was no radiation leak at either of them.

Japan’s coast guard said it was searching for 80 dock workers on a ship that was swept away from a shipyard in Miyagi.

Even for a country used to earthquakes, this one was of horrific proportions because of the tsunami that crashed ashore, swallowing everything in its path as it surged several miles (kilometres) inland before retreating. The apocalyptic images on Japanese TV of powerful, debris-filled waves, uncontrolled fires and a ship caught in a massive whirlpool resembled scenes from a Hollywood disaster movie.

Large fishing boats and other vessels rode high waves ashore, slamming against overpasses or scraping under them and snapping power lines along the way. Upturned and partially submerged cars bobbed in the water. Ships anchored in ports crashed against each other.

The tsunami roared over embankments, washing anything in its path inland before reversing directions and carrying the cars, homes and other debris out to sea. Flames shot from some of the homes, probably because of burst gas pipes.

Waves of muddy waters flowed over farmland near Sendai, carrying buildings, some of them ablaze. Drivers attempted to flee. Sendai airport was inundated with thick, muddy debris that included cars, trucks, buses and even light planes.

Highways to the worst-hit coastal areas buckled. Telephone lines snapped. Train service in northeastern Japan and in Tokyo, which normally serve 10 million people a day, were suspended, leaving untold numbers stranded in stations or roaming the streets. Tokyo’s Narita airport was closed indefinitely.

In one town alone on the northeastern coast, Minami-soma, some 1,800 houses were destroyed or badly ravaged, a Defence Ministry spokeswoman said.

As night fell and temperatures hovered just above freezing, tens of thousands of people remained stranded in Tokyo, where the rail network was still down. The streets were jammed with cars, buses and trucks trying to get out of the city.

The city set up 33 shelters in city hall, on university campuses and in government offices, but many planned to spend the night at 24-hour cafes, hotels and offices.

Japanese automakers Toyota, Nissan and Honda halted production at some assembly plants in areas hit by the quake. One worker was killed and more than 30 injured after being crushed by a collapsing wall at a Honda Motor Co. research facility in northeastern Tochigi prefecture, the company said.

Jesse Johnson, a native of the U.S. state of Nevada who lives in Chiba, north of Tokyo, was eating at a sushi restaurant with his wife when the quake hit.

“At first it didn’t feel unusual, but then it went on and on. So I got myself and my wife under the table,” he told The Associated Press. “I’ve lived in Japan for 10 years, and I’ve never felt anything like this before. The aftershocks keep coming. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t know whether it’s me shaking or an earthquake.”

NHK said more than 4 million buildings were without power in Tokyo and its suburbs.

A large fire erupted at the Cosmo oil refinery in the city of Ichihara and burned out of control with 100-foot (30-meter) flames whipping into the sky.

“Our initial assessment indicates that there has already been enormous damage,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said. “We will make maximum relief effort based on that assessment.”

He said the Defence Ministry was sending troops to the hardest-hit region. A utility aircraft and several helicopters were on the way.

Also in Miyagi prefecture, a fire broke out in a turbine building of a nuclear power plant, but it was later extinguished, said Tohoku Electric Power Co.

A reactor area of a nearby plant was leaking water, the company said. But it was unclear if the leak was caused by the tsunami or something else. There were no reports of radioactive leaks at any of Japan’s nuclear plants.

Jefferies International Ltd., a global investment banking group, estimated overall losses of about $10 billion.

Hiroshi Sato, a disaster management official in northern Iwate prefecture, said officials were having trouble getting an overall picture of the destruction.

“We don’t even know the extent of damage. Roads were badly damaged and cut off as tsunami washed away debris, cars and many other things,” he said.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the 2:46 p.m. quake was magnitude 8.9, the biggest to hit Japan since record-keeping began in the late 1800s and one of the biggest ever recorded in the world.

The quake struck at a depth of six miles (10 kilometres), about 80 miles (125 kilometres) off the eastern coast, the agency said. The area is 240 miles (380 kilometres) northeast of Tokyo. Several quakes hit the same region in recent days, including one measured at magnitude 7.3 on Wednesday that caused no damage.

A tsunami warning was extended to a number of areas in the Pacific, Southeast Asia and Latin America, including Japan, Russia, Indonesia, New Zealand and Chile. In the Philippines, authorities ordered an evacuation of coastal communities, but no unusual waves were reported.

Thousands fled homes in Indonesia after officials warned of a tsunami up to 6 feet (2 metres) high, but waves of only 4 inches (10 centimetres) were measured. No big waves came to the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory, either.

The first waves hit Hawaii about 9 a.m. EST (1400 GMT). A tsunami about 7 feet (2.1 metres) high was recorded on Maui and a wave at least 3 feet (a meter) high was recorded on Oahu and Kauai. Officials warned that the waves would continue and could get larger.

Japan’s worst previous quake was a magnitude 8.3 temblor in 1923 in Kanto that killed 143,000 people, according to USGS. A 7.2-magnitude quake in Kobe in 1995 killed 6,400 people.

Japan lies on the “Ring of Fire” — an arc of earthquake and volcanic zones stretching around the Pacific where about 90 per cent of the world’s quakes occur, including the one that triggered the Dec. 26, 2004, Indian Ocean tsunami that killed an estimated 230,000 people in 12 nations. A magnitude-8.8 temblor that shook central Chile in February 2010 also generated a tsunami and killed 524 people.

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/major-tsunami-8-9-quake-devastates-japans-eastern-20110311-015219-970.html