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The Fukushima report, grim truth and a salute to heroism in Japan

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Signatures of the ten members of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission

Japan has found new heroism and it is in the form of the ten members of the first independent commission chartered by the Diet in the history of Japan’s constitutional government. Their report, ‘The official report of The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission’, has come as a powerful call for the abandonment of nuclear power in Japan and indeed worldwide.

The voluminous report was designed from the start along lines wholly and utterly ignored by the subjects of the report – the government of Japan and the Japanese nuclear power industry (and also, by association, the international nuclear mongers). And that is the maximum degree of information disclosure. To achieve this, all 19 of the commission meetings were open to public observation and broadcast on the internet (except the first one), simultaneously in Japanese and English, to a total of 800,000 viewers. The commission also also used social media, Facebook and Twitter to communicate with the public, receiving over 170,000 comments. To gain a global perspective, the commission dispatched three teams overseas, and included interviews and hearings with experts from the USA, France, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

These ten members have shown the determination to achieve maximum information disclosure in a culture, and against unfathomable pressure, that is determined otherwise. They have posed the toughest questions possible and drawn out, from hundreds of responses, the strands of truth about Japanese society which have since 2011 March 11 been obscured by the scale of the disaster, the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, and the massive, tragic loss of life.

These ten members have emphasised through their doggedness and their untiring pursuit of the truth, no matter how bitter, that it is of vital importance that their work – this report – be utilised, as they have said, “for the Japanese people and for the people of the world”. They have demanded that national pride be set aside if it obstructs the truth, and for this, they symbolise a heroism Japan has, in an hour of unprecedented public outrage, rediscovered.

They are Kiyoshi Kurokawa (chairman) and members Kenzo Oshima, Hisako Sakiyama, Masafumi Sakurai, Yoshinori Yokoyama, Mitsuhiko Tanaka, Koichi Tanaka, Katsuhiko Ishibashi, Reiko Hachisuka and Shuya Nomura. We must salute them.

The text below is from the chairman’s message in the English executive summary of the report (pdf, 2.4 mb):

Map showing accumulated cesium-137, from the report

“The earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011 were natural disasters of a magnitude that shocked the entire world. Although triggered by these cataclysmic events, the subsequent accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant cannot be regarded as a natural disaster. It was a profoundly manmade disaster – that could and should have been foreseen and prevented. And its effects could have been mitigated by a more effective human response.

“How could such an accident occur in Japan, a nation that takes such great pride in its global reputation for excellence in engineering and technology? This Commission believes the Japanese people – and the global community – deserve a full, honest and transparent answer to this question.

“Our report catalogues a multitude of errors and willful negligence that left the Fukushima plant unprepared for the events of March 11. And it examines serious deficiencies in the response to the accident by TEPCO, regulators and the government. For all the extensive detail it provides, what this report cannot fully convey – especially to a global audience – is the mindset that supported the negligence behind this disaster. What must be admitted – very painfully – is that this was a disaster “Made in Japan”. Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the program’; our groupism; and our insularity. Had other Japanese been in the shoes of those who bear responsibility for this accident, the result may well have been the same.

“Following the 1970s “oil shocks,” Japan accelerated the development of nuclear power in an effort to achieve national energy security. As such, it was embraced as a policy goal by government and business alike, and pursued with the same single-minded determination that drove Japan’s postwar economic miracle. With such a powerful mandate, nuclear power became an unstoppable force, immune to scrutiny by civil society. Its regulation was entrusted to the same government bureaucracy responsible for its promotion. At a time when Japan’s self-confidence was soaring, a tightly knit elite with enormous financial resources had diminishing regard for anything ‘not invented here’.

“This conceit was reinforced by the collective mindset of Japanese bureaucracy, by which the first duty of any individual bureaucrat is to defend the interests of his organization. Carried to an extreme, this led bureaucrats to put organizational interests ahead of their paramount duty to protect public safety. Only by grasping this mindset can one understand how Japan’s nuclear industry managed to avoid absorbing the critical lessons learned from Three Mile Island and Chernobyl; and how it became accepted practice to resist regulatory pressure and cover up small-scale accidents. It was this mindset that led to the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant.

“This report singles out numerous individuals and organizations for harsh criticism, but the goal is not—and should not be—to lay blame. The goal must be to learn from this disaster, and reflect deeply on its fundamental causes, in order to ensure that it is never repeated. Many of the lessons relate to policies and procedures, but the most important is one upon which each and every Japanese citizen should reflect very deeply. The consequences of negligence at Fukushima stand out as catastrophic, but the mindset that supported it can be found across Japan. In recognizing that fact, each of us should reflect on our responsibility as individuals in a democratic society.

“As the first investigative commission to be empowered by the legislature and independent of the bureaucracy, we hope this initiative can contribute to the development of Japan’s civil society. Above all, we have endeavored to produce a report that meets the highest standard of transparency. The people of Fukushima, the people of Japan and the global community deserve nothing less.”

A year of Fukushima

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Memory and Loss. From the Fukushima album by photographer Satoru Niwa.

A year since the great Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. The loss of more than 15,000 lives in Japan. The misery of the survivors and the utter anguish of those who lost loved ones, but could not go back to look for them because of the radiation from the Dai-ichi nuclear power plant reactors. The criminal negligence of the regulators in Japan and their international counterparts, the International Atomic Energy Agency. The outrage over a national government in Japan that stood by the nuclear industry rather than the victims of Fukushima. The solidarity shown by hundreds of thousands of citizens all over the world, and the determination they have shown to oppose this evil technology. The voices and visual works of hundreds upon hundreds of artists and writers, poets and craftspeople who have expressed in as many forms as they know the need for a nuclear-free world. The monumental money-fuelled obduracy of governments before the demand of their citizens, that they halt forever nuclear power generation. It has been a year since the tsunami and the meltdown at Dai-ichi. We should in this year have had not a single, not one, nuclear power plant left running on the face of the Earth. Back to work.

On this grim anniversary, here is a small compilation of recent news and views, followed by links to information and data sources.

It’s Not Just Fukushima: Mass Disaster Evacuations Challenge Planners – The Fukushima evacuation zone raises the issue of what would happen during an evacuation in heavily populated U.S. metropolises during a nuclear meltdown. In fact, in the U.S., more than four million Americans live within 10  miles of the 63 sites of nuclear power. Plants with at least one operating reactor, according to data compiled by the NRC based on the 2000 census. That number swells when the radius extends outward to 50 miles to affect more than 180 million Americans, and includes major metropolitan areas such as York City, Philadelphia, San Diego. In the wake of the in Japan and subsequent evacuations, could all these people in the U.S. be evacuated–or take some form of protective action – in time in similar circumstances?

Nuclear contamination: a year after Fukushima, why does Brussels still back nuclear power? – One year after the Fukushima disaster hit Japan, nuclear power remains very firmly on the agenda for the European Commission. Corporate Europe Observatory examines how the industry has been lobbying behind the scenes, promising that nuclear power does not pose a risk. The nuclear industry is gearing up to the first anniversary of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster by arguing that nuclear power remains central to the EU’s energy needs. Over the last year the industry has repeated key public relations messages that nuclear energy is not only safe, but central to any low carbon, secure energy future. And its vociferous PR campaign and highly effective lobby network, has been welcomed by parts of the European Commission.

Emptiness and Silence. From the Fukushima album by photographer Satoru Niwa.

A year on from Fukushima, the policy ramifications are still being felt across the EU, particularly in some member states. While the industry concedes that the accident “had a major impact on the EU institutional agenda,” has been lobbying hard to minimise these impacts, trying to make sure that Fukushima does not compromise the potential for nuclear new build in the EU.

Hundreds of Events Globally Will Mark One-Year Commemoration of Fukushima Nuclear Disaster – Hundreds of thousands of people across the world will be involved in actions around the March 11 commemoration of the Fukushima, Japan nuclear disaster which began on that date a year ago. Events will be going on throughout the month of March and into April. Beyond Nuclear has put together a Global Calendar of Events, which is frequently updated on it. There is a March Against Nuclear Madness Facebook page.

This is described as an unprecedented response to a catastrophe that is not yet over and may sadly resonate forever. “We are learning more on a daily basis – about the degree of cover-up, the level of radioactive contamination and the dangers still posed by the wrecked reactors and teetering high-level radioactive waste storage pools at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear site.”

Undeterred by Fukushima: Nuclear Lobby Pushes Ahead with New Reactors – A year after the catastrophe at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, it is clear just how little the nuclear lobby and its government supporters have been unsettled by the disaster in Japan. But rejection of nuclear energy is growing among people the world over – and building new reactors makes no sense in economic terms. On the face of things, it would appear that little has changed. Only a few countries, such as Switzerland, Italy and Belgium, are joining Germany in turning their backs on nuclear energy. Indeed, it is primarily Russia and the United States, the two nuclear heavyweights, that are competing in a new atomic race, though this time with technologies geared toward civilian purposes. New nuclear power plants are being built with particular relish in emerging economies, such as China and India, who want to satisfy at least part of their energy needs with uranium.

For the builders and operators of nuclear energy plants, the accident in Japan came at what might be considered a bad time. After years of stagnation, not only the emerging economies of Asia – China, South Korea and India – but also Russia and the United States were beginning to put greater emphasis on nuclear energy. This decision was driven not only by the growing energy needs of the newly industrializing nations, but also by fears related to carbon emissions and climate change.

This prompted the backers of nuclear energy to make frantic attempts to downplay the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, with the aim of nipping the debate about nuclear safety in the bud. For example, John Ritch, the director-general of the World Nuclear Association, asserted that the disaster hadn’t cost anyone their life. “Nuclear power will be even safer after Fukushima,” Ritch told the BBC in November, “and will continue to mature as the world’s premier non-carbon technology.”

On Resources Research: (1) Nuclear power in India and Prime Minister Singh’s ‘foreign’ slander; (2) Koodankulam: An Open Letter to the Fellow Citizens of India; (3) The Fukushima 50? Or the Fukushima 18,846?; (4) See the Fukushima nuclear emergency page for extensive background coverage, documents and material; (5) See the running post on Fukushima for reportage and insights.

From Japan, Bearing Witness in Debate Over Indian Point – “One quick little cigarette,” Mr. Kitajima, 45, said. The smokes, he reckoned, are an occupational hazard. Last March, unemployed and sitting in a Tokyo cafe with his girlfriend, Mr. Kitajima felt the shudders of an 8.9-magnitude earthquake. Before long, he found himself working nearly 200 miles away at the Fukushima nuclear plant, which was destroyed. “I would say about 90 percent of the workers at the plant smoke,” Mr. Kitajima said. “Stress.”

His job is to read radiation meters worn by the 3,000 people trying to clean up its lethally contaminated remnants. The most dangerous work is done at night, he said, after the main shifts are gone. A crew of 20 men is sent to pick up the irradiated rubble. Practically none of the men have families, much education or regular employment. They have no experience working in nuclear power plants. He compared them to day laborers in America. Within a few months, they accumulate what is regarded as the maximum safe dosage of radiation for four years, Mr. Kitajima said. “Then they bring in new ones,” he said. “Everybody kinds of admits to themselves that these are expendable people.”

Health uncertainties torment residents in Fukushima – Yoshiko Ota keeps her windows shut. She never hangs her laundry outdoors. Fearful of birth defects, she warns her daughters: Never have children. This is life with radiation, nearly one year after a tsunami-hit nuclear power plant began spewing it into Ota’s neighborhood, 60 kilometers away. She’s so worried that she has broken out in hives. “The government spokesman keeps saying there are no IMMEDIATE health effects,” the 48-year-old nursery school worker says. “He’s not talking about 10 years or 20 years later. He must think the people of Fukushima are fools.

“It’s not really OK to live here,” she says. “But we live here.” Ota takes metabolism-enhancing pills in hopes of flushing radiation out of her body. To limit her exposure, she goes out of her way to buy vegetables that are not grown locally. She spends 10,000 yen a month on bottled water to avoid the tap water. She even mail-ordered a special machine to dehusk her family’s rice.

Searching the Wastes. From the Fukushima album by photographer Satoru Niwa.

Released records of nuclear crisis meetings show chaos, confusion over lack of info – Just four hours after the tsunami swept into the Fukushima nuclear power plant, Japan’s leaders knew the damage was so severe the reactors could melt down, but they kept their knowledge secret for months. Five days into the crisis, then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan voiced his fears it could turn worse than Chernobyl. The revelations were in 76 documents of 23 meetings released Friday, almost a year after the disaster. The minutes of the government’s crisis management meetings from March 11—the day the earthquake and tsunami struck—until late December were not recorded and had to be reconstructed retroactively.

They illustrate the confusion, lack of information, delayed response and miscommunication among government, affected towns and plant officials, as some ministers expressed sense that nobody was in charge when the plant conditions quickly deteriorated. The minutes quoted an unidentified official explaining that cooling functions of the reactors were kept running only by batteries that would last only eight hours. “If temperatures in the reactor cores keep rising beyond eight hours, there is a possibility of meltdown,” the official said during the first meeting that started about four hours after the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami hit the Fukushima Daiichi plant March 11, setting off the crisis. Apparently the government tried to play down the severity of the damage. A spokesman for the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency was replaced after he slipped out a possibility of meltdown during a news conference March 12.

Containing Fukushima: Saving Japan From Itself (Huffington Post / K.T. Hiraoka) – The disaster at Fukushima last year exposed how entrenched interests among key decision-makers have contaminated Japanese society, endangering the long-term prosperity of Japan. These special interests often do what is right for themselves, as opposed to what is in the best interests of the Japanese people.

In this two-part series, discussion on what has transpired over the past twelve months as a result of decisions made related to the Fukushima disaster (Part I) will lead to a look at decision-making during the crisis in subsequent weeks and months that have passed (Part II). As the current decision-making system in Japan increasingly works to the detriment of Japanese society, what is needed instead is a more transparent, honest, and benevolent decision-making system that listens to the wishes of the people and responds to it.

Lessons from Fukushima nuclear disaster report shows millions remain at risk – Greenpeace released “Lessons from Fukushima”, a new report which shows that it was not a natural disaster which led to the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant on Japan’s east coast, but the failures of the Japanese Government, regulators and the nuclear industry. The key conclusion to be drawn from the report is that this human-made nuclear disaster could be repeated at any nuclear plant in the world, putting millions at risk. “While triggered by the tragic March 11th earthquake and tsunami, the Fukushima disaster was ultimately caused by the Japanese authorities choosing to ignore risks, and make business a higher priority than safety,” said Jan Vande Putte, Greenpeace International nuclear campaigner. “This report shows that nuclear energy is inherently unsafe, and that governments are quick to approve reactors, but remain ill-equipped to deal with problems and protect people from nuclear disasters. This has not changed since the Fukushima disaster, and that is why millions of people continue to be exposed to nuclear risks.”

The matchless Japan Focus has throughout the year kept track of these sources, sincere thanks to them and appreciation for their steadfast work. The journal has provided thoughtful, critical and independent coverage of the incident and its effects.

Local Histories. From the Fukushima album by photographer Satoru Niwa.

Blogs

Fukushima Diary – “Fukushima diary is to warm people to evacuate. so it must be fast. must be before it goes on major media. That’s what I needed just after 311, that’s why I’m doing it now. Should I evacuate or not, that’s what I wanted to know. so the balance is difficult. I try to keep it not over the top but the conclusion is, everyone must evacuate.”
“The public execution has begun in Fukushima, like in Minamisoma. As I hear from people actually working there or living there, I find the situation really desperate. Nothing can be done. Now it’s only in Fukushima but it will be in Chiba, Ibaraki, Tokyo, Kanagawa, and everywhere. But even when I talk to my family, it can’t be a conversation. I’m just get out get out get out. and they are like, it’s cold, or it’s sunny, or it’s snowing or just on about meaningless things. Once I talk about their business, it wil start a fight. I guess the situation is too serious for them to accept.”

The Wall Street Journal’s blog “Japan Realtime” offers eclectic commentary on contemporary Japan. The focus is on economic issues but the blog has presented solid original reportage on Fukushima since March. A series of original translations on issues relating to the Tsunami and nuclear crisis from a McGill University translation seminar organized by Prof. Adrienne Hurley. The blog Global Voices features the work of volunteer translators who strive to spread awareness of local perspectives that often end up lost in mainstream reportage. Highlights of the Fukushima coverage include “A Nuclear Gypsy’s Tale”. A collection of links and commentary in French. Twitter stream for Fukushima articles and info in English.

On the Peace Philosophy Centre blog, Asia-Pacific Journal Coordinator Satoko Norimatsu presents a range of hard-hitting criticisms of the Japanese government and TEPCO responses to the Fukushima crisis including original translations of sources not otherwise available in English and extensive Japanese and English language coverage of official, NGO and blog sources.
Ten Thousand Things is a blog Supporting Positive Peace in Japan, the Asia-Pacific and Everywhere which includes extensive coverage of peace and environmental movements. English and Japanese blog specializing in 3.11 economic and financial issues.

NGOs and Informational Websites

Green Action Kyoto, an NGO which has campaigned against nuclear power since the early 1990s, presents a comprehensive and critical blog of Fukushima stories in English drawing on government, media and NGO sources. Greenpeace has presented some of the most critical coverage of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Greenpeace, in February 2012, published a major critical overview of the 3.11 disaster and crisis. The study examines the nuclear meltdown, assesses the dangers of radiation, the fundamental failure of the Japanese nuclear system, and the issues of compensation to victims.

The Citizens’ Nuclear Information Centre is a longstanding organization that aims to provide information about nuclear energy and its risks to the Japanese public. Their bi-monthly newsletter is a valuable source of information on nuclear issues. They also offer a blog containing video resources and links to important anti-nuclear publications.

The website of Japan’s Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies, an NGO devoted to phasing out atomic energy. English and Japanese sites. The Japanese website of leading nuclear protest organizer “Shiroto no Ran”. There is a collection of hundreds of anti-nuclear posters at No Nuke Art. The National Network to Protect Children from Radiation (in Japanese). EShift, a Japanese network dedicated to phasing out atomic energy in favor of natural renewables.

Fukushima coverage by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the premier source of socio-scientific views and praxis on the world nuclear industry. Arnie Gunderson’s Fairewinds Associates provides critical analysis of global nuclear issues by a scientist. It has closely followed the Fukushima situation. The Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, a group which aims to provide concise and easily understood commentary on important scientific issues for the general public. The Atomic Age: From Hiroshima to the Present is a resource maintained at the University of Chicago.

The Fukushima 50? Or the Fukushima 18,846?

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Japanese police man a checkpoint near the edge of the contaminated exclusion zone around the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station near Okuma, Fukushima prefecture, Japan Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011. Photo: David Guttenfelder, Pool

A new article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has exposed the large-scale and mostly invisible sub-contracting of labour in the international nuclear power industry. The article examines what has happened during the clean-up process at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station and reveals exploitation of labour which is indefensible and criminal in view of the extreme hazards at the site following the 11 March 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

The reference to the 18,846 workers comes at the very end of the long and dense status sheet for 2011 December.

‘Nuclear nomads: A look at the subcontracted heroes’, By Gabrielle Hecht explains in dreadful detail how: during much of the cleanup process at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, thousands of subcontracted day laborers will be exposed to levels of ionising radiation well in excess of internationally recommended annual limits; how sub-contracted labourers account for some 90% of Japanese nuclear power plant workers during normal reactor operations; they often receive around three times the annual dose absorbed by a full-time plant employee; and how the sub-contracting approach within the nuclear industry carries exceptional risks and implications. Until these are recognised and documented, complex social and physiological realities will continue to be hidden.

The heroism of the ‘Fukushima 50′ – the plant and emergency workers who exposed themselves to extremely high radiation levels to get the reactors under control – was celebrated by the international media. But, during much of the clean-up process, thousands of workers were exposed to levels of ionising radiation well in excess of internationally recommended annual limits. Rather, in what amounts to premeditated and criminal negligence by the Government of Japan and by the power plant operator, Tepco, exposure limits were raised for both workers and the public, presumably in an attempt to reduce the number of cases that need to be documented as overexposures.

[See the 2011 December status document released by Tepco here (pdf)] [See the Fukushima nuclear emergency page for extensive background coverage, documents and material.] [See the running post on Fukushima for reportage and insights.]

In ‘Nuclear Nomads’ Hecht has asked: “So how many emergency workers are there anyway, and who are they?” A new document released by Tepco in December 2011 shows that over 18,000 men had participated in clean-up work by early December 2011. Some hailed the workers as “national heroes,” men willing to sacrifice their lives for the future of their nation. A few investigative reporters and scholars, however, uncovered a different story. The vast majority of these men are subcontract employees, recruited among local residents rendered unemployed by the disaster, or among the thousands of day laborers who eke out an existence in the margins of Japanese cities.

The Unit 4 reactor building of the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station is seen through a bus window in Okuma, Japan Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011. Media allowed into Japan's tsunami-damaged nuclear power plant for the first time then saw a striking scene of devastation: twisted and overturned vehicles, crumbling reactor buildings and piles of rubble virtually untouched since the wave struck more than eight months earlier. Photo: David Guttenfelder, Pool

‘Nuclear Nomads’ has quoted one such worker: “If [day labourers] refuse, where will they get another job?… I don’t know anyone who is doing this [cleanup work] for Japan. Most of them need the money.” Cleanup workers are issued with dosimeters, and are checked at the end of each shift. Unskilled temps get paid about US$130 a day. Many don’t have written employment contracts. When they reach their exposure limit, they lose their jobs and are replaced, ideally, by non-exposed workers. Some have opted to prolong their employment by leaving dosimeters behind while working.

The overview of the status of countermeasures at Fukushima Daiichi Units 1-4 issued by Tepco in 2011 December.

The article by Hecht lists implications of the sub-contracting approach to reactor maintenance:

(1) Greater exposure. As for the accident cleanup crew, the short-term financial incentive for the temps is to abandon their dosimeters for certain jobs, so that their radiation exposures are not officially recorded. This prolongs their employment – and increases their doses.

(2) No occupational disease. Subcontract workers are often dubbed nuclear nomads because they move around from workplace to workplace, living out of trailers. There’s no compulsory centralised system for tracking cumulative exposure and health data for these temps. The absence of interactions among labor, information, and health infrastructures means that workers’ health problems are not collected and recorded in a centralized database — thus, many severe health problems never qualify as occupational diseases. Workers rarely — if ever — benefit from compensation, because their diseases cannot be linked to past exposures in ways that are scientifically or legally persuasive.

(3) Collective dose. Utilities don’t include the exposures of temp workers in their own data. That, in turn, means that data for any given nuclear power plant vastly under-reports the true collective dose (i.e., the total exposure received by the sum of both utility and subcontract workers).

“We’re not talking about a small portion of Japan’s nuclear workforce,” Hecht has said in ‘Nuclear Nomads’. “Since the late 1980s, some 90 percent of nuclear power plant workers in the country have been subcontracted. Estimates suggest that on average, during any one subcontracted job, a worker receives two to three times the annual dose absorbed by a regular plant worker.”

Written by makanaka

January 10, 2012 at 14:00

Three months after Fukushima – hot particles, rotten fish and studied whitewash

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A coastal community in Natori, Miyagi Prefecture is flooded by tsunami waters after a massive earthquake off Japan's east coast on March 11. Photo: Mainichi

A coastal community in Natori, Miyagi Prefecture is flooded by tsunami waters after a massive earthquake off Japan's east coast on March 11. Photo: Mainichi

How far will the culpable go to deny the dangers of atomic energy, even when confronted with the evidence day after day for three months? Far enough to shock us over and again, every single one of those days. There has been melt-through – not just meltdown – at Fukushima, widespread contamination by radiation of water, the ifrst medical evidence of the impacts of airborne radiation, and still the nuclear industry and its political partners deals out lies. They do this even when the humanitarian crisis of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami continues.

A variety of news reports have said that the Tokyo metropolitan government has decided to take radiation readings at 100 sites around the city and to measure at ground level and near ground level. The city was previously taking readings only from a 19-meter high monitoring station in Tokyo. The action was prompted after citizens began finding higher readings that those released by the city government.

ABC news has reported: “Highly toxic radioactive strontium has been found in groundwater near the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant. It is the first time the substance has been detected in groundwater near the plant’s No. 1 and No. 2 reactors. The operator of the Fukushima plant has also confirmed strontium up to 240 times the legal limit has been found in seawater near the facility. Strontium tends to accumulate in bones and can cause bone cancer and leukaemia. “Last week, soil samples from outside the Fukushima plant also revealed concentrations of strontium.” Fukushima city officials say they will distribute radiation readers to 30,000 children between the ages of four and 15. News reports vary as to when the children will receive the badges.

[See the Japan nuclear emergency page for an archive of news reports, analyses, videos, gtaphics and links on the Fukushima nuclear emergency, and the shorter posting on the nuclear plant crisis.]

A woman looks at the damage caused by a tsunami and an earthquake in Ishimaki City, Miyagi Prefecture, after the magnitude 8.9 earthquake struck the area March 13, 2011. Photo: Reuters/Yomiuri Shimbun

A woman looks at the damage caused by a tsunami and an earthquake in Ishimaki City, Miyagi Prefecture, after the magnitude 8.9 earthquake struck the area March 13, 2011. Photo: Reuters/Yomiuri Shimbun

The Japanese government has prepared a report on the accident at the Fukushima I nuclear power station (NPS) of Tokyo Electric Power Co., Inc. (TEPCO) and submitted it to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on June 7. According to the Denki Shimbun the findings will be reported at the IAEA ministerial conference due to start on June 20. The 750-page report outlines several facts and observations including the developments of the accident, Japan’s nuclear safety regulatory framework, radiation exposure situations and lessons learned from the accident, and states at the conclusion that “Japan has recognized that a fundamental revision of its nuclear safety preparedness and response is inevitable.” As part of plans for the fundamental revision, the report declares that the Japanese government will separate the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and start reviewing the administration of nuclear safety regulations.

The report consists of 13 themes. In the introduction, it points out that “the situation has become extremely severe” in dealing with the Fukushima I accident, due to the circumstances where the accident had to be dealt with in parallel with reconstruction work following the disaster caused by the great earthquake and tsunami. The report also includes an apology in relation to the nuclear accident, stating, “Japan sincerely regrets causing anxiety for people all over the world about the release of radioactive materials.”

In ‘Silent Crisis in Tohoku’, Ex-SKF and Tokyo Brown Tabby have said that with the rainy and typhoon seasons approaching and temperature rising, there are serious concerns that infectious diseases might spread in the earthquake/tsunami-struck areas. From what? Rotten fish. When the earthquake and tsunami destroyed the refrigerated storage and processing facilities for fish, the fish started to rot.

Japanese medical personnel check a child for radiation exposure in Fukushima City. Photo: Guardian/EPA

“Conditions are already bad for the residents and evacuees in Tohoku: lots of dust rising from debris and rubble; awful smell of wet and mouldy piles of wooden debris and tatami mats; awful smell of sludge; and now awful smell of rotten fish (mostly from many devastated seafood processing plants) and smell of bird faeces feeding on those rotten fish; and finally the threat of mosquitoes as summer approaches, as well as rats and cockroaches.”

“They have been spraying insecticides and deodorizers in vain, since huge amounts of rotten seafood products are still under piles and piles of rubble. Unless all the debris and rubble, rotten fish and all that are completely removed, there is no stopping the hideous smells and mass breeding of those pests that could transmit diseases.”

On June 12, on a night news program called “Mr. Sunday” (Fuji TV), it was reported that more than 20,000 temporary houses have been built, but only about  45% of them are occupied, because once evacuees move to these temporary houses, all the food supply would be cut off and they would have to pay for utilities even though many of them are still unemployed. In one city in Miyagi Prefecture, the number of drunk driving has doubled, since alcoholism has increased due to mental depression.

Last week, Japan’s government announced a shake-up of the country’s nuclear regulatory agencies that would separate NISA from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), which is also responsible for promoting the nuclear industry. The World Socialist Web Site has said that these cosmetic changes will do little to alter the incestuous relationship between Japan’s regulators and energy giants like TEPCO. There is a well-worn path trodden by senior NISA and METI officials from the state bureaucracy into corporate boardrooms. NISA’s response to the latest revelation that eight TEPCO employees had received radiation doses above the legal limit was typical. The agency described the situation as “extremely regrettable” and issued a formal warning to TEPCO—in other words, a slap on the wrist, as it has done on previous occasions.

Anti-nuclear demonstrators march in Cologne, western Germany Saturday March 26, 2011 to protest against nuclear power. Poster in front reads: Fukushima warns: Pull the Plug on all Nuclear Power Plants. White banner behind reads : 'Solidarity with the people in Japan'. Some 200,000 people turned out in Germany's largest cities on Saturday to protest against the use of nuclear power in the wake of Japan's Fukushima reactor disaster, police and organizers said.

The cover-up is not confined to Japan, however. On June 1, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued an interim report on the Fukushima disaster that listed the most obvious deficiencies in TEPCO’s safety measures but had nothing but praise for the official response. It said the government, regulatory agencies and the company had been “extremely open” in sharing information. TEPCO management at the site had been “exemplary” under arduous conditions. The government’s protection of the public had been “impressive and extremely well organised”.

The purpose of this IAEA whitewash was elaborated quite openly by deputy director general Denis Flory, who told the media: “There is a need to rebuild the confidence of the public towards their government, when their governments have decided to use nuclear energy.” Like Japan’s regulatory authorities, the IAEA is intimately bound up with the nuclear industry, which is expanding internationally and is tasked with regulating energy giants that are driven by profit, not the welfare of ordinary people.

In the US, physician Janette Sherman MD and epidemiologist Joseph Mangano published an essay that talks about a 35% spike in infant mortality in northwest cities that occurred after the Fukushima meltdown, and may well be the result of fallout from the stricken nuclear plant. The eight cities included in the report are San Jose, Berkeley, San Francisco, Sacramento, Santa Cruz, Portland, Seattle, and Boise, and the time frame of the report included the ten weeks immediately following the disaster.

“There is and should be concern about younger people being exposed, and the Japanese government will be giving out radiation monitors to children,” Dr MV Ramana, a physicist with the Programme on Science and Global Security at Princeton University who specialises in issues of nuclear safety, told Al Jazeera. Dr Ramana explained that he believes the primary radiation threat continues to be mostly for residents living within 50km of the plant, but added: “There are going to be areas outside of the Japanese government’s 20km mandatory evacuation zone where radiation is higher. So that could mean evacuation zones in those areas as well.”

Arnold Gundersen, who has 39 years of nuclear power engineering experience, managing and coordinating projects at 70 nuclear power plants around the US, points out that far more radiation has been released than has been reported. “They recalculated the amount of radiation released, but the news is really not talking about this,” he said. “The new calculations show that within the first week of the accident, they released 2.3 times as much radiation as they thought they released in the first 80 days.” According to Gundersen, the exposed reactors and fuel cores are continuing to release microns of caesium, strontium, and plutonium isotopes. These are referred to as “hot particles”.

In pictures, 3:42 pm, Fukushima nuclear power station on 11 March

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Tepco, the Fukushima nuclear power plant operator, has released a set of pictures showing the waters rushing into the nuclear power plant on 11 March, when the tsunami hit. There are 11 pictures in this release. They show dramatically just how the nuclear plant was battered, and remind us that this is the water of the wave that flung fishing vessels four kilometres inland.

These photos were taken from the 4th floor, of the north side of the ‘Radiation Waste Treatment Facility’. There’s more news archives and material on the Fukushima nuclear emergency page and in the running blog post.

Image 01/3:42 pm

Picture of Tsunami that hit the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, 2011 March 11. Time: Approximately at 3:42 pm (1). Photo: TEPCO, Japan

Image 02/3:42 pm

Picture of Tsunami that hit the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, 2011 March 11. Time: Approximately at 3:42 pm (2). Photo: TEPCO, Japan

Image 03/3:43 pm

Picture of Tsunami that hit the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, 2011 March 11. Time: Approximately at 3:43 pm (1). Photo: TEPCO, Japan

Image 04/3:43 pm

Picture of Tsunami that hit the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, 2011 March 11. Time: Approximately at 3:43 pm (2). Photo: TEPCO, Japan

Image 05/3:43 pm

Picture of Tsunami that hit the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, 2011 March 11. Time: Approximately at 3:43 pm (3). Photo: TEPCO, Japan

Image 06/3:44 pm

Picture of Tsunami that hit the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, 2011 March 11. Time: Approximately at 3:44 pm (1). Photo: TEPCO, Japan

Image 07/3:44 pm

Picture of Tsunami that hit the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, 2011 March 11. Time: Approximately at 3:44 pm (2). Photo: TEPCO, Japan

Image 08/3:44 pm

Picture of Tsunami that hit the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, 2011 March 11. Time: Approximately at 3:44 pm (3). Photo: TEPCO, Japan

Image 09/3:46 pm

Picture of Tsunami that hit the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, 2011 March 11. Time: Approximately at 3:46 pm. Photo: TEPCO, Japan

Image 10/3:49 pm

Picture of Tsunami that hit the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, 2011 March 11. Time: Approximately at 3:49 pm. Photo: TEPCO, Japan

Image 11/3:57 pm

Picture of Tsunami that hit the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, 2011 March 11. Time: Approximately at 3:57 pm. Photo: TEPCO, Japan

Images 3,4 and 5 show the ferocious maelstrom of water hammering its way through the power plant. Images 6 to 11 show some of the effects of the power of the tsunami, as it ripped away metal fixtures, threw cars around and exposed building interiors.

Written by makanaka

May 21, 2011 at 20:30

Radiation truth: there is no threshold below which risk is zero

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Anti-nuclear demonstrators from Bosnia hold a banner with text 'We do not want another Chernobyl on Balkans' during a protest marking the 25th anniversary of the nuclear accident in Chernobyl in western town of Banja Luka 240 kms northwest of the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, on Tuesday, April 26, 2011. Bottom text reads "better to be active today then radioactive tomorow". Photo: AP/Radivoje Pavicic

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has published an article titled ‘Radiation exposure and the power of zero’. This talks breifly about the history of medical work with radiation, and the fallacy – alas not challenged enough – that there is no such thing as “safe” levels below which one is not harmed.

In 1895, the article recounts, Wilhelm Röntgen discovered x-rays and used them to take a picture of the bones inside his wife’s hand. A year later, Henri Becquerel realized that invisible emanations from uranium salts would expose photographic plates. Marie Curie and her husband Pierre carried this work further, leading to the use of mobile x-ray machines in World War I.

Madame Curie, it is said, enjoyed the glow from radioactive test tubes that she kept in her desk. She died at age 66 from aplastic anemia thought to be caused by her work with radiation. Were she alive today, she would undoubtedly follow the precautions that modern scientists take when dealing with radiation, and would not be carrying around radioactive material unprotected. Likewise, radiologists began taking steps to protect themselves from the damaging effects of radiation after noticing that people in this profession were dying at earlier ages than their colleagues who were not exposed to radiation.

[You can go to earlier coverage of the Fukushima nuclear emergency on this page. It contains excerpts, news reports, photos, graphics and links during the first weeks of the crisis.]

South Korean mothers stage an anti-nuclear energy rally to protect their children from radioactive exposure in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, April 19, 2011. Fears over possible radiation contamination are growing in South Korea, the country closest to Japan, after Japanese nuclear power plants were damaged by earthquakes last month. Photo: AP/Ahn Young-joon

Yet even in the 1970s it was common medical practice to x-ray pregnant women during labor to see if the pelvis was “adequate” — a procedure, incidentally, that was absolutely worthless. Sentinel work by Alice Stewart, a physician and epidemiologist who studied the effects of radiation on health, revealed that even one x-ray before birth could increase a child’s chances of getting leukaemia. Despite criticism of Stewart’s work by the nuclear industry, doctors no longer perform x-rays on pregnant women unless absolutely necessary. The trend throughout the nuclear age has been a growing recognition that there is no “safe” or “harmless” dose of radiation.

In 2006 the National Academies’ National Research Council published a comprehensive report, “Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation (BEIR VII – Phase 2)” stating that radiation exposure has a linear relationship to the development of cancer. The report concluded that even low doses of ionizing radiation are likely to pose some health risks; there is no threshold of exposure below which the risk drops to zero.

Scientific arguments regarding the effects of particular doses of radiation will and should continue. However, to make this the focus of any discussion of nuclear safety obscures the real issue, thus missing the forest for the trees. The real issue is that the use of nuclear power and nuclear weapons is forcing humankind, and indeed the whole ecosystem, to participate in a particularly cruel and totally uncontrolled experiment. Given the scientific evidence that there is no safe dose of radiation, this is an experiment that has already gone awry. Indeed, if this were a true scientific experiment, it would have been halted a long time ago.

The Bulletin’s article, ‘Radiation exposure and the power of zero’, concludes by saying:

The real question is whether we, as a human race, can afford in good conscience to risk annihilation with our continued reliance on nuclear technology. Can we continue to despoil our environment with long-lived radioactive materials that are scattered to the wind and embedded in our precious soil, randomly exposing large populations, and foisting health impacts on unsuspecting future generations who have no choice in this matter?

We may choose to do so. But if we do, I am quite sure that our children and grandchildren will roundly condemn us for our lack of foresight and our selfishness. As they struggle to deal with a poisonous environment and waste that must be safeguarded for thousands of years, they will certainly wonder what possessed us to do this.

Around 900 demonstrators gather to protest against nuclear power in Helsinki on Tuesday, 26th April, 2011. The day marks the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. Banner reads: Finland get rid of nuclear power. Photo: AP/Lehtikuva, Antti Aimo-Koivisto

One question in particular demands attention: Why was the actual event in Japan, an earthquake and tsunami, so different from the “credible” event that was expected?

Also in the Bulletin, the first of a contribution to a roundtable on ‘Fukushima: What don’t we know?’ starts to provide an answer. From our perspective as geoscientists, the article has said, this is the most important question because the definition of the credible event provides the basis against which a nuclear power plant is designed. In the case of the Fukushima Daiichi power station, the magnitude of the earthquake (9.0 on the Richter scale, or M9) and subsequent tsunami (with a reported wave height of 14 meters) exceeded the credible event on which the nuclear power plant’s design was based. The site has six nuclear reactors; three of them were operating at the time of the quake and successfully shut down in response to the ground shaking. Nevertheless, the power station and its spent fuel storage pools were overwhelmed by an event that had not been planned for — a “larger-than-expected” tsunami wave, leading to a sequence of catastrophic failures.

Some experts have since described the tsunami as a “rare” or “exceptional” event that was entirely out of the range of reasonable or credible expectation. But shallow, offshore earthquakes can cause tsunamis, and the height of the tsunami at Daiichi was certainly not unexpected for a 9.0 magnitude earthquake. In addition, there have been three 9.0 magnitude earthquakes during the past decade: Indonesia in 2004, Chile in 2010, and now Japan in 2011. The fact that such earthquakes occur infrequently over historical periods does not explain why the Fukushima nuclear power plant was not designed to withstand this type of geologic event.

From a geologic perspective, the earthquake and its great magnitude should not have been a surprise. Ten years ago, Japanese earth scientists, led by Koji Minoura at Tohoku University in Sendai, described a major earthquake and tsunami that happened in July 869 and was recorded in an historical document. This event, which is also clearly recorded in the coastal sediment of the Sendai plain, extended inland about four kilometers from the coast. Based on even older tsunami deposits that go back some 3,000 years, Minoura and his colleagues suggested a 1,000-year recurrence interval for large-scale earthquakes and tsunamis in Japan and presciently published their results in the Journal of Natural Disaster Science.

Their results and conclusions did not go unnoticed. Based on the Minoura et al. paper, Yukinobu Okamura, the director of Japan’s Active Fault and Earthquake Research Center, raised the possibility that a large tsunami could damage the Fukushima Daiichi plant. The plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, dismissed these warnings.

Written by makanaka

May 5, 2011 at 00:15

Fukushima nuclear emergency, Japan

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18 December 2011: You will find the Updates archive, info links, video clips and pictures on the Japan emergency page.

Street lights shine in the abandoned town of Iitate, outside the 20 kilometre exclusion zone around the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, in northeast Japan. Residents were forced to evacuate the town after radiation levels from the leaking plant exceeded those inside the exclusion zone. Nov. 20, 2011. Photo: Mainichi Daily News / AP Photo / Greg Baker

More than nine months have passed since the 11 March earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan and triggered a still-unresolved disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. This set of news reports, news features and editorial in the Mainichi Daily News reveals the chronic deception and criminal corporate irresponsibility that continue to hinder all meaningful effort to mitigate the meltdown, and to obstruct at all costs the truth.

Mainichi Daily News has said that the government has declared a stable “cold shutdown” at the plant, representing a major milestone in its handling of the disaster. The public has keenly waited for the nuclear reactors to be brought under stable control, but Japan is still standing on thin ice and is miles away from a situation where it can really declare that the crisis is under control.

In the meantime, rebuilding the lives of residents near the crippled plants has been an urgent critical challenge. On the occasion of its latest political declaration, the government needs to renew its resolve to settle the crisis and achieve regional recovery. The disaster-hit reactors are certainly now in a more stable condition. However, the phrase “cold shutdown” usually refers to suspension of a sound reactor. The fact that the government is attempting to apply this term in a severe accident in which three reactors have suffered core meltdowns should be called into question. The government should rather explain in detail the possibility of any additional explosions and whether a recriticality accident has been ruled out.

Police on duty at a roadblock at the edge of the 20 kilometre exclusion zone around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, at Namie, in northeast Japan. Nov. 20, 2011. Photo: Mainichi Daily News / AP Photo / Greg Baker

Simulations suggest that nuclear fuel has melted inside the reactor containment vessels, eroding their concrete floors. Although Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the stricken nuclear plant, has indicated that melted fuel has also been cooled down by water, this is nothing but speculation. We urge the utility and the government to find a way to ascertain the precise condition of the fuel.

Mainichi Daily News has reported that conditions at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant are far worse than its operator or the government has admitted, according to freelance journalist Tomohiko Suzuki, who spent more than a month working undercover at the power station. “Absolutely no progress is being made” towards the final resolution of the crisis, Suzuki told reporters at a Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan news conference on Dec. 15. Suzuki, 55, worked for a Toshiba Corp. subsidiary as a general laborer there from July 13 to Aug. 22, documenting sloppy repair work, companies including plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) playing fast and loose with their workers’ radiation doses, and a marked concern for appearances over the safety of employees or the public.

An earthquake-damaged grave is seen at a cemetery in the abandoned town of Katsurao, outside the 20 kilometre exclusion zone around the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, in northeast Japan. The town was abandoned when radiation levels became unsafe for long term exposure. Nov. 20, 2011. Photo: Mainichi Daily News / AP Photo / Greg Baker

For example, the no-entry zones around the plant – the 20-kilometer radius exclusion zone and the extension covering most of the village of Iitate and other municipalities – have more to do with convenience that actual safety, Suzuki says. The situation at the plant itself is no better, where he says much of the work is simply “for show,” fraught with corporate jealousies and secretiveness and “completely different” from the “all-Japan” cooperative effort being presented by the government.

“Reactor makers Toshiba and Hitachi (brought in to help resolve the crisis) each have their own technology, and they don’t talk to each other. Toshiba doesn’t tell Hitachi what it’s doing, and Hitachi doesn’t tell Toshiba what it’s doing.” Meanwhile, despite there being no concrete data on the state of the reactor cores, claims by the government and TEPCO that the disaster is under control and that the reactors are on-schedule for a cold shutdown by the year’s end have promoted a breakneck work schedule, leading to shoddy repairs and habitual disregard for worker safety, he said. “Working at Fukushima is equivalent to being given an order to die,” Suzuki quoted one nuclear-related company source as saying.

At a Tokyo market, a smartphone shows radiation test results by the grower of a package of Maitake mushrooms, showing them as free of radioactive contamination. Many consumers worry about the safety of food from Fukushima and surrounding prefectures, although produce and fish found to be above government-set limits for contamination are barred from the market. Mushrooms, for example, harvested in and around Fukushima are frequently found to be contaminated and barred from the market. Sept. 12, 2011. Photo: Mainichi Daily News / AP Photo / Shizuo Kambayashi

Kenichi Oshima is currently a professor at Ritsumeikan University. After long years of nuclear power research, he had learned that the actual cost of maintaining nuclear power in Japan was twice as high as what government and electric power companies had publicly announced, the Mainichi Daily News has reported. In March 2010, published his findings in a book, but found himself under fire at a time when pro-nuclear energy was becoming even stronger. In September the same year, during a meeting of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, his comments were rejected and even mocked. “Do you call this research?” he was told and few even cared to look at his findings.

Following the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, triggered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, Oshima’s situation drastically changed. He was selected as a member of two expert governmental committees to serve as a critical analyst of Japan’s current nuclear power stance. The group will openly release all internal debates and documents, Oshima says. He is now more optimistic than ever that the time to destroy the “cheap and safe” nuclear power myth will eventually come.

Workers in protective suits and masks wait to enter the emergency operation center at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant in Okuma, Japan. Nov. 12, 2011. Photo: Mainichi Daily News / AP Photo / David Guttenfelder, Pool

A sober and critical editorial in the Mainichi Daily News has said that Britain has already abandoned developing fast-breeder nuclear reactors, and is set to give up nuclear fuel reprocessing as well. Moreover, its planned construction of a facility to dispose of radioactive waste including plutonium is likely to materialize even though it is still at a planning phase.

In contrast, there are no prospects that Japan can build a disposal facility. However, for Japan to call for operations at the Monju prototype fast-breeder nuclear reactor in Fukui Prefecture and the nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in the Aomori Prefecture village of Rokkasho to be carried out as planned, would be like putting the cart before the horse as it appears the country is incapable of building a disposal facility.

Plutonium is directly related to security issues. The U.K. possesses nuclear weapons but Japan does not. One may wonder whether Japan’s independence will be threatened if it abandons nuclear fuel recycling and loses its ability to produce plutonium. Even though it is an important point of contention the issue should not be used as a reason to underestimate the harm of plutonium.

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano who is in charge of energy policy, Goshi Hosono, state minister for handling the nuclear crisis, and Yoshito Sengoku, second-in-command in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan’s Policy Research Committee, have been hearing the views of experts on the issue. It is not enough for the government to talk only about the dream of “prosperity” built on dependence on nuclear power. Japan’s ability to overcome the mess that follows such prosperity is now being tested.

More updates, info links, video clips and pictures on the Japan emergency page.

Written by makanaka

March 17, 2011 at 22:20

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Japan quake tsunami links and notes

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Japan's quake more powerful than first estimate

New estimates by the US Geological Survey suggest that the earthquake that struck Japan on 2011 March 11 was magnitude 9.0. Grpahic from New Scientist.

The Mainichi Daily News has reported that the strongest recorded earthquake to hit Japan rocked the northeastern coast Friday, triggering a series of tsunami including a 10-meter wall of water that submerged residential areas and farms with muddy streams and washed away scores of people, vehicles, boats and a storage tank on fields and ports in northeastern Japan.

The 10-meter tsunami was observed at Sendai port in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture at around 3:55 p.m. after the quake with a magnitude of 8.8 rocked the region, local police said. A tsunami expert at the government-affiliated Port and Airport Research Institute described the tsunami following the 2:46 p.m. quake as “one of the highest and widest in terms of areas of devastation in the nation’s history.” Shigeo Takahashi, senior researcher at the institute, said, “It’s a tsunami of a once-in-a-century scale.”

The New Scientist noted that the Japanese earthquake has triggered a series of tsunami waves that are now moving east across the Pacific. How will the countries they hit be affected? The shape of each landmass is a major factor determining how the tsunami behaves. Tsunamis are most dangerous when they run over a large area of shallow water. This causes the first wavefront to slow down, so successive waves pile up to form one tremendous wave.

As a result small Pacific islands, especially ones that lie in otherwise deep water, should be largely unaffected. Wave height here might reach 30 centimetres at most. “A little atoll presents a pencil in the water, and the wave just goes right past,” says Robert Cessaro, a senior geophysicist at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) in Hawaii. Because most of the islands in the tsunami’s path are fairly small, they should see waves 10 to 30 centimetres high at most.

Written by makanaka

March 11, 2011 at 23:33

Magnitude 8.9 Quake Shakes Japan, Tsunami Hits Northeast Coast

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A message from the Asahi Shimbun: Editor’s note: We will update our earthquake news as frequently as possible on AJW’s Facebook page. Please check to keep informed on what’s happening. / Toshio Jo, managing editor at International Division, The Asahi Shimbun.

Smoke rises from a building near Tokyo Bay in this photo taken from the waterfront district of Tokyo's Chuo Ward on Friday. (Mitsuyoshi Amata)

Smoke rises from a building near Tokyo Bay in this photo taken from the waterfront district of Tokyo's Chuo Ward on Friday. (Mitsuyoshi Amata)

Nikkei has reported that a powerful earthquake with a magnitude of 8.9 struck Japan Friday afternoon, causing damage in Tokyo, many reported injuries in the north where the quake was centered and sending a tsunami hurtling toward the country’s northeastern coast.

The quake, originally reported at a magnitude of 7.9 but later upgraded to 8.9 apparently exceeding the 8.9 quake that struck off Chile in February 2010.

Yomiuri Shimbun has coverage of the quake here.

Local television reported smoke rising from a Tokyo port building, and fire in the capital’s waterfront Odaiba district. There were reports of “numerous” injuries in Miyagi Prefecture, in northeastern Japan where the quake was centered, as a tsunami measured at anywhere from one meter to 4.2 meters hit at various places along the coast.

See NHK TV for video and reports here, here and here.

The US Geological Survey page for the quake is here. Key data:

Location    38.322°N, 142.369°E
Depth    24.4 km (15.2 miles) set by location program
Region    NEAR THE EAST COAST OF HONSHU, JAPAN
Distances    130 km (80 miles) E of Sendai, Honshu, Japan
178 km (110 miles) E of Yamagata, Honshu, Japan
178 km (110 miles) ENE of Fukushima, Honshu, Japan
373 km (231 miles) NE of TOKYO, Japan

A tsunami warning included Japan, Russia, Taiwan, Guam, the Northern Marianas, the Marcus Islands and the Wake Islands, while 15 nations and territories were covered by a tsunami watch.

In Tokyo, hundreds of concerned office workers tried in vain to make calls on jammed cellphone networks, some wearing hard hats and other protective headgear. Many of them streamed out of buildings in the business district, gathering in open areas. The crowd appeared spooked by the sound of glass windows rattling in tall buildings.

Services on the Tohoku Shinkansen Line, as well as on the Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen lines, were suspended. All services on the Tokyo Metro subway systems in the Tokyo metropolitan area were stopped.

Aftershocks were continuing, with one hitting magnitude 7.1, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Tall buildings swayed violently in central Tokyo as the aftershocks hit.

NHK Television reported that water could be seen rising over cars and pouring into warehouses at Onahama port in Fukushima Prefecture; in Iwate Prefecture a building was washed away, with boats and cars swirling around in the rising waters.

Location 38.322°N, 142.369°E
Depth 24.4 km (15.2 miles) set by location program
Region NEAR THE EAST COAST OF HONSHU, JAPAN
Distances 130 km (80 miles) E of Sendai, Honshu, Japan
178 km (110 miles) E of Yamagata, Honshu, Japan
178 km (110 miles) ENE of Fukushima, Honshu, Japan
373 km (231 miles) NE of TOKYO, Japan

Written by makanaka

March 11, 2011 at 13:04

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