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Friday 01 April 2011

REPORT # SOR-018-11

Although reports on radiation effects and the status of the reactors still top the headlines, Japan media sources have begun focusing on the nation’s rebuilding process. Media reactions on search and relief efforts continue to be highly significant. Responses to the radiation situation in the region has made countries reflect more on their own nuclear surroundings.


Japan 4

Nuclear Reactor Concerns 4

TEPCO to ensure radiation monitoring for workers 4

Vehicle tries to enter Fukushima Daiichi plant, breaks into Daini plant 4

TEPCO testing new ways to stop radioactive pollution from Fukushima 5

Radiation Situation 6

Iodine-131 4,385 times limit found near N-plant 6

Radioactive substances in underground water 7

Researcher explains how radiation reaches Tokyo 8

Japan finds radiation in beef 8

Checkups for residents mulled 9

Japan to issue origin certificate for all farm products for export 10

High radiation found outside no-go zone 10

Infrastructure 12

Tsunami-ravaged Ishinomaki slowly sets off on long road to recovery 12

Japan vows to tackle biggest postwar crisis in diplomacy report 15

Kan eyes thorough review of gov't plan to build more nuclear plants 16

Search/Relief Efforts 17

US, Japan forces start massive search 17

284 Thais still missing in Japan, delays irk relatives 18

Over 28,000 dead or missing 19

Up to 1,000 bodies left untouched near troubled nuke plant 19

Regional Reactions 20

Nuclear Reactor and Radiation Concerns 20

China 20

PLA: military's nuclear facilities operating under 'safe conditions' 20

China powers on with nuclear plants 21

Taiwan 23

Tiny amounts of radioactive iodine-131 detected in Taiwan: AEC 23

Experts to monitor water off Taiwan for radiation 24

Officials under fire over radiation 24

Hau Lung-bin presides over nuclear drill 26

South Korea 27

Traces of radioactive iodine detected in east coast city 27

Russia 28

Russia repeats warning against citizens visiting Japan 28

As core breach nearly confirmed in Japan, radiation panic grips Russian Far East – environmentalists say fears should reach further 28

India 32

Japan's nuclear crisis a warning to India 32

Made-in-India reactors easier to regulate, says Jairam Ramesh 33

Sri Lanka 34

Sri Lanka Postal Department Temporarily Suspends Mail Delivery to Tsunami Hit Japan (In Sinhala) 34

Singapore 35

AVA suspends fruit & vegetable imports from Shizuoka prefecture 35

Vietnam 35

Radiation reaches Vietnam, no health risk: experts 35

Vietnam to maintain radiation check on foods from Japan 38

Thailand 38

Japanese vegetable contaminated: FDA 38

Philippines 39

Don’t Blame Fukushima 39

New Zealand 40

NZ safe from radiation, say experts 40

Humanitarian Relief and Government Assistance 42

China 42

China, Japan join hands in fighting catastrophic quake, tsunami 42

Expert: Japan Uncooperative in Disaster, Hurts China’s Feelings (In Chinese) 43

Tokyo Electric to order more concrete pump trucks (In Chinese) 44

China sends third batch of humanitarian aid to Japan 44

South Korea 44

Japan says no thanks to Korean nuclear experts help 44

Russia 45

Quake-hit Japan adopts Russian know-how 45

Bangladesh 46

Japan Express Gratitude to Bangladesh for Standing by Affected People (In Bengali) 46

Malaysia 47

Bakti raises RM2.5mil for Japan victims 47

Singapore 47

Singapore concert targets to raise $100,000 for Japan 47

New Zealand 48

Zespri sends NZ water to Japan with kiwifruit 48

Nuclear Reactor Concerns

TEPCO to ensure radiation monitoring for workers

NHK (4/1/2011)

Tokyo Electric Power Company says it may postpone low priority work at the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant to ensure radiation monitoring for workers.

TEPCO said on Thursday that the quake destroyed many radiation monitors and that only 320 out of the 5,000 it had prior to the disaster are now available.

The company said that in some work groups only leaders had monitors and that 180 workers had worked without devices on one day.

TEPCO said it may postpone low priority work so no employee has to work without a device.

It also said it will collect radiation monitors from other plants to minimize delays.

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Vehicle tries to enter Fukushima Daiichi plant, breaks into Daini plant

Mainichi (4/1/2011)

A vehicle of what appears to be right-wing campaigners tried to enter the radiation-leaking Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, and then broke through the gate of the nearby Fukushima Daini power plant Thursday, the government's nuclear safety agency said.

The driver of the vehicle was later seized by police, and the agency said it ordered Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the two plants in Fukushima Prefecture, to take all measures to ensure security especially from the viewpoint of nuclear material protection.

The purpose of the intrusion remains unknown. The agency said the vehicle and people inside it need to undergo a radiation decontamination process.

According to the agency and Tokyo Electric Power officials, the vehicle appears to have headed to the Daini plant, after it was not given permission to enter the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, about 12 kilometers away.

As the main gate of the Daini nuclear power plant was closed, the vehicle broke through the west gate of the plant and drove inside the site for about 10 minutes, they said.

A nuclear agency official said the Daiichi and Daini plants are both guarded, but the agency is confirming whether sufficient security is being maintained under the radiation-contaminated condition.

Many of the six reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant are still in an emergency state after the March 11 quake and tsunami hit northeastern Japan, with radioactive substances likely to be continuing to leak into the environment.

The four reactors at the Daini plant are basically in a stable situation, as they achieved a so-called "cold shutdown" after the quake.

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TEPCO testing new ways to stop radioactive pollution from Fukushima

Asahi (4/1/2011)

Special resin designed to stop the spread of radiation from the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is due to be tested by the facility's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., as it searches for new ways to prevent the poisoning of land and sea near the plant.

The March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent explosions scattered radioactive dust and rubble throughout the plant. If that dust gets into the atmosphere, it would interfere with work to restore the damaged reactors' cooling mechanisms.

Substantial rainfall would increase the threat of the radioactive material flowing into the sea.

TEPCO officials were preparing Thursday to test a water-soluble synthetic resin for use as a dust suppressant. The resin is usually employed in landfills and other civil engineering projects.

Once sprayed on an area, the resin forms a film that TEPCO hopes will stop the spread of radioactive material. After it dries, the resin can prevent dust from spreading for six months to a year.

An official with a major water-processing company, which has been contacted by TEPCO officials, said the synthetic resins would be sprayed using hoses equipped with special nozzles.

A two-week test will be conducted at a number of areas at the Fukushima site, including a water-filled basement at the No. 4 reactor and an area to the north of the No. 5 and No. 6 reactors.

A sprinkler truck with a 2,000-liter capacity will be used to spray about 60,000 liters of a solution containing 15-percent synthetic resin.

Another measure being looked at is covering the damaged reactor buildings with specially coated canvas sheets.

TEPCO is also continuing to search for ways to deal with the large volume of radioactive water in the basements of the reactors' turbine buildings and in trenches extending from the reactors.

Workers are trying to shift the contaminated water from condensers, condensate storage tanks and suppression pool storage tanks. If all of those tanks are filled, new containers will have to be found.

TEPCO officials say they are looking at using other containers within the plant's grounds, but they may be forced to install temporary pools on the site if capacity is used up. Government officials are considering using empty tankers to take the contaminated water, but another possibility being actively considered is digging a reservoir.

That reservoir would have to have a waterproof lining to prevent radioactive water from leaking into the ground. It would probably have to be located away from the nuclear plant, because the high levels of radiation from the reservoir would make it difficult for workers trying to stabilize the reactors.

An official at the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan said the cooling of the reactor cores "would not be done in a matter of months, but in a matter of years."

Even in a normal situation, it takes between 20 and 30 years to close down and restore a nuclear plant site for other uses.

TEPCO officials said Thursday that water collected Wednesday afternoon about 330 meters south of outlets from the Fukushima No. 1 plant had levels of iodine-131 that were 4,385 times the acceptable limit. Water collected the same day about 30 meters north of the outlets from the No. 5 and No. 6 reactors had iodine-131 levels of 1,425 times the acceptable level.

With contaminated water apparently continuously leaking from the facility, TEPCO officials are preparing to measure radiation levels 15 kilometers off the coast.

Work continued Thursday to remove the highly radioactive water in the basements of the turbine buildings.

Workers in the No. 1 reactor filled the condenser in that building and were looking for another tank to pump contaminated water into. The water level in the trench connected to the turbine building of the No. 1 reactor had dropped by 1 meter after pumping began on Thursday.

At the No. 2 and No. 3 reactors, workers were trying to shift water from the condensers to other tanks, so contaminated water could be pumped into the condensers. That process was completed at the No. 3 reactor condenser on Thursday morning.

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Radiation Situation
Iodine-131 4,385 times limit found near N-plant

Yomiuri (4/1/2011)

Radioactive iodine-131 at a level 4,385 times the government-set limit has been detected in the sea adjacent to Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the government's nuclear safety agency said Thursday.

The seawater was sampled from a spot just south of drain outlets for the plant Wednesday afternoon, according to the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

On the previous day, the agency had announced a seawater iodine level of 3,355 times the limit in a water sample taken Tuesday afternoon. The agency said it is unclear where the iodine came from. The level dropped to 800 times the limit in the Wednesday morning sample before rising again in the afternoon.

Meanwhile, work to move water from an outdoor makeup water storage tank for the No. 3 reactor to another tank was finished, completing a step in the process of removing radioactive water from the turbine buildings of the Nos. 2 and 3 reactors.

As the process is consuming a considerable amount of time, TEPCO has started studying ways to shorten it, TEPCO officials said. The work at the No. 2 reactor was scheduled to be completed on Friday or later, TEPCO said.

The contaminated water within the turbine buildings was to be removed and stored in condensers in the buildings, but the condensers were filled to their capacities. Thus, TEPCO now plans to move the water in the condensers to the outside tanks.

In a related action, TEPCO postponed the start of an operation to spray synthetic resin to prevent the dispersal of radioactive substances from the debris and soil on the grounds of the plant near the Nos. 4, 5 and 6 reactors due to rain.

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Radioactive substances in underground water

NHK (4/1/2011)

Tokyo Electric Power Company says it has detected radioactive substances in underground water at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

TEPCO, operator of the plant, has been checking below-ground water on the advice of the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan.

The company says radioactive water was detected beneath the ground near the turbine buildings of five of the 6 reactors. The remaining reactor, No. 4, could not be checked because it was blocked by debris.

TEPCO says radioactive substances dispersed into the atmosphere may have seeped into the soil through rain and sprayed water.

Highly radioactive water has been found in the basement of the turbine buildings and other locations. Damage to nuclear fuel rods in the reactors is believed to have caused the contamination.

The company will further analyze underground water and release the result later on Friday.

In response to the announcement, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters on Friday morning that the government will tighten monitoring of seawater and nearby areas.

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Researcher explains how radiation reaches Tokyo

NHK (4/1/2011)

A Japanese researcher explained to NHK how radioactive substances that leaked from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant have spread and reached Tokyo and other parts of the Kanto region.

Hiromi Yamazawa, a Professor at Nagoya University graduate school, says that high levels of radiation have reached Kanto at least twice since the nuclear plant accident.

He says the first incidence occurred from March 15th through the 16th. Contaminated air spread widely in Kanto.

The second occurred from the 20th through the 21st.

Contaminated air went south along the coast, and reached Chiba and Tokyo.

The air was then blown northwest to the inland prefecture of Gunma.

Yamazawa says the rain in a broad area of Kanto in the surrounding days deposited radioactive substances in rivers and contaminated water in purification plants in the region.

Yamazawa warns that radiation could more easily flow into Kanto from now to the early summer, due to winds blowing south from Fukushima during these seasons.

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Japan finds radiation in beef

Herald Sun, Australia (4/1/2011)

Japan has found radiation above the legal limit in beef from near a stricken nuclear plant, the first such finding in meat since a quake and tsunami triggered the atomic crisis, local media reports.

The health ministry said 510 becquerels of radioactive cesium had been detected in beef from Tenei in Fukushima prefecture, about 70km from the plant - exceeding the 500-becquerel limit, Kyodo News said.

But further checks are being carried out on beef from the region, an official from the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency was quoted as saying, because of a gap in radiation levels between the Tenei sample and others.

The government has already halted shipments of untreated milk and many vegetables from Fukushima and three neighboring prefectures after radioactive substances were found in samples of the foodstuffs.

It has stepped up radiation monitoring in another six prefectures, covering an area that borders Tokyo.

On Saturday, officials said that lettuce contaminated with radiation above the legal limit had been found at a wholesale market in central Japan, shipped from a farm north of Tokyo.

The twin natural disasters on March 11 severely damaged the Fukushima nuclear plant, which is leaking harmful radioactivity that has also prompted the evacuation of local residents.

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Checkups for residents mulled

Yomiuri (4/1/2011)

The government might provide free regular health checks to all people who live within 30 kilometers of the troubled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, sources said Thursday.

The government will ask the National Institute of Radiological Sciences in Chiba to assist in carrying out the medical checks, the sources said.

Specifically how the checkups would be conducted is being studied by a medical and livelihood support team led by Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Tetsuro Fukuyama. The group was organized under a Japan-U.S. liaison panel to deal with the nuclear crisis and includes ranking Japanese and U.S. government officials and nuclear experts.

At its meetings, U.S. radiation medicine experts described the health care support given to residents near the Three Mile Island nuclear power station after the 1979 accident.

The government initially instructed residents within 20 kilometers of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant to evacuate and those living between the 20 kilometers and 30 kilometers to stay indoors. Later, the government recommended that those in the latter category evacuate. Despite the revised advisory, more than 10,000 residents are believed to have stayed put.

The nuclear plant run by Tokyo Electric Power Co. is located in Okumamachi and Futabamachi, Fukushima Prefecture.

Because many residents of the prefecture have left due to the disaster, when and where the health checks would take place will be decided based on the government's forecasts of when the evacuation and stay-indoors instructions will be lifted.

The government also plans to periodically measure radioactive contamination in soil and water within 30 kilometers of the plant to see if levels could affect residents' health.

The medical and livelihood support team is also studying how to ensure the safety and health of people working to keep radioactive substances from spreading, such as by spraying resin on debris inside the plant. A team led by Sumio Mabuchi, a special advisor to the prime minister, has been working on measures to control the amount of radioactive substances discharged from the power station.

After three workers were exposed to high levels of radioactive substances at the plant last week, the government said it wanted to prevent any further cases of radiation exposure.

A system to immediately transport exposed workers to the National Institute of Radiological Sciences will be established, the sources added.

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Japan to issue origin certificate for all farm products for export

Mainichi (4/1/2011)

The government decided Thursday to issue certificates to identify producing districts for all Japanese farm products shipped overseas to allay overseas concern on their safety following radiation leaks at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, government officials said.

The plan was endorsed at a meeting of senior vice ministers of relevant government ministries and agencies at a time when a growing number of overseas consumers are distancing themselves from Japanese farm products due to the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima plant.

Various countries are also moving to restrict imports of agricultural products from Japan.

The European Union has been calling on Japan to issue such certificates of origin for its agricultural products.

The senior vice ministers also agreed on a plan to convey accurate information to foreign governments via Japanese embassies and other diplomatic missions to keep foreign consumers from demonstrating excessive reactions to the situation.

Although the nuclear crisis' effects on sales of Japan's manufactured products have been limited, the government is preparing to issue certificates of origin for those products in cooperation with the chambers of commerce and industry nationwide, they said.

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High radiation found outside no-go zone

Japan Times (4/1/2011)

Despite alarming new radiation data presented by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the government said Thursday it has no plans to widen the evacuation zone around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 power plant.

The international nuclear watchdog said Wednesday in Geneva it detected about 2 million becquerels of radioactive substances per sq. meter, or double the threshold at which the IAEA itself would order an evacuation, in soil samples from the village of Iitate about 40 km northwest of the nuclear power plant.

With the data, the IAEA effectively urged Japan to expand the current no-go zone of 20 km around the plant. Residents in areas 20 km to 30 km of the plant have been advised to stay indoors.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano only said the government may consider expanding the mandatory evacuation zone if the higher levels of radiation continue.

"If a person is exposed to the radiation levels exceeding the IAEA criteria for a long time, it might affect their health because radioactive substances could accumulate in the body," Edano said. "If that is the case, we need to consider evacuating residents from the area."

But for now, he said, the government will conduct air and soil monitoring in a more detailed manner at Iitate, where about 100 people still reside.

Edano's apparent attempt to play down the alarm bells rung by the IAEA was offset by the rising radioactivity detected from seawater near the plant.

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said Thursday the level of radioactive iodine-131 in seawater near the plant was 4,385 times the maximum tolerable amount, the highest reading since the crisis began March 11.

Other highly radioactive materials were also detected, including cesium-134 at 783.7 times the maximum amount permitted, and cesium-137 at 527.4 times the legal limit.

The half-life of cesium-137, or the time its radioactivity dissipates by half, is 30 years compared with eight days for iodine-131 and two years for cesium-134.

The radiation level in seawater near the plant has been renewing record figures since last week.

The NISA stressed again that the amount doesn't pose an immediate health risk to people in the area.

"Although the figure is on the rise, it will not immediately affect (the health) of residents nearby as the evacuation area is set at a 20-km radius from the nuclear plant and fishermen are not working in the area," said agency official Hidehiko Nishiyama. "Radioactive material will spread and dilute by the time people take it in through marine products."

But Nishiyama also said the NISA will increase the number of ocean monitoring sites. The science ministry has been monitoring radiation about 30 km offshore while the NISA will conduct checks about 15 km from the coast.

Meanwhile, work to remove toxic water at the plant continued as Tokyo Electric Power Co. began pumping out a nearly full trench below reactor No. 1's turbine building, the NISA said.

After pumping out water from about 9 to 11:30 a.m., the level decreased by 1 meter, the agency said. The water was moved to a storage tank near reactor No. 4.

It was confirmed over the weekend that trenches below the turbine buildings of reactors 1, 2 and 3 were filled with water.

It is not known where the toxic water came from, and the water in unit No. 2's trench contains high levels of radiation — more than 1,000 millisieverts per hour — according to Tepco.

Tepco is also working to remove contaminated water in the basements of the turbine buildings for all four reactors. The depth of the flooding ranges from 20 cm to 1.5 meters.

Tepco hopes to pump out the contaminated water so new water can be pumped in to cool the crippled reactors, but it is facing tough challenge relaying spilled toxic water from one tank to another.

Media reports Thursday said the government is considering building a facility to store and properly dispose of the contaminated water. According to the Tokyo Shimbun, the government has already asked a general contractor to work on the problem.

But Hidehiko Nishiyama of the NISA said he had not heard such a decision had been made, while admitting it was possible.

On Thursday, bad weather forced Tepco to cancel a plan to spray synthetic resin on the plant premises to prevent the further spread of radiation.

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Tsunami-ravaged Ishinomaki slowly sets off on long road to recovery

Japan Times (4/1/2011)

Self-Defense Forces vehicles kick up clouds of dust as they make their way through narrow streets cleared through the piles of crushed houses, shops and fishing boats scattered like broken toys by the massive tsunami that killed thousands and flooded nearly half of this once beautiful city.

Ishinomaki is in ruins.

Despite all the aid and support pouring in every day to rebuild, the city's inhabitants still suffer from a chronic shortage of housing and daily necessities, as well as sufficient manpower to clear out the rubble and restore the wrecked local infrastructure.

The death toll in Ishinomaki continues to rise as more bodies are discovered, while many more are missing and presumed dead. As of Wednesday, the city's official death toll stood at 2,283, with 2,643 unaccounted for.

Roughly 18,000 people are still taking refuge in various shelters, and demand for temporary housing far exceeds the planned supply.

Ishinomaki Mayor Hiroshi Kameyama told reporters Wednesday that construction of 137 temporary houses began Monday, but 3,145 households have already applied to live in them. The city has asked the prefectural government to build another 10,000 housing units urgently, he said.

All people interviewed in the city Wednesday had suffered the death of a friend, or in some cases, family member. Lifelines haven't been restored in many of the hardest-hit coastal areas, and many residents who haven't made their way to temporary shelters live in damaged, half-flooded homes cut off from the influx of goods.

Ryoko Kurosu, a middle-aged hairdresser, is letting 20 other disaster victims stay in the second floor of her house — the first floor has been flooded — but said "everything was lacking," including food and other necessary amenities.

"There is a discrepancy in the aid one can receive depending on where you live. Those like us who decide to stay in our homes haven't been receiving enough goods," she said.

Volunteer groups and charities are trying to fill in the void, like Chad Huddleston of Christian network Be One, who has been making the rounds in trucks and vans, dropping off goods in hard-hit coastal areas such as Watanoha, where Kurosu lives.

"We can probably get more food if we went to a temporary shelter, but I want to stay in my house. You've got to be able to protect yourself," Kurosu said, lining up to receive goods distributed by Huddleston and other volunteers.

While the SDF has managed to scrape roads out of the piles of rubble scattered across the coast so vehicles can pass through, traffic lights in the hardest hit areas do not function and removal of debris is expected to take enormous time and manpower.

At temporary shelters such as Aoba Junior High School, nearly 800 disaster victims, including sisters Kayoko Kimura and Masako Oikawa — whose homes have been partially damaged — have evacuated along with their families, waiting for the daily meals served by the SDF and for the day they can move back home.

While Mayor Kameyama said they would like to propose that those taking refuge in schools evacuate to another destination before classes resume April 21, he also admitted it is difficult to persuade many of the evacuees to move farther away from their hometown when there is no end in sight for the evacuation.

And the stress of homelessness is taking its toll.

Shintaro Doyao, a worker at the facility dispatched from Tottori Prefecture, said residents in shelters are becoming increasingly anxious, and quarrels between dwellers are more and more frequent.

Rumors of looting and robbery also abound. Norihito Kurosu of Watanoha, who lost his home and his workplace to the tsunami, spoke of vending machines and television game shops being broken into during the days following the earthquake, while the lack of fuel is driving some to steal gasoline from abandoned vehicles.

"But the situation is improving, we have security personnel making the rounds now," he said. The enormous tsunami that engulfed the city also severely damaged its medical facilities.

Ishinomaki Municipal Hospital, located near Ishinomaki Bay, has been shut down since tsunami destroyed its facilities, and many other clinics in the bay area have closed.

Takenobu Taima, a doctor working at Ishinomaki Red Cross Hospital in the relatively undamaged Hebita district, said doctors and staff have been working on site around the clock and medical personnel from across the nation have shown up to help.

Taima said many patients were hospitalized with pneumonia or hypothermia following the long hours they spent in flood waters.

As of Wednesday, 123 patients hospitalized since the quake had died.

Many of the doctors and employees at the hospital have also suffered from the disaster. Yoshihiro Aoki, a medical worker of the Red Cross hospital, said he has slept 11 days straight at the hospital since the tsunami flooded his house, and added his parents are living in a temporary shelter.

Aoki stressed that improving living conditions at the shelters is the biggest priority in preventing further patients from catching colds or other diseases.

"Sanitary management and the restoration of lifelines is most important — if this situation continues, the number of patients admitted will continue to grow," he said.

But while the devastation has deeply scarred many victims, there were also signs that people are trying to fight amid the adversity and restore hope.

Nobukazu Endo, who tunes concert pianos and is well known in the local music scene, said that while the city tries to rebuild itself step by step, it is also important that its citizens, still shell-shocked, regain some composure with the help of music.

"I'm currently planning a large-scale, outdoor charity concert here in Ishinomaki, hopefully to be held this summer," he said, adding it was a step to let the world know the city is setting off on the long road to recovery.

Endo, who lost many of his friends, including the owner of a live-music venue near Ishinomaki Bay that was wrecked by the tsunami, said he felt crippled when news of the scale of the devastation and other tragedies began pouring in.

"I seriously thought this was it for Ishinomaki, that we couldn't make it," he said.

"But I'd like the rest of the nation and the world to know that Ishinomaki is going to be OK, that we'll survive," he said.

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Japan vows to tackle biggest postwar crisis in diplomacy report

Mainichi (4/1/2011)

Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto vowed to tackle what he terms "the biggest national crisis in the postwar period" through diplomacy in an annual report on Japan's foreign relations released Friday.

In a preface for the Diplomatic Blue Book 2011, Matsumoto says he will devote himself to diplomacy "in order to overcome the difficult time and attain a resurgence" from the March 11 megaquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan.

The book calls for deepening Japan's alliance with the United States as the cornerstone of Japan's diplomacy and relocating the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station within Okinawa Prefecture, while seeking understanding from local residents, based on a bilateral accord last May that reaffirmed a plan to move the base within the southern prefecture.

On North Korea, it emphasizes that the country's actions have been a "serious destabilizing factor," referring to the sinking in March last year of a South Korean warship by a North Korean torpedo and the North's shelling in November of the South's Yeonpyeong Island, which killed four people.

Regarding Pyongyang's abductions of Japanese citizens, the document outlines Tokyo's demands for an immediate repatriation of all abductees and full disclosure on the fates of those whose status is unknown.

On China, it calls for urgent efforts to improve the deteriorated public feelings in both countries following the ship collision incident last September in the East China Sea, and seeks greater transparency from Beijing of its defense capability buildup and enhanced maritime activities.

As for Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's visit last November to one of the Russian-held islands Japan claims, the report says "It was extremely regrettable," while noting no change to Tokyo's policy to resolve the territorial issue and conclude a post-World War II peace treaty with Moscow.

Japan will continue to promote exports of the shinkansen bullet train technology and other infrastructure as well as free trade agreements with other countries in line with the emphasis placed on economic diplomacy by Matsumoto's predecessor Seiji Maehara, it also says.

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Kan eyes thorough review of gov't plan to build more nuclear plants

Mainichi (4/1/2011)

Prime Minister Naoto Kan said Thursday he will look into reviewing from scratch the government's plan to build at least 14 more nuclear reactors by 2030, as Japan battles to overcome its worst nuclear crisis.

Japanese Communist Party chief Kazuo Shii told a news conference that Kan also told him during their talks that the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, with all six reactors, must be scrapped.

Under Japan's basic energy plan endorsed in June 2010, the government said nuclear power will be the country's "core source of energy in the medium- and long-terms" and that it would build 14 or more nuclear reactors by 2030, of which nine will be completed by 2020.

But the March 11 powerful earthquake and ensuing tsunami crippled the Fukushima plant and led four of its six reactors to lose cooling functions and caused radiation leaks. The ongoing nuclear crisis has since then fueled calls against the presence of nuclear plants across the country.

In the course of examining why the accident occurred, the prime minister said in a news conference that there is a "need to discuss again" the energy policies being promoted by the government.

Top government spokesman Yukio Edano told a separate news conference these policies must be studied without making any prejudgment after reviewing the Fukushima plant accident.

Before the quake, Japan had 54 nuclear reactors in operation nationwide, accounting for about 30 percent of power supply, according to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

But the idea to fully discard nuclear plants is a tricky question for the resource-poor nation that has to rethink efforts to fight global warming and export nuclear power technology.

Once the nuclear issue is put under control, Kan said how utilities firms function should be discussed. Plant operator and utility firm, Tokyo Electric Power Co., is a private company.

The accident has also affected the lives of local residents, with people living within a radius of 20 kilometers of the plant ordered to evacuate and those within 30 km to stay indoors.

The government later recommended that people in the 20-30 km area "leave voluntarily" due to concerns over access to daily necessities but not due to residents' safety.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano said there are no immediate plans to evacuate those beyond 30 kilometers, but acknowledged that it will look into the possibility if it sees there are health risks in the long run.

"Naturally, high radiation levels in soil, if continued over a long period of time...will likely affect human health, so we need to step up our (radiation) monitoring, and if need be take steps to deal with it," Edano said.

He made the remarks after data released Wednesday by the International Atomic Energy Agency showed that radiation measured at the village of Iitate, about 40 kilometers from the Fukushima plant, exceeded a criterion for evacuation.

To assuage residents' fears about their health, the government is accelerating the plan to conduct health checkups for residents within the 30-km radius.

In another telling sign of stress in the aftermath of the quake and nuclear disaster, Edano said he has received reports about cases of crimes including scams in the guide of donations to quake victims and comprehensive measures must be in place to resolve this.

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Search/Relief Efforts
US, Japan forces start massive search

NHK (4/1/2011)

The US military and Japan's Self-Defense Forces have launched a massive operation to find those still missing in the March 11th earthquake and tsunami.

The joint operation started on Friday, 3 weeks after the disaster. More than 16,000 people remain missing.

In the morning, helicopters of the Ground Self-Defense Force left their base in Sendai City to join the search mission.

Participating in the joint mission are 100 aircraft and 50 vessels from the Self-Defense Forces and about 20 aircraft and more than 10 vessels from the US military.

The Japan Coast Guard, police and fire-fighting personnel are also joining in the rescue mission -- the largest ever in Japan.

The search covers Pacific coastal areas in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, as well as waters up to 20 kilometers from shore. But the operation excludes the area within a 30-kilomter radius of the quake-damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which is releasing radioactive substances.

The troops participating in the search operation are focusing their efforts on areas that have not previously been well covered. Rugged coastlines and swamp-like areas created by the tsunami have hindered search activities.

The operation is scheduled to continue for 3 days.

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284 Thais still missing in Japan, delays irk relatives

Bangkok Post, Thailand (4/1/2011)

Sketchy information and devastated locations are hindering the search for 284 Thai nationals still missing after the earthquake and tsunami hit northeast Japan early this month.

Three weeks after the 9.0-magnitude quake and a huge wall of water struck on March 11, the Thai embassy in Japan has found 220 Thais but has not been able to locate another 284.

According to Japanese immigration data, 504 Thai nationals were affected by the tsunami. There were 230 in Fukushima prefecture, 207 in worst-hit Miyagi, 51 in Iwate and 16 in Aomori.

The tsunami claimed 11,362 lives and about 8,800 bodies have been identified, according to police records as of Wednesday. Another 16,290 people are still missing.

The killer tsunami damaged almost 150,000 houses and buildings.

The embassy confirmed that none of the identified bodies was Thai.

Singthong Lapisatepun, the minister to the embassy, said a lack of detailed information about Thai nationals whose fate is still unknown has made it difficult for police and Thai volunteers to locate them.

The embassy has received information from relatives and friends in Thailand and Japan about missing people in the damaged areas.

"Sometimes it is difficult as the information is insufficient, like having only names without family names or only nicknames," Mr Singthong said.

Those with clear addresses gave searchers a better chance to find them but many houses of those on the list were destroyed, leaving no evidence to trace them, he added.

The search is mainly being conducted by Japanese police who receive information from the embassy through their police stations. A network of Thais living in the devastated areas is also helping, Mr Singthong said.

Many relatives have complained to the embassy about the slow pace of the search, but Mr Singthong said police and volunteers faced a difficult mission because of the devastation in the region.

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Over 28,000 dead or missing

NHK (4/1/2011)

The death toll from the March 11th quake and tsunami in northeastern Japan has risen to 11,578.

The National Police Agency said on Friday morning that 16,451 people are listed as missing, bringing the number of dead or missing to over 28,000.

The largest number of deaths --- 7,058 --- has been confirmed in Miyagi Prefecture, followed by Iwate with 3,396 and Fukushima with 1,064.

9,260 of the confirmed dead have been identified and 9,043 bodies have been returned to families.

Police say the number of quake and tsunami victims could continue to rise.

Officials have been unable to assess the number of missing in some coastal municipalities that were devastated by the tsunami. Search operations have also been suspended within the 20-kilometer exclusion zone around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

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Up to 1,000 bodies left untouched near troubled nuke plant

Kyodo News (3/31/2011, No Link Available)

Radiation fears have prevented authorities from collecting as many as 1,000 bodies of victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami from within the 20-kilometer-radius evacuation zone around the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant, police sources said Thursday.

One of the sources said bodies had been ''exposed to high levels of radiation after death.'' The view was supported by the detection Sunday of elevated levels of radiation on a body found in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, about 5 km from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.
The authorities are now considering how to collect the bodies, given fears that police officers, doctors and bereaved families may be exposed to radiation in retrieving the radiation-exposed bodies or at morgues, according to the sources.
They initially planned to inspect the bodies after transporting them outside the evacuation zone, but the plan is being reconsidered due to the concerns over exposure.
Local residents have been forced to leave the zone since the current nuclear crisis began unfolding at the Tokyo Electric Power Co. plant, which is leaking radioactive materials as its cooling systems for its reactors and nuclear spent-fuel pools have been knocked out by the disaster.
Even after the bodies are handed over to the victims' families, cremating them could spread plumes containing radioactive materials, while burying the victims could contaminate the soil around them, according to the sources.
The authorities are considering decontaminating and inspecting the bodies where they are found. But the sources said that cleansing decomposing bodies could damage them further.
Victims can be identified through DNA analysis of nail samples, but even then considerable time and effort must be taken to decontaminate the samples, according to experts.
Elevated levels of radiation detected on the victim in the town of Okuma last Sunday forced local police to give up on retrieving the body.
''Measures that can be taken vary depending on the level of radiation, so there need to be professionals who can control radiation,'' said an expert on treating people exposed to radiation. ''One option is to take decontamination vehicles there and decontaminate the bodies one by one.''

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Regional Reactions
Nuclear Reactor and Radiation Concerns
PLA: military's nuclear facilities operating under 'safe conditions'

China Org, China (3/31/2011)

Following the earthquake-related nuclear disaster at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant this month, China's military leaders took pains to ensure citizens that the government holds nuclear safety as a top priority.

On Thursday, China issued a white paper on national defense, aiming to enhance its military transparency and boost the world's trust in China's commitment to peaceful development. In addition, Chinese PLA officials held a press conference and answered questions from reporters.

"After the nuclear leak at the Fukushima nuclear plant, we immediately conducted a review on our military nuclear facilities and found out that they are currently operating under safe conditions," said Sr. Col. Cai Huailie, deputy director-general of the Strategic Planning Bureau of the Operations Department, General Staff Headquarters.

"China places high importance on nuclear safety and we give top priority to the absolute safety and reliability of nuclear weapons," Cai added.

Sr. Col. Geng Yansheng, spokesperson for the Ministry of National Defense, said that over the years, the Chinese government and military have stepped up efforts to build eight professional emergency units, which include one unit for nuclear safety. All emergency personnel have undergone extensive professional training, Geng said.

The mission of the nuclear safety unit is to carry out thorough supervision of all nuclear weapon facilities as well as other nuclear-related equipments and activities throughout China. Should any nuclear safety-related incidents occur, this unit will play a key role in coordinating the government's response.

By deploying this special unit to oversee supervision, "we are ensuring nuclear safety in China," Cai said.

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China powers on with nuclear plants

Global Times, China (3/31/2011)

As the world discusses the safety of nuclear power, China appears to be keeping its faith in the sector, despite announcing a wave of emergency safety reviews in the wake of the crisis at Japan's Fukushima plant. 

Nuclear safety standards will be reinforced, but China's plan for nuclear power remains unchanged, Xie Zhenhua, deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), said Wednesday during a visit to Canberra.

"On the basis of the findings of these evaluations, we will further improve the nuclear development plan," Xie said during a visit to the Australian capital, vowing that the plant review is aiming to ensure 100 percent safety.

This month, the government suspended the approval of all nuclear power plant projects, pending the completion of a nationwide inspection of all atomic reactors and construction sites.

Authorities had been ambitious about the potential of nuclear power and drafted plans to reduce China's dependence on fossil fuels.

The NDRC announced in January that annual nuclear power capacity is expected to stand at 40 GW by 2020, accounting for up to 6 percent of the nation's electricity supply, the State Power Information Network reported.

A total of $150 billion is set to be invested within this decade, the National Energy Administration announced in 2009.

China currently has 13 nuclear power stations in operation, but these make up only 2 percent of the country's electricity needs. The construction of another 27 plants is underway. 

However, the tightened rules were not received gratefully by inland provinces, whose economic rise have led to an energy glut.

According to a report released in late 2010, 31 out of 43 sites seen as suitable to host a nuclear plant are located in inland regions, according to State Grid Corporation of China.

The intention to move plants inland has come under scrutiny since the incident in Japan, with critics questioning whether regions with few water sources are truly suitable for this purpose.

There is a primary conflict that must urgently be solved for the construction of nuclear plants in inland provinces, Gui Liming, a nuclear safety expert at Tsinghua University, told the Global Times Wednesday.

"Adjacent water sources are a must for a nuclear plant due to security concerns. However, many places with ample water supplies are also heavily populated. There must be a subtle balance between the safety of the population and the location of nuclear plants," Gui said.

This dilemma was further intensified as provincial governments pinned hopes for nuclear plant projects to boost local tax revenue.

Ground was broken last year on the Taohuajiang nuclear power plant in Hunan Province, which is expected to bring at least 2 billion Yuan ($300 million) in annual tax revenue to local Taohua county, whose current tax revenue stood at under 400 million Yuan last year, according to government data.

Lin Boqiang, director of the Center for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University, defended the significance of nuclear energy for China's low carbon commitment.

"Nuclear energy is the most effective, and least costly, clean energy among clean energy sources such as solar and wind. If safety issues are not considered, nuclear plants could be built anywhere," Lin said. "But it's the lesson we've learnt from Fukushima, namely that safety and environmental protection are also highly costly. That's why China is now cautious in building nuclear plants."

China has pledged to cut carbon produced per unit of GDP by 17 percent and increase its use of non-fossil energy to 11.4 percent of primary energy consumption by 2015.

In an attempt to dismiss some public concerns about the treatment of nuclear waste, Gui said nuclear waste was collected by the government instead of by companies, before being buried in a designated, uninhabited area of Gansu Province.

A group of Hong Kong lawmakers, academics and environmentalists said Wednesday that they would monitor the Daya Bay nuclear power plant in neighboring Guangdong Province, AFP reported. The plant last year acknowledged possible cracks in fuel tubes, leading to temporary abnormal levels of radiation, but these posed no threats to human, reports said.

Earlier Wednesday, Fan Liqing, a spokeswoman with the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office, said that she did not have relevant information regarding the Taiwan Power Company's reported intention to also start burying its nuclear waste to Gansu.

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Tiny amounts of radioactive iodine-131 detected in Taiwan: AEC

Focus Taiwan, Taiwan (3/31/2011)

Low levels of radioactive iodine-131 were detected in Taiwan Thursday, but the Cabinet-level Atomic Energy Council (AEC) said the situation posed no health risk for local citizens.

It was the first time since the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan began leaking radiation earlier this month that the country's nuclear energy regulator had detected the presence of radioactive fallout from the disaster.

The amounts of iodine-131 present in air samples collected in northern Taiwan were 0.2 millibecquerels (mBq) per cubic meter and 0.06 mBq per cubic meter in southern Taiwan, AEC Deputy Minister Shieh Der-jyh said at a news conference.

"The concentration of iodine-131 in northern Taiwan was equivalent to 5/10,000 of the radiation given off by one chest X-ray," Shieh said, adding that the amount was too tiny to be harmful to human health.

Moreover, he said, the presence of iodine-131 was detected only after the AEC applied an unusual detection method that required accumulated samples.

The radiation levels in northern Taiwan were detected on the basis of air samples collected at 25 monitoring stations throughout the region between March 22 and March 28, Shieh said.

"Some 1.67 Bq of iodine-131 were present in a total of 7,607 cubic meters of air samples collected during the period, which was equivalent to the concentration level of 0.02 mBq per cubic meter, " Shieh explained.

Meanwhile, 4,717 cubic meters of air samples were collected from 16 monitoring stations in southern Taiwan during the same period. "A minimal 0.3 Bq level of iodine-131 was detected in the accumulated samples, equivalent to 0.06 mBq per cubic meter," he noted.

Both detected radioactive iodine-131 levels were far lower than the minimum permissible level of 0.5 mBq per cubic meter, Shieh stressed, adding that they account for a mere 7-millionth of the background level of 1,600 microsieverts per year.

Citing meteorological data from the Central Weather Bureau, Shieh further said the iodine-131 fallout was from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which was crippled by the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that rattled Japan March 11.

He pointed out that the radioactive material was blown northward from Japan and circled the northern hemisphere before arriving in Taiwan from its western coast.

Asked why the AEC did not use this accumulated method to detect radioactivity in the local environment in the weeks since the crisis began, Shieh said it was because the council wanted to concentrate its resources on more important tasks such as monitoring radiation in food items and seawater.

"Since airborne radiation remains limited, falls far within the permissible levels and poses no threat to human health, we need not bother to use such a non-regular measurement method," he said, adding that the council has instead been concentrating on monitoring food imports from Japan and radiation levels in local fish catches and coastal waters.

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Experts to monitor water off Taiwan for radiation

China Post, Taiwan (4/1/2011)

A group of scientists will soon begin a long-term program of monitoring the seawater off eastern Taiwan to observe whether ocean currents are carrying radioactive material from Japan to Taiwan.

Starting in May, experts will periodically collect water from a deep-sea depth of 500-1,000 kilometers around Green Island, located 33 kilometers off the coast of southeastern Taiwan's Taitung County.

Their goal is to detect whether the water surrounding Taiwan has been contaminated by radioactive material from Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has been leaking radiation since it was damaged by the March 11 earthquake and subsequent tsunami.

T. Y. Tang, a professor at the Institute of Oceanography of National Taiwan University, said although it is not likely radioactive water off Japan's northeast coast would reach Taiwan due to the Kuroshio currents, such a possibility cannot be ruled out.

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Officials under fire over radiation

Taipei Times, Taiwan (4/1/2011)

Atomic Energy Council Deputy Minister Huang Tsing-tung and other officials yesterday attracted heavy criticism over concerns about Taiwan’s ability to accurately detect radiation levels and deal with a potential nuclear disaster.

The council told a press conference yesterday afternoon that it had detected minute levels of radioactive iodine in dust particles. In previous days, it said it had not detected any radiation in or around Taiwan, even though a number of countries much farther from Japan had said that they had detected minor levels of radioactive particles.

As of noon yesterday, the council insisted that radioactive dust from Japan had not drifted to Taiwan, prompting widespread distrust of detectors set up by the council at several radiation fallout checkpoints in northern Taiwan.

Representatives from the council, the Department of Health, the Environmental Protection Administration, the Council of Agriculture and several other government agencies and national water reservoirs were questioned at the legislature’s Social Welfare and Environmental Hygiene committee meeting.

Aside from lawmakers and government officials, academics with expertise in the fields of chemistry, public health, risk management and atomic energy were present to discuss the impact of nuclear crises on the environment and public health.

Several lawmakers said they feared Taiwan would not be able to handle a disaster such as the one that struck Japan following the earthquake and tsunami on March 11 that sparked a series of problems at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

Angered by Huang’s comment that the council was “thinking about increasing [the number of checkpoints],” Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Chen Chieh-ju said it should immediately increase the number of radiation detection check points.

DPP Legislator Huang Sue-ying grilled council officials on the ability of detectors to measure radioactivity in the air and to explain how radioactive dust had drifted across the world and skipped Taiwan, as council data seemed to indicate.

Huang Tsing-tung said the council’s instruments were “extremely sensitive” and that the agency would “take this opportunity to fine-tune the instruments’ sensitivity.”

In other news, Minister of Foreign Affairs Timothy Yang told Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator John Chiang that the ministry would prioritize Taiwan’s participation in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Aside from the declared bids to have meaningful participation in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), “we should make a strong case for participation in the IAEA,” Chiang said.
Taiwan lost its IAEA membership in 1971 when the UN transferred the China seat from the Republic of China (ROC) to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which joined the IAEA in 1984.

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Hau Lung-bin presides over nuclear drill

Taipei Times, Taiwan (4/1/2011)

Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin yesterday presided over a nuclear crisis drill at the Neihu Refuse Incineration Plant amid promises to seek closer cooperation with adjacent New Taipei City, where two nuclear power plants are located and a third is being constructed.

The drill came six days after New Taipei City held a similar drill. Hau denied that Taipei had fallen behind its neighbor in organizing the drill, adding that the city would work with New Taipei City and the central government next month when a comprehensive drill is held.
“Taipei would be on standby during a nuclear crisis, and we held the drill today to test our capabilities as a support member in a [nuclear] crisis,” he said.
The drill yesterday simulated a crisis at the Guosheng Nuclear Power Plant in Wanli District, New Taipei City.
The Taipei City Government set up radiation detection stations along major highways and at railway stations and MRT stations, and sent out firefighters and police to help evacuate local residents while assisting people who were wounded.
The New Taipei City Government, the Atomic Energy Council and the Ministry of National Defense also sent officials and staff to participate in the drill.
According to Taipei City’s -Department of Environmental -Protection, which coordinated the drill, in Neihu District alone, the city could provide 116 places to serve as refugee centers for over 32,000 people if a nuclear crisis occurred.
Hau said the drill was aimed at finding flaws and correcting mistakes immediately.
The city government will establish a cooperation mechanism with New Taipei City, the Atomic Energy Council and Taiwan Power Co to monitor -radioactivity levels and exchange information effectively.
Taiwan has two operating nuclear power plants in New Taipei City’s Wanli and Shihmen districts, and another planned within 30km of Taipei City in Gongliao District. There is also a nuclear power plant in Pingtung County in the south.
Hau said the city would hold two large-scale drills on May 5 and May 6 to test the city’s readiness for natural disasters, including earthquakes and tsunamis.

South Korea
Traces of radioactive iodine detected in east coast city

Yonhap News Agency, South Korea (3/31/2011)

Traces of radioactive iodine were detected in an eastern coastal city in South Korea for a third day, following the nuclear crisis in Japan, a state-run nuclear safety agency said Thursday.

An analysis of air samples taken from 12 places nationwide Wednesday showed there were very small amounts of radioactive iodine in Gangneung, 237 kilometers east of Seoul, the Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety (KINS) said.

It said 0.188 becquerel (Bq) per square meter of iodine-131 was detected, stressing that the level of concentration posed no risks to public health or the environment. Traces of iodine were detected in Gangneung on Monday and Tuesday.

KINS also said it found no radioactive isotopes in other parts of the country and added that rain samples also showed no traces of radioactive materials.

Iodine-131 is a by-product of fission reaction and poses health risks if large quantities accumulate in the thyroid gland. The material has a half-life of just 8.05 days and losses its radioactivity relatively quickly, but can be harmful for up to six months.

The institute said the radioactive element came from the crippled Fukushima nuclear power station, which began to suffer explosions on March 12. The plant located 250 kilometers northeast of Tokyo was hit hard by the record magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami on the previous day.

The detection came after the government confirmed negligible traces of radioactive xenon-133 gas in Gangwon Province in the northeastern part of South Korea on Sunday, and iodine and cesium late Monday. It also confirmed the existence of iodine-131 in the atmosphere on Tuesday and in rain water.

KINS, meanwhile, said it has started checking plutonium in seawater and soil to reflect public concerns that the highly radioactive material may have reached the country.

"Because of the 'heavy' nature of plutonium, it is not likely that the material has reached South Korean waters of soil," said KINS president Yun Choul-ho. He said that samples will be taken from 20 locations for sea water and soil each.

The expert said that based on results of the analysis, Seoul could consider expanding checks in the future.

Related to concerns about radioactive materials contaminating tap water, state-run Korea Water Resources Corp. said it tested samples from four large reservoirs and four water purification plants across the country and found no detectable traces of radioactive materials.

No radioactive elements were found in initial screening, but it is doing additional checks on 15 freshwater dams and 35 water purification plants in the country to alleviate public concerns, the corporation said.

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Russia repeats warning against citizens visiting Japan

RIA Novosti, Russia (3/31/2011)

Russia on Thursday once again advised its citizens against visiting Japan, where an earthquake and tsunami have triggered a nuclear disaster.

"We repeat our calls for the Russian citizens to refrain from visiting Japan, especially the endangered areas," Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said.

The levels of radioactive iodine in seawater near the stricken reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant were reported to be 4,385 times the legal limit on Thursday.

The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., said it was going to decommission four of Fukushima's six reactors, while efforts continue to try to prevent major nuclear fallout.

The confirmed death toll from the March 11 quake and tsunami, which knocked out Fukushima's cooling systems, now stands at 11,417, with 16,273 people listed as missing.

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As core breach nearly confirmed in Japan, radiation panic grips Russian Far East – environmentalists say fears should reach further

Bellona, Norway (3/31/201)

While Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) officials finally conceded that reactor Nos 1,2,3 and 4 will never work again, a US engineer who helped install reactors at the plant said he believed the radioactive core in reactor No 2 may have melted through the bottom of its containment vessel and on to a concrete floor.

The engineer spoke on the condition of anonymity, and such a serious breach could not be confirmed by Japanese officials. But an ex-government official in Tokyo nonetheless said the theory is gaining wide acceptance among those working to cool reactors at Fukushima Daiichi.
“The weakest point [in the reactor vessel] is the welding around the tube that guides the control rod at the bottom of the pressure vessel,” said the ex-official in an email interview from Tokyo with Bellona Web. “This version of events that [the core of reactor No 2] may have been breached is being mentioned by more and more people.”
Panic is pervading Russia’s Far East coast as radioactive iodine and caesium have been detected in the atmosphere there, though Russian officials say the levels are no higher than those found in far more distance countries such as the United States, were the elements have been declared harmless.
But Japanese officials meanwhile pushed the edge of the evacuation radius around the crippled plant from 30 kilometers to 40 kilometers today.
Masataka Shimizu, president of TEPCO, who has not been seen in public since a March 13 press conference, was said by TEPCO earlier this week to be recuperating in hospital from an illness the company would not describe, according to Japan Today.

Russia’s national television news program Vesti speculated yesterday that Shimizu might have taken his own life.

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