From CNN

Japan Raises Severity Of Nuclear Accident

Nuclear

First Posted: 03/18/11 08:55 AM Updated: 03/18/11 09:13 AM

TOKYO — Japan’s nuclear safety agency raised the severity rating of the country’s nuclear crisis Friday from Level 4 to Level 5 on a seven-level international scale, putting it on par with the Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania in 1979.

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Ryohei Shiomi, a spokesman for the nuclear safety agency, said Friday that the agency raised the rating of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear crisis on the International Nuclear Event Scale. The scale defines a Level 4 incident as having local consequences and a Level 5 incident as having wider consequences.

The hallmarks of a Level 5 emergency are severe damage to a reactor core, release of large quantities of radiation with a high probability of “significant” public exposure or several deaths from radiation.

A partial meltdown at Three Mile Island also was ranked a Level 5. The Chernobyl accident of 1986, which killed at least 31 people with radiation sickness, raised long-term cancer rates, and spewed radiation for hundreds of miles (kilometers), was ranked a Level 7.

France’s Nuclear Safety Authority has been saying since Tuesday that the crisis in northeastern Japan should be ranked Level 6 on the scale.

The fuel rods at all six reactors at the stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi complex contain plutonium – better known as fuel for nuclear weapons. While plutonium is more toxic than uranium, other radioactive elements leaking out are likely to be of greater danger to the general public.

Only six percent of the fuel rods at the plant’s Unit 3 were a mixture of plutonium-239 and uranium-235 when first put into operation. The fuel in other reactors is only uranium, but even there, plutonium is created during the fission process.

This means the fuel in all of the stricken reactors and spent fuel pools contain plutonium.

Other developments in the crisis overnight:

ATTEMPTS TO COOL REACTORS: Military fire trucks spray seawater for a second day on the stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex in a desperate attempt to prevent its fuel from overheating and spewing dangerous radiation. A U.S. military fire truck joins six Japanese vehicles, but is apparently driven by Japanese workers. Japanese air force says some water appears to be reaching its target.

_ IAEA CALLS ACCIDENT “EXTREMELY SERIOUS.” The head of the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency says authorities are “racing against the clock” to cool the complex and calls the accident “extremely serious.”

_ NEW POWER LINE NEARLY COMPLETE: The nuclear plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., hopes to finish laying a new power line to the plant on Friday to allow operators to restore cooling systems. But it is not clear if the cooling systems will still function.

_ MOMENT OF SILENCE: Tsunami survivors observe a minute of silence at the one-week mark since the quake, which struck at 2:46 p.m. Many are bundled up against the cold at shelters in the disaster zone, pressing their hands together in prayer. The twin disasters have left thousands dead and missing. Hundreds of thousands are staying in schools and other shelters, as supplies of fuel, medicine and other necessities run short.

_ IMPACT ON ECONOMY: The yen backs away from historic highs and Japanese shares rise after the Group of Seven major industrialized nations promises coordinated intervention in currency markets to support recovery from the disaster. The G-7 pledge comes a day after the yen soared to an all-time high against the dollar, possibly threatening Japanese exports. Japanese automakers, meanwhile, seek alternative parts suppliers to replace those knocked out by the earthquake, which forced most of the country’s car production to a halt.

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Today 9:31 AM Record Number of Aftershocks In Japan

Kyodo News reports that a record number of large aftershocks have been registered in the seven days following last week’s 9.0 earthquake.

262 aftershocks of magnitude 5 or greater have occured off northeastern Japan, reports the Japan Meteorological Agency.

The frequency of aftershocks of that magnitude until noon Friday was the highest recorded in the country and more than 2.5 times the frequency detected after a magnitude 8.2 earthquake struck eastern Hokkaido in 1994.Meanwhile, the agency lowered the likelihood of aftershocks measuring at least upper 5 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale of 7 within three days to 30 percent from 40 percent.

There have been three aftershocks of magnitude 7 or greater since the initial quake, including a magnitude 7.5 temblor that occurred shortly afterward, while there have been 49 aftershocks of magnitude 6 or more.

While there is now a slight downward trend in aftershocks, they still remain frequent. Experts suggest that strong aftershocks could occur as late as 20 days after the initial earthquake. Read the full report here.

Today 9:21 AM Japan Considers Burying Nuclear Plant

Japan is considering burying a troubled nuclear reactor to contain the damage. Reports Reuters:

Japanese engineers conceded on Friday that burying a crippled nuclear plant in sand and concrete may be a last resort to prevent a catastrophic radiation release, the method used to seal huge leakages from Chernobyl in 1986.

But they still hoped to solve the crisis by fixing a power cable to two reactors by Saturday to restart water pumps needed to cool overheating nuclear fuel rods. Workers also sprayed water on the No.3 reactor, the most critical of the plant’s six.

Read more here.

Today 8:36 AM 20,000 Foreigners Plan To Flee Japan

The New York Times reports that about 20,000 resident foreigners have requested re-entry permits from the Tokyo Immigration Bureau, indicating that they plan to leave the country. Flights out of Tokyo are reportedly booking quickly, with more flights being added.

Xiao Er, a Chinese businessman temporarily working in Inner Mongolia, said he had tried for three days to secure airline tickets to China for his Japanese wife and daughter, who live less than 170 miles from the crippled nuclear plant.“Right now my family is extremely panicked,” he said in a telephone interview Friday. “Nobody is going outside. Everyone is hiding in their rooms, afraid of coming into contact with the radiation.”

He said neither he nor his wife had been able to buy tickets to China for her and their daughter. Finally, a relative of his wife secured two tickets for about $1,500 each. An air ticket out of Japan at the moment is almost “something that money can’t buy,” he said.

Read the full story here.

Today 8:24 AM ‘Pockets Of Profound Humanitarian Need’

Reuters reports that while many people in Japan are surprisingly well-equipped with basics, others are in dire need of help.

“We’ve seen children suffering with the cold, and lacking really basic items like food and clean water. Tomorrow we’re giving out blankets, and our team in Tokyo is looking into what other goods we can supply,” said Stephen McDonald of the Save the Children charity in a statement on Friday.”As we push up the coastline from Sendai, we are finding pockets of profound humanitarian need, and we’re going to do everything we can to meet them while remaining focused on our child protection work.”

Meanwhile, Britain’s search and rescue team has decided to leave the country, citing a low chance of finding survivors given the cold weather. Read more here.

Today 8:15 AM Less Than Two Hours Remain To Make A Matched $5 Donation

Until 1pm (EST) today, LivingSocial will 100% match your $5 donation to the American Red Cross for the Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami fund. The site has already raised over $1.5 million. Visit their site now to make a donation.

Today 8:09 AM ‘Something Fundamentally Good In Us’

HuffPost Blogger Johann Hari writes:

Before the Second World War, the Ministry of War confidently predicted what would happen when London was bombed from the air by Nazi planes. There would be, they warned, “a mass outbreak of hysterical neurosis among the civilian population.” For every one person injured, there would be dozens who lose their morals or lose the plot. They would howl and they would loot and they would rape. Humans couldn’t take it. They would break. They would turn on each other.

The same predictions are made about every disaster — that once the lid of a tightly policed civilization is knocked off for a second, humans will become beasts. But the opposite is the case. It will sound grotesque to say that we should see reasons for hope as we watch in realtime while the earth is shaken six inches on its axis, tsunamis roar, and nuclear power stations teeter on melt down. But it is true. From this disaster, we can learn something fundamental about our species. It should guide how the Japanese authorities behave today — and fatally puncture right-wing ideologies based on the belief humans are inherently selfish tomorrow.

Read the full article here.

Today 7:55 AM Japan Believes No Expansion Needed For Evacuation Zone

CNN reports that Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency believes no expansion is necessary for the 12.4-mile (20-kilometer) evacuation zone around the nuclear plant.

Meanwhile, reports show that high levels of radiation have been found 18 miles from the plant.

Today 7:47 AM 1,000 U.S. Navy Personnel Leave Japan

CNN reports that an estimated 1,000 Navy personnel will temporarily move from Atsugi Naval Air Facility in Japan to Guam. Read more here.

Today 7:34 AM Wind Farms Survive Catastrophe In Japan

HuffPost Blogger Kelly Rigg writes:

As the world collectively holds its breath to see how the Fukushima crisis plays out (the quote of the day has got to be: “The worst-case scenario doesn’t bear mentioning and the best-case scenario keeps getting worse…”) there’s a positive story which is not yet being reported.

Despite assertions by its detractors that wind energy would not survive an earthquake or tsunami the Japanese wind industry is still functioning and helping to keep the lights on during the Fuksuhima crisis.

Read the full story here.

Today 7:29 AM WATCH: Man Escapes Building Next To Nuclear Plant During Quake

Chris Hope, a software engineer, was in the building next to the Fukushima nuclear plant when the earthquake hit. He tells CNN, “I was thinking, ‘wow this is kinda neat to be experiencing this earthquake in Japan.’ But quickly my mind changed. It got very violent… we just said ‘Let’s get the heck out of here.’ As soon as we got into the hallway, we were immediately trapped.”

Hope goes on to explain how he escaped from the building, which was sealed by fire doors. Once outside, he watched as a group of about 25 workers tried to escape the nuclear compound. The compound is surrounded by tall iron fences, which wouldn’t open due to power outages. Some workers tried climbing over the sharp pointed fence, while other tried to pry open the gate.

WATCH:

Today 7:03 AM Tiny Amount Of Radiation Reaches U.S.

AP reports:

A diplomat says Japan’s radioactive fallout has reached Southern California but first readings are “about a billion times beneath levels that would be health threatening.”

The diplomat, who has access to U.N. radiation tracking, was citing readings Friday from one of its California-based measuring station. He asked for anonymity Friday because the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization does not make its data public.

Today 6:59 AM Air Travel Is Safe From Radiation, Screenings May Be Unnecessary

According to Reuters, U.N. weather expert Herbert Puempel believes that all air travel is safe from radiation, except for in the immediate nuclear plant area. Radiation does not appear to have reached the upper atmosphere.

Puempel also reportedly stated that incoming passengers from Japan flights do not need to be screened for radiation. Recent radiation screenings in the U.S. have reported mixed results.

Read more here.

Today 6:53 AM WATCH: Crack Slowly Widens In Tokyo As Water Gushes Up From Ground

In this YouTube video posted by “millwark,” a man films a quake from Central Park in Tokyo. He catches on camera the ground cracking open and water gushing up from below.

WATCH:

Today 6:42 AM U.S. Regulators Have Taken Little Action To Improve Seismic Risk To Reactors

The Center For Public Integrity has released a report suggesting that U.S. regulators are aware of seismic risks to nuclear reactors in the U.S., but have taken little action to improve the situation:

Data from the U.S. Geological Survey and other sources suggest, for example, that “the rate of earthquake occurrence … is greater than previously recognized” in eastern Tennessee and areas including Charleston, S.C., and New Madrid, Mo., according to the NRC document. There are 11 reactors in Tennessee, South Carolina and Missouri.GI-199, a collaborative effort between the NRC and the nuclear industry, has taken on new urgency in light of the crisis in Japan. “Updated estimates of seismic hazard values at some of the sites could potentially exceed the design basis” for the plants, the NRC document says.

Read the full report here.

Today 6:30 AM Imported Cars Present No Radiation Dangers

AutoBlog reports that cars imported from Japan present no radiation dangers:

Inside Line reports that Toyota, Honda and Nissan are working hard to assure car buyers that its products aren’t radioactive. Japan’s big three each told IL that the vast majority of their plants are nowhere near a nuclear reactor, with the exception of one Nissan engine plant. Nissan Americas communications VP David Reuter told IL that the company “will take all necessary actions to ensure safety.”Toyota communications VP Mike Michels echoed Reuter’s statement, adding “vehicles are plastic-wrapped on ships and washed at our processing facilities before shipping to dealers. This is normal procedure.” Further, the U.S. government routinely inspects cargo entering the U.S. That includes checking for radiation, and anything else that can harm American citizens.

Read more here.

Today 6:18 AM Supply Shortages May Impact Products Including New iPad

Reuters reports that the world’s manufacturing supply chain has been disrupted by the disaster in Japan, as plants across the country shut down.

Apple may face shortages of key parts for its newly released iPad 2, according to research firm IHS iSuppli.Several parts of the new version of the popular iPad tablet PC come from Japan, including the battery and the flash memory used to store music and video on the device.

“Logistical disruptions may mean Apple could have difficulties obtaining this battery and it may not be able to secure supply from a … non-Japanese source,” iSuppli said.

Companies around the world are facing similar disruptions. Read more here.

Today 6:08 AM High Levels Of Radiation Found 18 Miles From Plant

MSNBC reports that according to Japan’s science ministry, high levels of radiation have been found 18 miles from the Fukushima plant.

Experts said exposure for just six hours would result in absorption of the maximum level considered safe for a year, Japanese broadcaster NHK reported.The ministry said up to 0.17 millisieverts per hour have been detected 18 miles northwest of the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, according to NHK.

Read more here.

Today 5:56 AM Blindly Fighting Fire

Reuters reports on the challenges of fighting to control the nuclear plant:

Japanese engineers cannot say if a quake-damaged nuclear reactors in the northeast are under control, Hideohiko Nishiyama, deputy director general of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, told reporters.”With the water-spraying operations, we are fighting a fire we cannot see,” he said. “That fire is not spreading, but we cannot say yet that it is under control.”

Today 5:47 AM U.S. Nuclear Safety In The Spotlight

HuffPost Reporters Chris Kirkham and Lila Shapiro write:

The nuclear crisis in Japan has prompted a re-examination of the safety net for nuclear power in the United States, with former regulators and safety advocates warning that gaps in the nation’s regulatory armor could leave Americans similarly vulnerable to disaster.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the federal oversight body tasked with licensing and inspecting civilian nuclear facilities, too frequently relies on reports from the industry itself in monitoring for trouble, and is too lenient in meting out sanctions when it encounters violations, these critics say.

Though the commission posts inspectors at every plant, several independent and government reports note that these on-site observers document only a fraction of the events they observe on a daily basis.

Read the full report here.

Today 5:43 AM 9-Year-Old Boy Desperately Searches For Entire Family

MSNBC and Asahi News report on Toshihito Aisawa, a 9-year-old boy who is searching for his family, lost during the tsunami.

Toshihito’s family was driving towards higher ground after the earthquake, when the tsunami struck. Toshihito crawled out of the car’s broken window, and a man later rescued him from the water.

Toshihito has been canvassing evacuation centers, holding up signs that list the names of his family members and the message “I will come again tomorrow.”

View the photo blog and read the full story here.

Today 5:34 AM Living Within The ‘Stay Indoors’ Zone

BBC News offers a story from Dai Saito, who is remaining in his home located within the 20-30km “stay indoors” zone near the nuclear plant.

The reason I don’t evacuate is that we lack petrol but actually my mother would not want to leave here even if we could. Of course I don’t want to leave either but I don’t want to die.The people who managed to leave the area have to have tests to get a certificate of radiation exposure, to confirm they are safe.

Often, privately funded shelters do not accept people without the certificate. On the other hand, public shelters often cannot accept all the refugees because of their limited capacity.

Read the full story here.

Today 5:27 AM ‘Difficult To Promote Nuclear Energy’

According to The Japan Times, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano confirms that the Japanese government may make a major shift away from nuclear power as an energy source. Liberal Democratic Party President Sadakazu Tanigaki had made similar comments a day before, remarking, “The situation became difficult to promote nuclear energy.”

Currently, Japan receives almost 30 percent of its energy from nuclear plants.

Edama said, “The government is not yet in a place where we’ve made a decision but (Tanigaki’s remark) is reasonable.”

Read more here.

Today 5:15 AM Severity Level Rises On Scale For Reactors

Kyodo News reports on the rising severity level:

Japan raised the severity level of crisis-hit reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to 5 on a 7-level international scale, the same level as the Three Mile Island accident in the United States in 1979, Japan’s nuclear safety agency said Friday.The provisional evaluation stands at level 5 of the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale for the plant’s No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 reactors as their cores are believed to have partially melted and radiation leaks continue, the government’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said.

Read the full report here.

Today 5:09 AM Contemplating The Effects Of A ‘Chernobyl Solution’

Reuters reports that as a last resort, Japan may have to turn to a ‘Chernobyl solution.’ This would involve burying the nuclear plant in sand and concrete. The action would not come without consequences — part of the country would possibly be marked as off-limits for decades.

Professor Murray Jennex explains that this action would not be simple.

“They (reactors) are kind of like a coffee maker. If you leave it on the heat, they boil dry and then they crack,” he said.”Putting concrete on that wouldn’t help keep your coffee maker safe. But eventually, yes, you could build a concrete shield and be done with it.”

Read the full story here.

Today 0:04 AM ‘Grave And Serious’

Reuters @ Reuters : FLASH: IAEA Chief: Japan Fukushima nuclear incident is a ‘grave and serious’ accident
03/17/2011 11:11 PM Spraying Of Reactor Resumes

CNN reports:

Japanese authorities’ urgent attempts to avert a nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant entered a second week Friday as workers resumed ground efforts to douse the fuel pool of one particularly perilous reactor.Three earlier rounds of attempts to project tons of water from helicopters above and from water cannons outside the No. 3 reactor have been “somewhat effective,” said an official with the Tokyo Electric Power Co., which owns the nuclear facility.

Full story here.

03/17/2011 10:28 PM Message From International Atomic Energy Agency To Japanese Prime Minister

Reuters @ Reuters : FLASH: IAEA Head Amano urges Japan PM Kan to give more detailed information on reactors
03/17/2011 9:58 PM Man Donates Radiaton Suits To Workers In Japan

03/17/2011 9:53 PM Video From Inside A Vehicle Hit By Tsunami
03/17/2011 9:30 PM Fire Trucks To Douse Reactor

Reuters reports here.

 

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