New Quake Rocks Japan
Drudge Report is reporting a new 7.4 magnitude quake has hit Japan, and that Fukushima is expecting a new tsunami to arrive in 7 minutes.
Japan Raises Alert Level
BBC News reports that Japan has raised the Fukushima plant alert level from a 4 to a 5 on the International Scale of Atomic Incidents:
Japan has raised the alert level at its quake-damaged nuclear plant from four to five on a seven-point international scale of atomic incidents.
The crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi site, previously rated as a local problem, is now regarded as having “wider consequences”.
The UN says the battle to stabilise the plant is a race against time.
The crisis was prompted by last week’s huge quake and tsunami, which has left at least 17,000 people dead or missing.
Japanese nuclear officials said core damage to reactors 2 and 3 had prompted the raising of the severity grade.
Full story here.
Miniscule Levels of Radiation Detected on West Coast
Very low concentrations of radioactive particles believed to have come from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant have been detected on the U.S. west coast, diplomatic sources said on Friday.
The level of radiation was far too low to cause any harm to humans, they said.
One diplomat, citing information from a network of international monitoring stations, described the material as “ever so slight” and consisting of only a few particles.
Japan Considers Burying Nuclear Plant
Reuters is now reporting that Japan is considering burying the Fukushima plant in sand and concrete, the same method used in Chernobyl:
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.
It was the first time the facility operator had acknowledged burying the sprawling complex was possible, a sign that piecemeal actions such as dumping water from military helicopters or scrambling to restart cooling pumps may not work.
Japan Trying to Restore Power to Plant
Reuters reports that Japanese engineers succeeded in laying a one mile long cable to the Fukushima plant, but so far cannot say when it will be connected.
Japanese engineers worked through the night to lay a 1.5 km (one mile) electricity cable to a crippled nuclear power plant in the hope of restarting pumps desperately needed to pour cold water on overheating fuel rods and avert a catastrophe.
Officials could not say when the cable might be connected, but said work would stop on Friday morning to allow helicopters and fire trucks to resume pouring water on the Daiichi plant, about 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo.
“Preparatory work has so far not progressed as fast as we had hoped,” an official of plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) told a news briefing, adding that a cold snap was hampering the effort.
Obama to Make Statement about Japan at 3:30 p.m. EST
(Reuters) – President Barack Obama will make a statement about Japan at 3:30 p.m. EST on Thursday, the White House said.
Earthquake Putting Japan Back on the Road to Recession
Experts say the earthquake and its aftermath could cost Japan 3% of its GDP ($188 billion) while also making deflation worse:
Japan’s economy seems to be in a state of almost suspended animation as its nuclear crisis shows no sign of ending, sorely testing analysts’ hopes for a swift rebound led by reconstruction efforts.
Indeed, with trillions of yen wiped off share markets and a surging yen currency squeezing the all-important export sector, economists fear an extended slump is inevitable.
“Japan will fall into a temporal recession,” wrote Susumu Kato, Credit Agricole’s chief economist for Japan in a note. He expects gross domestic product (GDP) to shrink this quarter and next, making three straight quarters of contraction.
He estimated the devastating earthquake and tsunami which struck last Friday would take 0.6 percentage points from gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the first quarter and as much as 1.5 percentage points in the second.
More at Reuters.
China Suspends New Nuclear Power Plant Construction
While China is currently constructing 27 new nuclear power plants, they have suspended approval for new plants following the Fukushima earthquake:
China has suspended approval for new nuclear power stations following the accident at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant.
It will also carry out checks at existing reactors and those under construction.
China is currently building 27 new reactors – about 40% of the total number being built around the world.
The news comes as China grows increasingly worried about the nuclear accident in Japan.
The decision to temporarily halt approval for nuclear plants came at a meeting of China’s State Council, or Cabinet, chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao.
“We will temporarily suspend approval for nuclear power projects, including those that have already begun preliminary work, before nuclear safety regulations are approved,” read a statement from the State Council.
“Safety is our top priority in developing nuclear power plants.”
More at BBC.
Japanese Helicopters Dump Water on Plant
While the Japanese military has succeeded in dumping water on top of the Fukushima plant, the head of the Nuclear Regulatory commission now says that the water surrounding reactor no. 4 may have run dry:
Japanese military helicopters dumped water on an overheating nuclear plant on Thursday while the United States expressed growing alarm about leaking radiation and said it was sending aircraft to help Americans leave the country.
Engineers tried to run power from the main grid to start water pumps needed to cool two reactors and spent fuel rods considered to pose the biggest risk of spewing radioactivity into the atmosphere as the capital faced possible widespread powercuts.
While Japanese officials scrambled with a patchwork of fixes, the top U.S. nuclear regulator warned that the cooling pool for spent fuel rods at reactor No.4 may have run dry and another was leaking.
Gregory Jaczko, head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, told a parliamentary hearing that radiation levels around the cooling pool were extremely high, posing deadly risks for workers still toiling in the wreckage of the earthquake-shattered power plant.
“It would be very difficult for emergency workers to get near the reactors. The doses they could experience would potentially be lethal doses in a very short period of time,” he said in Washington.
Full story here.
Obama Administration Not Backing Off New Nuke Commitments
Obama administration Energy Secretary Stephen Chu told a House committee today that the president remains committed to the building of new nuclear power plants in the United States, a commitment he underscored with billions in new loan guarantees for plant construction offered in his new budget:
At a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Tex., asked Chu where the president stands and whether he still supports a “rebirth” of nuclear power in the United States.
“The president and the administration believe we have to be looking very, very closely at the events in Japan. We have to apply whatever lessons that can be and will be learned from what has happened and what is happening in Japan,” Chu explained. “Those lessons would then be applied to first look at our current existing fleet of reactors, to make sure that they can be used safely and… how as one proceeds forward, any lessons learned can be applied.”
“It would be premature to say anything other than we will use this opportunity to learn as best we can,” he said.
Barton pushed back “I’m not sure what you just said. Does the president support new nuclear power plant construction in the United States?”
Chu went on to explain that the president’s budget calls for $36 billion for loan guarantees for new reactors. “The president’s budget is what it is,” he said. “That position has not been changed.”
“So that’s a ‘yes’?” Barton asked.
“That’s a ‘yes.’” Chu replied.
A Death Toll of 25,000?
While the confirmed death toll is so far only 4,340 with another 9,000+ missing, reports from the towns of Ishinomaki and Minamisanriku, both of which have over half their population listed as missing, could push the count to 25,000.
The terrible toll of Japan’s double disaster became clearer today as it emerged as many as 25,000 people could be dead.
As rescue crews trawled through mile after mile of tsunami-stricken wasteland, officials from the coastal town of Ishinomaki confirmed that 10,000 of their citizens were missing.
The unimaginable figure is the same given as in the town of Minamisanriku, also in Miyagi state, which lost around half its population when it was razed to the ground by the 20 foot high wall of water.
So far the official death tool has hit 4,340 with another 9,083 people missing. But there were very real fears tonight that the statistics were a terrible underestimate of those who perished in the tsunami.
Full story here.
Nuclear Information Hub
For all the physics and chemistry buffs out there, MIT’s Nuclear Information Hub is a useful website giving updates on Japan’s situation. You can find it here.
Emergency Workers ‘Not Afraid to Die’
The Daily Mail reports:
Japanese emergency teams say they are ‘not afraid to die’ as they face dangerous levels of radiation in the fight to stop catastrophe at the tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear plant.
The stricken power station was abandoned for hours today, as soaring radiation forced the emergency workers to flee for their lives and authorities were reduced to spraying reactors with police water cannons.
But 180 workers this afternoon bravely headed back towards the plant to pump water on to the over-heating reactors. Some experts speculated that they were on a ‘suicide mission’ as options to control radiation leaks rapidly run out.
U.S. Forces Need Special Authorization to Enter Reactor Zone
U.S. forces in Japan not allowed within 50 miles of crippled nuclear reactor without special authorisation – Pentagon.
U.S. to Fly Spy Plane Over Reactor to Assess Damage
Via the Guardian:
The US is to fly a spy plane over the stricken Fukushima plant in a bid to get a closer look at the damage, according to Kyodo news.
The Japanese news agency said the military will operate an unmanned Global Hawk high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft over the plant, perhaps as soon as Thursday, to examine the plant’s reactors, Kyodo said, quoting a government source.
“Photographs taken by the plane equipped with infrared sensors could provide a useful clue to what is occurring inside the reactor buildings, around which high-level radiation has been detected,” it added.
This comes after Japanese helicopters were unable to dump water onto the Fukushima reactors due to the high radiation level.
E.U. Engergy Chief: Reactor “Out of Control”
The E.U.’s energy chief warned today of potential further disasters resulting from the reactors at the Fukushima nuclear plant:
(Reuters) – Europe’s energy chief warned on Wednesday of a further catastrophe at Japan’s nuclear site in the coming hours but his spokeswoman said he had no specific or privileged information on the situation.
“In the coming hours there could be further catastrophic events, which could pose a threat to the lives of people on the island,” Guenther Oettinger told the European Parliament.
“There is as yet no panic, but Tokyo with 35 million people, is the largest metropolis in the world,” he said.
When asked, his spokeswoman said his prediction of a catastrophe in the hours ahead was not based on any specific privileged information.
He said the nuclear site was “effectively out of control
“The cooling systems did not work, and as a result we are somewhere between a disaster and a major disaster,” he said.
Full story here.
A Desperate Attempt to Cool the Reactors
Though radiation levels had been previously reported as stable outside the plant, it appears they are now rising, forcing the government to make new plans for a cooling attempt:
(Reuters) – Japan’s nuclear crisis appeared to be spinning out of control on Wednesday after workers withdrew briefly from a stricken power plant because of surging radiation levels and a helicopter failed to drop water on the most troubled reactor.
In a sign of desperation, the police will try to cool spent nuclear fuel at one of the facility’s reactors with water cannon, which is normally used to quell riots.
Early in the day another fire broke out at the earthquake-crippled facility, which has sent low levels of radiation wafting into Tokyo in the past 24 hours, triggering fear in the capital and international alarm.
Japan’s government said radiation levels outside the plant’s gates were stable but, in a sign of being overwhelmed, appealed to private companies to help deliver supplies to tens of thousands of people evacuated from around the complex.
Full story here.
Fire Threatens Nuclear Plant
A fire has reportedly broken out at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant. Stay tuned.
Japan: More Heartbreak than Danger
Nota bene, new post at NRO arguing that the hysteria over the nuclear reactors is overdone.
Japan: On the Precipice?
It’s difficult to know exactly what degree of danger the Japanese nuclear reactors pose at this stage. CNN quotes Andre-Claude Lacoste, president of France’s nuclear safety authority, as saying: “It’s clear we are at Level 6, that’s to say we’re at a level in between what happened at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.” Let us hope he is wrong.