Japan’s precarious situation at the Fukushima Daichii Nuclear Power Station won’t be resolved anytime soon, and recovery from the devastation from the earthquake and tsunami is only tentatively beginning. On Wednesday, the latest news reports tended to focus on the economic cost of the disaster, water in Tokyo being unfit for infants’ consumption, the black smoke rising from a Fukushima reactor and the updated official death/missing toll.
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Just got an alert from WaPo
Japanese officials are evacuating all workers (the skeleton crew that was still there) from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant because of dangerous radiation levels.
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Graphic: How much radiation is being released by Japan’s runaway reactors?
Japan continues to struggle to control a number of nuclear reactors whose cooling systems were damaged in last week’s devastating quake and tsunami. But just how much radiation is being pumped out by the malfunctioning reactors in Japan? The graphic above puts the numbers in context.
Japan Earthquake Graphic: Monitoring a meltdown
Photos: Crisis deepens in Japan
Japan Earthquake Graphic: The battered coastline
Graphic: Nuclear plant blasts
Graphic: Meltdown fears: Inside a boiling water reactor
Graphic: Disaster in Japan The Aftermath
Videos of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami
Even if a full meltdown is averted, Japanese officials have been facing unpalatable options. One was to continue flooding the reactors and venting the resulting steam, while hoping that the prevailing winds, which have headed across the Pacific, did not turn south toward Tokyo or west, across northern Japan to the Korean Peninsula. The other was to hope that the worst of the overheating was over, and that with the passage of a few more days the nuclear cores would cool enough to essentially entomb the radioactivity inside the plants, which clearly will never be used again. Both approaches carried huge risks.
I work at Apple as a manager at one of its stores in Japan. The earthquake hit while I was working on the first floor of one of their stores. As the entire building swayed, the staff calmly led people from the top 5 floors down to the first floor, and under the ridiculously strong wooden tables that hold up the display computers.
7 hours and 118 aftershocks later, the store was still open. Why? Because with the phone and train lines down, taxis stopped, and millions of people stuck in the Tokyo shopping district scared, with no access to television, hundreds of people were swarming into Apple stores to watch the news on USTREAM and contact their families via Twitter, Facebook, and email. The young did it on their mobile devices, while the old clustered around the macs. There were even some Android users there. (There are almost no free wifi spots in Japan besides Apple stores, so even Android users often come to the stores.)
You know how in disaster movies, people on the street gather around electronic shops that have TVs in the display windows so they can stay informed with what is going on? In this digital age, that’s what the Tokyo Apple stores became. Staff brought out surge protectors and extension cords with 10s of iOS device adapters so people could charge their phones & pads and contact their loved ones. Even after we finally had to close 10pm, crowds of people huddled in front of our stores to use the wifi into the night, as it was still the only way to get access to the outside world.
Concerns were first raised about damage Friday, after the earthquake and its aftershocks. Saturday, despite officials’ decision to flood the first reactor at the plant, there was an explosion in the building housing it, though, The New York Times reports, “the steel containment of the reactor remained in place.”
The Japanese government, while evacuating the area and declaring a state of emergency, has been maintaining that the public’s health has not been jeopardized by the reported rise in radiation levels around the plant. But, as the BBC’s Richard Black points out, “as with its counterparts in many other countries, Japan’s nuclear industry has not exactly been renowned for openness and transparency.”
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More unsettling news from the Fukushima No 1 nuclear power reactor in Onahama: the plant’s operator Tepco says that radiation “could have already been released” from the damaged reactor, while Japan’s prime minister Naoto Kan is saying that residents within 10km of the plant must leave the area. Previously, the area of three kilometres around the reactor had been evacuated, while those within 10km were told to stay indoors.
Japanese authorities are now warning that the pressure is still rising at the Fukushima No 1 nuclear power plant after its cooling system failed, with 3,000 residents being moved out of the area after the government issued a state of emergency. Japan’s nuclear safety agency says pressure inside the reactor has risen to 1.5 times the level considered normal. To reduce the pressure, slightly radioactive vapor may be released – but the agency said the radioactive element in the vapor would not affect the environment or human health.