Japan live blog – day nine

We are borrowing Gideon’s blog to cover the aftermath of Japan’s earthquake and the country’s nuclear crisis. Please keep your comments coming and please send us any images you have to japan.quake.ft@gmail.com if you are in Japan.  You can also get updates via @FTAsiaNews on Twitter.

By Helen Warrell and Kanupriya Kapoor in Hong Kong, Shannon Bond, Johanna Kassel and Anora Mahmudova in New York. All times are London time, Japan is 9 hours ahead.

1136 – The Hong Kong editing team is signing off for the evening. Thanks to all of our readers over the past nine days. Our London colleagues are picking up the blog, which is shifting over to focus on the situation in Libya for the time being.

Demetri Sevastopulo, FT Asia news editor, will continue to provide updates on the crisis in Japan via twitter @FTAsiaNews

1116 – The FT’s Gwen Robinson writes in with this ‘hero watch’ analysis of the workers at the Fukushima plant:

Any big natural disaster creates heroes but the Fukushima 50, as the workers who volunteered to stay behind at the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant are known, have already earned their place in the hearts and minds of Japanese – and many foreign observers, not to mention their own Wikipedia entry.

There’s anything from 180 to 300 workers in this group, depending on what news reports you read and the demands of the dangerous tasks they undertake any particular day. Tepco, operator of the crippled nuclear power facility, told the FT on Friday the total number of of Tepco and ‘partner company’ workers in this group was 279.

The FT’s Jonathan Soble has some striking insights  into the mentality of these men who are “prepared for death”. But some particularly poignant emails from the workers’ families appear on The Daily Record, this for example:

“My father is still working at the plant… they are running out of food… conditions are really tough. He says he has accepted his fate much like a death sentence.”

1103 - Here are the latest figures on the humanitarian cost of the earthquake and tsunami, from Japan’s National Police Agency:

  • Dead: 7,348
  • Missing: 10,947
  • Injured: 2,603

1048 - The Geospatial Information Authority of Japan reports that Miyagi prefecture’s Oshika Peninsula moved 5.3 meters east and dropped 1.2 metres in the  March 11 earthquake.

1035 - Tepco tweets that it has not yet confirmed whether or not the most recent aftershock affected the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

1028 – The FT’s Gwen Robinson gives us her account of a day of calm in Tokyo, before the aftershock:

Just as the mood of fear appeared to be lifting in Tokyo after a quiet, sunny Saturday afternoon, the city was jolted at about 7pm by a sharp tremor from a magnitude 6.1 earthquake that hit the Ibaragi region just north east of Tokyo.

Stricken survivors in the snowy, tsunami-devastated region northeast of Tokyo needed no reminders of the continuing danger of aftershocks following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. But now, Tokyoites have been forced yet again to confront the fragile nature of the post-quake environment.

The day began well enough in Japan’s capital. Many supermarket shelves were still stripped of essential items such as milk and bread. Flashlights were still impossible to buy, following this week’s rush triggered by announcements of rolling blackouts. And public transport services around the city were sharply reduced.

The fashionable cafes of Hiroo, Aoyama and Azabu – usually so popular with exaptriates on weekends – were strangely calm due to the departure of many panicking foreigners from Tokyo.

Expats by now have fled in droves, either to cities west of Tokyo to decamp to luxury hotels and other places, or by plane to regional destinations or further afield.

More left on Friday and Saturday – thanks partly to the push by nearly all key embassies to get their nationals out of Japan. That began in earnest on Friday, continuing over the weekend with charter flights leaving from Narita and Haneda airports.  Many who had held out for the week decided to leave Tokyo – even if it was to take a train west.

A public holiday on Monday has also given ‘hold-out’ Tokyo residents – particularly Japanese who chose to or were required by their companies to stay in Tokyo through the week – a rare chance to escape the capital for three days.  After Saturday night’s quake, Tokyo may be even more of a ghost town over the next few days.

1022 – US Ambassador to Japan John Roos has just met Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan. Mr Roos reports that he told Mr Kan that the Fukushima workers were taking heroic actions, and the US would provide whatever it could to help them succeed.

1015 -In Hong Kong, one supermarket is reassuring customers that the seafood in its sushi and sashimi is not sourced from Japan:

1008 - Tepco tweets to thank Japan residents for their continuing help in conserving energy, and confirms that there are no rolling powercuts scheduled for Sunday. Tepco on twitter now has 206,274 followers despite having been going for only two days.

1002 - NEW: Big aftershock (6.1 magnitude) has hit just north of Tokyo

1000 - Robin Harding, an FT reporter now in Tokyo, says the Japanese media are reporting that the milk sample showing a raised level of radiation came from Kawamata Town in Fukushima prefecture, more than 30km to the north-east of the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Here’s a map.

0949 - The Japanese prime minister’s office tweets urging people not to panic over news of radiation traces in spinach and milk. “Human beings are exposed to a certain level of radiation in daily-life. Please react calmly,” it reads.

0938 - The FT’s Jonathan Soble reports that the UK’s embassy in Japan will today start distributing potassium iodine tablets to UK nationals on request. However, the embassy stresses that this is a contingency measure and the tablets should not be taken yet.

0920 – The UK is now explaining that its suggestion of expanding the exclusion zone around the Fukushima Daiichi plant to 80km was due to concerns expressed by Sir John Beddington, the government’s chief scientific adviser,  that the spent fuel pools were drying up:

The worry that we had is that radiation could start coming out of these ponds, either through fires or minor explosions, generated by hydrogen gas being produced through reactions.  And this would mean rather more radiation would be getting into the atmosphere than would have been the case with the reactors alone.  So the ponds represent a really big change in the situation.  So that was one of the reasons why we thought that it was important to be rather more precautionary, particularly in the area around the plant.

0909 - Robin Harding in Tokyo has been keeping a close eye on coverage by the Japanese state broadcaster, NHK. Today, he notes a change of pace and content:

NHK has now stopped rolling news coverage of the earthquake and the nuclear situation. Earlier this afternoon we had an interview with actor Hiroshi Taira and now we have a ‘New Scenes from Japan’ mini-series, which is hard to describe, but essentially an excuse to show some pretty scenery and pretty girls. As an illustration of the relative calm in the Japanese media compared to the nuclear hysteria abroad you can’t do much better.

0858 - Here is a transcript of President Barack Obama’s comments on the tsunami, following a trip to the Japanese embassy earlier in the week.

0842 -More on the Fukushima Daiichi reactors from the FT’s Robin Harding:

Firefighters have resumed spraying water onto the No. 3 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in an effort to refill its spent fuel containment pool. Firefighters are using a new 22m boom to try and get more of the water directly into the pool.

Yukio Edano, Japan’s top government spokesman said: “We can’t say anything definite at this point, but it appears that we were successful in getting some water to the pool, and the situation is stable”.

0822 - The US Environmental Protection Agency announced on Friday that “no radiation levels of concern have reached the US” from the troubled Fukushima plant.

0805- Here are some thoughts from Voice of America’s Seoul-based bureau chief Steve Herman, on the difficulty of getting clear information about events at Fukushima.

0756 - Back to the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, Robin Harding has sent this in:

NHK have been showing images of yesterday’s operation to spray water onto the No. 3 reactor.

Debris left behind by the tsunami and hydrogen explosions at three of the reactors have caused serious problems at the plant. Rather than connect a power line directly to the No. 1 reactor from the new transformer installed at the plant, workers have had to lay a power line on the ground for 1.5km, first snaking away from the reactor No. 1, and then doubling back. NISA officials say they hope to restore power at reactors N0. 1 & 2 by this evening.

0741 – Some background on Chinese President Hu Jintao’s condolence visit to the Japanese embassy in Beijing yesterday – Jamil Anderlini, FT Beijing bureau chief, tells us this is “highly unusual”:

Prior to 2010, Mr Hu was credited with implementing a conciliatory policy referred to in Beijing as the “new spring” in Sino-Japanese relations.

But continued underlying tensions between the two countries were exposed last September, when Japan detained the captain of a Chinese fishing vessel in disputed waters, prompting a bellicose response from Beijing.

Some analysts have suggested the great Japanese quake and tsunami provide the two countries an opportunity to look beyond their recent grievances and put the relationship back on a more positive track. Mr Hu’s highly unusual visit to the Japanese Embassy may be a sign that the Chinese leadership feels the same way.

0729 - The FT’s Robin Harding reports new lines on food contamination from Yukio Edano, who’s speaking on Japanese TV now:

Yukio Edano, the top government spokesman, says that monitors detected a higher than legal radiation level in some milk from Fukushima prefecture yesterday evening, and in six samples of spinach from Ibaragi prefecture today.  Prefectural governments have been asked to take relevant steps to trace the affected products and make sure they do not go on sale.

He asks the public not to over-react and makes what is rapidly becoming a familiar point: you’d have to drink milk affected at this level for a year to get a similar level of radiation as a CT scan. However, that may not be enough to reassure the Japanese public.

0724 - NEW: Radiation-contaminated spinach and milk has been discovered in two prefectures, says a Japanese government spokesman

0716 - The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has released this update on the current situation at each of the Fukushima Daiichi reactors, including a very useful table:

0700 - British firefighters are going home after participating in search and rescue missions in Japan. The UK government has sent this update:

Fire fighters from all over the UK will be returning to Manchester Airport this morning (Sat 19 March) following a search and rescue mission in Japan where they played a vital role in hunting for survivors following the devastating Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

The British Government team have been in a country for a week following a direct appeal from the Japanese authorities. The team consisted of 59 UK fire service search and rescue specialists, two rescue dogs and a medical support team who worked closely with other international teams.

They have been working since Monday in the Northern Japan cities of Ofunato and Kamaishi and found several bodies, but no survivors.

0646 - Robin adds that the firefighters are also bringing in a specialised boom pump which would normally be used to spray concrete at construction projects. According to NHK, a similar pump was used at Chernobyl. It is made by the German company Putzmeister, here is a similar one.

0635 - The FT’s Robin Harding in Tokyo has sent us this update on the situation at reactor No. 3:

NHK says that firefighters have resumed spraying water onto the spent fuel tank of reactor No. 3 at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. They will continue for seven hours and deliver a total of 60 tonnes of water.

The firefighters have run a hose to the sea, 300m away, and are using a ‘super pump truck’ daisy-chained to a tall engine that can spray water onto the tank from a height of 22m: a different set up to yesterday. They can leave the equipment unmanned for periods in order to minimise their radiation exposure.

0617 – A Japanese government spokesman is due to brief reporters about radioactive farm produce in 30 minutes’ time. Kyodo quotes Japanese officials saying that that spinach found near the nuclear plant contains high levels of radiation.

0603 - Here is the FT’s own guide to radiation by science editor, Clive Cookson.

0546 – The Japanese prime minister’s office  is tweeting advice for protection from radiation exposure for anyone going 20-30km from the nuclear plants. It’s top tips are:

1) To use use cars, in order to avoid contact with the air

2) Wear mask, gloves and long sleeves

3) Avoid exposure to rain

0532 - It seems that the earthquake has done little to reduce political turbulance in Japan. Following suggestions that prime minister Naoto Kan was planning to invite opposition leaders into the cabinet to help manage the rebuilding effort, Reuters reports that the main opposition party leader, Sadakazu Tanigaki, said today that his Liberal Democratic Party would not accept any request to join the cabinet, nor had he received any such invitation.

0514 - Here is the Wall St Journal’s list of essential twitter contacts for the Japan disaster on Japan Realtime.

0505 - China’s Xinhua news agency is reporting that President Hu Jintao offered condolences to the victims of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami during a visit to the country’s embassy. Mr Hu said that the Chinese people felt Japan’s pain and suffering and offered continued aid.

0454 - The US military has these pictures of Operation Tomodachi, its disaster relief effort in Japan:

0440 – The New Yorker has reflections on the moment the quake hit and what it means for the nation in Evan Osnos’ Letter from Japan.

0419 – Japan has so far experienced 568 aftershocks, according to CNN. Of these, 36 were of magnitude 6.0 to 6.9 – fairly significant considering that February’s earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand measured 6.3.

0408 - Fukushima prefecture’s emergency information office has posted these updates on travel options and radiation screening.

0352 – Jonathan Soble in Tokyo has sent us a new summary from Tepco on the current situation at the reactors:

Reactors 1 and 2
Tepco technicians have finished drawing a power cable to reactor No 1. They had hoped to restore electricity at No 1 and 2 – which share electricity systems – by this morning, but the work overnight went more slowly than they had hoped. Their aim now is to have the power on by Saturday night.

Reactor 3
Military and civilian firefighters are taking turns spraying water into the reactor building, with the aim of re-filling its overheated spent fuel tank.

Reactor 4
Self-Defence Force firefighters could begin spraying the spent-fuel tank at No 4 on Saturday, now that they have recieved reinforcements from civilian crews at No 3.

Reactors 5 and 6
Tepco has repaired one of two tsunami-damaged diesel backup generators at reactor No 6, and is working to restore power. That could allow technicians to re-start internal cooling systems in the reactor cores and spent fuel tanks of No 6 and, perhaps, neighbouring No 5.

0342 – Bloomberg reports that Japan’s biggest supermarket chain, Aeon Co, is adapting to the rolling blackouts and ensuring a better flow of supplies to Tokyo by drawing on distribution hubs in central Japan. “Now we can deliver daily necessities, from rice to bottles of water, even batteries,” a spokesman said.

0321 - Lindsay Whipp from the FT’s Tokyo team has spoken to a resident of Kamaishi, on Japan’s north eastern coast, who is experiencing the lighter side of life in an evacuation centre:

There has been much discussion of the plight of the elderly and infirm struggling in refuge centres having lost their homes in last week’s devastating earthquake. Limited heating for bitterly cold nights and access to medication is causing worry about their health.

But for some more healthy pensioners, life in the shelters has had an upside, and Ryoichi Odashima, 72, is having quite a good time. At dinner time at one of Kamaishi’s large refuge shelters on Friday evening, Mr Odashima is in no rush to join the long queue to collect his food.

“I’m actually eating too much,” he responds. “So it’s better if others have it [instead]. It’s all sweets.”

Mr Odashima spends the day going for walks and checking his house, and says he has met lots of new people at the shelter. He says he thought he was going to collapse with the shock of the earthquake and tsunami, and seeing the names of those who had died in its wake. He went to the medical unit at the refuge centre and they gave him medication.

“In fact, my health has improved,” he says. “On the contrary, [being in the shelter] has been interesting.”

0302 - The Japanese prime minister’s spokesman, Noriyuki Shikata, reports that workers at the Fukushima nuclear plant are continuing “their utmost efforts” to re-connect power today.

0248 - The FT’s Mure Dickie reports from Otsuchi, where officials are struggling to cope with the bodies of those killed in the disaster as blackouts and fuel shortages have put the town’s only crematorium out of action.

0235 – US Congressman Edward Markey on Friday called on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to provide daily briefings assessing the nuclear crisis in Japan to ensure the public is getting accurate assessments of the situation. The lawmakers said the regulator needs to provide more details about what the commission’s experts in Japan have observed as they assist in the response to the nuclear disaster.

0230 – Kyodo News reports that construction of some 200 temporary housing units started on Saturday in the coastal city of Rikuzentakata in Iwate Prefecture, which was severely damaged after the earthquake and tsunami.

0156 – NEW: Engineers start cooling spent fuel pool at the No 5 reactor, by using water pump at the reactor, Reuters reports

0145 – Recap on disaster toll

  • Nearly 7,200 dead
  • More than 10,900 missing
  • About 90,000 rescue workers have reached about 26,000 survivors

0130 – Images from Japan’s hard-hit areas

An aerial view shows damage to northern Honshu, Japan

Toyoki Sugawara looks out from his destroyed liquor shop in Kesennuma



0125 – A rare suvivor found after eight days:

Via NHK:
A survivor of Japan’s powerful earthquake and tsunami was pulled from the rubble on Saturday eight days after the disaster, NHK reported, citing the military.

The young man was found in Kesennuma city in Miyagi prefecture, which was one of the hardest-hit regions.

0120 – Opponents of nuclear power generators are pointing to more problems facing the US power plants – issues associated with storing spent fuel. Here is a story on Bloomberg

US nuclear plants had an estimated 63,000 metric tons (138.9 million pounds) of spent fuel stored on site as of January 2010, according to a report from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. About 2,000 metric tons a year is expected to be added to that total, the NRC said.

The fuel, which contains uranium and radioactive byproducts, is taken from reactors and stored at least five years in water-filled cooling pools, then sometimes sealed in steel-and-concrete casks for longer-term storage. Without cooling, the spent fuel would overheat and release harmful radiation.

“In the US, we are worse off, said David Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer for the Union of Concerned Scientists who is a former safety instructor for the NRC. ”Our spent-fuel pools are more full than in Japan.”

Storing radioactive waste has been a contentious issue, drawing fire from the US landlords and environmental groups, who oppose fuel dumps. The Obama administration canceled a storage site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada in 2009 after 20 years of planning and a cost of $9bn.

0050 – WHO says no travel bans needed for Japan

Via AP:
World Health Organization says Tokyo’s radiation levels are increasing but still not a health risk and it sees no reason to ban travel to Japan because of its nuclear crisis.

WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said on Friday the organisation ‘is not advising travel restrictions to Japan’ outside the 30-kilometer (18.6-mile) exclusion zone around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex.

Hartl said that includes Tokyo where ‘radiation levels have increased very slightly, but are still well below the absolute levels of radiation where it would be considered a public health risk.’

0040 – Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan will bring opposition representation into his cabinet to help push through reconstruction policies following last week’s quake and tsunami, Jiji news agency reported on Saturday, without citing a source.

0027 – Coastal towns devastated by the tsunami are facing high tides, which might flood low lying areas, NHK reports.

0024 – NHK reports that the firefighters sprayed water to cool the storage area at No 3 report in the morning, dumping 90 tonnes of water but had to leave because of radation levels. They are to resume the water spraying operation at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant at noon local time. Tepco is also planning to send workers to restore power to the reactors. The biggest challenge to the task is radiation, which reach high levels near the reactors. Workers will racing against time as they are not allowed to remain there more than 25 minutes.

0005 – Lindsay Whipp from our Tokyo team has sent us her latest pictures from Otsuchi in northeastern Japan

A displaced couple look over the scarred remains of their home town

Hideo Koga stands by his car. He jumped out and ran away from the tsunami along with others abandoning their cars running for their lives

SDF really taking pains to clean the road

Signs showing the end of the tsunami danger zone, Far from it, way after the zone the town is destroyed

2330 A negligable amount of radiation found in California

Via Bloomberg:
A “miniscule” amount of radiation found in Californiathat probably came from damaged nuclear reactors in Japan was picked up at a California monitoring station yesterday, the U.S. government said.

The level of radiation registered in Sacramento was about “one-millionth of the dose” a person gets from rocks, bricks, the sun and natural background sources and “poses no concern,” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Energy Department said in a joint statement.

2250 - From Reuters: A nuclear power plant about 40 miles north of New York City must review the earthquake threat and other risks if it wants to operate for another 20 years, New York state’s attorney general said.

“While the possibility of an intense earthquake is relatively low, the potential for harm is so catastrophic that it has to be taken into account,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said.

The Indian Point plant, owned by Entergy Corp, is in Buchanan, NY, on the banks of the Hudson River. An accident on the scale of what has occurred at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant would endanger 20 million people within a 50 mile radius, including 8m in New York City.

2238 – A shaken nation: A populace shocked more by nuclear failings than a natural disaster is starting to rethink the pros and cons of their stoic but often passive society

By David Pilling, Jonathan Soble and Mure Dickie

This wasn’t even the “big one”. Tokyo, the world’s largest metropolis, has for years been braced for a massive earthquake. But when an event of that magnitude came last week, it struck out to sea, off the coast of the more lightly populated north-east of Japan.
To continue reading …

2225 – According to the US ambassador to Japan, more than 4000 Marines and sailors have arrived in Japan to assist with “OperationTomodachi

2205 – A quick update on the day’s developments:

  • The confirmed death toll from the earthquake has risen to 6,911, says NHK, while the number of people now known to be missing is 10,316. That surpasses the number of deaths in the 1995 Kobe earthquake.
  • The US government on Friday said that “miniscule” amounts of radiation were detected in Sacramento, California, but that no radiation levels of concern have been uncovered in United States.
  • Wall Street ended down for the week on investor concerns about the situations in Japan and the Middle East
  • Engineers are still working to restore power to the cooling systems at the nuclear plant. The power cables are expected to be completely installed by Saturday at the No 1 and No 2 reactors. The No 3 and No 4 reactors should be connected to power by the end of Sunday.
  • The Japanese authorities upgraded the incident at Fukushima Daiichi to a category 5 nuclear event (on its 1-7 scale). Here’s the full IAEA factsheet that explains how the system works.