Aside from continually updated news on the Fukushima nuclear reactors and people sacrificing their lives to protect others, here is continually updated news on the situation in Japan, in general.
The read many more updates, I’ll direct you to Guardian‘s wonderful ongoing coverage of this catastrophe and the unfolding nuclear disaster news in Japan.
Update (4:45am EST, March 17):
Here’s some video footage, shot from an understandably great distance, of Japanese military helicopters attempting to drop water into the coolant tanks of the Fukushima plant. It’s immediately obvious that despite the great volume of water deposited each time it is being spread over quite a wide area, not least because the helicopters are moving in and out of the scene pretty quickly and at some height. There is general scepticism about this tactic. The other mooted plan – water cannon trucks – has been talked about a lot but hasn’t yet been tried.
Update (4:15am EST, March 17):
Shortage of fuel is making it difficult to get supplies to many disaster-stricken areas.
Update (4:00am EST, March 17):
Approximately 850,000 homes are without electricity and 1.5 million without running water.
Update (3:45am EST, March 17):
The freezing weather and snowfall is easing up and the hundreds of thousands of people without electricity will be suffering a bit less because of that.
Here is a summary of the most recent events via the Guardian, as of 3:00am EST, March 17:
• The official death toll following Friday’s earthquake and tsunami has exceeded 5,300, with 9,300 registered missing, police say. Around 850,000 households in the north of the country are still without power in near-freezing weather conditions, and water supplies are disrupted in the worst hit areas. Food and fuel is struggling to reach the disaster zone.
• But attention is still on the unfolding nuclear crisis. Japanese self-defence force helicopters dropped water on unit 3 at the damaged Fukushima No 1 plant this morning, amid growing concerns about the state of the spent fuel pools. There was no immediate fall in radiation levels. Water cannons are now at the site to inject more water.
• The move came after Greg Jaczko, chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said there was “no water” in the spent fuel pool in unit 4. Tepco, the plant’s operators, said there was still water.
• Tepco officials are running a new powerline to the plant. Experts had criticised the company’s failure to deal with the issue earlier.
• Japan’s chief government spokesman Yukio Edano says it still believes its measures – a 20km evacuation zone and a 20-30km zone in which people should remain indoors – are appropriate.
• The UK – which yesterday told citizens in or north of Tokyo to consider leaving – has echoed the US advice to remain outside an 80km radius of the facility, although it adds that it believes there is “no real human health issue that people should be concerned about” outside the Japanese exclusion zone. Canada is also telling its nationals to avoid all travel within 80km of the plant.
• The yen has hit a record high against the dollar thanks to the assumption that Japanese firms will need to repatriate overseas holdings to cope with the impact of the quake, tsunami and nuclear crisis
• With a massive international rescue and relief effort gathering pace, President Obama has offered to send more nuclear experts and support the country’s long term recovery in a 30 minute phone conversation with Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan.
2:25pm EST, March 16:
“Tepco, the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, is holding a press briefing and saying that a new power line that could solve the cooling problem at the plant is almost ready.
“No details yet but presumably that could mean the company could reconnect the reactors to the grip and so operate their usual cooling functions. Let’s wait and see.”
~850,000 households in Northern Japan are still without power, in freezing and near-freezing temperatures. There are also water problems in some areas.
~4,000 are now confirmed dead, but it is expected that the true death toll is over 10,000. Tens of thousands are still not accounted for.
113 countries and regions and 24 international organizations have offered to help the struggling country.
3 nuclear reactors have officially suffered core damage according to Yukiya Amano, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Japan is reconsidering try dropping water from helicopters to cool spent fuel if needed, something which was previously deemed too dangerous.
10:00am EST, March 16:
“The office of Japan’s prime minister has just launched a new English-language Twitter feed. As one of the initial tweets notes, above, it’s mainly aimed at updates about the quake aftermath,” Guardian reports.
4,255 is now the official death toll in Japan and 8,194 people are yet to be accounted for.
8:00am EST, March 16:
China has joined the long list of countries now suspending their nuclear plans. It is suspending new approvals until new safety rules are created. China currently has 13 nuclear plants running and 25 under construction.
A plan to drop seawater on spent nuclear fuel from helicopters to cool it has failed (“due to high radiation”) and a new plan, firing water into the pool from a police water cannon truck, is being pursued.
Japan’s emperor, Akihito, has made his first public appearance since the beginning of the multiple disasters hitting Japan. He has expressed that he is “deeply hurt” by the catastrophes and “deeply concerned” about the ongoing nuclear energy situation.
France, a nation that gets 75% of its electricity from nuclear, has urged that French nationals living in Tokyo either leave the country or at least go to the south of Japan. “France’s nuclear safety authority has already rated the Fukushima at six on its one-to-seven scale of nuclear accidents, below only Chernobyl,” Guardian reports. Industry minister Eric Besson told BFM television:
Let’s not beat about the bush. They have visibly lost the essential of control (of the situation). That is our analysis, in any case, it’s not what they are saying.
“Japan’s government has more than doubled the amount of radiation that staff at the Fukushima plant can legally be exposed to. They can now face up to 250 millisieverts
per hour in cases of emergency, NHK says, noting that this is below the general international standard of 500 millisieverts,” Guardian reports.
Freezing weather is currently causing a tremendous humanitarian crisis after the earthquake and tsunami and loss of electricity. 3,676 are officially dead from the earthquake, tsunami, and resulting problems and 7,845 are missing.
Photo Credit: Official U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Sgt. Juan D. Alfonso