World — 14 March 2011

Japan’s nuclear emergency: Two reactors have roofs blown off. Now a third reactor is in deep trouble.

As night descends on the 4th day of Japan’s worst catastrophe since the end of World War II, the expected death toll from Friday’s earthquake and tsunami jumped to 10,000 people, and it will only get higher.

Diagram of a nuclear reactor

Diagram of a nuclear reactor. The cooling system (on right) failed, and a buildup of hydrogen gas exploded and destroyed the containment building. The reactor vessel (left) is still intact. This has happened to two separate reactors at Fukushima.

The most terrifying danger now threatening Japan comes from two nuclear power plants which did an emergency shut-down when the force 8.9 earthquake hit at 2:46 pm on Friday, Japan time.

There have been two explosions at the Fukushima nuclear power station 160 miles north of Tokyo. The blasts were caused by a buildup of hydrogen gas an engineers pumped seawater into the overheated atomic reactors. The explosions blew off the roofs and walls of the No1 and No 2 reactor containment buildings. However the heavily-armored reactor vessels have held, so far. Now its official, reactor No 3 is also overheating and is now in serious trouble as well.

And there is another emergency at another nuclear power plant in Onagawa.

Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from within a 20 km radius of the Fukushima power plant. At least three people are reported to have suffered radiation poisoning, and medical authorities are testing thousands of others.

In towns, cities and villages across northeastern Japan, more than 215,000 people are homeless. One-third to half of them now in emergency shelters that have been set up in hospitals, schools and community halls — anywhere where the survivors can shelter from the wind the rain and the snow, for it is winter there and the nights are getting cold again.

In the towns and cities, numbed survivors queue for hours outside shops or supermarkets in hope of any food, but most of the shelves are empty. Food is almost all gone, drinking water is scarce, many homes are without electricity, running water and sanitation. Cars queue for hours for gasoline, and are limited to 10 gallons maximum.

The official body count is just 1600, but some communities have lost half their population. Thousands of bodies lie beneath tons of mud and the debris of buildings, boats and cars that cover the devastated towns along the northwest coast of Japan. Many others were dragged out to sea inside their houses.

A report from the Kyodo news agency said 1000 dead bodies had been found washed up on the shores of Ojika Peninsula in Miyagi, while another 1000 bodies had been counted in the town of Minamisanriku.

Authorities in Minamisanriku have been unable to contact around 10,000 people — more than half of the population living there. And they have all been missing since the tsunami hit, three days ago.

In the greater Tokyo area, office workers are trying to get back to work today, after all, it is Monday in Japan. But many of the trains are not running, including Japan’s famed bullet trains, and many highways and roads are closed. Electric power is in short supply all over Japan, and there are now controlled rolling blackouts. This lack of power is forcing some manufacturers to close their manufacturing plants that make Japan’s cars and electronics.

Several foreign search and rescue teams have arrived and can be expected to join 100,000 Japanese troops in combing the wreckage for any survivors. 15,000 have been rescued so far, but the window of survival gets smaller with every minute.

Editor’s note: This sitrep is now out of date. An up to date news report has been posted for you on NEWS.


About Author

David Harvey, Editor

David Harvey left school at 17 and went straight into newspapers as a cadet reporter. (He also a keen photographer and learned both trades.) He worked as a photojournalist in Hong Kong and as a war correspondent in Vietnam during the war. He moved to Australia in the late 1970s and got involved in I.T. during the mid-80s. This website is his latest venture here, combining news-gathering with the power of the internet. See: news-reporter

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