World — 15 March 2011

Bodies everywhere along the coast, Japan’s nuclear emergency worsens

It is winter in Japan and millions of its citizens are without shelter, food, water and fuel on the fifth day of the catastrophic series of disasters that has shocked the world.

The official death toll is still around 1900 dead, 3000 people are missing and 18,000 are injured. Some 15,000 have been rescued and more than 450,000 people are huddling for warmth in emergency shelters, many of them without power. It is feared the body count will rise beyond 10,000, and there are reports that crematoriums cannot cope with the dead and rescuers have been running out of body bags.

At the Fukushima nuclear power plant 250 kms northeast of Tokyo, three separate nuclear reactors are overheated. Reactors No 1 and No 3 have already experienced hydrogen explosions that blew out the roof and walls of the containment building that was designed to keep in pressurized and radioactive gases.

Engineers have been desperately pumping sea water and boron into three of the overheated reactors to try and cool them. The sea water reacts with the overheated fuel rods and creates hydrogen gas which fills the containment building. It has to be released to avoid a pressure buildup and is explosive when mixed with oxygen.

Pumping sea water into any reactor means it can never be started up again, effectively destroying that reactor… and each one costs around $1 billion. This shows how desperate the Japanese engineers are to cool these reactors . It is unclear whether reactors 1 and 3 have had a partial meltdown already, but now reactor number 2 may be starting one.

Eleven people were injured in that second explosion, which happened yesterday. And now we hear that the fuel rods in the core of the No 2 reactor have been exposed after the water supply was cut during emergency cooling attempts by engineers.

So far the reactor cores have been holding, and the radiation that escaped when the hydrogen exploded has been a relatively small amount. It has mostly been blown westwards out to sea, but the winds could change. The radiation was detected on the US aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan as it was steaming towards Japanese coast to help with relief efforts. It changed course and moved to a different part of the coast.

The Japanese people have been asked to conserve electric power, which is now in short supply in the country. There are rolling blackouts, and many big manufacturers and money earners including Honda, Nissan, Toyota and Sony have temporarily shut their factories. Many train services are late or unable to run and numerous roads and highways are still closed.

The Nikkei 225 stock exchange dropped 6.18 percent yesterday, despite an unprecedented injection of $84 billion cash into the economy by the Bank of Japan.

91 countries have offered help to the Japanese and 69 are sending search, rescue and recovery teams. The first foreign rescue teams have started arriving already, and include trained personnel from China, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea. They join the 100,000 Japanese troops who are spread out over the disaster areas.

Google has put a special Crisis Response Page in both English and in Japanese to help people searching for family and loved ones or caught up in the aftermath of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. It also shows where and how people can donate money to the Japanese relief efforts.

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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