Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Art of Understatement

A couple of days ago it was reported that standing water in one of the turbine rooms at Tokyo Electric's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant was measuring more than (TEPCO did not know the exact amount) 1,000 milli sieverts of radiation/ hour (To put that in perspective, 50% of those exposed to 3,000 milli sieverts die within 30 days; and, the amount is at least 4 times the maximum legal limit for plant employees, meaning they could work for no more than 15 mins. and not again at the site for 12 mos.)  Furthermore, it was stated that the 6,000 cubic meter room was full of this water. A TEPCO official was asked to confirm that the room contained 6,000 cubic meters of water measuring at least 1,000 milli sieverts. His reply: "The chance that such is true is not zero."

Men at Work

The world's costliest (in economic terms) natural disaster and second worst nuclear accident are nearly three weeks old. What have we learned from Tokyo Electric's handling of the latter?  Well, if you were an executive search consultancy with the odd task of assembling a team of the most incompetent corporate managers on the planet, you couldn't do better (or worse) than recruit the guys at Tokyo Electric Power Co. All of them.

When the Going Gets Tough

Times of crisis often show us the stuff of which men are made.  Let's consider the case of monsieur Shimizu, president of Tokyo Electric, the operator of the stricken nuclear plant east of Japan's capital. While the country's costliest natural disaster and the world's second worst nuclear accident were unfolding, Shimizu decided he needed a holiday. From March 16-23, as employees of his company (as well as firefighters and national guardsmen) were risking their lives to try to stabilize the Fukushima Dai-ichi facility, Shimizu was missing in action. At first it was reported that he had taken leave to alleviate the stress of overwork- apparently he had put in some long hours at the office from March 11 (the day of the quake)-15.  Subsequently, in a pathetic attempt at damage control, the company stated that in fact Shimizu had been ill. Pull the plug on this guy.

Update (Mar. 30):   Shimizu's called in sick again. He's being treated at hospital for high blood pressure, or so TEPCO says.  

Friday, March 18, 2011

Earthquake Update for Saturday, March 19

Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Plant

From the Asahi Newspaper comes the following:

* There are 4,546 spent fuel rods at the Dai-ichi facility, which comprises 6 reactors. (Today is the first time I've seen this figure.)

* Steam is issuing from the damaged spent fuel containment pool at Unit 4, where high levels of heat have been detected.

* The system which pumps water into the containment pool at Unit 4 is not functioning.

* It is thought that rods at Unit 4 have been damaged because of overheating. 

Earthquake/ Tsunami

* The number of dead stands at 6,911.

* The number of confirmed missing is 17,000.

Relief Efforts 

*Relief supplies, including medicine and fuel, have begun reaching hard-hit areas but remain in very short supply this morning.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Earthquake Update for March 18

The Yomiuri newspaper reports today that the Japanese government has rejected US offers of technical assistance towards resolving the nuclear crisis in Fukushima.

As for the crisis, there is little news this morning. Steam has been observed rising from the faciity. No other developments are reported.    

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Fukushima Nuclear Plant Update, March 17

The Sankei newspaper reports this afternoon that this morning's helicopter drop of seawater onto damaged Unit 3, whose fuel is a MOX mixture containing plutonium, dropped just 28 units, from 3782 micro sieverts, to 3754 micro sieverts, over a 40 minute period this morning.

It was reported yesterday that all personnel had been ordered to evacuate the crippled plant, but this was erroneous- between 50 and 100 plant engineers, self-defense personnel, and police remain on site.

The total confirmed dead or missing from last week's quake and tsunami stands at 14,000 today.

In addition, 18 hospital patients have died while being transported away from the Fukushima nuclear plant. 

The World's Response

The international outpouring of aid, assistance, and compassion has been most welcome and encouraging.

Rescue and relief workers from other countries have arrived in Japan and begun to contribute their expertise and elbow grease in noticeable and meaningful ways, in some cases in dangerous situations.

Thank you.  

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Earthquake Update, March 16

The Mainichi Newspaper reports today that white smoke has been seen rising from Fukushima's Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Facility Unit 3. There is a strong likelihood that highly radioactive vapor has been released.

Flames have been observed off and on this morning at Unit 4.

The facility has been deemed too dangerous for workers, and TEPCO has ordered an evacuation.

Last-ditch efforts are being considered by the plant operator, including using helicopters to drop flame retardant and water on the crippled facility.

People in Tokyo are hoarding food and emergency supplies.

Some multinational corporations in Tokyo are flying people home or sending them to offices in other parts of Japan hundreds of kilometers away.

The number of confirmed dead or missing has been raised to more than 11,000.

No one appears to be in charge.

Update 1: this is required reading.  

Update 2: The attempt to dump water by helicopter on Unit 3, which is believed to lack sufficient water in its spent fuel pool, was abandoned after radiation levels proved too high.

Kamaishi City, Iwate Prefecture

Kamaishi City, Iwate, (pop. 39,174) was devstated by a 10 meter tsunami less than 30 minutes after the massive quake on March 11. The area has a history of destruction by tsunami. In 1896 4,985 of the town's 6,529 people were killed by a tsunami triggered by a magnitude 7.6 quake.
                In 1933 another tsunami ravaged the town, this one triggered by a magnitude 8.5 quake.

     One of the sights in Kamaishi prior to the tsunami was a statue of the goddess Kannon nearly 50 meters tall. 
Today, March 16, the port was reopened and a ship carrying humanitarian relief supplies was able to dock.

Oofunato City, Iwate

Oofunato City, Iwate prefecture, had an estimated population of 40,753 on January 1, 2011. Its port, with a depth of over 13 meters, could accomodate ships of up to 40,000 tons and was one of the most important in the prefecture. The city suffered extensive damage from the tsunami but as of March 14 had a relatively modest total of confirmed dead or missing: 391    

Monday, March 14, 2011

Update: March 15, 2:15 PM

More than 6,000 are reported dead or missing from last Friday's quake and tsunami, an increase of over 1,000 since this morning.

The explosion earlier today at the crippled nuclear facility in Fukushima released a massive amount of radiation, according to Japanese media. Residents within a 30 kilometer radius (up from 20) have been urged to evacuate or remain indoors. The government has issued instructions on preventing radiation sickness.

An explosion and fire have occurred at the facility's Unit 4. The fire has been extinguished.

Eight hundred plant workers have been evacuated.

Prime Minister Kan has expressed anger with the plant operator, TEPCO, for its failure to notify authorities promptly of developments at the site.

This is bad, very bad.

Earthquake Update- Tuesday, March 15

At 6:10 this morning there was an explosion at Unit 2 of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.  Japanese media are reporting that 965 micro sieverts of radiation were released into the atmosphere.

Japanese media put the number of those confirmed dead or missing at 4895 this morning. 

March 14- Explosion at Fukushima Nuclear Plant Dai-ichi 1, Unit 3

The explosion at 11:01 AM on March 14 of Unit 3 at the crippled nuclear plant in Fukushima was more serious that initially thought. Eleven workers were injured, one with serious burns. It is believed that a partial meltdown has occurred in the reactor core of the unit. Moreover, the cooling system of Unit 2 (like those of Units 1 and 3)  was disabled by the tsunami last Friday, and it is now showing problems likely to result in the same trajectory of developments. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Soma City, Fukushima

Soma City, Fukushima, had a population estimated at 37, 730 on January 1, 2011.  Soma was an important town during the Edo era with a castle of 60,000 stones (by contrast, the walls of Nagoya Castle may contain as many as 200,000 stones)- the structure, unfortunately, was razed during the Meiji Restoration, but nice photos of the historical site as it was before the tsunami are available here .  The tsunami that hit the city on March 11 was over 7 meters, making it one of the most destructive. More than 1,800 homes were lost.

Minami Sanriku, Miyagi Prefecture

Minami Sanriku, Miyagi, had an estimated population of 17,393 on Jan. 1, 2011. Nearly the entire town was inundated on Friday, March 11. Media  report today that search teams have discovered 1,000 bodies  in the town. Furthermore, the present location of 10,000 residents is unknown.

Earthquake Update: 11:30 AM, March 14

The national broadcaster NHK reports that an explosion occurred just after 11:00 at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nclear power facility. Smoke can been rising from Unit 3.

Additionally, it is reported that a new tsunami has formed and is heading for already stricken areas. It is thought to be between 3 and 5 meters high.

Update 1: Media are reporting that an insignificant amount of radiation was released in today's explosion and that the reactor core remained sound.

Update 2: The tsunami alert was a false alarm.

Update 3: At 2:30 PM on March 14, NHK reported that 10 workers at the nuclear plant were injured in this morning's explosion. 

Japan Earthquake, 2011: Rikuzentakata City, Iwate Prefecture

Rikuzentakata, Iwate, population 23,197 (1/1/11) was virtually destroyed on the afternoon of March 11.  Some 25 minutes after the massive 9.0 quake, a tsunami swept through the town, razing nearly everything in its path. As of Mon., March 13, 17,000 residents had been located in evacuation shelters. The whereabouts of the others is unknown.  The video was shot by a local firefighter as the waters poured into the city and citizens ran to high ground.   

Earthquake Update- Monday, March 14

Japanese media report this morning that the radioactive vapor released from the stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant measured 1,557 micro sieverts.  The micro sievert is the unit used to measure the biological effects of radiation exposure. Humans average 2,400 micro sieverts per year of natural radiation exposure. 

In other news, the operator of the nuclear facility, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), announced rolling blackouts of three hours' duration to offset a loss in capacity equivalent to 25% of normal energy use.  The blackouts will affect Tokyo and other areas supplied by TEPCO and will occur in cycles over the coming days.    

Earthquake Update, Sunday, March 13

The magnitude of Friday's quake has been upgraded to 9.0.

Fuji News Network reports that 3,000 persons have been confirmed dead or missing.

The chief of the Miyagi Prefectural Police says that the number of dead in his prefecture will likely reach the tens of 1000s.

To reduce pressure in the reactor core, radioactive steam was released from Reactor 3 at the troubled nuclear plant in Fukushima. A nuclear power expert analyzing the situation at the plant for Fuji News rates yesterday's explosion of part of Reactor 1 a "5" (on the IAEA's scale of 6), in other words, between Chernobyl and Three Mile Island in criticality. Evacuation has been ordered for those within a radius of 20 km. 


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Nuclear Disaster

ANN News is reporting that 190 people have been exposed to radiation from explosions and deliberate steam releases (the most recent of which occurred at about 8:30 AM today, March 13) at the crippled nuclear plant in Fukushima.  Evacuation of everyone within a 20 kilometer radius was ordered on March 12.

In other news, the  FNN network puts the number of dead or missing at 2,700 as of Sunday, March 13.

Earthquake, 2011- Help Us

Last night was bad- strong aftershocks occurred throughout northeastern Japan almost without break .

At 3:59 AM, Niigata (where I live with my family) and neighboring prefecture Nagano (of 1998 Olympics fame) registered a quake of magnitude 6.7. Damage to road and rail lines was sustained.

Reports of tsunami-affected areas are quite worse today (March 12th) than last night- it's hard to be hopeful.

Today: entire cities are gone.  Roads and raillines have disappeared. Surviving communities are unreachable. Many areas look like Hiroshima or Nagasaki after the atomic bombings. 

The number of confirmed casualties has been raised to 2,000 (since last night): estimates of total casualties reach the tens of 1000s.

Additionally (as of 3 PM) , 1 of 4 reactors at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture has exploded, releasing radiation into the atmosphere.

This is very serious. It feels like the end of the world.

If you can help in any way, please do.

Thank you.

Brian Southwick  

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Great Earthquake of 2011

Today, March 11, at 2:46 PM,  a magnitude 8.9 earthquake, Japan's strongest ever, occurred offshore Miyagi prefecture. Over the next 45 minutes 4 more quakes were recorded, each with a magnitude of at least 7, at points along a line stretching hundreds of  kilometers, roughly parallel to the Pacific coast, in the direction of Tokyo. Within 40 min. of the first quake, tsunami had begun inundating coastal areas, with devastating effect.  As of now, multiple waves of tsunami have devastated hundreds of kilometers of Japan's coastline and lowlying areas inland. Nearly 9 hours have passed as of this writing, and tsunami warnings remain in effect for most of the country, with the most vulnerable areas told to expect waves as high as 10 meters. NHK, the public broadcaster, puts the death toll as of 12:20 AM at more than 200, with hundreds confirmed missing. Petroleum refineries are ablaze, fires are raging out of control in several communities, millions are without power, thousands of homes are uninhabitable, and rail networks are paralyzed.

Areas in red have been warned of tsunami reaching more than 10 meters.

Update, 12:40 AM: death toll raised by NHK to more than 300

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Monday, March 07, 2011

Hiroshige's "Yoshida" View, with Toyokawa Bridge: #37

Hiroshige's woodcut shows steeplejacks, or tobi, repairing a castle beside the river Toyo in present-day Aichi. Years ago one of my students at middle school decided not to continue his education, opting instead to become a steeplejack. I suggested to one of my colleagues that perhaps this wasn't a particularly wise move for the young man. The teacher's wry comment: the accomplished tobi can make as much as 1,000,000 yen in a month (approx. $11,000). By the way, the Japanese term for "black kite" (the bird) is tobi, and the two share the following Chinese character: 鳶 .

On the Tokai Road Again: Hiroshige's Woodcut Series, # 38

Hiroshige's print shows a view of Edo-era Goyu, a neighborhood in present-day Toyokawa City, Aichi prefecture. The man seated at right has a tub for bathing the feet and appears to be directing the attendant's attention to a particularly bothersome blister, no doubt caused by the chafing of his straw sandals, or waraji. The lower photos show views of the area today.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Japanese Minister Quits over Donations

Seiji Maehara announced on March 6 his resignation as Japan's Foreign Minister. Maehara bowed to pressure that he quit after it was discovered his political funds committee had accepted donations from a Korean permanent resident over a period of five years. (Japanese law prohibits political donations from non-citizens and corporations that are 51% foreign-owned.) How much did Maehara receive from the Korean friend whose restaurant the former often visited when a schoolboy?  Brace yourself: 250,000 yen, or approximately 3,000 American dollars. What would the US Chambers of Congress look like if foreign persons, corporations, and governments were forbidden to buy US politicians?      

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Supreme Injustice

The US is stuck with this supreme court criminal until he croaks. In Japan most supreme court justices are over 60 when appointed and must retire at age 70. And, in Japan court justices are subjected to a people's review and can be recalled by popular demand.