Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tokyo update

Sendai, March 12,2011 by U.S. Pacific Fleet (issued under licence: CC-BY-NC)

Here is the latest email send from my friend Paul in Tokyo:

Prime Minister of Japan press conference at 11:00AM Tuesday morning in Tokyo. Quick summary:

Fukushima Nuclear Plant #1

  • Reactor #1 - Suffered hydrogen explosion on Saturday
  • Reactor #2 - An explosion of unknown origin occurred within the containment vessel at 6:15AM today. It looks like some fuel rods are exposed. Currently being investigated
  • Reactor #3 - Suffered a hydrogen explosion on Monday
  • Reactor #4 - Exploded approximately 30 minutes after the #2 explosion, currently on fire, reactor is not in operation, but contains spent fuel rods that is creating a hydrogen oxygen build-up similar to reactors 1 and 3. The substantial increase in radiation may be coming from this fire.

Radiation levels immediately at the plant are substantially above safe levels. The 10 and 20 km radius areas are now being evacuated as those areas are no longer considered safe. People are being told to stay indoors between 20 and 30 km from the plant.

It is not clear if the explosions with #2 and #4 this morning are related.

The Onagawa plant has somewhat increased levels, but not at dangerous levels. The substantial increase I noted in the previous email was thought to be from a cloud moving north from the Fukushima plant as levels dropped quickly after the earlier high readings. The Tokai plant (75 miles from Tokyo) has been confirmed to be stable. It does have a broken pump, but all other pumps are working. The fuel rods are cooling down normally and the plant is operating smoothly. The Fukushima, Onagawa and Tokai plants all shut down operations when the 9.0 earthquake occurred, so nuclear reactions are not happening. The fuel rods in the Fukushima plant are still too hot, and being cooled with sea water as all other forms of cooling have failed due to earthquake and tsunami damage.

To keep things in perspective, the new radius around the Fukushima plant is 30km. We are ~260km from the plant here in Tokyo. Also, this is not the same situation as Chernobyl. The plant in Chernobyl was incredibly poorly built and was in full operation when fire broke out. In other words, it was still creating nuclear reactions while burning. The Fukushima plant is not creating nuclear reactions. It is more similar to the situation at 3 Mile Island in Pennsylvania in 1979. Similar. Not exactly the same. Each situation has it's differences, of course.

Winds over the stricken nuclear plant are blowing slowly towards the Kanto region, which includes Tokyo, Reuters reports. However, the winds are expected to change between 12-2PM to blow from the west to east. We just got word from the BBC that there is a slight increase in the level of radiation in Tokyo.

Good links that I have found for information are:

The BBC live update page

The NHK English video stream

I agree with a post on the BBC live site by a man in Saitama in Japan who writes:

Ben Slaney, from Asaka City, Saitama, Japan, writes: "Most of the shops are closed and quite a few Japanese people have left Tokyo to stay with relatives further west. Right now it's very difficult to understand who to trust. While the government wants to minimize panic, the foreign media wants to exaggerate the importance of the latest developments to create a more compelling story. This is leaving many foreign nationals in Japan confused as to who to believe."


School on Monday was good and, mostly uneventful. Except for the 6.0 earthquake in the middle of class. That was fun. The school rocked around while we hid under the desks. The early warning system that is in place here is amazing. A siren went off throughout the neighborhood about 10 seconds prior to the earthquake, which allowed us to move under the desks prior to the 'quake starting. Once the earthquake was finished, we waited for the all clear, and proceeded with the lesson. No big drama. Just life post big earthquake. I guess there was concern about a tsunami, but, luckily, nothing emerged.

I stayed home today (Tuesday) as I woke up with a stuffed nose, cough and fever. Yoko and I are staying in our apartment, and discussing the situation and our options with friends and family. We are entertaining ourselves by sending audio messages to each other on Google Translate. We are eating lots of brown rice with salt, miso soup and kelp. This mix of food was found to be helpful to victims of the Hiroshima bombing. Hmmmm...that was a weird sentence to type.

In Tokyo, many restaurants are closed now as they have run out of food. Also, many stores have bare shelves as people are still stocking up. Surprisingly, the convenience stores are full of bentos!

The streets are jammed with pedestrians and cyclists, because the police are limiting the number of people allowed in the different stations to catch the trains and subways. Both the trains and subways are running at 50-60% of capacity and are packed. Some train lines are unable to run at all as the particular route travels through areas in which multiple black outs are taking place. It is difficult and uncomfortable to travel by train right now.

Lines of cars at gas stations are all over the city. I saw a "short line" that had formed at the local gas station that went down the street and around the corner. Probably about a quarter mile long.

Despite all of this, everyone is staying calm, fairly friendly and, despite the stress, things are okay.

The situation in Northern Japan is dire. Many people are missing, the death toll is rising every hour and more than 500,000 people are displaced. The temperatures this week are expected to drop below freezing in many areas of Central and Northern Honshu. Again, if you can help in any way, please follow this link:

Google Crisis Response page for 2011 Japanese Earthquake/Tsunami (English)

Anyway, you probably know a lot of this already, but I just wanted to give you an idea of what is going on here.

I'll be in touch!

1 comment:

Globalism said...

Another friend from Tokyo dropped a fair comment onto this page when it appeared in my Facebook stream, encouraging caution. His response is as follows:

A gentle reminder that medical use of radiation is typically measured in milligrays (mGy). The average radiation dose from an abdominal X-ray is 1.4 mGy, that from an abdominal CT scan is 8.0 mGy, that from a pelvic CT scan is 25 mGy, and that from a selective CT scan of the abdomen and the pelvis is 30 mGy. Fukushima's highest measurement of radiation is 0.242 mGy per hour. There is no need to panic.