Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Order turning to disorder in Japan: Chaos erupts as rolling power outages begin

Tokyo Electric Power Co. started cutting electricity to some areas Monday evening in an unprecedented effort to sustain power in the capital after Friday's Tohoku megaquake crippled a key nuclear power facility.

The emergency plan, announced late Sunday, threw commuters into confusion. Many arrived at train stations early only to find that the scheduled morning and afternoon outages had been canceled. The railroads, however, had already reduced service in anticipation, creating huge commuter logjams.

The rolling blackouts started at 5 p.m. in parts of what Tepco calls Group 5 — a wide area covering Chiba, Ibaraki, Yamanashi, Shizuoka and five other prefectures — and lasted until 7 p.m., covering a critical period when power consumption peaks.

The zone also includes some 330,000 households in a number of municipalities in the Kanto region, including Yokohama and Kawasaki. (read more)

Why is truth being witheld in Japan? Reactor fuel rods fully exposed -- Coolant failure now reported in Fukushima No. 2 unit

The radioactive fuel rods at the No. 2 reactor of the Fukushima No. 1 power station were fully exposed at one point Monday, Tokyo Electric Power Co. said, raising the possibility that it suffered a partial core meltdown.

The utility operating the Fukushima plant later said the level of coolant water in the reactor's container was raised 2 meters above the base of the rods — which are about 4 meters long.

However, it was not clear if Tepco was able to pump enough coolant into the containment vessel to cool it off. Nevertheless, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told a news conference Monday evening that the situation stabilized after cooling resumed.

Fears of the worst-case scenario — a total core meltdown — are increasing because the No. 2 reactor's self-cooling system failed and sea water was being pumped in from outside.

Tepco said the water levels fell because the pump temporarily ran out of fuel and workers failed to notice it quickly enough.

It was not immediately clear how long the reactor's core lay fully exposed or to what extent it heated up in that time.

Also Monday, another hydrogen explosion occurred at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station, this time blowing off the housing of the No. 3 reactor into the sky and injuring 11 people. (read more)

Japan Disaster Update: 3,373 people confirmed dead, 6,746 missing

More than 10,000 people were confirmed dead or missing as of Tuesday following last week's catastrophic earthquake, the worst casualty total from a natural disaster since the 1923 Great Kanto Hanshin Earthquake, the National Police Agency said.

The NPA said 3,373 people were confirmed dead and 6,746 were missing as of 8 p.m. But with many unidentified bodies turning up in quake-hit coastal areas, the death toll was expected to jump further. By prefecture, 1,619 people were confirmed dead in Miyagi, 1,193 in Iwate and 506 in Fukushima.

Meanwhile, about 25,000 victims had been rescued, including a woman who was found 92 hours after the killer earthquake and tsunami hit.

Thousands of survivors are believed to be isolated where they have taken refuge, with around 1,300 people found stranded on the island of Oshima, Miyagi Prefecture, according to local authorities.

Some 530,000 people have taken shelter at 2,600 sites in seven prefectures, police said. (read more)

Rebels on the run: Libya -- world leaders reject military intervention

World leaders on Tuesday refused all forms of military intervention in Libya, abandoning Col Muammar Gaddafi's fleeing opposition to its fate.

France and Britain failed to persuade other world powers meeting in Paris to impose a no-fly zone over the country, where pro-Gaddafi forces claimed to have taken the last major town before the rebel capital, Benghazi.

The no-fly proposal was absent from the G8 foreign ministers' closing statement in Paris, following resistance from Russia, Germany and the US. China, a United Nations security council veto-holder, is also opposed.

Alain Juppé, the French foreign minister said: "If we had used military force last week to neutralise some airstrips and the several dozen planes that they have, perhaps the reversal taking place to the detriment of the opposition wouldn't have happened. But that's the past. Gaddafi is scoring points. We have perhaps missed a chance to restore the balance."

Col Gaddafi, in an interview, said Germany, Russia and China would now be rewarded with business deals and oil contracts.

Residents of the town of Ajdabiya in eastern Libya said government soldiers entered its streets before nightfall and quickly encircled the town. (read more)

Far from over: Japan earthquake -- residents flee as quake fears spread

They'd been evacuated once already, pushed from pillar to post, and told that everything was fine. Now the truth was out, and they were fleeing, in their thousands.

The railway station at Nasushiobara, the last one still operating near Japan's nuclear crisis area, was jammed with frightened people. In this ghost town of closed shops and offices, pedestrian-free pavements, and empty petrol pumps, the station was the only place still alive, and the only escape route that most had left.

The Tokyo highway a mile to the west was busy, too – but you needed a lot of petrol to get to Tokyo. At the only garage which still had it, there was a five-hour queue. With radiation now leaking from the stricken plant just down the road, there might not be five hours to spare.

From the town and the whole surrounding region, on foot, by bicycle and using the last fuel in their tanks, the people came to the railway station, a river turning into a flood as word spread of just how serious the danger now was.

"I couldn't sleep and I was watching TV," said Noriyuki Fukada, an English teacher. "Then it was announced that there would be a government statement at 6.30. I thought, if the government announces something at 6.30am, it cannot be good."

It wasn't. Radioactive fuel rods in one of the stricken Fukushima nuclear reactors, the official spokesman admitted, were now "fully exposed", at risk of meltdown, and radiation had escaped into the atmosphere. Ninety per cent of the plant's own staff were evacuated, leaving only a skeleton team fighting off catastrophe. Most serious of all, an explosion the previous day – the plant's third – might have damaged a reactor containment vessel. (read more)

New pictures reveal the power of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan

French nuclear official: Japan nuclear meltdown "serious accident, on a level just below Chernobyl"

Experts disagreed Tuesday over just how bad things have gotten at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in northeastern Japan, but all of them agreed that things could get worse.

An explosion Tuesday at the plant elevated the situation there to a "serious accident," on a level just below Chernobyl, a French nuclear official said, referring to the international scale that rates the severity of such incidents and to an incident 25 years ago in what is now Ukraine. His comments came before a fire was reported Wednesday in the No. 4 reactor building at the Japanese plant.

The International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale -- or INES -- ranks incidents from Level 1, which indicates very little danger to the general population, to Level 7, a "major accident" with a large release of radioactive material and widespread health and environmental effects.

"It's clear we are at Level 6, that's to say we're at a level in between what happened at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl," Andre-Claude Lacoste, president of France's nuclear safety authority, told reporters Tuesday. (read more)

Strained to the limit by disaster: Power rationing to expand to northeastern Japan from Wednesday

Tohoku Electric Power Co. said Tuesday that it will implement electricity rationing in northeastern Japan from Wednesday to grapple with power shortages in the wake of Friday's killer earthquake, a day after Tokyo Electric Power Co. took the unprecedented measure in areas near the capital.

With the rationing set to continue through the end of April in eastern Japan, and longer in northeastern Japan excluding the quake-hit areas, concerns are mounting over its impact on the Japanese economy and people's everyday lives through the suspension of factory operations and reduced train services.

Power rationing in Tokyo and nearby prefectures got into full swing on Tuesday, leading some restaurants to serve lukewarm dishes and some shoppers to find supermarkets closed. At the same time, Tokyo Electric, known as TEPCO, tried to address some of the confusion, such as that regarding train services, witnessed the day before.

TEPCO, which is already under fire for a nuclear crisis involving its nuclear reactors in Fukushima Prefecture, has also been facing criticism over its handling of power rationing as the step was taken on short notice without giving people much time to comprehend what would happen.

Masamitsu Sakurai, chairman of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives, said, ''Confusion is occurring because we're being informed when, in what areas and how long the blackouts will occur only at the last minute.'' (read more)

Libyan rebels urge west to assassinate Gaddafi as his forces near Benghazi

Libya's revolutionary leadership is pressing western powers to assassinate Muammar Gaddafi and launch military strikes against his forces to protect rebel-held cities from the threat of bloody assault.

Mustafa Gheriani, spokesman for the revolutionary national council in its stronghold of Benghazi, said the appeal was to be made by a delegation meeting the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, in Paris on Monday, as G8 foreign ministers gathered there to consider whether to back French and British calls for a no-fly zone over Libya.

"We are telling the west we want a no-fly zone, we want tactical strikes against those tanks and rockets that are being used against us and we want a strike against Gaddafi's compound," said Gheriani. "This is the message from our delegation in Europe."

Asked if that meant that the revolutionary council wanted the west to assassinate Gaddafi, Gheriani replied: "Why not? If he dies, nobody will shed a tear." (read more)

Problems Grow as Egypt's Exchange Stays Closed

Egypt's capital city of Cairo does look much healthier, if public activity in itself were to become a sufficiently accurate gauge.

The heavy traffic, or "organized chaos", as some have dubbed it, is back. Most businesses are open. Tourists are reappearing again at hotels and various historic sites.

But as I turned onto the road that leads to the Egyptian Stock Exchange, I was more surprised by the unusual tranquility surrounding the building than by the two military tanks still parked in front of it.

One of the oldest stock markets in the region, officially tracing its origins to 1883, remains closed. Trading was suspended on January 27 after the index fell over 10 percent.

That was before President Hosni Mubarak stepped down after almost three decades in power and the military took over.

Indeed, the regional situation has changed dramatically since, and remains very fluid at the time of writing. (read more)

As World Burns, Obama Tapes NCAA Basketball Brackets For ESPN Today

With our top Asian ally Japan facing an economic meltdown on top of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear plant crises--an economic meltdown that is already affecting the U.S. and global economies; with the Middle East in flames; with the U.S. government on the verge of bankruptcy; with the U.S. still involved in two wars, Barack Obama is focused on being the cool guy with the jocks in school by being filmed picking his NCAA men's basketball tournament picks. (Source)

Israel seizes ship with Iran arms for Gaza

Israeli naval commandos on Tuesday seized a cargo ship in the Mediterranean carrying what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said were Iranian-supplied weapons intended for Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

A military spokeswoman said Israeli forces met no resistance when they intercepted the German-owned "Victoria" some 200 miles from Israel and were taking the vessel to the Israeli port of Ashdod.

Israel maintains a land and naval blockade of the Gaza Strip, a coastal enclave controlled by Hamas, an Islamist movement opposed to peace with the Jewish state.

The military said the vessel had set off from the Syrian port of Latakia and stopped in Mersin, Turkey, before heading toward Alexandria in Egypt. Turkey has no involvement in the arms shipment, the military said. (read more)

Germany to immediately shut down 7 nuclear plants

Germany will shut down all seven of its nuclear power plants that began operating before 1980 at least till June, the government said on Tuesday, leaving open whether they will ever start up again after Japan's crisis.

Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the closures, which will leave only 10 nuclear stations still generating, under a nuclear policy moratorium imposed as Japan faced a potential catastrophe at its earthquake-crippled Fukushima complex.

"Power plants that went into operation before the end of 1980 will ... be shut down for the period of the moratorium," Merkel told a news conference, adding that the decision would be carried out by government decree as no agreement with the plants' operators had been reached.

Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen said it was not clear if the reactors to be shut down in the three-month moratorium would remain closed or be reconnected to the grid afterwards.

Merkel astonished German politicians on Monday by suspending an unpopular coalition decision taken only last autumn, under which the life of Germany's 17 nuclear power plants would be extended by years. (read more)

Mideast Turmoil: China Anxious Over Oil

South China Sea, with blue line added to show region claimed by China
as part of its sovereign territory, including oil and gas deposits


On Thursday, Libyan authorities sent a Chinese oil tanker back to China without its intended cargo of 2 million barrels of oil, according to Reuters. The ship will go to Algeria instead, to purchase oil there.

Events like this, arising out of the turmoil in the Mideast, are of great concern to China because of its enormous dependence on imported oil.

China imports about 2.9 million barrels of oil a day from the Mideast, including 1.1 million barrels a day from Saudi Arabia alone, according to the Wall Street Journal (Access). So the turmoil in the Mideast, and especially in Saudi Arabia, represents something of an existential threat to the Chinese. China’s dependence on the Mideast is only going to increase, because China’s oil imports will increase.

The increasing anxiety on the part of the Beijing government over its dependence on imported oil is undoubtedly a big part of the reason why China has become extremely aggressive in claiming sovereignty over large regions in the South China Sea and the East China Sea.

Last year, a confrontation was growing with China on one side, and with the US, Vietnam and other Asian countries on the other side. (See “24-Jul-10 News — US confronts China on South China Sea claims.”)

China is very aggressively claiming that the entire South China Sea region, including the Paracel and Spratly Islands and some 200 other islands, is China’s sovereign terrority, and that they have the right to prohibit foreign ships from entering that region.

The islands themselves may be of little value, but the region is suspected of being rich in oil and gas. Thus, they’re claimed in whole or in part by China, Taiwan, Brunei, the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia.

Now that confrontation is growing once again. (read more)


BREAKING NEWS: Japan -- Fire breaks out at reactor, Continuing problems raise fears of greater radiation threat



A second fire was discovered Wednesday in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, the latest in a series of setbacks at the stricken plant that has heightened fears that the incidents could lead to widespread radiation contamination.

The fire followed an explosion Tuesday at the plant's No. 2 reactor and a fire in a storage pond used for spent nuclear fuel at the No. 4 reactor. Radiation levels at the plant increased to about 167 times the average dose during that fire, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

That dose quickly diminished with distance from the plant, and radiation fell back to levels where it posed no immediate public health threat, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said.

But the deteriorating situation and concerns about a potential shift in wind direction that could send radiation toward populated areas prompted authorities to warn people as far as 18.6 miles (30 kilometers) from the plant to stay inside.

"There is still a very high risk of further radioactive material coming out," Prime Minister Naoto Kan said, asking people to remain calm.

About 200,000 people living within a 12.4-mile radius of the plant already had been evacuated.

Authorities also banned flights over the area and evacuated most workers from the plant.

Those who remained behind continued a last-ditch effort to cool reactors with seawater to prevent a wider environmental and public health catastrophe.

High levels of radiation led the crew to abandon the plant control room Tuesday night, Kyodo News reported, citing plant owner Tokyo Electric Power Company. (read more)

World Meteorological Organisation warns weather situation in Japan could change

Winds are dispersing radioactive material from Japan‘s quake-crippled nuclear power plant over the Pacific Ocean, away from Japan and other Asian countries, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said on Tuesday.

But the United Nations agency warned that although winds had blown particles offshore so far, weather conditions could change and it was closely monitoring satellite and other data.

“At this point, all the meteorological conditions are offshore so there are no implications for Japan or other countries near Japan,” Maryam Golnaraghi, chief of WMO’s disaster risk reduction division, told a briefing in Geneva.

An explosion at Japan‘s quake-hit nuclear power plant sent out low levels of radiation, prompting some people to flee the capital Tokyo and others to stock up on essential supplies. (read more)

Singapore on guard against radiation from Japan nuclear incident

Singapore is monitoring closely the possibility of radioactive material dispersal and contamination from Japan's Fukushima nuclear accident site, the government said Tuesday.

Changi Airport stands ready to deal with radioactive contamination of airplanes flying from Japan even though it sees no necessity to screen passengers and aircraft at present.

''The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore has been monitoring the potential impact of the incident on flights and airport operations,'' it said in a statement. ''Developments so far do not necessitate the screening of aircraft or passengers for radiation.''

''However, Changi Airport has in place contingency plans to deal with radioactive contamination. Developments are being watched closely and this assessment will be reviewed on an ongoing basis.''

It also urged Singaporeans returning from Japan, who have been within the evacuation zones of the nuclear plant site in Fukushima Prefecture to visit the emergency department of government hospitals for medical consultation upon arrival in the city-state. (read more)

Libya: David Cameron warns time is running out to stop Gaddafi -- also warns Colonel Muammar Gaddafi seeking new weapons to fight rebels

Time is running out for the international community to intervene in Libya, according to David Cameron, who warned that Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was seeking new arms to crush the popular uprising against his regime.

The Prime Minister told MPs that while world leaders debated options including a no-fly zone over Libya Col. Gaddafi was making gains against opposition forces.

Revealing Britain's growing frustration at international indecision, Mr Cameron signalled that he was prepared to consider a no-fly zone without a new United Nations Security Council resolution.

"Every day Gaddafi is brutalising his own people," he said. "Time is of the essence." As he spoke, Libyan government forces continued to bombard opposition positions as they advanced on the rebel capital, Benghazi.

Though hindered by a sandstorm over the new front line, near the town of Ajdabiya, air force jets made new bombing raids, according to rebel fighters. If they take Ajdabiya, the armed forces can move straight on to Benghazi or take the main highway to the Egyptian border, seal it, and encircle the remaining opposition.

"Everyone here is puzzled as to how many casualties the international community judges to be enough for them to help. Maybe we should start committing suicide to reach the required number," the rebel spokesman, Essam Gheriani, said in Benghazi. (read more)

If Market Keeps Falling, Fed Will Keep Printing: 'Dr. Doom'

Falling stock prices will be met only with more money injections from the Federal Reserve, Marc Faber, the so-called "Dr. Doom," told CNBC.

Speaking as global markets fell violently lower in the wake of the Japan earthquake and fears of a nuclear meltdown, Faber said a stock correction actually is healthy in view of how far equities have come from the March 2009 lows.

He also expects weakness to persist and the Standard & Poor's 500 to drop as much as 15 percent. Further, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke will likely give the green light to another round of Treasurys purchases, which have come to be known as quantitative easing, he said.

"We may drop 10 to 15 percent. Then QE 2 will come, (then) QE 4, QE 5, QE 6, QE 7—whatever you want. The money printer will continue to print, that I'm sure," said the author of the Gloom, Boom and Doom Report. Later in the interview, he added, "Actually I made a mistake. I meant to say QE 18."

As for the situation with Japan specifically, he said the end result of rebuilding after the quake would be inflation and a positive for stocks, while Japanese Government Bonds, or JGBs as they are often called, would suffer.

"This huge selloff is an investment opportunity in Japanese equities, but if a meltdown occurs then all bets are off," he said. (read more)

Unbelievable video footage: Amazing escape from Japan's tsunam

Video: Watch Japan's Earthquake and Tsunami Ripple Across the World

China to evacuate citizens from Japan

China will evacuate citizens from areas worst affected by Japan's earthquake and subsequent damage to nuclear reactors, but has detected no abnormal radiation levels at home, the government said on Tuesday.

China's embassy in Japan said it was organising the evacuation from parts of Japan worst affected by the quake and tsunami "owing to the seriousness of and uncertainty surrounding the accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant at present".

"We hope our compatriots in the main disaster zones remain calm and listen to instructions," it said in a statement on its website (www.china-embassy.or.jp).

Radiation levels fell at Japan's quake-stricken nuclear power plant on the northeast coast, the Japanese government said on Tuesday, after an earlier spike in radiation.

"Our ministry will continue closely monitoring developments in the accident at the Fukushima Number One Plant, will strengthen monitoring for radiation, and will swiftly report information about this," said the nuclear safety agency of China's Ministry of Environmental Protection. (read more)

Japan radioactivity could enter food chain

Radioactive materials spewed into the air by Japan's earthquake-crippled nuclear plant may contaminate food and water resources, with children and unborn babies most at risk of possibly developing cancer.

Experts said exposure to radioactive materials has the potential to cause various kinds of cancers and abnormalities to fetuses, with higher levels of radiation seen as more dangerous.

But they said they needed more accurate measurements for the level of radioactivity in Japan, and the region, to give a proper risk assessment.

"The explosions could expose the population to longer-term radiation, which can raise the risk of cancer. These are thyroid cancer, bone cancer and leukemia. Children and fetuses are especially vulnerable," said Lam Ching-wan, chemical pathologist at the University of Hong Kong.

"For some individuals even a small amount of radiation can raise the risk of cancer. The higher the radiation, the higher the risk of cancer," said Lam, who is also a member on the American Board of Toxicologists.

Radioactive material is carried by minute moisture droplets in the air. It can then be directly inhaled into the lungs, get washed down by rain into the sea and onto soil, and eventually contaminate crops, marine life and drinking water.

Cow's milk was also especially vulnerable, experts said, if cows graze on grass exposed to radiation.

Lee Tin-lap, toxicologist and associate professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong's School of Medical Sciences, said waters around Japan must be measured for radioactivity.

"No one is measuring the levels of radiation in the sea," Lee told Reuters.

"Steam that is released into the air will eventually get back into the water and sea life will be affected ... once there is rain, drinking water will also be contaminated." (read more)


Will global economy be hit by Japan?

Japan is at serious risk of falling into a recession due to Friday's tragic earthquake and tsunami, according to many leading economists. But Japan could recover quickly, sparing the global economy a significant shock.

The earthquake and tsunami is confirmed to have killed nearly 2,000 people and put several of the nation's nuclear power reactors at risk of a meltdown, leaving many without power and nearly a half-million people in shelters.

While most of the industrial base of Japan was spared the worst of the disaster, few plants are back up and running yet as the country tries to come to grips with the crisis.

"The recent events in Japan are first and foremost a human tragedy," said economists from Capital Economics in a note Monday. "Nonetheless, the markets also need to consider the economic impact." (read more)

Experts tell New York Times, “Radioactive releases in Japan could last months”

The risk of partial meltdown at a stricken nuclear power plant in Japan increased on Monday as cooling systems failed at a third reactor, possibly exposing its fuel rods, only hours after a second explosion at a separate reactor blew the roof off a containment building….

Operators fear that if they cannot establish control, despite increasingly desperate measures to do so, the reactors could experience meltdowns, which would release catastrophic amounts of radiation.

It was unclear if radiation was released by Monday’s explosion, but a similar explosion at another reactor at the plant over the weekend did release radioactive material.

As the scale of Japan’s nuclear crisis begins to come to light, experts in Japan and the United States say the country is now facing a cascade of accumulating problems that suggest that radioactive releases of steam from the crippled plants could go on for weeks or even months. (read more)

Hawaii Tsunami Leads To Millions Of Dollars In Damage, Kills Hundreds Of Fish - 15th Mar 2011

Friday’s tsunami that struck Hawaii has caused tens of millions of dollars in damage, and although the estimate was expected to increase, the damage is much less than originally thought after insurance officials inspected the hardest hit area of KITV.

Hawaii Gov. Neil Amercrombie said Japanese tourists to the state and its islands may drop significantly. Abercrombie said the financial impact is bound to be intense. The governor will fly over the hardest hit areas on neighboring islands and see the damage for himself firsthand.

Several hundred fish of different species including puffer fish and eels were found dead in the lagoon as well as the Ala Wai Boat Harbor, basically a mass fish kill. Officials are not sure if the actual tsunami killed them or if it was due to the release of fuel, oil and toxins from boats that sunk. Read More

Worse by the hour: Spent nuke fuel pool may be boiling, further radiation leak feared

A nuclear crisis at the quake-hit Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant deepened Tuesday as fresh explosions occurred at the site and its operator said water in a pool storing spent nuclear fuel rods may be boiling, an ominous sign for the release of high-level radioactive materials from the fuel.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said water levels in the pool storing the spent fuel rods at its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant's No. 4 reactor may have dropped, exposing the rods. The firm said it has not yet confirmed the current water levels or started operations to pour water into the facility.

Unless the spent fuel rods are cooled down, they could be damaged and emit radioactive substances. The government's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency urged TEPCO to inject water into the pool soon to prevent heating of the fuel rods.

At 6:14 a.m., a blast occurred at the No. 4 reactor and created two square holes sized about 8 meters by 8 meters in the walls of the building that houses the reactor. At 9:38 a.m., a fire broke out there and smoke billowed from those holes.

The utility said it cannot deny the possibility that the early morning explosion was caused by hydrogen that was generated by a chemical reaction involving the exposed spent nuclear fuel and vapor. (read more)

Radio France to withdraw staff reporting on Japan quake

Radio France decided Tuesday to pull out staff dispatched to cover the major earthquake in Japan, following a series of accidents at a Japanese nuclear power plant, a public relations official told Kyodo News.

The state-run radio station has sent a total of seven reporters and technical staffers to report on last week's quake and tsunami, and accidents at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The decision to withdraw the staff was made given the seriousness of the accidents at the nuclear power plant, the official said.

The pullout will leave one correspondent based in Japan for the French radio station. If the correspondent decides to leave Japan, support will be offered in arranging return travel, according to the official. (read more)

Saudi sends troops, Bahrain Shi'ites call it "war"

Saudi Arabia sent troops into Bahrain on Monday to help calm weeks of protests by the Shi'ite Muslim majority, a move opponents of the Sunni ruling family on the island called a declaration of war.

Analysts saw the troop movement into Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, as a mark of concern in Saudi Arabia that concessions by the country's monarchy could inspire the conservative Sunni-ruled kingdom's own Shi'ite minority.

About 1,000 Saudi soldiers entered Bahrain to protect government facilities, a Saudi official source said, a day after mainly Shi'ite protesters overran police and blocked roads.

"They are part of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) force that would guard the government installations," the source said, referring to the six-member bloc that coordinates military and economic policy in the world's top oil-exporting region.

Bahrain said on Monday it had asked the Gulf troops for support in line with a GCC defense pact. The United Arab Emirates has said it would also send 500 police to Bahrain.

Witnesses saw some 150 light armored troop carriers, ambulances, water tankers and jeeps cross into Bahrain via the 25-km (16-mile) causeway and head toward Riffa, a Sunni area that is home to the royal family and military hospital.

Bahrain TV later showed footage it said was of advance units of the joint regional Peninsula Shield forces that had arrived in Bahrain "due to the unfortunate events that are shaking the security of the kingdom and terrorizing citizens and residents."

It later said a second wave of forces had arrived. (read more)

Japan braces for potential radiation catastrophe: Radioactive clouds mere hours from Tokyo



Japan faced a potential catastrophe Tuesday after a quake-crippled nuclear power plant exploded and sent low levels of radiation floating toward Tokyo, prompting some people to flee the capital and others to stock up on essential supplies.

The crisis appeared to escalate late in the day when the operators of the facility said that one of two blasts had blown a hole in the building housing a reactor, which meant spent nuclear fuel was exposed to the atmosphere.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan urged people within 30 km (18 miles) of the facility -- a population of 140,000 -- to remain indoors amid the world's most serious nuclear accident since the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1986.

Officials in Tokyo -- 240 km (150 miles) to the south of the plant -- said radiation in the capital was 10 times normal by evening but there was no threat to human health. Around eight hours after the explosions, the U.N. weather agency said winds were dispersing radioactive material over the Pacific Ocean, away from Japan and other Asian countries. (read more)

Japan: Emergency cooling effort failing at Japanese reactor, deepening crisis -- helicopters may begin dropping water on reactor in last ditch effort

Japan's struggle to contain the crisis at a stricken nuclear power plant worsened sharply early on Tuesday morning, as emergency operations to pump seawater into one crippled reactor failed at least temporarily, increasing the risk of an uncontrolled release of radioactive material, officials said.

With the cooling systems malfunctioning simultaneously at three separate reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station after the powerful earthquake and tsunami, the acute crisis developed late Monday at reactor No. 2 of the plant, where a series of problems thwarted efforts to keep the core of the reactor covered with water — a step considered crucial to preventing the reactor's containment vessel from exploding and preventing the fuel inside it from melting down.

The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power, said late Monday that repeated efforts to inject seawater into the reactor had failed, causing water levels inside the reactor's containment vessel to fall and exposing its fuel rods. After what at first appeared to be a successful bid to refill the vessel, water levels again dwindled, this time to critical levels, exposing the rods almost completely, company executives said. (read more)

Latest photos of Japan quake destruction from CBC

Nuclear fears prompt rush for pills in British Columbia -- fallout may hit western North America

British Columbians spooked by ongoing explosions at Japan's quake-damaged nuclear plants are making a run on pharmacies, hoping to boost immunity to any potential radiation drift.

But the provincial government, health officials and pharmacists themselves are encouraging people to stand down from stockpiling potassium iodide, saying no health risks exist.

"There is definitely a panic," said pharmacist Cristina Alarcon, at Hollyburn Medicine Centre in West Vancouver.

"If we had a similar situation here it may be advisable, but in this case, how big is the ocean? I think it's a little bit ridiculous."

Medical authorities have used potassium iodide — the compound KI — in radioactive iodine-contamination emergencies before, such as nuclear accidents, to block any uptake by the thyroid.

But that's not necessary here, say officials. (read more)

(Poster note: "Not necessary here..." -- just like it wasn't "necessary" in Japan because everything was "alright", and now they're hurriedly handing out 300,000 such potassium iodide pills to evacuation areas? Uh-huh.)

Japan death toll exceeds 3,000: Another 15,000 people unaccounted for, as nuclear fears, hoarding increase

The death toll in Japan climbed to more than 3,000 Tuesday in the aftermath of a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and a tsunami that have devastated the northern part of the country.

In addition to the official toll reported by national broadcaster NHK, more than 15,000 people are reported to be unaccounted for.

Amid the destruction in the north and rising concern about the release of nuclear radiation from crippled reactors at Fukushima, shortages were affecting people elsewhere in the country as well.

Panic-buying sprees are leading to fears that hoarding may hurt the delivery of supplies to those who most need them. The CBC's John Northcott reported Tuesday from Tokyo that there are growing doubts about the government’s handling of the crisis.

"Japan is by most estimates one of the most organized societies on the planet," Northcott said, adding that "things have been different in the past few days.

"Concern and in some cases outright panic amongst members of the public after the tsunami and earthquakes have been exacerbated by the recent troubles at the nuclear plants.

"Many in Japan wonder whether the government is telling them the whole truth, or simply trying to mollify them and avoid public panic. Certainly panic is already taken place."

Northcott said he drove from Mito to Tokyo's Narita airport for three hours and didn’t see a single open gas station. "People are hoarding food as well."

He said Narita airport has stayed busy with people trying to leave the country. (read more)


Capital of Bahrain deserted as 1,000 Saudi Arabia troops enter and king declares state of emergency - 15th Mar 2011


  • Iran condemns Saudi and UAE troops in Bahrain as 'unacceptable'
  • 5,000 march on Saudi embassy in Manama
  • Opposition newspaper attacked by pro-monarchy thugs

Bahrain's capital has been locked down, and a state of emergency declared, after a Saudi-led military force entered the Gulf kingdom in a sharp escalation of efforts to quell a pro-democracy uprising against the ruling monarch.

Iran's Foreign Ministry denounced the presence of foreign troops in Bahrain as 'unacceptable' and predicted it would complicate the kingdom's political crisis.

One Saudi soldier has already been shot dead after a gunman among protesters in Manama opened fire on the foreigners.

Bahraini opposition groups have strongly condemned the military move, calling it an occupation that pushes the country dangerously close to a state of 'undeclared war.'

The White House said today it was increasingly concerned about reports of 'provocative acts and sectarian violence' in Bahrain. Read More

Panic Buying Spreads After Japan Quake - 15th Mar 2011

Canned goods, bread, batteries and bottled water have vanished from shop shelves amid fears of a fresh disaster in Japan.

Stores in the devastated northeast of the island were already running short of necessities after hundreds of thousands of people were made homeless by the magnitude 9 earthquake and resulting tsunami.

Sean Wcisel, an American living outside of Fukushima, told Sky News: "The store shelves are now virtually empty and the maybe two or three gas station that are open here at any one time are almost out of fuel and are rationing what they do have.

"I have seen lines of dozens and dozens of cars lined up and these station but lucky the friends that we are staying with filled up just before any of this."

But panic buying has also spread to parts of Japan outside the disaster zone amid fears of a nuclear disaster following another explosion and fire at the Fukushima 1 reactor. Read More

Harmful Radiation Leak After Japan Explosion - 15th Mar 2011

The country's prime minister Naoto Kan said radiation levels on the east coast had "risen considerably".

People living less than 12 miles (20km) from the complex, which is 155 miles (250km) north of Tokyo, have been told to leave the area.

Tens of thousands of residents have already been evacuated from the zone.

A 30km no-fly zone has also been imposed around the power plant.

Chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano told a news conference that the levels were high enough to damage people's health.

About 150 people were monitored for their radiation levels and decontamination measures carried out on 23.

Those living within a 12 mile to 18 mile radius of the plant are being urged to stay indoors.

Mr Edano said: "Please do not go outside. Please stay indoors. Please close windows and make your homes airtight. Don't turn on ventilators. Please hang your laundry indoors." Read More

Canada stock exchange, dollar take hit on Japan disaster: TSX loses almost 3% within 5 minutes, loonie tanks

The Canadian dollar lost roughly two cents and the Toronto Stock Exchange lost more than 300 points as an escalating nuclear crisis in Japan spooked investors on Tuesday.

The loonie was changing hands at 101.21 cents US on Tuesday morning, down 1.62 cents on the day. Earlier, it was as much as 2.25 cents lower.

Analyst John Curran at CanadianForex says the U.S. dollar is benefiting the most with players seeking safe haven in treasuries as what is being termed a "demand destructive event" threatens global growth.

Dangerous levels of radiation began leaking from a crippled nuclear plant Tuesday, forcing Japan to order 140,000 people to stay indoors. The news sent Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 stock average down more than 1,000 points, or 11 per cent.

The S&P/TSX Composite Index was down 317 points to 13,306 at mid-morning on Tuesday. It had been down as much as 380 points. After losing more than 20 per cent out of the gate on Monday, uranium maker Cameco Corp lost another 10 per cent at Tuesday's opening. (read more)

US responds to Japan quake: Dow tumbles nearly 300 points

U.S. stocks plunged at Tuesday's open, with the Dow industrials sinking nearly 300 points within the first minutes of trading.

The sharp sell-off follows an 11% drop in Japan's leading index in the wake of a nuclear crisis caused by last week's earthquake.

The Dow Jones industrial (INDU) tumbled 216 points or 1.8% in the first two minutes of trading.

The S&P 500 (SPX) fell 25 points or 1.9%, and the Nasdaq (COMP) dropped 70 points or 2.6%.

Japan's Nikkei index (NKY) ended down nearly 10.6%, as the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant deepened. Over the past two trading days, the Nikkei shed 17% -- its worst two-day loss since 1987. (read more)

BREAKING NEWS: 6.1 Magnitude Earthquake Eastern Hinshu, Japan - 15th Mar 2011

A 6.1 Magnitude Earthquake has just Hit Eastern Honshu, 115 km from Tokyo at a depth of 1 km. More to follow...

Radiation level in Chiba near Tokyo 10 times above normal - Kyodo - 15th Mar 2011


REUTERS - Radiation levels in Chiba prefecture neighbouring Tokyo are now more than 10 times above normal levels, Kyodo News reported on Tuesday.

Radiation levels were four times normal this morning, Kyodo said.

(Reporting by Shinichi Saoshiro. Editing by Jason Szep) Source

Japan’s earthquake shifted balance of the planet - 14th Mar 2011

Last week's devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan has actually moved the island closer to the United States and shifted the planet's axis.

The quake caused a rift 15 miles below the sea floor that stretched 186 miles long and 93 miles wide, according to the AP. The areas closest to the epicenter of the quake jumped a full 13 feet closer to the United States, geophysicist Ross Stein at the United States Geological Survey told The New York Times.

The world's fifth-largest, 8.9 magnitude quake was caused when the Pacific tectonic plate dove under the North American plate, which shifted Eastern Japan towards North America by about 13 feet (see NASA's before and after photos at right). The quake also shifted the earth's axis by 6.5 inches, shortened the day by 1.6 microseconds, and sank Japan downward by about two feet. As Japan's eastern coastline sunk, the tsunami's waves rolled in. Read More

BREAKING NEWS: 6.0 Magnitude Aftershock Near East Coast of Honshu, Japan - 15th Mar 2011

After a significant reduction in aftershocks today, Japan's East Coast has just been struck by a shallow 6.0 Magnitude aftershock.

The area has been battered by 460 aftershocks Since the First earthquake struck measuring 7.2 on Wednesday 9th of March 2011, the Megaquake came after on Friday the 11th of March.

Since Friday at least 20 of the 460 Aftershocks have measured in at 6 Magnitude or higher and experts have warned that the chances of another large quake before Thursday 18th March 2011 are likely.

Two Japan Quake Survivors Pulled From Rubble - 15th Mar 2011

Two survivors of the Japan earthquake have been pulled alive from the rubble, four days after the 9.0 magnitude tremor.

A 70-year-old woman was found alive in the quake-hit town of Otsuchi in Iwate prefecture, public broadcaster NHK reported. She was suffering from hypothermia but was not in a life-threatening condition, it said, adding that she had been hospitalised.

A man, whose age was not given, was rescued in the town of Ishimaki in Miyagi prefecture, the network said.

Miyagi was particularly badly hit by the quake and the subsequent tsunami that swept away whole towns and villages. Emergency personnel were reported to have found 2,000 bodies in the prefecture on Monday.

The rare rescues came just a day after a four-month-old girl was plucked - apparently uninjured - from the rubble of the town of Ishinomaki, also in Miyagi. Source

Radiation fears spark panic buying, evacuations in Tokyo - 15th Mar 2011

(Reuters) - Panic swept Tokyo on Tuesday after a rise in radioactive levels around an earthquake-hit nuclear power plant north of the city, causing some to leave the capital or stock up on food and supplies.

Embassies advised staff to leave affected areas, tourists cut short vacations and some multinational companies told staff to move from Tokyo out after low levels of radiation were detected in one of the world's biggest and most densely populated cities.

In one sign of the panic, Don Quixote, a multistory, 24-hour general store in Tokyo's Roppongi district, was sold out of radios, flashlights, candles, fuel cans and sleeping bags on Tuesday as a Reuters reported visited the shop.

Tourists such as Christy Niver, of Egan, Minnesota, said they had had enough. Her 10-year-old daughter, Lucy, was more emphatic.

"I'm scared. I'm so scared I would rather be in the eye of a tornado," she said. "I want to leave." Read More

UPDATE 1-France struggling to get G8 accord on Libya no-fly - 15th Mar 2011

* France failing to convince G8 to back no-fly zone

* Russia, Germany reluctant

* Leadership on Libya key to repairing French foreign policy

PARIS, March 15 (Reuters) - France is struggling to persuade its Group of Eight partners to support a push for the U.N. Security Council to impose a no-fly zone in Libya, with Russia and Germany showing resistance at talks in Paris.

As G8 foreign ministers headed into a second round of talks on Tuesday, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said other nations were proving more cautious than Paris over taking action to halt the bloodshed in Libya.

"So far I have not convinced them," Juppe told France's Europe 1 radio, asked about France's drive to win an agreement in Paris on supporting a no-fly zone.

France, along with Britain, has led calls to impose an internationally enforced no-fly zone to try and halt the advance of Muammar Gaddafi's troops, which are crushing a revolt by poorly armed rebels against 41 years of authoritarian rule.

Juppe said that while the international community drags its feet on taking action, Gaddafi's forces were advancing. "If we had used military force last week ... maybe the reversal that went against the opposition (forces) would not have happened," he said. Source

Saudi, gulf forces enter Bahrain - 15th Mar 2011

MANAMA, Bahrain — Hundreds of troops from Saudi Arabia and police officers from the nearby United Arab Emirates have entered Bahrain at the request of the ruling family, a move that further polarized the tiny island nation and marks the first time Arab nations have intervened in another country's affairs amid sweeping unrest in the region.

Bahrain television showed a line of armored vehicles Monday carrying Saudi soldiers crossing the 16-mile King Fahd Causeway that links the two countries. The surprise deployment came after several days of worsening violence that had paralyzed the country and threatened to bring down the monarchy.

But if the intent of Bahrain's ruling Khalifa family was to shore up its precarious position, it seemed at least as probable that bringing in Saudi troops would worsen the crisis by raising the chance of violence and uniting the often-fractious opposition behind a single issue: a refusal to yield to outside military pressure. Read More

Bahrain is now a no go area - 15th Mar 2011

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has today changed their travel advice for Bahrain, advising against all travel to the country. This weekend Saudi troops crossed the border into Bahrain in order to help the government quell the rise in protests but there are fears that this will only increase the levels of violence.

British nationals are advised to stay at home but if they need to move around then they should maintain a high level of security awareness and avoid large crowds and demonstrations which are continuing around the Pearl Roundabout and Financial Harbour.

The British Embassy in Bahrain is now closed until further notice. If you have enquiries you can call 17574151 locally or 020 7008 1500 from the UK. Make sure you register with the FCO's LOCATE programme. Source