Wednesday, March 16, 2011

World energy crunch as nuclear and oil both go wrong -- no oil, no nuclear, no solutions

Libya's civil war has cut global crude supply by 1.1m barrels per day (bpd), eroding Opec's spare capacity to a wafer-thin margin of 2m bpd, if Goldman Sachs is correct.

Now events in the Gulf have turned dangerous after Saudi Arabia sent troops into Bahrain to help the Sunni monarchy crush largely Shi'ite dissent, risking a showdown with Iran.

Russia's finance minister Alexei Kudrin warned on Wednesday that the confluence of events in Japan and the Mid-East could push oil to $200 a barrel in a "short-lived" spike, which would snuff out global recovery.

While there has been no loss of oil output in the Gulf so far, the violent crackdown in Manama on Wednesday left four people dead and risks inflaming the volatile geopolitics of the region. The rout of protesters encamped at the Pearl roundabout had echoes of China's Tiananmen massacre.

The risk group Exclusive Analysis said such heavy-handed methods may provoke Iran to launch a proxy war by arming insurgents. This could rapidly cross the border, fuelling Shia irredentism in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province. Any threat to Saudi control over the 5m bpd Ghawar oil field nearby would be a global "game-changer". "Much worse headlines can easily be imagined," said Raza Agha from RBS. (read more)




Japan stock exchange (Nikkei 225) continues to plunge as nuclear fears explode

Stocks in Japan dropped Thursday morning there amid fears of a nuclear crisis following the nation's catastrophic natural disaster.

The Nikkei 225 index, the most prominent measure of stocks traded in Tokyo, dropped 204 points, or 2.3%, a few hours into trading.

The index recovered nearly 6% on Wednesday after plunging a combined 16% during the first two trading days following last week's massive earthquake and tsunami.

Investors remain focused on the effort to cool damaged reactors and prevent a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, located about 138 miles north of Tokyo.

The head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Wednesday that spent fuel rods in Unit 4 of the stricken nuclear plant have been exposed, resulting in the emission of "extremely high" levels of radiation. (read more)

Helicopters dump water on nuclear plant in Japan in absolute last ditch effort as world watches -- water cannons being brought in

Helicopters dumped water Thursday on and near the Nos. 3 and 4 units at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in the latest attempt to halt the nuclear accident that appeared to be spinning out of control. The helicopters belong to the nation's self-defense forces, public broadcaster NHK reported.

Initially, just a few drops were carried out before the operation was suspended. An NHK commentator said about 100 would be needed for the operation to succeed.

During the afternoon, engineers were planning to begin the process of restoring power to the stricken nuclear complex, a government official said. The complex lost its power Friday, when a 9.0 earthquake followed by a tsunami hammered northeastern Japan.

"Today, we are trying to restore the power supply using the power lines from outside," said the official with the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency. "This is one of the high-priority issues that we have to address."

Once the power supply has been re-established, the cooling system will be operated using seawater, he said. But he warned that the process will not be immediate.

"It will take time to restore the function of the main part of the facilities, because the pumps were contaminated by seawater and must be repaired before reuse," he said, adding that temporary pumps would be used initially.

The move came a few hours after the head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission testified that spent fuel rods in Unit 4 of Japan's stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant had been exposed, resulting in the emission of "extremely high" levels of radiation. (read more)

Biggest jump in food costs in 36 years: Wholesale prices up 1.6% on steep rise in food

Wholesale prices jumped last month by the most in nearly two years due to higher energy costs and the steepest rise in food prices in 36 years. Excluding those volatile categories, inflation was tame.

The Labor Department said Wednesday that the Producer Price Index rose a seasonally adjusted 1.6 percent in February -- double the 0.8 percent rise in the previous month. Outside of food and energy costs, the core index ticked up 0.2 percent, less than January's 0.5 percent rise.

Food prices soared 3.9 percent last month, the biggest gain since November 1974. Most of that increase was due to a sharp rise in vegetable costs, which increased nearly 50 percent. That was the most in almost a year. Meat and dairy products also rose.

Energy prices rose 3.3 percent last month, led by a 3.7 percent increase in gasoline costs.

Separately, the Commerce Department said home construction plunged to a seasonally adjusted 479,000 homes last month, down 22.5 percent from the previous month. It was lowest level since April 2009, and the second-lowest on records dating back more than a half-century.

The building pace is far below the 1.2 million units a year that economists consider healthy. (read more)

Mandatory Spending to Exceed all Federal Revenues — 50 Years Ahead of Schedule

We have now gotten to the point — as I noted yesterday — where if national defense, interstate highways, national parks, homeland security, and all other discretionary programs somehow became absolutely free, we’d still have a budget deficit. The White House Office of Management and Budget projects that in the current fiscal year (2011), mandatory spending alone will exceed all federal receipts. So even if we didn’t spend a single cent on discretionary programs, we still wouldn’t be able to balance our budget this year — let alone pay off any of the $14 trillion in debt that we have already accumulated.

Just an Olympiad ago, in 2007, the picture was quite different. In fact, in that year, federal revenues not only exceeded mandatory spending, but they exceeded it by more than $1 trillion ($1.117 trillion, to be more exact). The next year, 2008, during which the gap fell to a still-huge $914 billion, the Bush administration released a report issuing a rather dire warning (p. 25). The report said that, “if left unchanged, mandatory spending alone is projected to exceed total projected Government receipts in approximately 50 years.” That dire prediction has now come true — about 50 years earlier than projected. (read more)

Invasive and unhealthy: TSA Admits Bungling of Airport Body-Scanner Radiation Tests

The Transportation Security Administration is re-analyzing the radiation levels of X-ray body scanners installed in airports nationwide, after testing produced dramatically higher-than-expected results.

The TSA, which has deployed at least 500 body scanners to at least 78 airports, said Tuesday the machines meet all safety standards and would remain in operation despite a “calculation error” in safety studies. The flawed results showed radiation levels 10 times higher than expected.

At least one flier group, the Association for Airline Passenger Rights, is urging the government to stop using the $180,000 machines that produce a virtual-nude image of the body until new tests are concluded in May.

“Airline passengers have enough concerns about flying — including numerous ones about how TSA conducts its haphazard security screenings — so it is TSA’s responsibility to ensure passengers are not being exposed to unhealthy amounts of radiation,” Brandon Macsata, executive director of the group, said in a statement.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center has been a loud voice opposing the machines. Last week, it urged a federal appeals court to stop using them until further health studies were conducted. Marc Rotenberg, EPIC’s executive director, is expected to tell the same thing to a congressional panel Wednesday.

“The agency should have conducted a public rule-making so that these risks could have been more carefully assessed,” (.pdf) according to a transcript of his expected testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. (read more)

Bahrain crackdown routs protesters; clashes kill 5

Soldiers and riot police expelled hundreds of protesters from a landmark square in Bahrain's capital on Wednesday, using tear gas and armored vehicles to try to subdue the growing movement challenging the 200-year-old monarchy. At least five people were killed as clashes flared across the kingdom, according to witnesses and officials.

The unrest that began last month has increasingly showed signs of a sectarian showdown: The country's Sunni leaders are desperate to hold power, and majority Shiites are calling for an end to their dynasty. A Saudi-led force from Gulf allies, fearful for their own regimes and worried about Shiite Iran's growing influence, has grown to more than 1,000 soldiers.

Wednesday's full-scale assault launched at dawn in Pearl Square, the center of the uprising inspired by Arab revolts in Egypt and Tunisia. Hours later, security forces were picking through burned debris and other remains of the protest camp. (read more)

CBC's latest photos of Japan quake and tsunami: gallery

Navy says radiation releases pose challenging environment -- US personnel taking iodide before conducting missions

The ongoing radioactivity releases from damaged nuclear reactors in Japan after last week's historic earthquake are creating "one of the most challenging humanitarian operations ever conducted," according to Cmdr. Jeff Davis, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet in Japan.

Davis said Tuesday that for the second time, U.S. helicopter crews have been exposed to elevated, albeit low, levels of radiation during flights near Japan's nuclear reactors. In addition, the Navy is moving three incoming ships to a new location because of "radiological and navigation hazards" at their intended destination on the eastern coast of Honshu, according to Davis.

Just as in an incident on Sunday, the crew members were stripped of contaminated clothing, scrubbed down with soap and water and tested. In all cases, they no longer tested positive for radiation exposure.

On Sunday, tests detected low levels of radioactivity on 17 U.S. Navy helicopter crew members when they returned to the USS Ronald Reagan after conducting disaster relief missions in Japan, the military said Monday. (read more)

Underground information on what's happening at Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan - a dirty bomb waiting to go off?

NaturalNews has received information directly from an American who happened to be in Tokyo at the time of the nuclear incident and who also happens to have a background in atomic energy and nuclear reactors. He has sent us some extremely disturbing information that seems to indicate the situation with the reactors in Japan is far, far worse than what the conventional media is describing. We are not releasing this individual's name for obvious reasons (he's still in Tokyo and virtually unreachable), but he is an individual who is known to me personally and with whom I have spent a considerable number of hours over a period of two years. He is a very high-integrity individual and someone who is also extremely well connected in the world of advanced medicine.

In an email sent from Tokyo, this individual explains:

"...nuclear reactors use bundles of enriched uranium packed into stainless steel fuel rods in order to generate the heat that drives the turbines. You need to keep these bundles of pins cool otherwise they melt or burst.

Now, it seems the Fukushima power plant pulled spent fuel bundles (a collection of fuel rods) and stored them on site rather than shipping them to another location. Speculation is that in addition to the fires that are damaging the working reactor, these storage areas of their spent fuel bundles could [now] be on fire. This vastly compounds the problem of any meltdown, as this spent fuel will add to the contamination [because] it is extremely toxic." (read more)

Full Core Meltdown In Japan Will Send Radiation Over United States?

Energy Secretary Steven Chu: Japan crisis could end up more serious than Three Mile Island

Energy Secretary Steven Chu told members of Congress Wednesday that the rapidly unfolding nuclear crisis in Japan may be more serious than the situation faced by U.S. officials during the Three Mile Island meltdown in 1979.

But "we don't really know in detail what's happening" in Japan, he cautioned. "We hear conflicting reports."

"What I remember is that within a 20-mile or so radius (of Three Mile Island) that the average exposure of people closest was a very small fraction of background radiation," he said, noting that his knowledge of the incident came from a Nuclear Regulatory Commission report. He said the exposure could have been "of scale 1% or less."

Later, speaking to reporters, Chu noted that "I don't know when the dust settles where we will be," but early reports indicated that the incident in Japan could be "very significant, perhaps beyond Three Mile."

Japanese authorities have indicated that radiation readings taken near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant's crippled reactors have spiked briefly at various times, temporarily reaching levels that are known to pose a risk to human health.

But Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters Wednesday afternoon that radiation levels "do not pose a direct threat to the human body" between 12 to 18 miles from the plant.

Chu said he thinks there has been a "partial meltdown" of radioactive core material in at least one of the reactors, though he stressed that doesn't mean the containment vessels surrounding the reactors will totally fail. (read more)

BREAKING NEWS: U.S. military personnel banned from going near Japan nuclear plant -- US Gov't orders all Americans to move 50 miles from Fukushima

U.S. military personnel who are helping the relief efforts in Japan are prohibited from entering areas within 50 miles of the country's quake and tsunami damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant, the Defense Department said on Wednesday.

Pentagon spokesman Dave Lapan said U.S. forces operating near the quake zone have been given orders that ban them from going within 50 miles of the plant without approval. He said there are currently 17,000 sailors and Marines afloat on 14 vessels in waters off Japan, and no one has yet been given approval.

As a precautionary measure, the Navy has begun giving potassium iodide pills to helicopter crews who could fly relief supplies or other missions into at risk areas.

The U.S. military is mainly providing assistance in transport and relief supply missions to the Japanese authorities, and it has sent high-pressure water pumps to the Fukushima power plant. Bad weather condition reportedly hampered some relief flights on Wednesday. (Source)

New challenges: Will Japan face a mental health crisis following tsunami disaster?

The frightening disasters in Japan are mounting. Despite workers' Herculean efforts to prevent a complete meltdown at the country's earthquake-ravaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the situation appears to be growing more serious.

In fact, each of the catastrophes that have struck Japan since last Friday--the earthquake, the tsunami and now the potential of nuclear calamity--would have been singularly perilous to the Japanese public's psychological well-being. Their collective impact on mental health is unimaginable.

And mental health is just as important as physical health. We know from years of research that poor mental health leads to physical health problems, diminished quality of life, work-related problems, social and family dysfunction, and even early death.

When the partial core meltdown happened at the Three Mile Island plant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in March 1979, people in the surrounding communities were frightened and bewildered by the confusing and contradictory information being disseminated about what exactly was occurring at the reactor and whether their health was at risk. Moreover, the population nearby was advised to evacuate and evacuation discussions were also held as far away as Philadelphia. (read more)

Qaddafi Forces Near Benghazi as Rebel Commander Says World `Has Failed Us'

Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi set his sights on Benghazi as government forces fought rebels for control of the cities of Ajdabiya and Misrata and prospects faded for an internationally imposed no-fly zone.

Libya’s state-run television appealed to residents of Benghazi, the center of the rebellion in the east of the country, to join Qaddafi’s troops. The army “is coming to secure you and to lift the injustice and horror off you and to protect your pure souls and precious blood,” said the broadcast, which has been airing since yesterday.

Pro-Qaddafi forces attacked Ajdabiya, a city 100 miles (160 kilometres) from the rebel capital, using airstrikes and artillery late yesterday, Ahmed Omar, a military spokesman for the opposition, said today by telephone. Misrata, the largest rebel stronghold in western Libya, was shelled by government tanks from three directions early today, Reda Almountasser, a resident, said by phone.

Libya’s crude oil exports may be halted for “many months” because of damage to facilities and international sanctions, the International Energy Agency said yesterday. Daily supply from Africa’s third-largest producer has dropped to a “trickle” by this week from 1.58 million barrels in January, the Paris-based agency said in its monthly Oil Market Report. (read more)

Too dangerous to approach: U.S. to fly spy plane over Fukushima nuclear plant for closer look

The U.S. military will operate a Global Hawk unmanned high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft over a stricken nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture, possibly on Thursday, to take a closer look at its troubled reactors, a Japanese government source said Wednesday.

Photographs taken by the plane equipped with infrared sensors could provide a useful clue to what is occurring inside the reactor buildings, around which high-level radiation has been detected.

The planned mission comes as the Japanese government appears unable to contain the crisis days after the coastal nuclear plant was struck by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami.

It would represent a deepening of Japanese-U.S. cooperation in coping with the escalating crisis, with the U.S. military having already provided logistical transportation, and search and rescue efforts in the wake of the disaster that hit northeastern Japan. (Source)

Japan's Heroes: The Fukushima 50 -- Not afraid to die

Since the disaster struck in Japan, about 800 workers have been evacuated from the damaged nuclear complex in Fukushima. The radiation danger is that great.

However, CBS News correspondent Jim Axelrod reports that a handful have stayed on the job, risking their lives, to try to save the lives of countless people they don't even know.

Although communication with the workers inside the nuclear plant is nearly impossible, a CBS News consultant spoke to a Japanese official who made contact with one of the 50 inside the control center.

The official said that his friend, one of the Fukushima 50, told him that he was not afraid to die, that that was his job.

Cham Dallas, who led teams responding to the Chernobyl disaster, said that kind of response is not out of the normal for some workers in the nuclear energy sector.

"(In) my experience of people in the action area of nuclear power is much like that," Dallas said.

The 50 are working amid decreasing but still dangerously high levels of radiation.

"The longer they stay the more dangerous it becomes for them," said expert Margaret Harding. "I think it is a testament to their guts for them to say, 'We'll stay and if that means we go, we go.'" (read more)

Surgeon General: Buying Iodide a "Precaution" for US citizens -- what aren't we being told?


The fear that a nuclear cloud could float from the shores of Japan to the shores of California has some people making a run on iodine tablets. Pharmacists across California report being flooded with requests.

State and county officials spent much of Tuesday trying to keep people calm by saying that getting the pills wasn't necessary, but then the United States surgeon general supported the idea as a worthy "precaution."

U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin was in the Bay Area touring a peninsula hospital. NBC Bay Area reporter Damian Trujillo asked her about the run on tablets and Dr. Benjamin said although she wasn't aware of people stocking up, she did not think that would be an overreaction. She said it was right to be prepared.

The Scariest Earthquake Is Yet to Come: California Next?

All of those broken bones in northern Japan, all of those broken lives and those broken homes prompt us to remember what in calmer times we are invariably minded to forget: the most stern and chilling of mantras, which holds, quite simply, that mankind inhabits this earth subject to geological consent—which can be withdrawn at any time.

For hundreds, maybe for thousands of people, this consent was withdrawn with shocking suddenness—all geological events are sudden, and all are unexpected if not necessarily entirely unanticipated—at 2:46 on this past clear, cool spring Friday afternoon. One moment all were going about their quotidian business—in offices, on trains, in rice fields, in stores, in schools, in warehouses, in shrines—and then the ground began to shake. At first, the shock was merely a much stronger and longer version of the temblors to which most Japanese are well accustomed. There came a stunned silence, as there always does. But then, the difference: a few minutes later a low rumble from the east, and in a horrifying replay of the Indian Ocean tragedy of just some six years before, the imagery of which is still hauntingly in all the world’s mind, the coastal waters off the northern Honshu vanished, sucked mysteriously out to sea.

The rumbling continued, people then began to spy a ragged white line on the horizon, and, with unimaginable ferocity, the line became visible as a wall of waves sweeping back inshore at immense speed and at great height. Just seconds later and these Pacific Ocean waters hit the Japanese seawalls, surmounted them with careless ease, and began to claw across the land beyond in what would become a dispassionate and detached orgy of utter destruction. (read more)

Are we in the midst of the "perfect global storm"?

It appeared to be the first global storm since World War II, a commingling of unrelated disasters.

For Japan, it was 9/11-plus, the worst disaster since U.S. atomic bombs leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki 65 years ago and sealed the end of the second world war in the 20th century.

More than 10,000 Japanese drowned as their homes, automobiles and boats were swallowed by gigantic waves that also left about 300,000 homeless and shivering in a late winter cold snap and 4.4 million without power.

A magnitude 9 earthquake triggered another nuclear disaster for Japan with a series of some 200 aftershocks and meltdowns that left Japan's Fukushima plant renewing revulsion of nuclear energy in Germany and Japan -- and the United States.

The idea of "The Black Swan," the subject of the mega-bestseller by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, describes an unpredictable event of great consequence.

1) An "outlier," as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility;

2) It carries an extreme impact;

3) In spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable." (read more)

China preventing UN action on Libya: France

Veto-wielding member China is blocking UN Security Council action on Libya while the United States has yet to define its position, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Tuesday.

"If today we are stuck, it's not only because Europe is impotent, it's because at the Security Council, for now, China doesn't want any mention of a resolution leading to the international community's interference in a country's affairs," he said.

"Never mind that there's European impotence, but what about American power? What about Russian power? What's China's power over Libya?" Juppe told the parliamentary foreign affairs committee.

Juppe spoke after hosting Group of Eight counterparts in Paris who issued a statement dropping proposals for military intervention in Libya and turned to the UN Security Council to increase the pressure on leader Moamer Kadhafi.

A French and British drive to impose a no-fly zone over Libya failed to win around the United States, Russia and other European Union powers, notably Germany. China was absent from the meeting but is opposed to a no-fly zone.

"Russia is evolving and the Americans haven't yet defined their position on Libya," Juppe said. (read more)

Europe contemplates 'nuclear free' world in wake of Japan disaster -- all European nuclear reactors to be reviewed

All Europe's atomic power reactors will be subjected to natural disaster tests in the wake of a the disaster at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant.

Tuesday's EU decision came after Germany moved to shut down seven aged atomic plants amid panic over the safety of nuclear power as the Japanese crisis worsened.

Guenther Oettinger, the EU's energy commissioner, warned that a third explosion and fire at the Fukushima plant on Tuesday heralded the world's worst nuclear disaster.

"There is talk of an apocalypse and I think the word is particularly well chosen," he said.

Mr Oettinger said that "stress" testing was needed to ensure that Europe's 143 reactors could withstand earthquakes and other emergencies.

"We want the safety of all reactors to be reviewed in the light of events in Japan," he said. (read more)

Japan's earthquake death toll set to hit 25,000 as it emerges ANOTHER town has 10,000 people missing - 16th Mar 2011

Ishinomaki confirms the huge number of its citizens missing
  • North Eastern port town was hit by 20ft tsunami
  • Fears that overall death toll has been terribly underestimated

The terrible toll of Japan's double disaster became clearer today as it emerged as many as 25,000 people could be dead.

As rescue crews trawled through mile after mile of tsunami-stricken wasteland, officials from the coastal town of Ishinomaki confirmed that 10,000 of their citizens were missing.

The unimaginable figure is the same given as in the town of Minamisanriku, also in Miyagi state, which lost around half its population when it was razed to the ground by the 20 foot high wall of water. Read More

Get out of Tokyo NOW: Foreign Office tells all Britons to leave toxic radiation zone as Japanese 'lose control' of stricken reactor - 16th Mar 2011

French minister: 'Let's not beat about the bush, they've essentially lost control'
  • Radioactive steam spews into atmosphere from reactor number three
  • Experts warn that crisis is 'approaching point of no return' as officials run out of options
  • Officials commandeer police water cannon to spray complex
  • Attempts to dump water on reactors by helicopter fail
  • Two more previously stable reactors begin to heat up
  • Rich scramble to book private jets out the country as fleeing passengers pack Tokyo airport
  • Workers battling nuclear meltdown evacuated for hours today after radiation levels increased

The UK government is urging all British nationals to leave Tokyo as soon as possible amid fresh safety fears.

The Foreign Office this evening issued a statement recommending that all Britons leave the area for their own safety. At least 17,000 UK citizens live in Japan, the vast majority of them in Tokyo.

The plea came as the crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant in northeast Japan worsened amid concerns of a radiation leak. Read More

Mideast exploding, Japan in ruins, US on brink of financial collapse -- but where is Obama?

Where is the president? The world is beset. Moammar Khadafy is moving relentlessly to crush the Libyan revolt that once promised the overthrow of one of the world's most despicable regimes.

So where is the president?

Japan may be on the verge of a disaster that dwarfs any we have yet seen. A self-governing nation like the United States needs its leader to take full measure of his position at times of crises when the path forward is no longer clear.

This is not a time for leadership; this is the time for leadership.

So where is Barack Obama?

The moment demands that he rise to the challenge of showing America and the world that he is taking the reins. How leaders act in times of unanticipated crisis, in which they do not have a formulated game plan and must instead navigate in treacherous waters, defines them.

Obama is defining himself in a way that will destroy him.

It is not merely that he isn't rising to the challenge. He is avoiding the challenge. He is Bartleby the President. He would prefer not to.

He has access to a microphone 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If he tells the broadcast networks in the middle of the day that he has a major address to deliver on an unprecedented world situation, they will cancel their programming for him.

And yet, since Friday and a press conference in which he managed to leave the American position on Libya more muddled than it was before, we have not heard his voice. Except in a radio address -- he talked about education legislation. (read more)

Japan outgoing flights choked with desperate passengers seeking to escape -- fears of worse to come



Panicked passengers hoping to flee Japan waited for hours at the country's largest international airport today as concerns about radioactive fallout heightened.

The international and domestic terminals at Narita International Airport were crammed with passengers leaving the capital after a small spike in radiation levels were detected in Tokyo following a reactor fire that has raged for two days at a troubled nuclear plant 150 miles north of the city. Four of the plant's six reactors were damaged in last Friday's earthquake. People living in a 30 kilometer radius of the plant were evacuated, but those further away are no less nervous.

Germany's Lufthansa airline became the first major carrier to cancel flights to Narita International Airport, which services Tokyo, and will reroute all flights through Nagoya and Osaka, some 300 miles south of the capitol. Dutch carrier KLM followed.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said, "There is no credible information available at this point indicating" a need to avoid Narita airport.

The FAA suggested that could change if "the situation at Fukushima worsens and we see credible indications that radiological hazards to civil aviation exist."

While the United States and Britain told their citizens to avoid non-essential travel to Tokyo, France told its citizens to evacuate the city, a markedly different instruction than from the government urging residents to remain calm. (read more)

Foreign bankers (yes, bankers) flee Tokyo as nuclear crisis deepens

Foreign bankers are fleeing Tokyo as Japan's nuclear crisis worsens, scrambling for commercial and charter flights out of the country and into other major cities in the region.

BNP Paribas , Standard Chartered and Morgan Stanley were among the banks whose staff have left since Friday's earthquake and tsunami, and now a nuclear plant disaster, according to industry sources with direct knowledge of the matter.

Expatriate staff at most foreign banks in Tokyo make up a small portion of the total, by some estimates less than 10 percent. But many are often in senior positions so their departure can have a significant impact.

And while Japan's investment banking market is famously tough, it's an essential place for large banks to be and can produce hefty fees.

"The foreign banker presence on the ground in Tokyo now is very thin and depending on how long it takes them to return there could be lasting implications of that," said one banker. "Every time there's a washout of foreigners in Japan they never quite return in the same numbers."

With bankers joining the growing exodus, private jet operators reported a surge in demand for evacuation flights which sent prices surging as much as a quarter. One jet operator said the cost of flying 14 people to Hong Kong from Tokyo was more than $160,000.

"I got a request yesterday to fly 14 people from Tokyo to Hong Kong, 5 hour 5 minutes trip. They did not care about price," said Jackie Wu, COO of Hong Kong Jet, a newly established private jet subsidiary of China's HNA Group. (read more)

Mideast rebellion soldiers on: Protesters stage rare demo in Syria

Protesters have demonstrated in Damascus, the Syrian capital, in a rare show of dissent against the country's hardline regime.

Witnesses said 40 to 50 people gathered after midday prayers on Tuesday in the Al Hamidiya area near the city's Umayyad Mosque.

A YouTube video showed protesters clapping and chanting "God, Syria, freedom -- that's enough", and "Peaceful, peaceful", a chant heard elsewhere in weeks of protests that have swept through the Arab world.

A voice in the background says: "The date is (March) 15 ... This is the first obvious uprising against the Syrian regime ... Alawite or Sunni, all kinds of Syrians, we want to bring down the regime".

The protest was quickly broken up by government supporters, the AP news agency reported.

Bashar al-Assad, who succeeded his father as president in 2000, has said there is no chance of unrest elsewhere in the region spreading to Syria. The country has been ruled by al-Assad's Baath Party since 1963.

The regime is considered one of the most repressive in the Middle East with political opposition locked up and media tightly controlled. (read more)

Japan financial aftershocks: Toyota output reduction may top 40,000 vehicles amid power crisis -- Nissan, Honda, Sony also suffering huge losses

Toyota Motor Corp. may lose output of at least 40,000 vehicles after Friday's 9.0-magnitude earthquake damaged factories and crippled nuclear power plants, which led to electricity shortages.

Toyota had closed 12 plants across the nation through Wednesday, said spokeswoman Shiori Hashimoto.

Profit for the world's largest carmaker will be cut by ¥6 billion for each day of lost operations, while Nissan Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co. may each lose ¥2 billion a day, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. estimated.

Sony Corp. and Toshiba Corp. also shut plants following the earthquake and tsunami. The disaster may trim 0.3 percent from the economy as power outages cut industrial production, Nomura Holdings Inc. estimated in a report.

"Not only is the struck region one of our production bases, those directly hit and vastly affected include our dealers, suppliers and numerous other partners," Toyota President Akio Toyoda said in a statement on the company's website.

Nissan suspended operations at four plants until Wednesday and at two other plants until Friday, the company said Monday.

The automaker earlier said 2,300 new vehicles were damaged by tsunami surges in the wake of the huge earthquake. Nissan doesn't have an estimate of how much production may be lost, said spokesman Yuichi Nakagawa.

Honda will halt output through Sunday, reducing production by an estimated 16,600 cars and trucks and 2,000 two-wheelers, spokeswoman Tomoko Takamori said Monday. (read more)

Japan: State may buy stocks to buoy prices, Yosano -- is such market manipulation right?

Economic and fiscal policy minister Kaoru Yosano suggested Tuesday that the government may purchase stocks to help sustain share prices, which have nose-dived since Friday's powerful earthquake.

"It might be a little bit early to mention, but (the government) has such a measure," Yosano told reporters.

Tokyo stocks tumbled further Tuesday, with the Nikkei index shedding more than 14 percent at one point on panic selling triggered by fears over deepening troubles at a quake-hit nuclear power plant.

The Nikkei stock average fell 1,015.34 points, or 10.55 percent, to close at 8,605.15 after falling to as low as 8,227.63, the lowest on an intraday basis since April 1, 2009.

The broader Topix index of all first-section issues plunged 80.23 points, or 9.47 percent, to 766.73.

All 33 sectors on the TSE took a battering, with the electric and gas sector leading decliners, followed by the iron and steel and the real estate sectors. Of the decliners, the insurance sector had the smallest loss. (read more)

Europe's financial collapse continues: Moody's downgrades Portugal debt rating

Moody's downgraded Portugal by two notches on Tuesday night and warned the country could face “subdued” growth prospects for years.

In a move likely to renew fears about European sovereign debt, the credit rating agency cut Portugal from A1 to A3 on long-term government bonds.

Moody’s gave four reasons for the downgrade, including “implementation risks” for the government’s austerity plan as it faces political opposition, and sluggish economic growth for “some time” until “structural reforms, especially in the labour market and the justice system, begin to bear fruit”.

The report also warned that Portugal may need to provide more financial support for its banking system, and that challenging global economic conditions have increased the country’s financing costs.

Moody’s assigned Portugal a negative outlook, meaning further downgrades are a possibility.

Portugal's socialist minority government faces an onslaught after announcing a new austerity package on Friday. (read more)

New York Times: Wind and Solar Stocks Surge on Nuclear Fears

Stocks for wind and solar energy producers jump as investors speculate that demand for renewable power will surge in response to the unfolding Japanese nuclear catastrophe. The German solar-panel maker Solarworld AG leads the pack, surging 32 percent. [Bloomberg]

With their industry under fire, nuclear lobbyists on Capitol Hill l scramble to quell lawmakers’ fears. “We have a lot of support from politicians in both parties right now,” says one top lobbyist. “They all have questions — they’ve been watching the news.” [CNN]

Plans for a $10 billion expansion of a South Texas nuclear plant could be shelved because of repercussions from the growing disaster in Japan, analysts say. “We think the potential added pressure could be the end of its nuclear loan guarantee award,” Barclays tells clients, referring to the project by NRG Energy. [Reuters]

Glenn Beck, the Fox News commentator, warns that the Japanese earthquake and tsunami could be a “message” from God and advises his listeners to follow the biblical Ten Commandments. “We can’t see the connections here,” he says. “There’s a message being sent. And that is, ‘Hey you know that stuff we’re doing? Not really working out real well. Maybe we should stop doing some of it.’ I’m just saying.” (read more)

Analysis: Tiny Bahrain could provoke regional conflict

When Saudi Arabian troops rolled into Bahrain to help quell Shi'ite Muslim protests, the world's top oil-exporting region inched closer to a sectarian stand-off that could involve non-Arab Shi'ite power Iran.

Gripped by its worst unrest since the 1990s after protesters took to the streets last month, Bahrain said on Monday it had asked the Gulf Cooperation Council, a six-member Gulf Arab bloc, for support in line with a regional defense pact.

The intervention of Gulf Arab troops in Bahrain is highly sensitive on the island, where the Shi'ite majority complains of discrimination by the royal al-Khalifa family, who are Sunnis.

Gulf Arab ruling families are Sunni and intervention might encourage a response from Iran, which already supports Shi'ite groups in Iraq and Lebanon, countries with large Shi'ite populations and no strangers to persistent sectarian strife.

Iran reacted swiftly, urging Bahrain not to allow what it called foreign interference in dealing with appeals for reform.

"Using other countries' military forces to oppress these demands is not the solution," Foreign Ministry official Hossein Amir Abdollahian told the semi-official Fars news agency.

Accusations already abound of Iranian backing for Shi'ite activists in U.S.-allied Bahrain -- charges they deny.

"Although this is unlikely at this stage, what may be perceived by some Bahrainis as foreign intervention may lead to calls by some for non-GCC intervention, such as from Iran, to protect the Shiites in the kingdom," said Ghanem Nuseibeh, partner at consultancy Cornerstone Global.

"Should the confrontation between the rioters and the non-Bahraini forces lead to substantial casualties, the likelihood of this happening will substantially increase." (read more)

Japan: Evacuees Speak Of Sense Of Betrayal - 16th Mar 2011

In the evacuation centre inside Yamagata stadium, every new arrival is scanned for exposure to radiation with a Geiger counter. Only then are they given a new home on the hard wooden floors of the basketball court.

The stadium is a small city of refugees, many of whom have fled the 20km exclusion zone that surrounds the Fukushima nuclear plant.

As Japan's nuclear crisis has worsened, the authorities have gradually extended the compulsory evacuation area from an initial 3km radius to 10km, and now the present limit.

Beyond that, the Japanese government insists there is no threat to human health.

The camp is well supplied with blankets, floor mats and food - though the Japanese media have reported other refugee centres are running short of basis necessities.

Elsewhere in quake-hit Japan, residents are doing without heating, electricity and running water.

The spirit inside the stadium is one of cheerful stoicism. Read More

Cesium and Radioactive Iodide in Fukushima City Tap Water - 16th Mar 2011

The emergency response headquarters of Fukushima Prefecture announced, on 16 March 2011, that abnormal radioactive elements have been found in Fukushima City tap water: radioactive iodide, at the level of 177 becquerel per kilogram; cesium, 58 becquerel per kilogram. They are still below the national safety standards for food and water intakes during a nuclear emergency (300 becquerel for radioactive iodide, 200 becquerel for cesium). However, the Fukushima Prefecture government says it will test samples from all the water sources in the prefecture, more closely monitor them, and make the data collected available to the public to allay their concerns.
Source

Japanese government was 'warned that nuclear plants could not withstand quake' - Let alone 500 quakes - 16th Mar 2011

Japanese officials faced added pressure today after it emerged that they were warned more than two years ago that the country's nuclear power plants could not withstand powerful earthquakes.

The international nuclear watchdog raised concerns that safety measures were outdated and a major tremor could cause 'serious problems', leaks cables have revealed.

It is not known what changes the Japanese government made after an official from the International Atomic Energy Agency made the comments in December 2008.

The government will face tough questions on whether they acted on a pledge to upgrade all their nuclear facilities to be able to withstand a quake as powerful as the one that struck last Friday.

Details of the warnings came from a US Embassy diplomatic cable that was leaked to the information website Wikileaks.

The government is said to have responded to the nuclear watchdog's concerns by building an emergency response centre at the Fukushima powerplant.

The doomed plant has suffered three major explosions and one fire that have spilled radiation into the atmosphere and forced thousands of people to be evacuated.

The plant was only designed to withstand 7.0 magnitude quakes but the massive disaster that struck last Friday measured 9.0 on the Richter scale.

Read More

Note: I am not sure why no news source is mentioning this but the area did in fact start with a 7.2 magnitude earthquake on wednesday the 9th of March 2011

More nuclear trouble: Canada regulator reports water leak at Pickering nuclear plant

Canada's nuclear regulator said on Wednesday there was a demineralized water leak at a nuclear power plant near Toronto late on Monday after a pump seal failed.

With world attention riveted on the nuclear crisis in Japan, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission said that the risk of radiation from the 73,000 liters of water released at the Pickering A generator was negligible.

Pickering A has two operating Candu reactors. The nuclear plant, along with its sister plant Pickering B, produce enough energy to fuel a city of 1.5 million people.

The complex is located in Pickering, Ontario, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) east of Toronto.

Canada's Candu reactors use radioactive water, which is heated to produce steam, to drive the turbine. The reactors also contain non-radioactive water.

The nuclear regulator said it is monitoring the situation as are Canada's environmental regulators. (read more)

Japan: Dog Stands By Injured Friend After The Tsunami, Teaching Mankind a Great Lesson



(Both dogs were rescued and are fine at an animal shelter according to reports!)

Japan's emperor in historic speech: 'Never give up hope'



Japan's beloved emperor dramatically took to the national TV airwaves Wednesday and buoyed the spirits of his disaster-stricken citizens, an extraordinary address before a nation grappling with the aftermath of an epic earthquake and a devastating tsunami and growing fears of a nuclear catastrophe.

"I truly hope the victims of the disaster never give up hope, take care of themselves, and live strong for tomorrow," said the dignified and understated Emperor Akihito, a calm and poignant oration delivered from the Imperial Palace.

"Also, I want all citizens of Japan to remember everyone who has been affected by the devastation, not only today but for a long time afterwards -- and help with the recovery."

An address by a sitting emperor is usually reserved for times of extreme crisis or war. Emperor Akihito's direct appeal to the public is considered exceptional in Japan and marks the first time that the emperor has spoken to the public after such a crisis. (read more)