Japan battles nuclear emergency after deadly quake

Japan raced to avert a meltdown of two reactors at a quake-hit nuclear plant Monday as the death toll from the disaster on the ravaged northeast coast was forecast to exceed 10,000.

An explosion at the ageing Fukushima No. 1 atomic plant blew apart the building housing one of its reactors Saturday, a day after the biggest quake ever recorded in Japan unleashed a monster tsunami.

The atomic emergency escalated as crews struggled to prevent overheating at a second reactor where the cooling system has also failed, and the government warned that it too could suffer a blast.

Nuclear contamination: The options

Prime Minister Naoto Kan said the situation at the stricken power plant remained grave, and that Japan was facing its worst crisis since the end of World War II -- which left the defeated country in ruins.

"The current situation of the earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear plants is in a way the most severe crisis in the 65 years since World War II," Kan said in a televised national address Sunday.

"Whether we Japanese can overcome this crisis depends on each of us," said the premier, who was dressed in an emergency services suit.

Rolling power outages were due to start later Monday as the quake and tsunami crippled nuclear power plants in the northeast. Millions of people were left without electricity after the disaster hit Friday. Japan's nuclear industry provides about a third of its power needs.

Top government spokesman Yukio Edano said it was highly likely that a partial meltdown had occurred at the plant's number one reactor, and a second was possible at the plant 250 kilometres (160 miles) northeast of Tokyo.

"There is the possibility of an explosion in the number three reactor," he said, while voicing confidence that it would withstand the blast as the first reactor had.

A meltdown occurs when a reactor core overheats and causes damage to the facility, potentially unleashing radiation into the environment.

Facts: Fukushima nuclear plant

Edano said that some radiation had escaped in the accident, but that the levels released into the air were so far not high enough to affect human health.

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power said that despite continuing efforts, it had not managed to ensure that the tops of the fuel rods in the two troubled reactors remained submerged. Exposed rods increase the risk of a meltdown.

Focus: Japan quake threatens setback for nuclear energy

France's Institute of Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN) said "very large" amounts of radioactivity were "produced simultaneously with the explosion" at Fukushima.

"During the explosion the rate of release at the edge of the site would have attained one millisievert (mSv) per hour," compared with naturally present radioactivity of 0.0001 mSv per hour, it said Sunday.

The government has said the radiation released into the air so far had not reached levels high enough to affect human health.

A cooling pump at another plant 120 kilometres from Tokyo, the Tokai No. 2, had failed, but a back-up was working and cooling the reactor, a plant spokesman said early Monday.

The United Nations said a total of 590,000 people had been evacuated in the quake and tsunami disaster, including 210,000 living near the Fukushima nuclear plants.

The colossal 8.9 magnitude tremor sent waves of churning mud and debris racing over towns and farmland in Japan's northeast, destroying everything in its path and reducing swathes of countryside to a swampy wasteland.

Scene: Japanese towns become wastelands

The immense force of the quake had moved Honshu -- the main Japanese island -- 2.4 metres (eight feet), the US Geological Survey said.

In the small port town of Minamisanriku alone some 10,000 people were unaccounted for -- more than half the population of the town, which was practically erased, public broadcaster NHK reported.

The police chief in Miyagi prefecture -- where Minamisanriku is situated -- said the death toll was certain to exceed 10,000 in his region.

The national police agency said the confirmed death toll now stood at 1,597.

But in a rare piece of good news, a man who was swept 15 kilometres out to sea along with his house by the tsunami was plucked to safety Sunday after being spotted clinging to a piece of the roof.

Hiromitsu Shinkawa, 60, was discovered by a Japanese destroyer and transported by helicopter to hospital, where he was found to be in surprisingly good health.

With ports, airports, highways and manufacturing plants shut down, the government predicted "considerable impact on a wide range of our country's economic activities".

The Bank of Japan plans to pump "massive" funds into markets Monday in a bid to help them stabilise following the linked disasters, Dow Jones Newswires said.

Leading risk analysis firm AIR Worldwide said the quake alone would exact an economic toll estimated at between $14.5 billion and $34.6 billion (10 billion to 25 billion euros), without taking into account the effects of the tsunami.

The yen gained ground against major currencies in early Asian trade Monday, briefly touching 80.60 against the dollar, its highest since November 9.

Otomo Miki was with her husband, three children and their 82-year-old grandfather when the quake hit their home in Sendai. They managed to get to their car and speed to safety before the tsunami roared through.

"I had to keep zig-zagging around people and water to get to safety," she said. "We've lost our house and we have no idea what's going to happen next."

Her older sister was in a bus when the wave some 10 metres high crashed through.

"The bus driver told everybody to get out of the bus and run," Miki said. "My sister got out but some people just couldn't run fast enough," she said, adding that they were swept away in the waves.

While the world's third-largest economy struggled to assess the full extent of the disaster, groups of hundreds of bodies were being found along the shattered coastline.

Many survivors were left without water, electricity, fuel or enough food, as authorities appeared overwhelmed by the monumental scale of the disaster.

Scene: Huge petrol queues stretch Japan survivors' nerves

Japan committed 100,000 troops -- about 40 percent of the armed forces -- to spearhead a mammoth rescue and recovery effort with hundreds of ships, aircraft and vehicles headed to the Pacific coast area.

"There are so many people who are still isolated and waiting for assistance. This reality is very stark," said Defence Minister Toshimi Kitazawa.

The world rallied behind the disaster-stricken nation, with offers of help even from Japan's traditional rival China.

The US aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan reached waters off the northeast coast Sunday, part of a flotilla sent by Japan's close ally which has nearly 50,000 military personnel in the country. US Navy helicopters were transporting relief supplies for quake and tsunami survivors.

Pope Benedict XVI hailed the "courageous" Japanese people and called for prayers for the victims.

Japan sits on the "Pacific Ring of Fire", and Tokyo is in one of its most dangerous areas, where three continental plates are slowly grinding against each other, building up enormous seismic pressure.

Focus: Activist describes 'apocalyptic' Japan scenes

Loading...

Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • Sandigan OKs hospital stay for GMA co-accused
    Sandigan OKs hospital stay for GMA co-accused

    The Sandiganbayan has allowed a government official, accused with plunder along with former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to undergo a medical procedure at a hospital tomorrow. The anti-graft court permitted former Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) board member Benigno Aguas to undergo a cardiopulmonary/endocrine clearance at the St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City. …

  • Sandigan recommends executive clemency for ex-envoy
    Sandigan recommends executive clemency for ex-envoy

    The Sandiganbayan has recommended executive clemency for a former Philippine ambassador to Nigeria who was sentenced to 52 years for malversation of public funds. The Sandiganbayan First Division found Masaranga Umpa guilty of misusing the Assistance-To-Nationals Stand-by Funds totaling $80,478.80 in 2007, but the anti-graft court said the former assemblyman from Lanao del Norte should be pardoned. …

  • Stargazing at the mall highlights Earth Hour
    Stargazing at the mall highlights Earth Hour

    It was a night of stargazing in 58 SM Supermalls all over the country last night as these establishments participated in Earth Hour, an annual worldwide movement encouraging communities and establishments to switch off lights for one hour to raise global awareness of overuse of non-renewable resources. The Philippines has been an active participant of Earth Hour since 2008. Last night, in the province of Bulacan, for instance, all parishes, diocesan institutions, schools and household …

  • Payanig privatization hit
    Payanig privatization hit

    BLEMP Commercial of the Philippines, Inc. (BLEMP) denounced the recent announcement of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) to privatize the 18.4-hectare “Payanig sa Pasig” property. In a statement sent to The STAR, BLEMP lawyer Dennis Manalo said the PCGG has no right to auction the property because it has no valid title and is not in possession. The PCGG has not paid a single centavo in real property taxes for the property, he said. He narrated that it was in the early 70s …

  • New species of tarantula found
    New species of tarantula found

    Scientists from the Museum of Natural History (MNH) of the University of the Philippines-Los Baños have discovered a new species of cave-dwelling tarantula on an island off the coast of Quezon. The new species of the spider, Phlogiellus kwebaburdeos, was described in the recent issue of the Philippine Journal of Systematic Biology by MNH curators for spiders Aimee Lynn Dupo and Alberto Barrion along with their former student Joseph Rasalan. The tarantula was discovered by Rasalan during one …

  • Palm Sunday: Do not add to suffering of others
    Palm Sunday: Do not add to suffering of others

    As Christendom enters Holy Week today, Palm Sunday, an official of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) yesterday called on the faithful not to add to the sufferings of their fellowmen. Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the CBCP-Episcopal Commission on Public Affairs (ECPA), said that while Palm Sunday is oftentimes remembered as the glorious arrival of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, it also signals the start of the Holy Week that tells of His suffering, death and …

  • Miriam pushes tougher graft law
    Miriam pushes tougher graft law

    Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago has filed a bill that would make public officials liable for violations of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act even if they are elected to a fresh term or a new position. In filing Senate Bill 2716, Santiago sought to address what she said was the doctrine of condonation in Philippine jurisprudence brought about by the 2010 case of Salumbides vs. Ombudsman. “By merely asserting the doctrine of condonation, erring elective officials are automatically given a …

  • Phl hits back at China over sea infra work
    Phl hits back at China over sea infra work

    The Philippines assailed China yesterday for contesting Manila’s planned repair and maintenance works on some islands in the West Philippine Sea, saying they are “in no way comparable” to the Asian power’s massive reclamation activities which are in violation of international laws. “The Philippines’ possible undertaking of necessary maintenance and repairs on its existing facilities in the West Philippine Sea, over which the Philippines rightfully exercises sovereignty, sovereign rights and …

POLL

Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Loading...
Poll Choice Options