Japan disaster: Latest updates

By NZ Herald staff

7.52pm
That concludes our latest updates for today. We'll be back tomorrow with more from Japan.
7.07pm
The official toll of the dead and missing has topped 11,000, with 3676 confirmed dead, police said today.

The total number of people unaccounted for in the wake of Friday's twin disasters rose by more than 800 to 7558, the national police agency said in its latest update.

The number of injured stood at 1990.

On Sunday, the police chief of Miyagi, one of the hardest-hit prefectures, said the number of deaths was expected to exceed 10,000 in his region alone.

Amid a mass rescue effort there were grim updates indicating severe loss of life along the battered east coast of Honshu island, where the monster waves destroyed or damaged more than 55,380 homes and other buildings.

5.50pm Footage of the disastrous tsunami rolling onto Japan after last week's massive 9.0-magnitude earthquake will provide valuable data to scientists for years to come, Australian experts say.

Compelling images of the monster wave crashing onto low-lying farmland in Japan's northeast, sweeping all in its path into a surging waterway, was played live by television stations as helicopter-borne crews recorded the event.

"I think the impact of the waves going across and spreading well inland on relatively flat terrain was something that we've never seen before," Australian tsunami expert Ray Canterford told AFP.

Bureau of Meteorology scientist Diana Greenslade said the footage from Japan, which showed houses and buildings being swept up in the torrent of water racing inland, would be of deep interest to scientists studying tsunamis.

Scientists typically have relied on measuring tsunami waves using tide gauges and then going into tsunami-hit zones after the waves have passed to measure how far the water penetrated inland.

"But what we can get from the vision is a whole bunch of other things as well," she said, including the flow's speed and depth, the extent of the inundation, and how debris churning in the water affects the speed of the flow.

"The amount of video from this one, especially the one from the helicopter where you can actually see the wave front inundating onto the land is just exactly what we need to be able to verify our models," Greenslade said.

She said it would be especially valuable in working out the speed and strength of tsunami currents - which are currently very difficult to assess.

5.41pm Aviation regulators in London have issued a formal warning over the possible radioactive hazard from Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant.|

London Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre (VAAC), the world's focal point for notifying the aviation industry of International Atomic Energy Agency warnings on the release of radioactive material, issued a message covering 10 regions.

The open-ended warning applies to airspace zones in Japan, Russia, China, the United States and South Korea.

VAAC came to prominence last year when it was at the centre of coordinating the response to the Iceland ash crisis.

Most carriers are still flying to Tokyo, but German airline Lufthansa Tuesday diverted flights from the capital to other Japanese airports.

5.20pm: The aftershocks continue - this time a 6.0 magnitude quake which shook buildings in Tokyo.

The shock was 25km deep, off the east coast of Honshu, and 96km east of Tokyo.

It struck at 12.52pm local time.

5pm: The Japanese public is being asked not to resort to panic buying of fuel.

"The situation of supply of fuel such as gasoline, heavy oil and light oil is worsening in the quake-hit areas, and we are doing our best to secure and deliver them to these places," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano.

Edano also made a call to the public to save energy as a shortage of power supply is expected for the time being due to the quake-induced accidents at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

4.19pm: China is ordering strengthened radiation monitoring of shipments arriving at its ports in the wake of Japan's nuclear emergency.

The order was issued from the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine. It aims to track any goods contaminated by leaks from the nuclear plants damaged from Friday's earthquake and tsunami.

China is Japan's largest trading partner.

4.12pm: Efforts to find survivors and recover bodies from one of the most devastated areas of Japan have been bolstered by New Zealand Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) workers, Japanese media report.

The USAR team has arrived at the town of Minamisanriku, which was nearly completely destroyed in Friday's tsunami, NHK news reports.

It has been joined by other teams from countries including Australia and Sweden, the agency says.

Japanese officials have said more than half of Minamisanriku's 17,000 residents are missing.

Of all its buildings, only three have been left standing - the hospital, a wedding store and a school - despite the town's location several kilometres from the coast.

Fire Service national manager of special operations and team leader Jim Stuart-Black yesterday said he, the Australian USAR taskforce leader and Japanese emergency officials were discussing their planned operations in tsunami-affected areas.

"The team morale is great and we are very focused on the work ahead. We are setting up our base of operations and preparing to begin searching for survivors," he said.

The team was "well aware" of the nuclear power plant issues emerging 130km south of their base, he said.

"We have good information on the situation and are being kept well informed of all developments.

"We also have our own equipment and are constantly monitoring the atmosphere. The radiation levels here are the normal background levels."


3.41pm: Japan's top government spokesman says that a surge in radiation means workers are unable to continue even minimal efforts at Fukushima Daiichi.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said work on dousing reactors with water was disrupted when workers were forced to withdraw after radiation levels surged early in the day.

3.33pm: Two members of an Australian search and rescue team in Japan have been exposed to low level radiation during an unexpected landing at Fukushima airport.

The airport is 20 kilometres outside the exclusion zone mandated in the wake of damage to a nuclear power plant from the magnitude 9.0 earthquake that hit Japan on Friday.

"Two of the team ... were tested for contamination and they did show very low levels of contamination on their boots," Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard told reporters in Canberra.

Ms Gillard said search and rescue teams trained for dealing with contamination and the two men undertook decontamination procedures at their base more than 100 kilometres from the reactor site.

"The clear advice to me is that these two personnel are safe and well," she said.

3.25pm: South Korea says it will send some of its reserve boron to Japan after a request from Tokyo, Reuters reports.

Boron is being mixed with seawater to and being poured into Japan's crippled nuclear reactors as an emergency measure to limit damage .

It is the main material that goes into control rods used to halt or slow down fission reactions at nuclear reactors.

An economy ministry official said South Korea would send 52.6 tonnes of boron to Japan from its reserves of 310 tonnes.

A sample of the metalloid would be sent to Japan immediately for assessment.


2.59pm: Some 80,000 Self-Defence Forces personnel and police officers have been mobilised in Japan's most devastated areas, where temperatures have dropped to midwinter levels.

The National Police Agency said it has confirmed 3,676 deaths in 12 prefectures, including Iwate and Miyagi, while 7,558 people remained unaccounted for in six prefectures.


2.44pm: Smoke is billowing from the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, Japanese media report.

An NHK news helicopter hovering 30km away from the plant was streaming footage of the white smoke.

It was unclear which of its four damaged reactors it was coming from, the agency said.

2.03pm: The operator of the Fukushima Daiichi plant is considering spraying water and acid by helicopters and fire trucks into its troubled reactors to prevent further radiation from leaking.

Masami Nishimura, a spokesman for Japan's nuclear safety agency, said Tokyo Electric Power Co. was considering the measures after a string of explosions and fires.

2pm: Apple has decided to postpone its planned launch of the iPad 2 in Japan, according to Kyodo News.

The company initially planned to put the tablet on sale on March 25, as well as in Europe and other markets, following its release in the United States last Friday.

A new release date in Japan has yet to be determined, company officials said.

"We are delaying the launch of the iPad 2 in Japan while the country and our teams focus on recovering from the recent disaster," the company said in a statement.

1.52pm: The Bank of Japan on is injecting 3.5 trillion yen into money markets to ease the negative impact on the country's financial system following Friday's earthquake.

In the first 15 minutes of trading today, the 225-issue Nikkei Stock Average jumped 512.04 points, or 5.95 percent, following the biggest two-day sell-off on the Nikkei index for 24 years on fears of the threat of a nuclear meltdown.

1.48pm: A widely circulated blog post entitled "Why I am not worried about Japan's nuclear reactors" has been shown not to have stood up to scrutiny, a Salon reporter says.


The blog, written by Dr Josef Oehmen, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher, had said there was no chance of radiation being leaked for the Fukushima Daiichi plant and criticised media coverage of the crisis.

The post was widely quoted by other bloggers and in social media and was picked up by pro-nuclear power proponents.

However, Salon writer Justin Elliott today wrote that Dr Oehman was not a researcher in the university's nuclear engineering department, but rather works in Lean Advancement Initiative, which focuses on business management issues.

The post has since been moved from Dr Oehmen's blog, where he has since justified the contents of the post.

1.40pm: Japan's Self-Defence Force has rescued about 19,000 people between since the earthquake struck, mainly from coastal regions, NHK World reports.
1.23pm: Japan's nuclear safety agency says 70 per cent of the nuclear fuel rods in one of the plant's reactor may have been damaged.

Minoru Ohgoda said the damage occurred in Unit 1.

"It's likely that roughly about 70 per cent of the fuel rods may be damaged."

But he added: "We don't know the nature of the damage, and it could be either melting, or there might be some holes in them."

1.19pm: The latest fire to break out at Fukushima Daiichi has gone out of its own accord, the government says.

"We have received information from TEPCO (the plant's operator) that the fire and smoke is now invisible and it appears to have gone out of its own accord," said Minoru Ogoda, a spokesman for the state nuclear safety agency.

1.15pm: Almost 150 Australians are still missing following the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

There are 3715 Australians registered as being in Japan. Of those 3230 have been confirmed as safe, including 119 in the worst affected areas of the country.

However, Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said 144 Australians remained unaccounted for and that number was in flux.

"I'd rather not say it's (the number) gone up or it's gone down, it's bouncing around," he told ABC Television.

About 250 government officials are on the ground in Japan.

12.40pm: Iodine tablets aimed at warding off radiation poisoning have been distributed to evacuation centres around the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan.

Japanese authorities have been handing out the pills, which are designed to prevent cancer by shielding the thyroid from radiation, to those who were close to the fire and explosion-hit plant.

They have confirmed an evacuation of the area around the plant is complete, with no residents within 20km of its reactors.

All residents still within 30km of the plant have been urged to take cover indoors.



12.33pm: Flames are no longer visible at the Fukushima Daiichi unit 4 reactor, NHK World reports.

No injuries have been reported.

12.25pm: MFAT has now confirmed 1815 New Zealanders are safe and well in Japan.

In a statement, the ministry said it had specific concerns around the safety of one last New Zealander, whom it would not name.

Consular staff are at Narita International Airport in Tokyo and Sendai in the northeast to assist New Zealanders.

It said those wishing to leave Japan should do so by commercial means.

All Kiwis in Japan should monitor developments via media, and follow the instructions of local authorities.

Anyone concerned about their safety should contact the embassy on +81 3 3467 2271 or the MFAT crisis centre on +64 4 439 8000.

12.11pm: Tokyo Electric Power Co says fire broke out again at its No. 4 reactor unit because the initial blaze was not completely extinguished.
11.35am: Local TV networks say about 50 workers are battling the blaze at the Fukushima power plant.

CNN weather expert Chad Myers says there is some good news - the weather has changed and the wind will blow any radiation out to sea and away from Tokyo.

11.05am: A fresh fire has broken out at a reactor in the crippled Fukushima power plant.

Tokyo Electric Power Company confirmed flames were seen coming out of the building at 5.45am (9.45am NZT).

TEPCO has informed the fire service, however the building is reportedly inaccessible due to high radiation levels.

A fire at the same unit yesterday led to a sharp rise of radiation levels at the plant.

Meanwhile, national nuclear safety agency spokesman Masami Nishimura told AFP two workers missing from the plant disappeared after the quake and tsunami struck, not after the blast at the unit 2 reactor yesterday.

11am: Americans on two military bases south of Tokyo have been advised to stay indoors as much as possible and some have been given anti-radiation pills.

The US Navy said it was redirecting three ships to work in the Sea of Japan on the country's west coast rather than risk the hazards of radiation and the debris field in the waters off the east coast.

Sensitive air monitoring equipment on the aircraft carrier USS George Washington detected low levels of radioactivity from the Fukushima power plant as the carrier sat pier-side at Yokosuka, Commander Jeff Davis, a spokesman for the US 7th Flee, said.

Davis said that while there was no danger to the public from the radiation levels, the commander recommended as a precaution that military personnel and their families at the two bases, Yokosuka and Naval Air Facility Atsugi, limit their outdoor activities and seal ventilation systems at their homes as much as possible.

10.47am: The United Nations General Assembly has paused for a minute's silence to remember the victims of the disaster in Japan, BBC News reports.

Assembly President Joseph Deiss said the members had met to discuss disaster risk prevention only a month ago.

"Since then, reality in the form of the earthquake in New Zealand, now the disaster affecting Japan has reminded us of the importance of prevention, but also the difficulty of predicting every danger," Mr Diess said. "Even Japan, one of the best prepared countries can be devastated."

10.40am: The operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant says it has scrapped a plan to use helicopters to pour water into an overheated reactor.

A blaze which broke out yesterday has been extinguished but fears remain that water may boil away and the rods could be dangerously exposed.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. spokesman Hajimi Motojuku said helicopters were deemed impractical, but that other options were under consideration, including fire engines.

10.31am: US president Barack Obama is defending nuclear power as an important source of energy in the US.

In an interview with a Pittsburgh television station, Obama said nuclear facilities in the US were closely monitored and are designed to withstand certain levels of earthquakes.

He said he had been assured that Hawaii and the US West Coast will not be affected by radiation released from the damaged plant in Japan

.

10.20am: Canada has warned against travel to Japan, while downplaying radiation risks from a damaged reactor at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

"We continue to advise Canadians not to take unnecessary travel to Japan. But there are no plans for an evacuation at this time," Prime Minister Stephen Harper told a press conference.

"There continues to be normal commercial airline service from Japan,'' he added. "If people want to leave, they have that option."

Fearing a nuclear meltdown, Canadians living on the Pacific Coast this week have ignored health authorities and emptied pharmacies of anti-radiation medicines.

10.13am: Air New Zealand chief executive Rob Fyfe says its 50 employees based in the country are in good shape.

But he was worried about New Zealand crews who stay overnight in Osaka and Tokyo.

One of the reasons he is in Japan is to reassure them the situation on the ground was quite different from what some media portrayed.

10.10am: The US-based Institute for Science and International Security agrees with the assessment of France's Nuclear Safety Authority that the incident at Fukushima should be classified as level 6 on the International Nuclear Event Scale, one below the Chernobyl disaster.

ISIS said the situation has "worsened considerably" following the third reactor blast yesterday and was now closer to a level 6 event - and may yet reach a level 7.

Fukushima is currently classified a level 4 incident.

"A level 6 event means that consequences are broader and countermeasures are needed to deal with the radioactive contamination," ISIS said. "A level 7 event would constitute a larger release of radioactive material, and would require further extended countermeasures. The international community should increase assistance to Japan to both contain the emergency at the reactors and to address the wider contamination. We need to find a solution together."

9.55am: There have been more than 460 aftershocks since the quake, three larger than magnitude 7 and around 50 larger than magnitude 6.
9.34am: Fukushima Daiichi plant operators are considering removing panels from the reactor buildings of units 5 and 6 to prevent a possible build-up of hydrogen in the future, the IAEA says.

Hydrogen build up led to the explosions at units 1, 2 and 3.

Units 5 and 6 were both shut down prior to the time of the earthquake, however both reactors are currently loaded with fuel.

Unit 4 was shut down for a routine, planned maintenance outage in November of last year and all fuel was transferred to the spent fuel pool following the earthquake. A fire at Unit 4 occurred yesterday and lasted two hours. The IAEA is seeking clarification on the nature and consequences of the fire.

9.18am:China became the first government to organise a mass evacuation of its citizens from Japan's northeast on Tuesday, local time, while other foreigners left the country following radiation leaks at an earthquake-damaged nuclear power plant.

Austria said it is moving its embassy from Tokyo to Osaka, 400 kilometres away, due to radiation concerns. France recommended that its citizens leave the Japanese capital, while the US government advised Americans to avoid travel to Japan.

The Chinese Embassy in Tokyo said on its website that it was preparing to send buses to remove its nationals from Miyagi, Fukushima, Ibaraki and Iwate prefectures, the hardest-hit provinces.

The embassy said the evacuation was necessary "due to the seriousness of and uncertainty surrounding the accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant at present."

8.54am: An 6.4 magnitude earthquake in Eastern Honshu overnight was not connected to the 9 magnitude earthquake on Friday, the Japanese Meteorological Agency says.

The quake struck at a depth of 10km and was centred in the eastern part of Shizuoka Prefecture at 10.31pm last night Japan time (2.31am today NZT).

The quake's magnitude was upgraded from an earlier the 6.2 earlier reported.

8.47am: Japanese PM Naoto Kan is reportedly losing faith in nuclear plant operators Tokyo Electric Power Company.

News agency Kyodo reported Kan was unhappy not have been told about the blast at Fukushima Daiichi's number 2 unit yesterday.

"The TV reported an explosion, but nothing was said to the prime minister's office for more than an hour," Kan was reported to have said. "What the hell is going on?"

8.13am: A 30km no-fly zone has been established around the Fukushima Daiichi plant, the IAEA says. The Japan Coast Guard has also established evacuation warnings within 10km of Fukushima Daiichi and three kilometres of Fukushima Daini.

An evacuation of the population from the 20-kilometre zone around Fukushima Daiichi is in effect. Japanese authorities have advised people within 30km stay indoors. Iodine tablets have been distributed to evacuation centres but no decision has yet been taken on their administration.

8.09am: Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara apologised yesterday after remarking the earthquake and tsunami were "divine punishment" for the Japanese people, who he said were tainted with egoism, Japan Times reported.

"Japanese politics is tainted with egoism and populism. We need to use tsunami to wipe out egoism, which has rusted onto the mentality of Japanese over a long period of time," Ishihara told media.

"I think [the disaster] is 'tembatsu' (divine punishment), although I feel sorry for disaster victims."

Ishihara, who is seeking re-election for a fourth term in April, said he should have thought about the feelings of the victims.

"I will take back (the remark) and offer a deep apology," he said.

7.39pm: A 6.2 magnitude earthquake struck in Eastern Honshu at 10.31pm last night Japan time (2.31am today NZT) , the United States Geological Agency reported.

The quake struck at a depth of 10km and was centred in the eastern part of Shizuoka Prefecture.

Six people were hospitalised for falls and powerlines were downed, NHK World reported.

The Hamaoka nuclear power plant is sited around 100km from the epicentre, however authorities have confirmed the plant continues to operate safely.

Units 1 and 2 are decommissioned, Unit 3 is under inspection and not operational, and Units 4 and 5 remain in safe operational status after the earthquake, the IAEA said.

7.33pm: Japanese police say the death toll is now 3,373, and more than 7,000 remain unaccounted for, NHK reported.
7.27pm: A man and an elderly woman have been rescued more than 90 hours after the earthquake struck, NHK World has reported.

The man was rescued from a collapsed building in Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture, 96 hours after the quake, the TV station reported.

Four hours earlier a 70-year-old woman was rescued from the wreckage of her home in Otsuchi Town, Iwate Prefecture.

She is being treated at a hospital in Kamaishi City suffering from hypothermia but is in stable condition.

- NZ HERALD STAFF/AGENCIES

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