16 March 2011 is going to be a very long day, as far as the nuclear reactors in Fukushima are concerned. There have been leaks of large doses of radiation, albeit not large enough to cause concern for human health beyond the 20-km evacuation zone. Can Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) bring the situation under control? The whole country and the wider world have to look on, nervously, anxiously. There are still concerns about the water levels in the 3 reactors that were in operation when the quake struck (number 1, 2 and 3), and the spent fuel rods stored at the no 4 reactor are causing great concern. This reactor was not in operation, but has been used to store some of the spent fuel rods, and they still require to be submerged in a spent fuel pool. There has been a fire in the building, and there are also reports that the water in the pool is boiling, which may expose the spent fuel rods, and if that were to happen, there will be extremely grave consequences.
While there have been remarkable tales of survival, the chances of finding survivors from the quake and the tsunami are quickly diminishing, and there are still problems with providing people in the shelters with food, water, fuel, medicine and other essential goods. Some road routes are becoming passable again, and logistics are coming into place, but there are still huge challenges ahead. Information is becoming more widely available about those who are in the shelters, but many of them still have not been able to find other family members or friends, and in many locations, there are still problems with telecommunications. The weather is forecasted to be inclement, and there may be secondary damages caused by rain, such as landslides.
Feeding and keeping warm the survivors must be the top priority, but there will be a need to take care of the distress and anguish that the survivors feel. Many people will need help to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder, and this will be a long-term commitment that the state and the society will have to share. Also, it’s important to recover and identify as many bodies as possible.
Rolling blackouts continue in Tokyo and the surrounding areas, but the trains are running more frequently, since the train companies are being supplied with electricity. Initially TEPCO did not make exceptions, and for that reason a lot of trains did not run, which caused huge transport chaos. After government intervention, TEPCO changed its policy. However this means that blackouts may occur at more areas at a given time than was the case on 14 March 2011, when rolling blackouts were initiated.
There are fuel shortages, and people are panic buying essential items in Tokyo. While there is sufficient stock of petrol and most other goods, they are not in the places where they are needed, as production and especially logistics have been disrupted, and it may take a while before the situation returns to normal. Fuel shortage is a problem in the worst-affected areas, as fuel is used to generate electricity as well as for transport, and it sustains some of the most essential works. People outside the affected areas are asked to desist from panic buying or filling their tanks unnecessarily.
A note on the sources
I have relied on information available at Japanese internet sites, mainly asahi.com and Yomiuri Online, the two largest daily newspapers in the country, and Kahoku Online Network, a regional paper, as well as official sources, such as Japan Meteorological Agency and the National Police Agency.