Earthquake in Japan (March 2011) — 19

17 March 2011 — 02:30 GMT; 11:30 in Japan

Desperate times

The situation at the Fukushima No 1 nuclear power plant continues to be very precarious. While there are reasons to be worried about all six reactors at the plant, the reactors 3 and 4 are causing the most concern. Both store spent fuel rods, and the water in the spent fuel pools have been evaporating. The buildings have been damaged, and if the spent fuel rods were to be exposed, high doses of radiation would be released into the air, and there are indications that this is already happening. US experts reckon that the water in the spent fuel pool in the no 4 reactor has already evaporated completely. The situation at the no 2 reactor has not been much reported, which was a major concern a couple of days ago. Neither the company that operates the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), nor the government, seems certain what is actually happening inside the reactors, and they have failed miserably to inspire confidence.

There is a plan of sorts. The aim is to draw temporary electricity cables to the plant, and switch on the emergency core cooling systems (ECCS), which may be achieved later today local time. In the meantime, there have been 4 water drops by helicopters, and high-pressure water cannon are being sent near the plant. Are such measures effective? No one seems to be certain.

Humanitarian crisis

It is bitterly cold in the worst-affected area. Unfortunately, the delivery of food, water, fuel, medicines and other essential goods has not been smooth. While road and rail networks are being repaired and some routes are made passable again, there is still a lot of problems with logistics. Physical and emotional stresses are taking their toll on the survivors.

Though the number of people in shelters has decreased from over a half a million to just under 340,000 according to the public broadcaster NHK, as people are returning to home, the numbers of confirmed deaths and those reported missing have increased: according to the official figures made available by the National Police Agency, there were 5,178 dead, and 8,606 missing as of 10:00 local time. There is no doubt that these figures will rise further in the future.

A note on the sources

I have relied on information available at Japanese internet sites, mainly 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.