Posts from the ‘Natural Disasters’ Category

Nebraska Nuclear Reactor Flooded

by Washington’s Blog
Global Research, June 16, 2011
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Ketv noted in March:

Fort Calhoun’s nuclear power plant is one of three reactors across the country that federal regulators said they are most concerned about.


Last year, federal regulators questioned the station’s flood protection protocol. NRC officials said they felt the Omaha Public Power District should do more than sandbagging in the event of major flooding along the Missouri river.

OPPD officials said they have already made amends and added new flood gates.

“We updated our flood protection strategy and have tested and re-tested our new strategy. The issue is operationally resolved, and at no time was there a threat to public safety or was public health at risk,” OPPD President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Gates said.

Those upgrades are being tested right now, as the area around the Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant is being flooded.

Specifically, the midwestern floods have made the power plant an island, and sandbags, berms and other measures are being deployed to prevent a Fukushima-like problem.

On June 9th, an electrical fire knocked out cooling of the spent fuel rods at the plant. On June 6th, the Federal Administration Aviation (FAA) issued a directive banning aircraft from entering the airspace within a two-mile radius of the plant.
Since last week, the plant has been under a “notification of unusual event” classification, because of the rising Missouri River. That is the lowest level of emergency alert.

The Omaha Public Power District – which runs the reactor – says that there have been no releases of radioactivity, everything is under control, and that:

The flight restrictions were set up by the FAA as a result of Missouri river flooding.

An OPPD spokesman updated Business Insider about the situation:

OPPD spokesman Jeff Hanson told Business Insider that the nuclear plant is in a “stable situation.” He said the Missouri River is currently at 1005.6″ above sea level, and that no radioactive fuel had yet been released or was expected to be released in the future.

Asked about the FAA flight ban, Hanson it was due to high power lines and “security reasons that we can’t reveal.” He said the flight ban remains in effect.

Nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen said that he doesn’t expect a melt-down, as the diesel generators are situated higher above the ground than at Fukushima, so – unless the water rises further than expected – they should keep working:

However, Channel 6 news notes that OPPC is intentionally flooding the containment building to cool the rods:

The facility was taken offline to refuel earlier this year so the containment building has been flooded by OPPD in order to cool the fuel rods.

Hanson adds they have a number of backup systems in place to continue to pump clean water through the spent fuel pool and into the reactor containment building so he says there is nothing to fear.

And see this.

Global Research Articles by Washington’s Blog



Japan’s government says nuke plant operator made series of mistakes; radioactivity rising

Associated Press /source

AP Photo
AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama
Business Video

SENDAI, Japan (AP) — Japan’s government revealed a series of missteps by the operator of a radiation-leaking nuclear plant on Saturday, including sending workers in without protective footwear in its faltering efforts to control a monumental crisis. The U.S. Navy, meanwhile, rushed to deliver fresh water to replace corrosive salt water now being used in a desperate bid to cool the plant’s overheated reactors.

Government spokesman Yukio Edano urged Tokyo Electric Power Co. to be more transparent, two days after two workers at the tsunami-damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi plant suffered skin burns when they stepped in water that was 10,000 times more radioactive than levels normally found near the reactors.

“We strongly urge TEPCO to provide information to the government more promptly,” Edano said.

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, or NISA, said TEPCO was aware there was high radiation in the air at one of the plant’s six units several days before the accident. And the two workers injured were wearing boots that only came up to their ankles – hardly high enough to protect their legs, agency spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama said.

“Regardless of whether there was an awareness of high radioactivity in the stagnant water, there were problems in the way work was conducted,” Nishiyama said.

NISA warned TEPCO to improve and ensure workers’ safety, and TEPCO has taken measures to that effect, Nishiyama said, without elaborating.

TEPCO spokesman Hajime Motojuku declined to comment.

The government’s admonishments came as workers at the plant struggled to stop a troubling rise in radioactivity and remove dangerously contaminated water from the facility, which has been leaking radiation since a massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11 knocked out the plant’s key cooling systems. Officials have been using seawater to try to cool the plant, but fears are growing that the corrosive salt in the water could further damage the machinery inside the reactor units.

TEPCO is now rushing to inject the reactors with fresh water instead, and to begin extracting the radioactive water, Nishiyama said.

Defense Minister Yoshimi Kitazawa said late Friday that the U.S. government had made “an extremely urgent” request to switch to fresh water. He said the U.S. military was sending water to nearby Onahama Bay and that water injections could begin in the next few days.

The U.S. 7th Fleet confirmed that barges loaded with 500,000 gallons of fresh water supplies were on their way.

The situation at the crippled complex remains unpredictable, Edano said Saturday, adding that it would be “a long time” until the crisis ends.

“We seem to be keeping the situation from turning worse,” he said. “But we still cannot be optimistic.”

Efforts to get the nuclear plant under control took on fresh urgency this week when nuclear safety officials said they suspected a breach in one or more of the plant’s units – possibly a crack or hole in the stainless steel chamber around a reactor core containing fuel rods or the concrete wall surrounding a pool where spent fuel rods are stored.

Such a breach could mean a much larger release of radioactive contaminants.

Radioactivity was on the rise in some units, Nishiyama said Saturday.

“It is crucial to figure out how to remove contaminated water while allowing work to continue,” he said, acknowledging that the discovery would set back delicate efforts to get the plant’s cooling system operating again.

Workers have begun pumping radioactive water from one of the units, Masateru Araki, a TEPCO spokesman, said Saturday.

Plant officials and government regulators say they don’t know the source of the radioactive water. It could have come from a leaking reactor core, connecting pipes, or a spent fuel pool. Or it may be the result of overfilling the pools with emergency cooling water.

But a breach in the chamber surrounding the reactor core seemed “more likely,” Nishiyama said.

TEPCO said late Saturday that a trace of radioactive water had leaked from the Unit 2 reactor building into a sewage line. It was not clear if the source of the water was the same as the other leakage. TEPCO said officials were investigating.

Radiation has been seeping from the plant since the magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami struck more than two weeks ago. Since then, it has made its way into milk, seawater and 11 kinds of vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower and turnips.

Tap water in several areas of Japan, including Tokyo, has shown higher-than-normal levels of radiation. In the capital, readings were at one point two times higher than the government safety limit for infants, who are particularly vulnerable to radioactive iodine.

But levels have fallen steadily since peaking Wednesday, and Tokyo metropolitan officials said Saturday that tap water was safe for babies to drink.

Just outside a reactor at the coastal nuclear plant, radioactivity in seawater tested about 1,250 times higher than normal, Nishiyama said. He said the area is not a source of seafood and the contamination posed no immediate threat to human health.

However, tests conducted 18 miles (28 kilometers) offshore found radioactive iodine-131 at levels nearing the regulatory limit set by the Japanese government, the International Atomic Energy Agency said. The tests also detected another radioactive substance, cesium-137, at lower levels.

IAEA experts said the ocean will quickly dilute the worst contamination. Radioactive iodine breaks down within weeks but cesium could foul the marine environment for decades.

The nuclear crisis has added to the misery and uncertainty facing Japan in the wake of the disastrous earthquake and tsunami.

Japanese soldiers and U.S. Marines were clearing away debris so they could keep searching for bodies and bury the dead. The official death toll was 10,418 Saturday, with more than 17,000 listed as missing, police said. Those lists may overlap, but the final death toll was expected to surpass 18,000.

Overwhelmed by bodies along the coast, government officials conducted more mass burials Saturday. In Yamamoto, relatives wailed and yelled their farewells as the first 11 caskets were buried in one end of a long mass grave in a vegetable patch, with at least 400 more burials planned in the coming days.

In Higashimatsushima, soldiers lowered plywood coffins into a ditch dug at a recycling plant as freezing rain fell on mourners weeping quietly under umbrellas. Funerals in Japan are a highly formalized Buddhist ceremony, and the mass burials are yet another tragedy for the hard-hit coastal towns.

The misery has extended to the hundreds of thousands whose homes were destroyed, many of whom now sleep on crowded school gymnasium floors with few comforts. Those living within a 12-mile (20-kilometer) radius of the plant have been evacuated.

Life was also tough in the ghost towns inside a larger voluntary evacuation zone, with most residents choosing to flee and wary truckers refusing to deliver goods.

In Minamisoma, a city of 71,000 about 20 miles (30 kilometers) north of the plant, all but one or two shops shut their doors because of a lack of goods and customers, city official Sadayasu Abe said.

“Commercial trucks are simply not coming to the city at all due to radiation fears,” he said.

Military troops and some private companies took up the task of delivering rice, instant noodles, bottled water and canned foods to eight central spots in the city, Abe said.

He said the city was urging the 10,000 or so still remaining to leave since the situation at the plant remains precarious.

“Life is very difficult here,” he told The Associated Press by telephone. “We have electricity, gas and running water, but no food.”

Muneyuki Munakata, a 58-year-old firefighter who was evacuated from his home near the plant, has been living in a shelter about 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of the nuclear complex for 15 days. Evacuees have plenty of instant noodles, but not enough rice or fuel for the stove, he said.

“People here are all exhausted,” he said. “We all talk about when we can go home, but I don’t know when because of uncertainty over the nuclear disaster.”

Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo, as did Associated Press writers Shino Yuasa, Kristen Gelineau, Jeff Donn, Mayumi Saito and Joji Sakurai. Jay Alabaster contributed to this report from Yamamoto.

© 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

First pictures emerge of the Fukushima Fifty as they battle radiation poisoning to save Japan’s stricken nuclear power plant

Wed, 23 Mar 2011 19:00 CDT

Matt Blake
Mail Onlilne

The darkness is broken only by the flashing torchlight of the heroes who stayed behind.

These first images of inside the stricken Fukushima Dai-Ichi power plant reveal the terrifying conditions under which the brave men work to save their nation from full nuclear meltdown.

The Fukushima Fifty – an anonymous band of lower and mid-level managers – have battled around the clock to cool overheating reactors and spent fuel rods since the disaster on March 11.

Fukushima Fifty

Conundrum: Two of the Fukushima Fifty pour over plans as they try to work out how to fix the stricken plant

Despite sweltering heat from the damaged reactors, they must work in protective bodysuits to protect their skin from the poisonous radioactive particles that fill the air around them.

But as more radiation seeps into the atmosphere minute by minute, they know this job will be their last.

Five are believed to have already died and 15 are injured while others have said they know the radiation will kill them.

Darkness: A worker looks at gauges in the control room for Unit 1 and Unit 2 at the plant

Grainy: Workers collect data in the control room for Unit 1 and Unit 2. They must wear rubber suits to prevent as much radiation from entering their bodies as possible

The original 50 brave souls were later joined by 150 colleagues and rotated in teams to limit their exposure to the radiation spewing from over-heating spent fuel rods after a series of explosions at the site. They were today joined by scores more workers.

Japan has rallied behind the workers with relatives telling of heart-breaking messages sent at the height of the crisis.

A woman said her husband continued to work while fully aware he was being bombarded with radiation. In a heartbreaking email, he told his wife: ‘Please continue to live well, I cannot be home for a while.’

Teamwork: Outside the men connect transmission lines to restore electric power supply to Unit 3 and Unit 4

Aiming high: Workers in protective suits work on a transmission tower to restore electricity to Units 5 and 6
Fukushima Fifty

Damage: A collapsed eave lies outside the security gate for Unit 1 and Unit 2. Much of the plant was destroyed by the tsunami

One girl tweeted in a message translated by ABC: ‘My dad went to the nuclear plant, I’ve never seen my mother cry so hard. People at the plant are struggling, sacrificing themselves to protect you. Please dad come back alive.’

But it is becoming even more pressing that the Fukushima succeed after it was revealed today that Tokyo’s tap water has been contaminated by unusual levels of radiation.

The government have issued a warning to all mothers urging them not to let babies drink the tap water.

The warning came after it emerged last night that radioactive particles have reached Europe and are heading towards Britain in the wake of the catastrophe that officials say could cost up to £190billion – making it the costliest natural disaster in history.

And fresh safety concerns arose today as black smoke was spotted emerging from Unit 3 of the plant, prompting a temporary evacuation of all workers from the complex, operators Tokyo Electric Power company said.

Tokyo Water Bureau officials said levels of radioactive iodine in some city tap water contained 210 becquerels per litre of iodine 131 – two times the recommended limit for infants.

They warned parents not to give babies tap water, although they said it is not an immediate health risk for adults.

Nearly two weeks after the twin March 11 disasters, nuclear officials were still struggling to stabilise the damaged and overheated Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant, which has been leaking radiation since the disasters knocked out the plant’s cooling systems.

Radiation has seeped into vegetables, raw milk, the water supply and even seawater in the areas surrounding the plant.

Meanwhile, officials in Iceland have detected ‘minuscule amounts’ of radioactive particles believed to have come from Fukushima, the site of the worst nuclear accident in 25 years.

Last night the British Government said radiation from Japan had not been detected by the UK’s network of monitoring stations set up after the 1986 Chernobyl explosion. A spokesman said any signs of radiation were not expected in the next few days.

However, France’s nuclear agency said tiny amounts were likely to arrive in the country by today.

Fukushima Fifty

Water spray: Workers at Fukushima yesterday try to cool the plant
Fukushima Fifty

Smoke: Fresh safety concerns arose today as black smoke was spotted emerging from Unit 3 of the plant, prompting a temporary evacuation of all workers from the complex

The traces of radioactive iodine are being measured by a network of 63 monitoring stations as they spread east across the Pacific, over North America and into the North Atlantic.

Radiation from nuclear accidents and explosions is monitored by the UN’s Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation, based in Vienna.

A source said several stations had detected particles believed to have been released from Fukushima in the days after it was hit by the earthquake and tsunami.

‘Reykjavik is the first in Europe,’ the source added. The levels are about one millionth of the natural background radiation, and pose no threat to the public, experts said.

‘We are not expecting it to be detected in Britain in the next few days,’ a spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said.

Japanese officials said the health risk was low outside the plant, but were yesterday chastised by the International Atomic Energy Agency watchdog over a lack of information about how much radiation had been emitted.

Levels in Tokyo rose ten-fold in the days after the 9.0-magnitude earthquake earlier this month, and tiny traces have been detected in California and Washington DC.

The IAEA lacks data on the temperatures of the spent fuel pools of reactors 1, 3 and 4 at Fukushima.

Destroyed: A road in Naka, Iwake prefecture on March 11 shortly after being devastated by the earthquake
Fukushima Fifty

Transformation: The carriageway has already been reconstructed and tarmaced ready for use

It has been claimed the plant was storing more uranium than it was designed to hold, and had repeatedly missed mandatory safety checks.

The official death toll in Japan has exceeded 9,400. At least 13,200 people are still missing and 350,000 are in shelters.

Yesterday firemen connected electric cables to the plant in the hope of restarting cooling systems. Although hundreds of tons of water have been blasted into two of the damaged reactors, smoke and steam continue to pour out.

U.S. halts food imports from affected areas of Japan

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says it will halt imports of dairy products and produce from the area of Japan where a nuclear reactor is leaking radiation.

The FDA says that those foods will be detained at entry and will not be sold to the public. The agency previously said it would just step up screening of those foods.

Other foods imported from Japan, including seafood, will still be sold to the public but screened first for radiation.

Japanese foods make up less than 4 percent of all U.S. imports, and the FDA has said it expects no risk to the U.S. food supply from radiation.

Fukushima Fifty

Contamination concerns: Various types of fish are sold at a shop near Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market. The U.S. have halted all dairy imports from Japan and will screen all other foods before allowing entry

Germany Set to Abandon Nuclear Power for Good

by Juergen Baetz

BERLIN — Germany is determined to show the world how abandoning nuclear energy can be done.

In this March 18, 2011 photo, a traffic sign stands next to the nuclear power plant of Biblis, Germany. Germany stands alone among the world’s leading industrialized nations in its determination to abandon nuclear energy for good because of the technology’s inherent risk. Europe’s biggest economy is betting billions on expanding the use of renewable energies to meet its demand instead. The transition was supposed to happen slowly over the next 25 years, but now it is being accelerated in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima disaster. Chancellor Angela Merkel said the ‘catastrophe of apocalyptic dimensions’ irreversibly marks the start of a new era. (AP Photo/Michael Probst) The world’s fourth-largest economy stands alone among leading industrialized nations in its decision to stop using nuclear energy because of its inherent risks. It is betting billions on expanding the use of renewable energy to meet power demands instead.

The transition was supposed to happen slowly over the next 25 years, but is now being accelerated in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant disaster, which Chancellor Angela Merkel has called a “catastrophe of apocalyptic dimensions.”

Berlin’s decision to take seven of its 17 reactors offline for three months for new safety checks has provided a glimpse into how Germany might wean itself from getting nearly a quarter of its power from atomic energy to none.

And experts say Germany’s phase-out provides a good map that countries such as the United States, which use a similar amount of nuclear power, could follow. The German model would not work, however, in countries like France, which relies on nuclear energy for more than 70 percent of its power and has no intention of shifting.

“If we had the winds of Texas or the sun of California, the task here would be even easier,” said Felix Matthes of Germany’s renowned Institute for Applied Ecology. “Given the great potential in the U.S., it would be feasible there in the long run too, even though it would necessitate huge infrastructure investments.”

Nuclear power has been very unpopular in Germany ever since radioactivity from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster drifted across the country. A center-left government a decade ago penned a plan to abandon the technology for good by 2021, but Merkel’s government last year amended it to extend the plants’ lifetime by an average of 12 years. That plan was put on hold after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami compromised nuclear power plants in Japan, and is being re-evaluated as the safety of all of Germany’s nuclear reactors is being rechecked.

Germany currently gets 23 percent of its energy from nuclear power – about as much as the U.S. Its ambitious plan to shut down its reactors will require at least euro150 billion ($210 billion) investment in alternative energy sources, which experts say will likely lead to higher electricity prices.

Germany now gets 17 percent of its electricity from renewable energies, 13 percent from natural gas and more than 40 percent from coal. The Environment Ministry says in 10 years renewable energy will contribute 40 percent of the country’s overall electricity production.

The government has been vague on a total price tag for the transition, but it said last year about euro20 billion ($28 billion) a year will be needed, acknowledging that euro75 billion ($107 billion) alone will be required through 2030 to install offshore wind farms.

The president of Germany’s Renewable Energy Association, Dietmar Schuetz, said the government should create a more favorable regulatory environment to help in bringing forward some euro150 billion investment in alternative energy sources this decade by businesses and homeowners.

Last year, German investment in renewable energy topped euro26 billion ($37 billion) and secured 370,000 jobs, the government said.

After taking seven reactors off the grid last week, officials hinted the oldest of them may remain switched off for good, but assured consumers there are no worries about electricity shortages as the country is a net exporter.

“We can guarantee that the lights won’t go off in Germany,” Environment Ministry spokeswoman Christiane Schwarte said.

Most of the country’s leaders now seem determined to swiftly abolish nuclear power, possibly by 2020, and several conservative politicians, including the chancellor, have made a complete U-turn on the issue.

Vice Chancellor Guido Westerwelle said Wednesday “we must learn from Japan” and check the safety of the country’s reactors but also make sure viable alternatives are in place.

“It would be the wrong consequence if we turn off the safest atomic reactors in the world, and then buy electricity from less-safe reactors in foreign countries,” he told the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper.

But Schuetz insists that “we can replace nuclear energy even before 2020 with renewable energies, producing affordable and ecologically sound electricity.”

But someone will have to foot the bill.

“Consumers must be prepared for significantly higher electricity prices in the future,” said Wolfgang Franz, head of the government’s independent economic advisory body. Merkel last week also warned that tougher safety rules for the remaining nuclear power plants “would certainly mean that electricity gets more expensive.”

The German utilities’ BDEW lobby group said long-term price effects could not be determined until the government spells out its nuclear reduction plans. Matthes’ institute says phasing out nuclear power by 2020 is feasible by better capacity management and investment that would only lead to a price increase of 0.5 cents per kilowatt-hour.

In Germany, the producers of renewable energy – be it solar panels on a homeowner’s rooftop or a farm of wind mills – are paid above-market prices to make sure their investment breaks even, financed by a 3.5 cents per kilowatt-hour tax paid by all electricity customers.

For a typical German family of four who pay about euro1,000 ($1,420) a year to use about 4,500 kilowatt-hours, the tax amounts to euro157 ($223).

The tax produced euro8.2 billion ($11.7 billion) in Germany in 2010 and it is expected to top euro13.5 billion ($19.2 billion) this year. The program – which has been copied by other countries and several U.S. states such as California – is the backbone of the country’s transition toward renewable energies.

“Our ideas work. Exiting the nuclear age would also be possible in a country like the U.S.,” Schuetz said.

Another factor likely to drive up electricity prices is that relying on renewable energies requires a huge investment in the electricity grid to cope with more decentralized and less reliable sources of power. Economy Minister Rainer Bruederle just announced legislation to speed up grid construction but gave no cost estimate.

And even if non-nuclear power is more expensive, Germans seeing images daily of Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear complex seem willing to pay the higher price.

Ralph Kampwirth, spokesman for Lichtblick AG, Germany’s biggest utility offering electricity exclusively from renewable sources, said since the Fukushima disaster it has been getting nearly three times more new clients than normal, up from 300 to more than 800 per day, despite prices slightly above average.

Sticking with nuclear power would also have its costs and require public funds.

The only two new nuclear reactors currently under construction in Europe, in France and in Finland, both have been plagued by long delays and seen costs virtually doubling, to around euro4 billion ($5.7 billion) and euro5.3 billion ($7.5 billion) respectively.

The disposal of spent nuclear fuel is also a costly problem, but it has no set price tag in Germany because the government has failed to find a sustainable solution.

Many decades-old reactors are highly profitable as their initial cost has been written off, but they now face higher costs as regulators push for safety upgrades in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. One of the most pressing – and costly – requirements is likely to be a mandatory upgrade to reinforce all nuclear power plants’ outer shell to withstand a crash of a commercial airliner.

Utility EnBW pulled the plug for good on one reactor temporarily shut down by the government because the new requirements made operating it “no longer economically viable.”

But even if Germany abandons nuclear energy, some of Europe’s 143 nuclear reactors will still sit right on its borders.

Since France and other nations are firmly committed to nuclear power, shutting down all reactors across Europe won’t happen, but Merkel is now pushing for common safety standards. The topic will be discussed at the European Union summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.

Merkel said the 27-nation bloc, which has standardized “the size of apples or the shape of bananas,” needs joint standards for nuclear power plants.

“Everybody in Europe would be equally affected by an accident at a nuclear power plant in Europe,” Merkel said.

© 2011 Associated Press

Update: Fire burns at reactor 3 and food contamination concerns rise

The Fukushima/Daiichi nuclear crisis continues, marked by confusion and a lack of information and transparency. Today, our team of nuclear experts and monitors followed reports of grey smoke coming out of the spent fuel pool of the nuclear plant’s reactor 3 for at least two hours. Authorities reported that they could not identify the cause of the smoke or what was burning but assured that radiation levels had not increased.  All workers were apparently evacuated from the immediate area, and as far as we can observe, work was stopped overnight.  From official monitoring reports our team of experts later concluded that radiation levels around the plant did increase significantly during the fire.

While the “Faceless 50” – the heroic workers who are risking their health to contain the crisis – made news over the weekend, it now seems that as many as 700 workers have been working close to the site in order to restore power and cooling capacity and have probably received high doses of radiation.

Reactor 3 had already caused alarm on Sunday, when the plant’s owners, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) unsuccessfully fought rising pressure inside the reactor pressure vessel. Later on Sunday, NISA made assurances that relieving pressure by venting radioactive steam and air into the atmosphere was unnecessary and would not happen, claiming that the pressure rise was due to their increased pumping of seawater into the reactor.

Later statements from TEPCO said that the temperature of reactor 3 had been very high, reaching up to 385 Celcius, indiciating very high pressure inside the reactor close to its the design pressure. The Japan Atomic Industrial Forum (JAIF) reported that the pressure in reactor 3 was now ‘unknown’ instead of ‘stable’ as in Sunday’s report. This hardly reassuring either.

Also on Monday, reports came of a “white smoke” pouring from the building that houses reactor 2. TEPCO said that it “believed” that the smoke was “water vapour” and “probably did not originate from the reactor itself or the spent fuel pool”. This is yet another unclear situation – very little information has been available, but will keep monitoring.

Food safety

A World Health Organisation (WHO) spokesman was quoted as saying that contaminated food in Japan is a “serious situation” and that food contamination is no longer just a localised problem, as previously thought. Over the weekend, The WHO had called import screening unnecessary, saying there is no problem. Today, WHO changed its view, saying that “it’s a lot more serious than anybody thought in the early days when we thought that this kind of problem could be limited to 20 to 30 kilometers”. Japan’s government has issued orders for four prefectures to stop shipments of milk and two kinds of vegetables.

Meanwhile, radiation levels in the rest of Japan have stayed at roughly the same elevated levels as in previous days, although traces of radioactive substances have been detected in water in nine prefectures.

According to a TEPCO report, radioactive cesium and iodine many times higher than normal had been detected in seawater near the Fukushima plant. It is still too early to assess the contaminated seawater’s impact on fisheries.

Further information: To help you decipher the complex information around radiation and health we have created a radiation guide covering effects, safety and basics of the Fukushima 1 radiation releases.


Jean-Bertrand Aristide exile ends with rapturous welcome home to Haiti

Seven years after he was ousted in rebellion, former president arrives on election eve talking of Haitians’ plight

  • Isabeau Doucet in Port-au-Prince and agencies
  •, Friday 18 March 2011 19.57 GMT
  • Article history
  • Haiti's former president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, with his wife Mildred arrives in Port-au-Prince Haiti’s former president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, with his wife Mildred behind him as he arrives in Port-au-Prince after seven years of exile in South Africa. Photograph: Alexandre Meneghini/AP

    Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the pastor-turned-president last seen in his native Haiti making a rapid, undignified exit seven years ago, has returned home to a rapturous welcome, injecting another variable into a febrile election atmosphere 48 hours before a drawn-out presidential race climaxes.

    Aristide, the only Haitian leader to have been forced from office twice, offered an exotic mix of poetry and gratitude to the hundreds of supporters who feted him at the airport – and took a sideswipe at the troubled electoral process.

    The atmosphere at the airport was charged. It was here after all that Aristide was bundled on to a plane in February 2004, leaving behind a rebellion in full cry and a power vacuum. Since then the country has endured landslides, political stasis and enduring poverty – all compounded by last year’s earthquake which killed more than 300,000 people.

    “Since the earthquake, the humiliation of the people under tents is the humiliation of all the Haitian people,” Aristide said.

    For many Haitians, the former populist president who helped oust the Duvalier regime is still admired as a champion of the poor. His repatriation in defiance of US efforts to keep him away until Sunday’s election has run its course is seen by many as a restitution of dignity. “President Aristide is a strong leader who doesn’t take orders from a superpower such as the United States,” said Johnny Mazart, 36, a carpenter. “That’s why they ousted him, because he listened to the Haitian people, not foreigners,” he told Reuters.

    Journalists trampled over barriers to reposition themselves to film the former president as he descended from a long-range private jet accompanied by his family and black rights activist Danny Glover. His wife, Mildred, had tears of joy in her eyes as her daughters buttressed her down the steps on to the Haitian tarmac.

    Outside the airport, hundreds of supporters gathered with rara bands and welcoming chants. “Modern-day slavery will have to end today,” said Aristide. “The greatest richness of Haiti is Haitians. Remedy for Haiti is love.”

    Aristide thanked the government of South Africa, which had hosted him, and the friends who helped him return. He switched between Haitian Creole, French, English, Zulu and Spanish, and onlookers cheered at his linguistic and geological references and metaphors about Haiti’s plight and his repatriation.

    “You can cut off our feet but not our roots that go all the way back to Africa … This country needs education with dignity without social exclusion … The exclusion of [his party] Lavalas is exclusion of the majority. The solution is inclusion.”

    In the Cité Soleil slum, crowds of people were reported to be chanting for the annulment of Sunday’s election, which pits the popular musician Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly and the former first lady Mirlande Manigat. In Solino, another neighbourhood where Aristide commanded much support, the streets were calm but people were unsure sure how to react to the arrival of such a divisive figure on the last day of campaigning.

    “He is not here to interrupt the elections,” said Wesly Desalan. “He is here to help Haitians get out of the current political crisis.”

    Later, attention turned to Aristide’s house in Tabarre where thousands had gathered and, as at the airport, disregarded the barriers to flood the yard. By contrast, the other towering figure who returned in January, Jean-Claude Duvalier, has been arrested and charged with corruption. Most people, even those who revile Aristide, think he has every right to be back, particularly as Duvalier’s return was tolerated.

    In front of the crumbled national palace everything was unusually quiet. Saturday is the last day of campaigning before Sunday’s run-off vote, and one of the candidates’ campaign managers said more than 50,000 people had gathered there on Friday night for a concert by Wyclef Jean, Busta Rhymes, Black Alex and Ti Vice, a group of Haitian musicians endorsing Martelly.


Japan nuclear crisis escalates

EU expert says Fukushima is out of control as UK and France advise their citizens to leave Tokyo because of radiation fears


    Rescue workers in Sendai, Japan Rescue workers at a devastated factory area in Sendai. Britain and France have told their citizens in Japan to leave Tokyo because of radiation fears. Photograph: STAFF/Reuters

    International concern that Japan has lost control over the nuclear crisis is escalating as Britain, France and other countries advised their citizens to “consider” leaving Tokyo because of heightened radiation levels.

    Yukiya Amano, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said he would visit the Japanese capital to gather information about the “very serious” situation at the Fukushima plant.

    Conflicting reports from the damaged nuclear plant have deepened alarm over Japan’s management of the crisis, leading to charges that the authorities are actually making the situation worse.

    Gregory Jaczko, who heads the US nuclear regulator, said Japan had failed to order a big enough evacuation. He told Congress the public should get at least 50 miles away from the stricken plant. The Japanese cleared a radius of 12 miles.

    He raised further fears by saying that all the water had evaporated from one of the spent fuel pools at the nuclear plant, so there was nothing to stop the fuel rods from getting hotter.

    Jaczko said officials believe radiation levels are extremely high, which could affect workers’ ability to stop temperatures rising.

    The EU’s energy chief, Günther Oettinger, told the European parliament the situation was out of control. “We are somewhere between a disaster and a major disaster,” he said. “There could be further catastrophic events, which could pose a threat to the lives of people on the island.” He said it was impossible to “exclude the worst”, adding: “There is talk of an apocalypse and I think the word is particularly well chosen.”

    The partial meltdown at Fukushima appeared more serious than the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, the US energy secretary, Steven Chu, told Congress.

    China, which had been driving a global revival of the nuclear industry, announced it was putting construction on hold, and ordered safety reviews at existing facilities. The heightened concerns – six days after a devastating earthquake and tsunami plunged Japan into a humanitarian as well as a nuclear emergency – brought criticism of the authorities’ management of the situation at Fukushima.

    Yuli Andreyev, former head of the agency tasked with cleaning up after Chernobyl, told the Guardian the Japanese had failed to grasp the scale of the disaster. He also said the authorities had to be willing to sacrifice nuclear response workers for the good of the greater public, and should not only be deploying a skeleton staff. “They don’t know what to do,” he said. “The personnel have been removed and those that remain are stretched.”

    Kenneth Bergeron, a physicist who has done research on nuclear accident simulation, said Three Mile Island had shown the importance of bringing in outside experts. “I am concerned that the management of this accident was left to very local hands for a very long time,” he said. “Sometimes the managers and operators in place when the accident has taken place are not well qualified. They may have the inability to see the big picture.”

    He criticised the rescue effort for not immediately working to restore the power to the reactors’ cooling systems. “What was really needed at Fukushima was restoration of the AC power to the emergency cooling system, and instead we saw them running fire hoses from the ocean. A jerry-rigged arrangement like that sounds to me like a move of real desperation.”

    The Japanese did not assemble a dedicated crisis management team until Monday morning, Bergeron said. “You need a different kind of person and a different kind of training, and I didn’t see any evidence of that until it was very late.”

    The decision to evacuate personnel when radiation levels spiked also attracted criticism. Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, said: “How long can 50 workers last in trying to manage a disaster in four reactors?”

    However, as Chu told Congress: “If workers have to be permanently evacuated from the site it is unclear if the damage can be effectively contained.”

    The slow and limited information from the plant’s operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, also came under attack. Japan’s prime minister, Naoto Kan, erupted in front of reporters at the company’s lack of transparency.

    Jim Riccio of Greenpeace said: “I can understand why they would not want to cause panic in the population. But in a disaster of this magnitude timely and accurate information is of the utmost importance.”

    Andreyev accused Japan’s regulators of sacrificing safety for profits. “Producers always try to hide the danger. After Chernobyl happened, they also tried to hide it.”


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