Monday, March 14, 2011

Tuesday in Japan: Good News; Bad News; and Radiation Jitters

It's tomorrow already in Japan: Tuesday morning.

First, the good news:

One Japanese Port Back in Operation, Pretty Much

"Key Japanese oil port resumes some operations - industry sources"
Edition: U.S., Reuters (March 14, 2011)

"Japan's Chiba oil port, one of the country's biggest, has resumed some operations...

" 'The Chiba port is open,' said a Tokyo-based senior official with a shipping company.

" 'Only the Cosmo Oil terminal remains shut, the other 10 terminals I think are open. We still don't have the full picture.'..."

It's no wonder that the Cosmo Oil terminal is shut. The Cosmo oil refinery in Chiba was on still on fire, last that the Lemming read. If the oil terminal is anywhere near the refinery: 'nuff said.

By the way: "...I think are open...."?! Under normal circumstances, an oil company executive not knowing how many terminals were open in a port facility might seem - odd. Admitting that lack of knowledge in public might seem, to the Lemming, even more odd.

Circumstances haven't been normal in Japan since Friday's earthquake, though: so the Lemming is inclined to admire the candor.

Meanwhile, on the Fukushima coast, about a third of the way from Sendai to Tokyo:

Another Day, Another Explosion at Fukushima's Dai-ichi Power Plant

"New Explosion Heard at Troubled Japanese Nuclear Plant Damaged in Quake, Tsunami" (March 14, 2011) (March 15 in Japan)

"An explosion Tuesday morning at a Japanese nuclear plant damaged by the country's devastating earthquake and tsunami has raised new fears of a radiation leak, as the country struggles to respond to the mounting human disaster.

"The Fukushima Dai-ichi facility's precarious state was underscored by the details trickling out in the wake of the blast at the Unit 2 reactor. It was the third explosion in four days at the nuclear plant, and the condition of the Unit 2 reactor is of greatest concern to authorities.

"The agency suspects the explosion early Tuesday may have damaged the reactor's suppression chamber, a water-filled tube at the bottom of the container that surrounds the nuclear core, said another agency spokesman, Shinji Kinjo. He said that chamber is part of the container wall, so damage to it could allow radiation to escape...."

The three reactors at that power plant have been getting a whole lot of attention in the news. It seems that #2 of the three reactors has been the one giving folks the most headaches:

"..'Units 1 and 3 are at least somewhat stabilized for the time being,' said Nuclear and Industrial Agency official Ryohei Shiomi 'Unit 2 now requires all our effort and attention.'..."

There's more in the article about the problems Unit two is giving the NIA. Essentially, they seem to be trying to cool the thing down by pumping in water. Seawater, at least in part.

What's been going on over the weekend, and so far this week, seems to have encouraged a certain tenseness among some folks

"...Across the region, many residents expressed fear over the situation.

"People in the port town of Soma had rushed to higher ground after a tsunami warning Monday -- a warning that turned out to be false alarm -- and then felt the earth shake from the explosion at the Fukushima reactor 25 miles away. Authorities there ordered everyone to go indoors to guard against possible radiation contamination.

" 'It's like a horror movie,' said 49-year-old Kyoko Nambu as she stood on a hillside overlooking her ruined hometown. 'Our house is gone and now they are telling us to stay indoors.

" 'We can see the damage to our houses, but radiation? ... We have no idea what is happening. I am so scared.'..."

Kyoko Nambu identified what the Lemming thinks is a major reason why so much attention is focused on the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant: "...We have no idea what is happening...." Damage on a house is something definite, visible: and as obvious as a brightly-burning oil refinery.

"Radiation?" That's something that isn't so easy to see. In a way, it's like the nightmare-things our imaginations can tell us are out there in the night, just beyond the light of our fire.

Disease isn't all that visible, until it's effects start showing themselves. But we've had uncounted generations to get used to the idea of people getting sick. Most people understand "disease," at least to some extent: in the Lemming's opinion.

Even so, folks can get edgy when topics like the Black Death or those anthrax letters comes up.

The Lemming discussed non-power-plant threats earlier today. (March 14, 2011)

Meanwhile, in the rest of Japan:

"...Also Tuesday morning, Japanese police said the official death toll from the earthquake and tsunami has risen to 2,414, with a big share of the deaths in Miyagi prefecture, where 1,254 people are confirmed dead.

"The number of people officially missing is at 3,118. But regional officials said they believe that tens of thousands may have been swept away by the tsunami that devastated a long stretch of Japan's northeastern coast.

"Meanwhile, the U.S. Geological Survey upgraded the quake from magnitude 8.9 to magnitude 9.0 after further review...."

"...While Japan has aggressively prepared for years for major earthquakes, reinforcing buildings and running drills, the impact of the tsunami -- which came so quickly that not many people managed to flee to higher ground -- was immense.

"By Monday, officials were overwhelmed by the scale of the crisis, with millions of people facing a fourth night without electricity, water, food or heat in near-freezing temperatures."

All things considered, under the circumstances, the Lemming thinks it looks like Japan and the Japanese are handling the situation pretty well. This was a huge earthquake, the tsunami wasn't small, but even the revised estimated death tolls are maybe a tenth of the number killed in the big 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake.

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