The official death toll from Japan’s earthquake and tsunami has risen to over 6,500. Rescue and aid work continues at full speed as groups of workers at Fukushima are trying to prevent a total nuclear catastrophe.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano briefs the press on the current nuclear reactor situation
The world is holding its breath, waiting for revelations from Fukushima with each passing day. What it gets is Japanese government spokesman, Yukio Edano, stuttering at daily press conferences, avoiding the most important question on everyone’s mind – is Fukushima experiencing a nuclear meltdown?
At a recent press conference, he spoke of the confusion in media reporting about “offering technical assistance from the US and also about the lack of coolant,” as well as the “need to secure water and procure water.” Mentioning the fact that “there is seawater nearby” no doubt did nothing to help calm people’s nerves.
Fire trucks converge in preparation to spray water at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant
In serious need of coolant
He did say, however, that Fukushima’s fuel rods are in serious need of coolant water. But this is nothing new. As of Friday (18.3.), the authorities are still doing all they can to keep those fuel rods from melting – helicopters and water cannon are dousing the reactors with seawater and the Tokyo fire department is stationed outside the plant with special equipment. The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), has been able to report some progress: an electricity cable has been successfully connected to reactor 2; restoring power should make it possible to pump coolant into the reactors. Reactors 3 and 4 are due to be connected to power as well by Sunday (20 March).
A police officer stands in silence among the debris at the destructed city of Kesennuma
Edano also said that radioactive radiation within the 30-kilometer evacuated zone is not threatening. But he failed to mention the risk to the health of the 200 engineers working round the clock at the nuclear plant. Because of high radiation at the site, the workers are not allowed to go near the reactors for longer than 15 minutes. Clearly, they are putting their lives at risk to save their country from a catastrophic nuclear meltdown.
An exodus of foreigners
Karen Hitschke is a German woman who lives in Tokyo. She ended up leaving the city with her two children after news of the trouble at the plant became public. Now she is waiting in
Passengers crowd a check-in area at Narita Airport in a rush to get out of Japan
Singapore for her husband to join her. "There is a complete exodus of foreigners. We have been split up – we all have friends who are still in Tokyo and we are all worried about them. But now others have gone off to different placed. Our circle of friends has disappeared within the past few days. I hope this situation doesn’t last."
Photographs arriving from Japan’s northwest coast show how bad the situation has become. They show people left homeless by the tsunami crowded into shelters, huddling under blankets. The people there are trying to protect themselves from the freezing temperatures by making fires in bins, as there is still no electricity for heating. Around 400,000 people lost their homes in the tsunami. There is not enough shelter, nor food or water for them all.
Author: Nils Kinkel (sb)
Editor: Grahame Lucas