Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Day-to-Day Life in Japan

Last evening Japan's nuclear agency bumped up the severity level of its nuclear crisis to 7, the highest level on the scale and equal to the 1986 Chernobyl crisis that resulted in a reactor meltdown.  Apparently the decision was based on the amount of radioactive iodine and cesium spewed from the power plant, although it's still just 10% of the amount at Chernobyl and thus far (unlike Chernobyl) there have been no deaths linked to the accident at Fukushima.  However, I wonder if the decision wasn't influenced just a bit by non-radiation events last week that make the nuclear crisis seem worse on the ground.  From the LA Times: "The announcement by nuclear agency officials came the day after three powerful aftershocks struck already jittery northeastern Japan within the span of 10 minutes ... The first of Monday's temblors, which trapped some victims in collapsed homes and vehicles, hit at 5:16 p.m. near the coast in Fukushima prefecture, registering a magnitude 7.1 ... It was sizable enough to rock buildings in Tokyo, about 150 miles to the south. A magnitude 6 quake hit a minute later in the same area, followed by another temblor measuring magnitude 5.6, nine minutes after that.  Aftershocks continued hours later, the agency said. In neighboring Ibaraki prefecture, one man died after falling and hitting his head during the shaking ... The quakes also triggered a landslide that buried three homes in Iwaki city. Two people died in the landslide, including a 16-year-old girl ... Three other men pulled from the rubble were unconscious and taken to a hospital ... Officials issued a tsunami warning after the quakes but later lifted it. The quakes temporarily knocked out the power to the Fukushima plant and led to a 50-minute stoppage in the water-spraying operations to cool four of the plant's six reactors.  Highways were closed, bullet train services to the region were halted briefly, and as many as 220,000 homes in Fukushima prefecture were without power. Tokyo Electric Power Co. said a fire broke out on the plant's premises Tuesday morning at a building where batteries are stored. Within minutes, firefighters put out the blaze ..."  All of which illustrates that while the Teapublicans may have stolen the limelight temporarily over here, daily life is far from normal in Japan.