IN TODAY'S RADIO REPORT:Crisis in Japan: Compounding natural disaster, humanitarian disaster, and spiraling nuclear disaster --- desperate measures to hold off a nuclear nightmare ... All that and more in today's Green News Report!
IN 'GREEN NEWS EXTRA' (see links below): EPA moves to curb toxic mercury pollution; Battle-proof wind farms survive Japan disasters; Op-ed: 'Save US children from toxic mercury'; End of cheap food in US?; Koch Bros: property rights only for polluters; Gov. Kasich (R) wants fracking in OH state parks; Sec. Chu: Clean energy puts U.S. ahead; PA: Coal Exec Given Vast Environmental Authority; WV considering geothermal future; Google backs biofuel startup; If President Obama calls it safe, watch out; Germany's Merkel plans faster shift to clean energy ... PLUS: Irish scientists help Guinness go green...
At 9:48am local time, after authorities determined the situation at Fukushima's crippled and quickly over-heating nuclear reactors Unit 3 and 4 was bad enough to warrant it, they began dropping water from CH-47 Chinook helicopters onto the nuclear reactors, despite the considerable risks (to both crew and to the fuel rods in the reactor.) As of now, four drops have been made.
[Update: See video at bottom of article.]
This is a very very bad disaster movie. Water cannon trucks, usually used for crowd control, are now headed into the facility to spray water from a distance into the gaping holes previously blown out of the sides of the Unit 4 reactor where spent fuel rods are currently stored. Unit 4 was off-line for maintenance when last Friday's earthquake/tsunami struck, with highly volatile fuel rods being held in a fuel storage pool. That pool, usually filled with circulating water, is feared to have gone dry, potentially allowing the rods to heat, burn, and release enormous amounts of radioactivity into the atmosphere.
Yesterday, chief government spokesman Yukio Edano said during his press conference that plans for similar helicopter water drops were canceled after it was determined they would be too dangerous. It was feared that quickly dropping large amounts of water could further destabilize the fuel rods and that slower, gradual pumping of water from the ground was preferred. Also, radiation exposure to helicopter crews was a concern as well.
That officials decided to go ahead with the helicopter drops today is likely an indication of the increasing severity of the growing crisis.
In an article today about the "Fukushima 50," the small crew currently left at the plant to tirelessly keep its six reactors from complete meltdown, the New York Times notes today that "helicopter pilots who flew through radiation-laden smoke spewing from the [Chernobyl] reactor to drop fire-extinguishing chemicals on it," were exposed to particularly high levels of radiation during that disaster 25 years ago next month.
Officials at Fukushima are saying that helicopter crews dropping water are outfitted in protective gear and may fly missions for a maximum of only 40 minutes each day to minimize their exposure. The drops are made more difficult, NHK World reports, by the need for the helicopters to keep moving as the water is being dropped, rather than hovering above the plants, as might otherwise be done during such drops.
Japanese Defense Minister Toshimi Katazawa held a press conference within the past hour following completion off the four planned drops. He said that radiation levels were too high yesterday to carry out the plan, but that early today, in consultation with Prime Minister Natao Kan, the decision was made to carry out the drops. "We could not delay further, so we decided to execute the plan," NHK World's translators reported him as saying.
In a competing press conference at the same moment, Chief government spokesman Yukio Edano offered little new information other than to say President Obama and Kan had a thirty minute conversation earlier today. The President offered sympathy and support, including for the nuclear crisis. Edano said investigators are working to determine how successful the water drops were, and he confirmed that water cannon trucks from the Tokyo Police were en route to the nuclear plant. Fukushima is located some 180 miles north of Tokyo.
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UPDATE 8:20pm PT: About thirty minutes after Edano finished, officials from Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) spoke at their own news conference. They said that, contrary to earlier reports, they were able to determine that there was still some water left in the spent fuel storage ponds at Unit 4 and so it was decided to prioritize the initial water drops today onto reactor Unit 3.
UPDATE 9:42pm PT The Defense Minister has said there will be no more water drop attempts today.
UPDATE 11:08pm PTVideo of the helicopter water drops now follows below...
"The French government has urged its nationals living in Tokyo to leave the country or head to southern Japan due to the risk of radiation...The French embassy in Tokyo said in a statement that its advisory applied with immediate effect to those French nationals who were not obliged to remain in the city," says Reuters. France has begun to send jumbo jets to Tokyo to aid in the evacuation.
[STORY UPDATED 8:08PM PT, FOLLOWING THE CONCLUSION OF CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SPOKESMAN YUKIO EDANO'S PRESS CONFERENCE.]
The smoke seen rising above from Fukushima's Daiichi nuclear power planet is believed to be emanating from reactor Unit 3, according to the Japanese government's chief spokesperson Yukio Edano who just completed a press conference moments ago. Due to high radiation levels, all workers were evacuated from the plant, and all work suspended for a time. [Update: Reuters now confirms that workers were allowed back in after radiation levels fell, as we'd originally reported.]
Edano said that at approximately 8:30am local time, white smoke began coming out of the No. 3 reactor, but that the joint task force between the government and the plant's operators, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), are still trying to determine the cause. It's believed the smoke is actually vapor coming from a rupture in the reactor's containment vessel, he said. Steam was to be let out to allow workers to pump in more sea water in hopes of keeping the reactor cool.
Earlier today there were reports of rising radiation levels near the gate of the facility, leading to the evacuation of all workers at the plant, leaving no one to fight the fire. Last night, all but 50 workers had been evacuated after an explosion at Unit 2 and a fire at Unit 4 (which had been off-line for maintenance prior to last Friday's earthquake and tsunami, and storing spent fuel rods in a pool which may have caught fire.)
While workers had suspended operations, radiation levels have since begun to decrease, Edano said. They have now returned to continuing pumping sea water into Units 1, 2 and 3 in the ongoing attempts to cool down the reactors' fuel rods following failure of their emergency cooling systems.
At the same time, TEPCO released a photograph of the damage at the reactor Unit 4 building following the explosion there on Sunday...
IN TODAY'S SPECIAL RADIO REPORT: Natural disaster, humanitarian disaster, and now man-made disaster, as 50 nuclear plant workers are all that stand in the way of full nuclear meltdown at Fukushima in Japan ... All that and more in today's Green News Report!
IN 'GREEN NEWS EXTRA' (see links below): Politifact says GOP lies about gas prices; 5 myths about EPA agenda; House GOP votes to discard science; CA farmers: pesticides vs. new bike paths; Feb. 2011 the 17th warmest on record; New rare earths mines slated for NM; CA high-speed rail project hits another snag; Photograph farms, go to jail; Air pollution from coal kills 13k a year; Russian heat waves to become more frequent by 2060; Naomi Klein: Global warming & the Shock Doctrine... PLUS: How to get to 100 percent renewables globally by 2050....
LATEST: Fire erupts again at Unit 4 | PM: 'Radiation levels now danger to human health'; All but 'critical' workers evacuated from plant; Evacuations expanded, citizens asked to remain indoors; Fire at Unit 4; PM asks for calm | Unit 2 explosion heard in suppression chamber | Fuel rods half exposed ; Core containment vessel may have been damaged...
I was working on an UPDATE (not finished yet), concerning Fukushima Daiichi's reactor Unit 2 on last night's live blog thread following the explosion at Unit 3, when news just broke at 6:14am local time, that there has now been an explosion at the Unit 2 reactor.
The new explosion follows two others, said to have been hydrogen explosions first at Unit 1, and then Unit 3 a day later, and news late last night that the emergency cooling system at Unit 2 had been damaged during the Unit 3 blast, resulting in the uranium fuel rods at 2 becoming dangerously, and completely exposed for a number of hours before sea water injection was resumed in hopes of cooling the number 2 reactor.
Now, according to various reliable sources on Twitter over the last few minutes...
LATEST: 3RD EXPLOSION - THIS ONE AT UNIT 2 | U.S. 7th Fleet repositioning after exposure to radioactive cloud | VIDEO shows flash, plume | 6 workers injured, residents 'on edge', ordered to remain indoors | Officials believe reactor vessel NOT breached in hydrogen explosion, control room at unit still operational...
See bottom of article for continuing detailed UPDATES...
An explosion has occurred within the past hour at the Fukushima Daiichi Unit 3 nuclear reactor in Japan. It appears to by a hydrogen explosion similar to the one which occurred at Unit 1 on Saturday. There had been reports earlier in the day that radiation had been rising at the reactor, similar to what had been reported before the earlier explosion at Unit 1.
Yesterday, the emergency cooling system at Unit 3 had failed, prompting officials to announce another "nuclear emergency" following the earthquake and tsunami that occurred in Japan one day earlier. Officials had taken the unusual measure to cool the reactor with sea water, which means it's unlikely to be usable ever again.
The previous explosion at Unit 1 is said to have destroyed the building housing the nuclear reactor --- causing what was variously described as a "partial meltdown" or "deformation" of at least one of the uranium fuel rods --- but did not breach the reactor container itself, so the release of radioactivity is said to have been minor. Officials are signaling a similar situation here.
Additional reports, updates, photos and videos on the new explosion all now being added below. Newest UPDATES at bottom...
Remarkable first-person raw video from right within the rising tsunami waters on 3/11/11. Watch as the warning sirens wail and as Japanese town is engulfed within minutes as the camera rolls. Note where the water level starts at the beginning of the video, and where it is by the end. Amazing...
PM spokes: 'container not breached'; 140k evacuated; 4 injured in explosion; 'At least' 9 exposed to radiation (may rise to 160)
LATEST: EXPLOSION HEARD AT 2ND PLANT | Radiation levels too high; 2 meltdowns may be under way; Iodine pills for radiation poisoning circulated | Emergency cooling system fails at 2nd reactor, valve opened to release pressure...
Opening this as a new article as of the explosion at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan. This one picks up with updates following the much UPDATED previous one,
For previous reports on how we got here, as we collected them throughout the entire day Friday and late into the evening as officials had shut down the two nuclear plants and five reactors where they'd issued "nuclear emergencies" and widened local evacuations, please see our previous article...
Latest news, beginning with the EXPLOSION at Fukushima Daiichi No. 1, now posted here with new UPDATES at bottom of this article...
UPDATE 3/12/11 12:07am: "EXPLOSION HEARD." Okay. Never mind standing down for now. This could be very bad...These all from Reuters via Twitter:
"Explosion heard at quake-hit Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan - AFP via Sky News"
"FLASH: Several people appear to have been injured after reported Fukushima plant explosion - media"
"Japan nuclear plant update: Several workers injured following explosion at quake-hit site - NHK"
We've been updating this item all day and night --- having started the earlier this afternoon --- as events have developed...See bottom for latest updates through the EXPLOSION which has 3/12/11 1am PT.
This now deserves its own item --- as I've feared it has since last night's cryptic official comments --- so I've broken off the UPDATES from the previous item, concerning the nuclear emergency declared at Fukushima in the wake of last night's earthquake and tsunami in Japan to this item, dedicated to the nuke issues.
We asked, snarkily, at the end of the original item earlier today: "Nuclear Energy for America: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?"
We may be learning exactly that tonight, as radiation levels are reported to be 1000 times normal levels; "emergency" declarations now exist for two plants --- Fukushima Daiichi plant on east coast, 200 miles north of Tokyo and the Fukushima Daiichi complex --- with a total of five reactors said to be at risk; evacuations around the plants have been expanded to 10km; and, as one of the experts has said (and several others have concurred), "the possibility of some sort of core meltdown" exists.
If there was nothing to worry about here, it seems that officials would be saying that over and over. They are not.
So, the original UPDATES to the earlier item, and the additional ones we've added throughout the day, all follow below --- with new UPDATES, and what seems to be the increasingly bad news, including two nuclear experts who have just appeared on Rachel Maddow moments ago saying the more they hear, the less assured they are that things are safe --- all added to the bottom of the article, where we'll continue to update as warranted.
We're also continue to tweet quick updates and links via: @TheBradBlog.
But one thing is clear: Japan's "Big Government Tyranny" --- the type Republicans in DC are trying to kill, as opposed to the type they are maniacally expanding in Wisconsin --- saved hundreds of thousands, if not millions of lives last night.
Thanks to some of the strictest government regulations, building codes, and tsunami monitor and warning systems in the world, Japan averted what would likely have been an even far worse catastrophe, as the New York Times noted earlier today...
From seawalls that line stretches of Japan’s coastline, to skyscrapers that sway to absorb earthquakes, to building codes that are among the world’s most rigorous, no country may be better prepared to withstand earthquakes than Japan.
Had any other populous country suffered the 8.9 magnitude earthquake that shook Japan on Friday, tens of thousands of people might already be counted among the dead. So far, Japan’s death toll is in the hundreds, although it is certain to rise.
Over the years, Japan has spent billions of dollars developing the most advanced technology against earthquakes and tsunamis.
Here is some extraordinary video of high-rise buildings during last night's quake, built to those strict and tyrannically job-crushing government regulations, swaying as they are designed to, saving the lives of the occupants in the middle of the work day, rather than collapsing, as they might have elsewhere...
And yes, as Slate's Dave Weigel points out today, part of the GOP's proposed spending cuts are to our nation's disaster monitoring and relief systems which, of course, steal the freedom and liberty of our citizens to needlessly die...
The continuing resolution passed by the GOP House, the one that just failed in the Senate, reduces funding for the federal agencies that monitor and react to disasters.
The CR is here. According to the House Appropriation Committee's summary of the bill, the CR funds Operations, Research and Facilities for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association with $454.3 million less than it got in FY2010; this represents a $450.3 million cut from what the president's never-passed FY2011 budget was requesting. The National Weather Service, of course, is part of NOAA --- its funding drops by $126 million. The CR also reduces funding for FEMA management by $24.3 million off of the FY2010 budget, and reduces that appropriation by $783.3 million for FEMA state and local programs.
Democrats did attempt to add more money to NOAA's budget. Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., offered an amendment to the CR that would have directed "no less than $710,641,000 to the National Weather Service Local Warnings and Forecasts." The amendment was one of several Democratic spending proposals that was found to be out of order, and not voted on.
CBS reports: "The GOP budget plan that passed through the House last month aimed to cut funding for a tsunami warning center that issued a slew of warnings around Japan's devastating earthquake."
As to the nuclear plants the GOP (and Obama) are pushing in this country, we'll just hope the "small radiation leak from a nuclear reactor whose cooling system was knocked by Friday's massive earthquake" is as "small" as Reuters is currently reporting. The U.S. Air Force has reportedly delivered "coolant" to the plant today.
Four nuclear plants were taken off line last night following the quake. "Nuclear emergencies" were declared for two of them, with little more information given. The one of major concern right now is the Fukushima plant, 150 miles north of Tokyo where, last night, officials were cryptically saying that attempts to cool the plant were "not going as planned".
Nuclear Energy for America: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
Herman adds Kyodo is reporting "This suggests radioactive steam could spread around the facility."
Really not good.
UPDATE 6:24pm PT:Okay, this seems to be getting bad enough, as new news has come in throughout the day, that the nuclear emergency here clearly deserves its own item. I've moved the previous UPDATES on this item, and new ones beyond it, to this article devoted to the nuke developments.
We've been following and covering on Twitter since news of the 8.9 magnitude earthquake in Japan --- reported as the largest in its history --- and a subsequent 13 foot high tsunami struck. The wave of water, later reported as 10 meters, or 30 feet, has engulfed entire towns, much of it captured on live daylight video.
You can check our feed and/or follow our coverage here for the latest (as long as we can stay awake tonight): @TheBradBlog.
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A few key pieces of information at this hour (1am PT)...
Tsunami watches, warnings and advisories are in effect across the Pacific, including West Coast of the U.S. from CA-Mex border up to Alaska. NOAA Advisory.
CNN reports 50 countries in the Pacific under tsunami warnings right now.
This map gives a more general idea of the scope of the tsunami warnings and the times they could take to strike in various locations, if they do.
Sirens are reportedly sounding in Honolulu at this hour. People are advised to get to high ground, as a "significant event" is predicted by NOAA to be headed towards the Hawaiian islands. The hope remains that the wave will be greatly decreased by the time it hits other coasts --- if it does.
The tsunami and earthquake footage streaming live on the net and on CNN, MSNBC, etc. from Japan has been remarkable. Here's just some of the incredible --- and horrifying --- footage:
A wall of water overtakes an airport --- I believe it's Sendai Airport, which has been seen completely flooded in other footage tonight --- in about 60 seconds...
More remarkable tsunami footage. Leveling a village...
Still more amazing tsunami footage, tossing boats, cars, houses about...
The effect of the quake --- which was said to have continued "for minutes" --- is captured somewhat in this guy's comments (in English) as he video tapes:
The calm demeanor of the folks seen here, as the quake occurs, is remarkable:
[The video previously posted here had been labeled by the uploader as Japan on YouTube, but was in fact from the recent Christchurch, NZ earthquake, so we've removed it here. Our apologies for the error.]
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UPDATE 12:41pm: "Big Government Tyranny" saved countless lives in Japan. Though nuke plants still at risk. Details...