Countdown to nuclear disaster in quake-devastated Japan?

In the wake of the March 10 devastating earthquake and tsunami, which have left perhaps 1,000 dead, Japan’s government has for the first time declared a “nuclear emergency.” Diesel backup systems ceased functioning at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant’s reactor Number 1, run by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) in Fukushima Prefecture (Tohoku region, north of Tokyo). Temperatures are rising in the reactor, and the government has ordered 2,000 residents within a three-kilometer radius of the plant to evacuate. The plant may have risen to 2.1 times its designed capacity, and authorities are considering a controlled release of radioactive gas and steam to relieve the pressure.

TEPCO authorities also reported a fire at the Onagawa nuclear power plant (Miyagi Prefecture, just north of Fukushima), which they say has been safely extinguished. There are also concerns about the Tokai nuclear plant (in Chubu region, west of Tokyo), which has been struck by powerful aftershocks. The Rokkasho nuclear fuel reprocessing facility in Aomori Prefecture (also in Tohoku region) is being powered by emergency diesel generators. All other nuclear facilities are reported to be operating normally. (ENS, The Register, Reuters, March 11)

Japan has 17 nuclear power plants with a total of 55 reactors. Most are run by companies affiliated with the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan (FEPC), including TEPCO. The Rokkasho facility is run by Japan Nuclear Fuel, Ltd. (JNFL). Both are overseen by the the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), which is coordinating with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in the current emergency. The IAEA’s Incident and Emergency Center is on alert. (AFP, March 11;

Japan has been planning a new thrust of nuclear development for the past years, sparking protests from environmentalists.

The Cosmo oil refinery in Chiba prefecture outside Tokyo (Kanto region) has exploded, with firefighters unable to contain the inferno. There are reports of more than 40 major fires across Japan following the 8.9-magnitude offshore quake. (Radio Australia, March 11)

See our last posts on Japan and the nuclear threat.

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  1. Did fish predict Japanese earthquake?
    This just came to our attention. From Newser on March 4 (that is to say, six days before March 10)…

    Japanese Fear Oarfish Sightings Are Quake Omen
    Dozens of sightings of a very rarely seen fish have raised Japanese fears that their country may be the next one rocked by a major quake. The appearance of oarfish—which can grow to up to 16 feet long and frequent depths of up to 3,300 feet—is considered an omen of an impending earthquake, according to Japanese lore. They have been washing up on beaches and appearing in fishing nets in numerous locations around the country in recent weeks.

    Some theories hold that movement around seismic fault lines could cause unusual behavior in sea creatures that live at great depths, although Japan’s scientists are relying on their advanced monitoring equipment instead of the fish. “In ancient times Japanese people believed that fish warned of coming earthquakes,” the director of the Kobe Earthquake Center tells the Daily Telegraph. “But these are just old superstitions and there is no scientific relationship between these sightings and an earthquake.”

    File under “things that make you go hmmm…”