Japan Earthquake and Tsunami situation summary - 2

Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plants – Restoration Efforts

After the building envelope of units 1 and 3 were breached, they realized that the spent-fuel pools were problematic; white steam-like clouds hovered above these units. In order to counter the possible situation where the water may be evaporating and the fuel rods exposed to environment, they (TEPCO and government) attempted first to use helicopters to pour sea water from above. Self Defense Forces (SDF) helicopters did this job a few times, but the radiation level was so high above these units that they could not come too low and the water was dispersed in the wind. TEPCO’s own fire-fighting squad tried to use their equipment to shoot water from ground with some success. Eventually the US military offered their fire engines, too. Then Tokyo Municipal Gov’t’s fire department with fire engines for tall buildings joined the group. They have not only the water shooting capability for tall buildings, but also some equipment to extend the hoses for 1.5 miles or so with a pump vehicle in between. This greatly extended the amount of time during which the water jets may be applied. The workers still had to count their overall cumulative exposure to radiation, and after having reached the allowed maximum, had to be replaced. Eventually the fire squads from Osaka, then Yokohama, then Kawasaki took over the positions and kept pouring water to those troubled units throughout the week. Along the way, two private companies offered German-built pressurized cement pouring equipment, which can shoot water from even a higher (52m) elevation. There are only four such equipment in Japan, and they are all there taking turns.
Because of the earlier explosion, the radioactive debris form units 1 and 3 were on the ground, which limited the activities there. SDF introduced two NBC (nuclear, biological and chemical warfare) tanks to clear the ground for easier access. These tanks are said to have thicker armor plates which reduce the radiation exposure level of those operating them inside.
In the meantime, TEPCO hurried to restore the electrical power supply. In the past few days, they were successful in installing a few miles worth of power cables from inland grid to several locations in the compound, rebuilt switchboards, and brought new power lines into the control rooms. They have also prepared replacement pumps and motors in case these mechanical elements have been damaged by tsunami. Their work has been hampered by occasional smoke coming off the reactor units and rising radiation levels, which cause them to retrench for a while. However, as of last Tuesday, the power has been restored in most of the control rooms, and they are testing the equipment and circuits to restart the cooling systems. Once the cooling systems go back up, and the measurement sensors are restored, the situation will improve dramatically. It would also provide lighting within these spaces, and HVAC would reduce radioactive particles in the indoor air, further facilitating the work of restoration. We are all hoping for success in the heroic work of the people on the ground in Fukushima Daiichi including 500 or so workers from SDF, US troops, police, fire departments of a few large cities, Hitachi and Toshiba (manufacturers of the reactors there) and their subcontractors, as well as TEPCO, many of whose locally stationed employees have lost their houses and loved ones themselves.

Rescue and Relief Efforts Offered by International Community

When the news of the devastation went around the globe, the international community did not wait to offer help to Japan. 133 countries and regions and 39 international organizations offered some form of assistance. Many countries sent teams of rescue experts who arrived quickly to search for the survivors of the earthquakes and tsunamis. China’s humanitarian gesture surely turned around the escalation of animosity between them and Japan. So did Russian rescue team and the offer for extra LNG shipment.
The US continues to be active in providing logistical supports such as clearing of Sendai Airport, and providing fresh water to pour into the reactor cores at Fukushima Daiichi; and relief supplies to many isolated communities hard to reach on land. While many started to doubt the effectiveness of Japanese government, it was a big relief to see the image of USS Ronal Reagan off the coast of Fukushima. I hope this will also realign Japan’s outlook on US presence in the Far East, which has been awkward ever since the Democrats took over the government a year and a half ago. Israel’s team of doctors came in last night to care for the evacuees whose living conditions are detrimental to their health, while the local doctors are totally overworked. The US and France have sent experts on nuclear energy and radiology as well as miscellaneous equipment, protective gears, etc.
We have heard news of communities throughout the world raising money to help those affected and the rebuilding efforts to come, and are enormously moved. Some say they are returning the favor, which Japan had extended to them when they had a difficult time, such as earthquake, mudslides, and flood damages in the past. I think this will be a humbling experience to many Japanese who had thought Japan was a technologically advanced and materialistically wealthy country. The magnitude of these events was too big even for Japan to handle alone and we need these supports. At the same time, I feel happy to see that, while we all have differences, the humanity can at the very core of things still work to help one another. And I hope that because of this shock, the world will be a little more peaceful place to live in after this confusion has been sorted out in one way or another.

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