International

Disaster In Japan, Thursday's Developments

Screen grabs from Japan's NHK broadcaster shows a Japanese military helicopter dumping water onto reactor Number Three at the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant on March 17, 2011. i i

Screen grabs from Japan's NHK broadcaster shows a Japanese military helicopter dumping water onto reactor Number Three at the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant on March 17, 2011. NHK/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption NHK/AFP/Getty Images
Screen grabs from Japan's NHK broadcaster shows a Japanese military helicopter dumping water onto reactor Number Three at the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant on March 17, 2011.

Screen grabs from Japan's NHK broadcaster shows a Japanese military helicopter dumping water onto reactor Number Three at the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant on March 17, 2011.

NHK/AFP/Getty Images

We're following the latest news on the crisis in Japan. This post will automatically refresh every 30 minutes or get updated when there's new information.

Update At 11:01 p.m. ET: In this post, we followed Thursday's developments about the crisis in Japan, where a 9.0 magnitude earthquake set off devastating tsunamis on Friday. Scroll through to see what happened today.

We'll be following the story again starting early Friday. If you want to keep up on things between now and then, among the sources we suggest are:

— The NPR.org "Crisis in Japan" story page.

— The "Tohoku-Kanto Earthquake" news page from The Japan Times.

Kyodo News.

— The live stream of NHK's English-language broadcast.

— StoryFulPro's curated Twitter list.

— The Twitter list being curated by NPR's Wright Bryan.

Here's our blogging from earlier today:

Update at 3:44 p.m. ET. "Japan Will Recover," Obama Says:

"I am confident that Japan will recover and rebuild," President Obama just said, "because of the strength and spirit of the Japanese people."

Update at 3:42 p.m. ET. U.S. Nuclear Plants Are Being Reviewed:

Speaking at the White House, President Obama just said that in light of the crisis at the nuclear power plant in Japan, he has ordered "a comprehensive review of our nuclear plants."

Update at 3:40 p.m. ET. President Obama' On The Crisis:

After saying all Americans are "heartbroken and deeply concerned about the developments we've seen in Japan," President Obama just said he wants to "update the American people about what we know about the situation."

"All U.S. citizens in Japan should continue to carefully monitor the situation," he added.

And, said the president, "we do not expect harmful levels of radiation to reach the United states" — including Hawaii and U.S. territories in the Pacific.

Update at 3:30 p.m. ET. Obama to speak:

We'll be updating momentarily with word of what President Obama has to say when he makes a statement (any minute now) about the crisis.

Update at 3:05 p.m. ET. The Economic Effects:

"General Motors Co. says a lack of parts from Japan is forcing the company.to halt production at its pickup assembly plant in Shreveport, La., next week," The Associated Press reports.

Update at 2:45: Some Success At The Nuclear Plant?

"An unprecedented attempt to douse an apparently overheating spent fuel pool with tons of coolant water at a stricken nuclear plant in Fukushima bore some fruit Thursday, but the emission of smoke newly confirmed at another pool suggests the difficulties that lie in the way of resolving the crisis triggered by the March 11 quake and tsunami," Kyodo News writes in its latest report about what's happening at the crippled nuclear power plant.

Update at 1:25 p.m. ET. U.S Regulator Questioned On Warning About Water Level:

Wednesday, the chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave an ominous sounding assessment of the situation at the crippled nuclear power plant in Fukushima. Gregory Jaczko said the U.S. believes that all the water in a "pool" where still-radioactive fuel rods were being stored had evaporated, which could lead those rods to overheat, catch fire and spew radiation into the atmosphere.

Japanese officials said Jaczko was wrong and that some water remained. Moments ago at the White House, Jaczko was asked about it. He said that "the bottom line is that there clearly continues to be a challenge ... keeping that spent fuel pond full of water."

Update at 1:10 p.m. ET. No Threat To U.S., Jaczko Says:

"Basic physics and basic science tells us" that the problems at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima do not present a threat to any U.S. territories, Gregory Jaczko, the chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission just told reporters at the White House.

Update at 12:50 p.m. ET. International Rescue Teams Start To Leave:

Sky News reports that "U.K. and U.S. government search teams to pull out of Japan tomorrow."

And the AP has this from a British firefighter:

"We have no more tasks," said Pete Stevenson, a firefighter heading Britain's 70-strong team. "The Japanese government have told us they are now moving from search and rescue to the recovery phase."

Update at 12:30 p.m. ET. Obama To Make A Statement:

The White House just announced that President Obama will "deliver a statement on Japan" at 3:30 p.m. ET.

Update at 12:20 p.m. ET. U.S-Bound Travelers And Cargo Being Screened For Radiation:

"The Department of Homeland Security is screening passengers and cargo entering the United States from Japan for 'even a blip of radiation,' " Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Thursday, according to The Associated Press. She added, AP writes, "that no harmful levels of radiation have reached the U.S. since the nuclear crisis in Japan sparked by last week's devastating earthquake and tsunami."

Update at 11:45 a.m. ET. Families Of U.S. Military May Evacuate; 'First, Women And Children':

President Obama has authorized the Pentagon to assist the families of U.S. military personnel in Japan who wish to leave. In a video (see below), U.S. Navy Capt. Eric Gardner, commander of the U.S. Naval Air Facility in Atsugi, Japan, explains how it's going to work.

"First, women and children" will be taken to South Korea for a day or two and then they will be transferred to the U.S. or elsewhere, Gardner says.

"Women and children first," he says. "Non-essential personnel second. Essential personnel third. And then me. ... It's unprecedented. Please be orderly. Do not panic."

Update at 11:30 a.m. ET. When Tragedy Struck, Elderly Were Most Vulnerable:

The Associated Press has a heart-breaking story that says "as retrieving bodies increasingly becomes the focus of rescue crews in Japan's northeast, it's clear that Friday's earthquake and tsunami — believed to have killed more than 10,000 — took their heaviest toll on the elderly in this rapidly aging nation, where nearly one in four people is over 65. Many, unable to flee, perished. Survivors lost their daily medicines. Hospitals lost power and water. Sometimes, the consequences have been fatal."

It begins with this sad anecdote:

"The elderly couple fled their home on foot as the warning sirens blared. But they could not keep up with their neighbors and fell behind as the tsunami rushed in. Nearly a week later, 71-year-old Taeko Kanno and her husband are still missing."

Update at 10:20 a.m. ET. Huge Tokyo Blackout Avoided So Far: Kyodo says commuter train service was cut and businesses sent workers home early to help conserve power. The government had warned of 'unpredictable massive blackouts'. Even after peak time power demands passed, Japanese Prime Minister Kan tweeted:

We call 4 further cooperation to save power to avoid total outage.

Electricity rationing is expected to continue into April.

Update at 10:05 a.m. ET. Conflicting Claims On Dousing Of Reactors:

"Japanese officials are at odds over whether water dumps on the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant Thursday [have] worked," FoxNews.com reports. "A spokesman for the Tokyo Electric Power Company told Japan news agency NHK that 'it appears the mission was successful,' while a spokesman for the Nuclear And Industrial Safety Agency says the water cannons failed in their attempt to cool the unit when the water failed to reach its target from safe distances."

Because reporters can't go to the scene, it's hard to know exactly what is happening. NPR's Richard Harris, reporting from Tokyo, says it appears from what's being said by authorities that it's most likely that the water dropped from helicopters largely missed the mark and that the water cannons couldn't reach the reactors.

Update at 9:25 a.m. ET. You Don't Need Potassium Iodide: NPR's Jon Hamilton talks with experts about using potassium iodide to prevent cancer following radiation exposure. There's been a run on tablets in the west, although there's been no radiation danger there to residents. The Surgeon General clarified some comments she made on Tuesday; at first she described potassium iodide purchases as 'precautionary', now she says 'she wouldn't recommend' it.

Update at 9:02 a.m. ET. Another Aftershock:

There have been hundreds of significant aftershocks in the region near where Friday's 9.0-magnitude earthquake was centered. Reporter Doualy Xaykaothao, who is in the area, just e-mailed our newsroom to say there had been "another aftershock in Koriyama City [that] shook our hotel for a good 25 seconds." She said it measured 5.8 magnitude. The latest report on the U.S. Geological Survey's website lists 12 earthquakes of 5.0-magnitude or above today in the area.

Update at 8:45 a.m. ET. Hoax Text Message Stokes Fear:

A hoax that's been making its way from cellphone to cellphone in parts of Asia since Monday has caused some panic in places such as the Philippines, The Straits Times reports. The message, which appeared to be from the BBC — but was not — warned that radiation from the crippled nuclear power plant in Fukushima could spread to other parts of Asia.

Update at 8:25 a.m. ET. Japan's "Scandal-Ridden Energy Industry":

"Behind Japan's escalating nuclear crisis sits a scandal-ridden energy industry in a comfy relationship with government regulators often willing to overlook safety lapses," The Associated Press writes this morning. And the wire service adds that:

"The legacy of scandals and cover-ups over Japan's half-century reliance on nuclear power has strained its credibility with the public. That mistrust has been renewed this past week with the crisis at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant. No evidence has emerged of officials hiding information in this catastrophe. But the vagueness and scarcity of details offered by the government and Tepco — and news that seems to grow worse each day — are fueling public anger and frustration."

Update at 8:20 a.m. ET: The Struggle At The Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Power Plant:

From Tokyo, NPR's Richard Harris tells us that engineers still haven't been able to get electricity to the water pumps at the crippled facility. After unsuccessful attempts to douse the reactors from above with water dropped from helicopters and from the ground with water cannons, getting power to those pumps is thought to be a crucial next step in the effort to get control of the situation.

Update at 8:10 a.m. ET: Blackout Expected In Tokyo:

The Japanese government has warned "that an unpredictable massive blackout could occur in the Tokyo area from the evening through the night Thursday as power demand in the region has increased overnight due to cold temperatures," The Japan Times writes.

Update at 7:45 a.m. ET: NYT Says Crisis Has Exposed Japan's "Rudderless System Of Governing":

"Never has postwar Japan needed strong, assertive leadership more — and never has its weak, rudderless system of governing been so clearly exposed," The New York Times writes this morning in a news analysis. "With earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis striking in rapid, bewildering succession, Japan's leaders need skills they are not trained to have: rallying the public, improvising solutions and cooperating with powerful bureaucracies."

Update at 7:40 a.m. ET: Death Toll Continues To Climb:

"More than 5,300 people are officially listed as dead, but officials believe the toll will climb to well over 10,000," The Associated Press now reports.

Update at 7:20 a.m. ET: Crews Focus On Danger From Reactor Cooling Ponds: NPR's Chris Joyce tells Morning Edition workers are trying to refill the ponds that hold old nuclear rods at Fukushima Daiishi Reactors Three and Four. The water is gone. Chris says the exposed rods are dangerous and create a lot of heat, so they must be submerged again. Four helicopter drops and two attempts with water cannon have failed to fill the pools.

Our original post:

Kyodo reports helicopters dropped water on top of Reactor Number Three, the building damaged by an explosion. NPR's Richard Harris tells NPR Newscasts four water drops didn't work; plant radiation levels are unchanged and water continues to evaporate from the pools that cool off the nuclear material.

Richard says after the chopper drops, crews tried a different method: firefighters shot water cannon into one of the reactor's water pools. But that failed after just one try. Radiation levels were so high the trucks couldn't get close enough.

Crews still hope to restore electric power to the Fukushima plant so they can turn on the water pumps again. They'll need people to do that and it's not clear how long workers can stay at the dangerous site.

The United States has advised its citizens to evacuate 50 miles away from the Fukushima complex as a precaution. But Japan is keeping its current evacuation zone of about 12 miles around the plant.

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