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Disaster In Japan - Friday Developments

We're continuing to follow the latest developments on the nuclear, earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan. This post will automatically refresh every 30 minutes or get updated when there's new information.

Update At 7:15 p.m. ET: In this post, we followed Friday's developments about the crisis in Japan. Scroll through to see what happened today.

We'll be following the story again starting early Saturday. 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 4:45 p.m. ET. More On Power At The Plant:

The Los Angeles Times offers a sobering perspective on the news that some power has been connected to the crippled nuclear power plant in Fukushima — meaning that critical pumps may be able to start pouring water into reactors again. The Times cautions that:

"It is not clear yet, however, whether restoring power to the two damaged reactors will help with cooling. Some engineers believe the cooling pumps were irretrievably damaged by the hydrogen explosions that wracked the reactor buildings in the first four days after the March 10 magnitude 9 Tohoku quake, or by corrosion from the seawater that has been pumped into the reactor. At the very least, however, restoring power should restore many of the control functions at the reactor."

Update at 2:45 p.m. ET. Report — Electricity Restored To Crippled Plant:

Via Sky News: "Tokyo Electric company says electricity is now able to be supplied to damaged Fukushima 1 nuclear plant."

If that's correct, then engineers may be able to run the pumps that can help pour water on to the reactors.

Update at 2 p.m. ET. How To Help:

We've updated our post on aid groups that are working in Japan and how to learn more about them. It's here.

Update at 12:55 p.m. ET. Some Are Leaving Tokyo For Osaka:

"Hotels in Osaka are in high demand as residents and companies leave Tokyo to seek shelter amid concerns over radiation leaks after the nation's worst earthquake," The Japan Times reports.

Osaka is about 375 miles from the crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi power plant. Tokyo is about 140 miles from the plant.

Update at 11:10 a.m. ET. Photo Gallery:

NPR photographer David Gilkey is in Japan covering the aftermath of the disaster. There's now a gallery of his photos from the city of Noda posted here.

Here's one example:

Noda, in Iwate Prefecture, in northeastern Japan, on March 18, 2011. i i

Noda, in Iwate Prefecture, in northeastern Japan, on March 18, 2011. David Gilkey /NPR hide caption

itoggle caption David Gilkey /NPR
Noda, in Iwate Prefecture, in northeastern Japan, on March 18, 2011.

Noda, in Iwate Prefecture, in northeastern Japan, on March 18, 2011.

David Gilkey /NPR

Update at 10:50 a.m. ET. Why The Reactors' Designs May Prove Fortunate:

There's an interesting analysis by New Scientist that looks at why the problems at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant won't turn into "another Chernobyl." For those who are science-minded, and all of us who are looking for reasons to hope for the best, there's this passage:

"Ordinarily the reactor cores are surrounded by water. Heat from the nuclear reaction boils the water, creating steam that drives turbines which generate electricity. In doing so, the water also helps to cool the reactor.

"But crucially, the water is also a 'moderator:' it helps keep the uranium fission reaction going by slowing down neutrons produced by the reaction as they hurtle out of the fuel rods. Slow neutrons sustain the reaction, by liberating still more neutrons and heat from uranium atoms in the rods; fast-moving neutrons just pass straight through the other fuel rods without colliding with other uranium atoms. If the water heats up too much, however, bubbles form within it and these allow the neutrons to escape, slowing down the nuclear reaction.

"Effectively, if the coolant overheats, it starts shutting down the reaction without any human intervention. 'It's a brilliant solution,' [says Michael Bluck of Imperial College London says.]"

Update at 10:30 a.m. ET. Getting Power To Pumps Is Critical:

Following up its earlier report (see below) on the idea of burying the crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant, Reuters now adds that "Japan is still far from solving its nuclear crisis despite some signs of progress on Friday and restoring power to the Fukushima plant is its best hope, European experts said. Getting power back in to the plant might enable pumping of water to cool crippled reactors and spent fuel stores, they reasoned, saying it was too early to consider burying the complex in concrete or sand."

Update at 9:45 a.m. ET. As Last Resort, Plant Might Be Buried:

From Reuters: "Japanese engineers conceded on Friday that burying a crippled nuclear plant in sand and concrete may be a last resort to prevent a catastrophic radiation release, the method used to seal huge leakages from Chernobyl in 1986."

Update at 9:15 a.m. ET: Power Restoration Effort: Having laid the first power cable, Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) hopes to restore electricity to Fukushima this weekend. Kyodo says the utility rigged the cable to outside power lines because original electrical links were broken in the quake and tsunami. There's confusion over which reactors workers may try to connect first. Reuters says Reactor Four could get it first tomorrow, while Kyodo says Reactors One and Two could get it Saturday and Reactors Three and Four could be restored Sunday.

But hold on a minute. NPR's science reporter Dan Charles tells us even if TEPCO lines are connected, it doesn't mean the plants will suddenly start working. The machinery that pumps water into cooling ponds may need to be repaired in each of the six reactor buildings and then workers must check if the plumbing is broken.

Update at 8:50 a.m. ET: Few Survivors: With 10,000 people missing, NPR's Rob Gifford traveled with a California search and rescue team who are assisting crews in northern Japan. He tells Morning Edition victims in Japan had little chance against the water:

Here with the tsunami, there was no half way - you either got out, or you drowned. (LA County Fire Battalion Chief Dave) Stone says they are finding bodies, and there will be many of them, but the fact that so many people did escape, with just 13 minutes warning, shows the Japanese tsunami warning system worked.

Update at 8:45 a.m. ET. Some Hopeful News?

From a Washington Post story today about the situation at the crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant:

"Nuclear experts say that with each passing day, the emergency at Dai-Ichi creeps closer to stability. That's because time is on Japan's side — at least in regard to the reactor cores themselves.

"When the earthquake hit last Friday, control rods automatically dropped into the three operating reactors, stopping their nuclear chain reactions. Even so, the tightly bundled fuel rods in the cores are continuing to radioactively decay, throwing off the heat and radiation that crews have so desperately battled.

"With each day, though, the energy thrown off by the fuel rods decreases exponentially. They become easier to control with the seawater pumped into them."

Update at 8:30 a.m. ET. Latest On The Death Toll:

As the world understandably watches nervously as efforts continue to bring rectors under control at the crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant, the magnitude of the toll from last Friday's 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunamis can get overshadowed.

Japan's NHK TV reports this morning that:

"Japanese police say they have so far confirmed 6,548 deaths in the earthquake and tsunami that hit northern Japan last week. The figure surpasses the death toll for the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake.

"Police say 10,354 remain missing."

Update at 8:00 a.m. ET: Kyodo says Japan has boosted the Fukushima plant nuclear crisis level to 5 on a seven point international scale for nuclear problems. The International Atomic Energy Agency keeps the scale: level five is an 'accident with wider consequences'. It's similar to earthquake magnitudes: each step up the scale is ten times more serious. The last level five was the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania; the 1986 accident in Chernobyl, Ukraine was deemed a level seven.

Update at 7:33 a.m. ET: Kan Continues News Conference The Prime Minister denied the Japanese government is withholding information about the nuclear situation, saying the government is disclosing everything to the Japanese people. We've reported this week the Japanese people fear a government cover-up and Kyodo reported an angry Kan himself wasn't getting timely information from Tokyo Electric Power.

The news conference is over; Kan concluded his opening statement by bowing.

Update at 7:15 a.m. ET: Japanese Prime Minister Holds News Conference: PM Naoto Kan is offering his condolences to fellow Japanese who've suffered or lost loved ones in the disaster.

Kan says the situation at Fukushima is grave and emergency crews are putting their lives on the line to resolve the situation. He is committed to solving the crisis and bringing back reassurance to the Japanese public.

The prime minister says to disaster survivors: "I know it is very cold ... I extend my condolences....the government hopes to provide support so people can live with a reassuring sentiment in their minds."

Kan is calling on evacuees to take care of their health because the disaster situation is going to take some time.

"This is a great test of all of the great people of Japan. ... We don't have any room to be pessimistic or discouraged. We cannot do so. We are going to create Japan from scratch."

Our original post:

It's been a week since the disaster in Japan began with what's being called the Tohoku-Pacific Ocean earthquake. AFP notes people in Japan stood for a moment of silence at 2:46 PM local time to remember the 9.0 tremor that triggered the devastating tsunami, which in turn, damaged or destroyed four nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power complex.

The Japan Times says the death toll is more than 5,000 and nearly 9,000 people are missing.

NPR's Chris Joyce tells Morning Edition emergency crews have laid an electrical cable at the Fukushima complex. They hope to connect it to damaged water pumps in the reactor buildings. They might be able to force more water into the building pools that hold spent nuclear fuel rods. There's fear the pools have dried up at four reactors, exposing the rods to air and increasing the chance radiation will spread.

There are six reactors at the stricken complex and units One through Four have experienced fires or explosions or both. Reactors Five and Six have been quiet so far. Chris tells NPR Newscasts temperature levels at those two reactors have gone up slightly but are not at worrying levels.

NPR's Richard Harris tells NPR Newscasts crews are still using water cannon to try to flush the buildings housing the reactors. They race up in tanker trucks, fire the water at the damaged buildings and speed away. It's not clear if this tactic will refill the pools.

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