Japan's focus on nuke crisis angers tsunami victims
RIKUZENTAKATA, Japan — As Japan's prime minister visited tsunami-ravaged coastal areas for the first time Saturday, frustrated evacuees complained that the government has been too focused on the nuclear crisis that followed the massive wave.
Nearly every day some new problem at the stricken Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant commands officials' attention — Saturday it was a newly discovered crack in a maintenance pit that is leaking highly radioactive water into the sea.
"The government has been too focused on the Fukushima power plant rather than the tsunami victims. Both deserve attention," said 35-year-old Megumi Shimanuki, who was visiting her family at a community center converted into a shelter in hard-hit Natori, about 100 miles from Rikuzentakata, where Prime Minister Naoto Kan stopped Saturday. More than 165,000 people are still living in shelters.
Kan's government has been frantically working with Tokyo Electric Power Co. to solve the crisis at the nuclear complex, which has been spewing radioactivity since cooling systems were disabled by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake that preceded the tsunami on March 11.
Radiation is also a concern for people living around the plant. In the city of Koriyama, Tadashi and Ritsuko Yanai and their 1-month-old baby have spent the past three weeks in a sports arena converted into a shelter. Baby Kaon, born a week before the quake, has grown accustomed to life there, including frequent radiation screenings, but his parents have not. Their home is fine, but they had to leave because it is six miles (10 kilometers) from the nuclear plant.
Asked if he had anything he would like to say to the prime minister, the 32-year-old father paused to think and then replied: "We want to go home. That's all, we just want to go home."
In Natori, where about 1,700 people are living in shelters, others had stronger words for Kan. Toru Sato, 57, lost both his wife and his house in the tsunami and said he was bothered that Kan's visit to the quake zone was so brief — about a half day.
"He's just showing up for an appearance," Sato said. "He should spend time to talk to various people, and listen to what they need."
How a Tsunami Formed?
Unbelievably Powerful Tsunami Attacks Coastal Area of Shiroishi, Oirasecho
Run for his life when tsunami strikes.
People Watching Ferocious Tsunami Strikes Town
People Screams When Tsunami Washes Everything Away: Oh my car's floating!
People Sees Others Disappear
Real Tsunami Footage and Formation
Aerial View of Tsunami Attacks Coastal Area of Sendai
Radioactive Water Leaking into Sea
Officials Pinpoint Radioactive Leak Seeping into Ocean
Newly recruited employees of Japanese auto giant Toyota Motor bow their heads in prayer for the victims of the tsunami and earthquake during the company's entrance ceremony at Toyota's headquarters in Toyota city in Aichi prefecture on April 1. Toyota resumed production of its Prius and some Lexus hybrid models because it now expects to be able to procure parts and wants to prioritize models with higher demand.Young evacuees play cards at a shelter in Ofunato on April 1.A survivor rides a bicycle through a tsunami-destroyed area of Sendai on April 1.Survivors wait for relief funds at the city hall in the tsunami-destroyed town of Sendai on April 1.The sign reads "This counter accepts monetary donations. Thank you for your warm cooperation."Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force personnel prepare to search for victims near the town of Ofunato on April 1.U.S. Marines pray for the victims before starting to clear the rubble at the city of Kesennumaoshima on April 1.Evacuees rest in "rooms" partitioned by cardboard walls at an evacuation center in the coastal town of Onagawa, Japan, on Friday, April 1. Onagawa is one of the hardest-hit areas in the region but the locals say they have been receiving very little help from the government.Members of the Japan Coast Guard rescue a dog after it was found drifting on the roof of a house floating off Kesennuma, northeastern Japan, Friday, April 1. The dog wears a collar, but there is no address on itJapan's Self-Defense Force's members continue a search operation near an elementary school where lots of the students have been missing since March 11 earthquake and tsunami, in Ishinomaki, northern Japan Saturday, April 2.
Ships washed ashore in the aftermath of the tsunami and earthquake near Sendai, Miyagi prefecture, April 1, 2011.
A house stands in a neighborhood destroyed by the tsunami in Sendai, Miyagi prefecture on April 1, 2011.
Members of a search and rescue team look for missing persons in Ishinomaki
Vehicles and debris float above a rice field flooded with tsunami water in Higashimatsushima,
Japan's Disaster in Figures
* A total of 12,259 people were confirmed dead by Japan's National Police Agency as of 1100 GMT Monday,
while 15,315 were missing.
NUMBER OF PEOPLE EVACUATED
* More than 166,327 people were in shelters around the country as of 1100 GMT Monday following
evacuation, the National Police Agency said.
The government has set up an evacuation area around a quake-stricken nuclear plant in the northeast
with a 20-km (12-mile) radius. More than 70,000 people lived in a largely rural area within the 20 km zone.
It is unclear how many of them have been evacuated, but most are believed to have left.
Another 136,000 people were within a zone extending a further 10 km in which residents are
recommended to leave or stay indoors.
HOUSEHOLDS WITHOUT ELECTRICITY
* A total of 165,082 households in the north were without electricity as of 0700 GMT Monday, Tohuku Electric Power Co said.
HOUSEHOLDS WITHOUT WATER
* More than 175,000 households in eight prefectures were without running water as of early Monday, the Health Ministry said.
NUMBER OF BUILDINGS DAMAGED
* 45,780 buildings have been completely destroyed, washed away or burned down,
the National Police Agency of Japan said as of 1100 GMT Monday.
IMPACT ON ECONOMY
The government has said it estimated damage from the earthquake and tsunami
at 16 trillion to 25 trillion yen ($190 billion-$297 billion). The top estimate would make it the world's costliest natural disaster.
The estimate covers damage to roads, homes, factories and other infrastructure, but excludes lost economic activity
from power outages and costs arising from damage to the Fukushima nuclear power plant, as well as the impact of swings
in financial markets and business sentiment.
In this handout picture released by the Japanese Prime Minister's Official Residence and taken on April 2, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, center, points into the devastated area of the tsunami-ravaged town of Rikuzentakata, in his first visit to the tsunami-hit region since the disaster over three weeks ago.
Port facilities sit damaged in Shinchi, Fukushima prefecture, northern Japan, April 2.
A police officer stands atop a boat ashored by the tsunami during a search operation in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, on April 2.
A boy, carried by his mother, extends his hand to touch cherry blossoms at Tokyo's Ueno Park on April 2. Cherry blossoms, symbols of the fleeting nature of life, are blooming in Tokyo but many of the usual boisterous parties will be cancelled as Japan tries to recover from the tsunami and nuclear disasters.
A handout image released April 3 and taken on April 2 by Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency shows the crack leading to a damaged pit at the crippled fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant No. 2 reactor. Radioactive water is leaking from the pit at the plant into the ocean.
An elderly woman waves to her grandchildren before departing during a mass evacuation in Minamisanriku, Miyagi prefecture, on April 3. The port town where more than half the population are now homeless started evacuating 1,100 people to shelters elsewhere.
A dog is screened for radiation contamination after being reunited with its owner in Tamura, Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan, April 4. Tamura city lies partly within the zone around the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, where officials have told residents to stay indoors.
A couple visit the site where coffins of victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami were buried in Higashimatsushima, Miyagi Prefecture, April 3.
Disposing of waste creates dillemmas.
Waste management specialists are now debating whether the vast amounts of debris — called garekiin Japanese — can be tested for toxics such as asbestos, dioxins and PCBs. While the debris remains wet, asbestos can't disperse into the air. But when the dry season arrives, dangerous particles could be inhaled. And then, of course, there are fears of radiation contamination from the disaster-battered Fukushima nuclear plant.
For the time being, parks, baseball fields and stadiums are being used as temporary dumps. But longer term, there are serious questions about where in an already space-challenged island nation the trash can be disposed of.
Kazuyuki Akaishi, a waste and recycling expert at the Japan Research Institute, said estimates of the volume of tsunami and earthquake debris range from 80 million to 200 million tons. In a typical year, the entire country generates about 71 million tons of household waste and more than 400 million tons of industrial waste, according to the Environment Ministry. (Los Angeles' Sunshine Canyon landfill, by comparison, takes in about 2.3 million tons of waste annually.)
Japan's National Police Agency says 18,000 houses collapsed and that about 140,000 others were partially damaged. In Miyagi prefecture alone, an estimated 146,000 cars were destroyed, and more may yet be found as tsunami-inundated areas dry out.
The trash problems extend beyond the quake and tsunami zone. In Tokyo, which normally burns trash 24 hours a day, everyday garbage is piling up because post-quake power shortages have forced incinerators to curtail operations by as much as a third.
Additional refuse washed out to sea and is expected to reach Hawaii in about two years and Alaska a year later, according to Nikolai Maximenko, an oceanographer at the University of Hawaii who studies ocean currents.
In normal times, Japan's meticulous approach to waste and recycling is the stuff of legend; it's not just a matter of separating paper from plastic, or glass from aluminum — cities here publish detailed guides for properly disposing of everything from used chopsticks to lipstick.
Special bags must be used. Collection schedules are strict. To ignore the rules is to risk being reprimanded by a local volunteer trash monitor, or shunned by neighbors.
But there's no rulebook for problems such as the 500,000 tons of rotting seafood in disabled port refrigeration facilities, said Masato Yamada of the National Institute for Environmental Studies, who is leading a national task force on the trash crisis.
Search For Japanese Survivors Suspended
Nuclear Plant Dumps Radioactive Water into Sea
published: April 2, 2011
Assessing the Radiation Danger, Near and Far
Current assessments of the radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant by the Japanese authorities, the International Atomic Energy Agency and others. | Related Article »
JOE BURGESS, AMANDA COX, SERGIO PEÇANHA, AMY SCHOENFELD and ARCHIE TSE/THE NEW YORK TIMES
Residents of Futaba, Japan, a town near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, moved into a shelter near Tokyo last month.
Residents of Futaba are now scattered at various makeshift shelters miles from their homes, including an arena near Tokyo.
Members of a search and rescue team look for dead bodies at an area destroyed by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Ishinomaki, northern Japan April 1, 2011.
A boy helps his relatives as they recover items around a ship swept inland by the tsunami in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, twenty days after the area was devastated by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami March 31, 2011. Police officers wearing protective suits search for victims of an earthquake and a tsunami in Fukushima Prefecture in Minamisoma City in this photo taken by Yomiuri Shimbun A worker checks a vehicle for radiation at a Nissan warehouse in Sanyi, Miaoli March 31, 2011. Nissan Motor Co’s Taiwan affiliate will check radiation levels on all car parts imported from Japan. Taiwan’s authorities have stepped up checks on Japanese products since the earthquake and tsunami caused a crisis at a nuclear power plant in the country, banning food imports from five prefectures around the stricken plant. Vehicles and debris litter the Natori neighborhood hard-hit area by the tsunami. Rescue workers transport a body found in the rubble. Toshiyuki Moma with his daughter Rino, 5, waits along with hundreds others outside a supermarket. Tatsuhiro Karino and his wife Masao Karino grieve over the body of their son, Tetsuya, 11. Their daughter Misaki is still missing in Ishinomaki. Car lie haphazard, dumped by the tsunami in Sendai. Survivors return to their uninhabitable homes in Otsuchi. Snow falls in the village of Otsuchi, where the death tool continues to climb. Workers try to stop the spread of radiation at the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant
The Devastated Area within the exclusion zone: Fear of exposure to the radioactive materials from Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant.
Three weeks after an earthquake and tsunami badly damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan, the surrounding area has become a spooky landscape of debris and ghost towns. The government has set up a 12-mile quarantine around the plant called the exclusion zone where radiation levels have been measured at four times the level considered safe for human beings. Whereas thousands of people lived in a dozen villages, only a few bold or obstinate residents remain, despite an order to evacuate. Inside the zone, wreckage from the tsunami remains uncleared, few buildings have electricity, and the threat of a nuclear catastrophe still looms--a prospect that terrifies a nation still scarred by the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Photographer Donald Weber defied government orders against entering the exclusion zone and shot these photographs on assignment for NEWSWEEK. The town of Odaka, shown here, sits within the exclusion zone, so there's been no clean-up. Wreckage dots the coastline of Minamisoma, a village in the exclusion zone. Traffic lights in Okada signals to the deserted street below. Eiji Furuuchi, wearing a mask to guard against high levels of radiation, had returned to Odaka with his sister to try to salvage whatever he could from the supermarket he owns in the town Although electricity and water is out in most buildings in the village of Odaka, this laundromat on the main street is still lit, left just as it was when the town's residents were forced to leave with a moment's notice. Withmost of Odaka's residents evacuated, a body lies half-buried and unmoved in mud brought by the tsunami. Crumbled, deserted buildings line Odaka's main drag. A pair of boots sits abandoned by its owner in a house inside the exclusion zone, where time appears frozen. A few streetlights illuminate the abandoned streets of Odaka. Residents were given little time to pack their belongings when they were ordered to leave, abandoning televisions and other electronics. The road toward the nuclear plant is darkened and deserted, save the occasional resident returning to collect belongings left behind.