Thu March 17, 2011
The Two-Way

Live Blog: Disaster In Japan, Thursday's Latest

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 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. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.