Japan asks for help solving nuclear crisis

TOKYO — Japan is increasingly turning to other countries for help as it struggles to stabilize its tsunami-stricken nuclear plant and stop radiation leaks that are complicating efforts to recover the bodies of some of the thousands swept away by the towering wave.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy

French President Nicolas Sarkozy

TOKYO — Japan is increasingly turning to other countries for help as it struggles to stabilize its tsunami-stricken nuclear plant and stop radiation leaks that are complicating efforts to recover the bodies of some of the thousands swept away by the towering wave.

French, American and international experts — even a robot — are either in Japan or on their way, and French President Nicholas Sarkozy visited Tokyo on Thursday to meet with the prime minister and show solidarity.

Workers are racing to find the source of contaminated water that has been pooling in the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. The leaks have often forced workers to flee the plant, preventing them from restarting important cooling systems.

“The amount of water is enormous, and we need any wisdom available,” said nuclear safety agency spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama.

A spokesman for plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Thursday that radioactive contamination in groundwater 15 yards (meters) under one of six reactors there had been measured at 10,000 times the government standard. It was the first time the utility has released statistics for groundwater near the plant.

The government did not say what the standard is but the elevated levels would only be an issue if contamination got into the water supply, and spokesman Naoyuki Matsumo said the water supply has not been affected. Also, no one is living there because everyone within 12 miles (20 kilometres) of the plant has been evacuated.

Still, elevated levels of iodine-131, a radioactive substance that decays quickly, were another sign that radiation is leaking from the plant.

Experts from French nuclear giant Areva, which supplied fuel to the plant, are helping figure out how to dispose of the contaminated water that has begun leaking into the ground and the sea.

“We are not a supplier only for happy days,” CEO Anne Lauvergeon told reporters in Tokyo on Thursday. “We are effectively also there when things become difficult.”

Officials from the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., said they welcome the help.

“U.S. nuclear plants aren’t by the ocean, unlike Japanese ones, so we think the French may be able to help us more than the Americans,” said TEPCO Manager Teruaki Kobayashi.

Officials with his company also said they expect to use a remote-controlled robot sent by the U.S. within a few days to evaluate areas with high radiation. They are also setting up a panel of Japanese and American nuclear experts and American military personnel to address the crisis.

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced by the tsunami and magnitude-9.0 earthquake. Some saw their homes destroyed by the wall of water, while others have been ordered to leave the evacuation zone. Authorities have recommended that people in a 20-mile (30-kilometre) band might want to evacuate too.

Frustrated evacuees had begun trickling back into the smaller zone to gather belongings and check on their homes, but officials in Fukushima prefecture posted warnings at evacuation centres telling them not to go back for any reason.

“There is not only a risk that you may be contaminated, but also that you could contaminate others in the evacuation centres when you return,” the warnings said. “The national government is now considering whether to allow brief return visits, so please bear with us.”

On Friday, the government said it planned more tests on a cow slaughtered for beef that had very slightly elevated levels of cesium, another radioactive particle. Officials stressed that the meat was never put on the market. Contamination has already been found in vegetables and raw milk near the plant.

Health Ministry spokesman Taku Ohara said the cesium was found in a cow slaughtered March 15 more than 40 miles (70 kilometres) from the plant. It had a total cesium level of 510 becquerels per kilogram. The limit is 500.

Radioactive cesium can build up in the body and high levels are thought to be a risk for various cancers. Still, researchers who studied Chornobyl could not find an increase in cancers that might be linked to cesium.

It is still found in the soil of Germany, Austria and France 25 years after Chornobyl and is found in wild boar in Germany, making the pigs off-limits for eating in many cases. The limit Germany has set for cesium in wild boars is 600 becquerels per kilogram.

In Japan, the radiation has forced police officers trying to recover the dead from the evacuation zone to don white hazmat suits and radiation monitors. Officials believe more than 19,000 people died, but so far only about 11,000 bodies have been found. Local media estimate that hundreds of corpses remain.

“We find bodies everywhere — in cars, in rivers, under debris and in streets,” a police official from the hard-hit Fukushima prefecture said Thursday. He spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

In the small coastal city of Miyako, many people still have no idea what happened to their relatives. Residents watched intently Thursday as a firefighter in a boat and two tractors cleared the bay of rubble, part of cleanup efforts under way along hundreds of miles (kilometres) of Japan’s northeastern seaboard.

Giant tractors and dump trucks cleared roads and sorted debris into giant piles. Huge barges with onboard cranes docked offshore and scooped up wreckage in the shallow bays.

“I lost three grandchildren,” says Isamu Aneishi, 69, who sat on a log for hours and watched the men search the bay.

A vacant lot outside Miyako has been turned into a car graveyard, with hundreds of wrecked vehicles from across the region deposited in neat rows. Some looked ready to be driven away, while others were little more than mangled heaps of metal. Many were marked with red spray paint, indicating bodies had been found inside, and some still had keys in the ignition. Residents walked up and down the rows looking for their cars.

“This is my third time coming here,” said Yasuhiro Ichihashi, 42, who watched his car get swept out of the parking lot at his factory from high ground. “They keep adding more cars every day, so I come back to check.”

Meanwhile, at the nuclear plant 140 miles (220 kilometres) northeast of Tokyo, workers go inside in shifts and are often forced to turn back because radiation levels are too high.

They have been lauded as heroes, but Kazuma Yokota, head of the Fukushima local office Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, said he saw them living under harsh conditions during a recent inspection visit. They got only two meals a day and just one blanket each when it was time to sleep.

“They sleep on the floor, inside a conference room, or even in the hallway or in front of a bathroom. That’s where they sleep, with only one blanket each to wrap themselves around,” he told a televised news conference. Nishiyama said TEPCO is working to improve the conditions.

Sarkozy, the first major international leader to visit since the disaster, praised the work being done at the plant.

“Every image I have seen is really, really disturbing, and I am really impressed by the workers in Fukushima who work at the nuclear plant with courage,” he said before meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan.

After the meeting, he urged the world to learn from Japan’s crisis and suggested that the Group of 20 nations set international nuclear safety standards.

“It’s completely abnormal that these international safety norms don’t exist,” Sarkozy said. The International Atomic Energy Agency does have standards, but nations are not bound by them.

———

Associated Press writers Eric Talmadge in Fukushima, Jay Alabaster in Miyako and Shino Yuasa in Tokyo contributed to this report.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The future of Westerner Park continues to be plagued by many unknowns, including when city council will make a decision about financing its operations. (File photo by Advocate staff).
Red Deer city council delays making decision on Westerner Park financing

It will mean missing the next opportunity to apply for a provincial loan

Nineteen-year-old Amanda enjoys a ride during a visit to Spirit’s Respite Ranch near Stettler. photo submitted
Busy days at Spirit’s Respite Ranch near Stettler

The ranch, which launched operations last summer, provides support through animal interaction

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer at the announcement that the city will be getting a drug treatment court Thursday. Jason Luan, associate minister of mental health and addictions, looks on.
Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Veer concerned about rising COVID-19 cases in Red Deer

The City of Red Deer is reminding citizens to protect themselves against… Continue reading

Rode
Volunteering played major role in RDC awards

Under normal circumstances, the RDC Red Deer Bottling Athlete of the Year… Continue reading

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said on Thursday that the province has seen its first case of the B.1.617 variant. (Photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Red Deer nears record number of active COVID-19 cases

Alberta reports 1,857 new cases of COVID-19, 1,326 new variants

Curtis Labelle (second from left) and his band are planning a cross-Canada tour in 2022. Meanwhile, Labelle is continuing to host his weekly livestreamed talk show, Chattin 88. (Contributed photo).
Red Deer rock pianist takes on a talk show role

Curtis Labelle’s Chattin 88 gets views from around the globe

Toronto Maple Leafs' Nick Foligno (71) and Mitchell Marner (16) celebrate Marner's goal on Winnipeg Jets goaltender Laurent Brossoit (30) during second-period NHL action in Winnipeg on Thursday, April 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
Leafs end five-game winless skid with 5-3 win over Jets in North Division battle

Leafs end five-game winless skid with 5-3 win over Jets in North Division battle

Taylor Pendrith from Richmond Hill, Ont. salutes the crowd after sinking a birdie on the 18th hole to come in at five under par during first round of play at the Canadian Open golf championship Thursday, July 24, 2014 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
PGA Tour Canada splits into Canadian, American circuits for 20201

PGA Tour Canada splits into Canadian, American circuits for 20201

Like father, like son: Floreal emerges as one of Canada’s top sprinters

Like father, like son: Floreal emerges as one of Canada’s top sprinters

Toronto Blue Jays center fielder George Springer (4) walks on the field during a team workout, Wednesday, March 31, 2021, at Yankee Stadium in New York. The Blue Jays face the New York Yankees on opening day Thursday in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Injured Jays OF Springer to play in intrasquad game Friday

Injured Jays OF Springer to play in intrasquad game Friday

Toronto Raptors' Khem Birch (24) defends against Brooklyn Nets' Blake Griffin during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 21, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)
Raptors ride strong 3rd quarter to 114-103 win over Nets

Raptors ride strong 3rd quarter to 114-103 win over Nets

Team Canada's Jocelyne Larocque celebrates her goal past the U.S.A. with goaltender Embrace Maschmeyer during first period of Women's Rivalry Series hockey action in Vancouver, Wednesday, February 5, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Stunned Canadian players head home after women’s world hockey cancellation

Stunned Canadian players head home after women’s world hockey cancellation

Health Minister Patty Hajdu is shown at a COVID-19 press conference in Ottawa on Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/David Kawai
Health Canada proposes new restrictions on talc in some personal care products

Health Canada proposes new restrictions on talc in some personal care products

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady passes under pressure from Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Alex Okafor during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. Lawmakers are debating legislation to legalize single-event betting as a bill reaches final reading in the House of Commons. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mark Humphrey
Bill on single-game sports betting on cusp of passing — but not for first time

Bill on single-game sports betting on cusp of passing — but not for first time

Most Read