Disaster in Japan: Latest developments, March 22

Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant
In this photo released by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), gray smoke rises from Unit 3 of the tsunami-stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okumamachi, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, March 21, 2011.

Updated 11:53 p.m. ET

  • (AP)The government expects the economic toll from Japan's earthquake and tsunami could exceed $300 billion, considerably higher than other estimates, a report said Wednesday.
  • (AP)The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says it will halt imports of dairy products and produce from the area of Japan where a nuclear reactor is leaking radiation. The FDA said Tuesday that those foods will be detained at entry and will not be sold to the public. The agency previously said it would just step up screening of those foods.
  • (Kyodo News) Earthquake insurance payments resulting from the massive quake that struck the Tohoku area could top 1 trillion Japanese yen (About $12.35 billion), far higher than the previous record of 78.3 billion Japanese yen following the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, according to some industry estimates as of Tuesday.
  • Japan quake burial
    Japan Ground Self Defense Force personnel unload a body wrapped in a blanket during a burial ceremony for the March 11 tsunami victims in Higashimatsushima City, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan, Tuesday, March 22, 2011.
    AP Photo/Mark Baker
  • (Japan Times)In a rare move, identified bodies were buried in quake-stricken areas in the absence of fuel at many crematoriums. The number of deaths in 12 prefectures came to 9,080 as of 6 p.m. and that of people reported missing by relatives climbed to 13,561 in six prefectures. The police have so far conducted autopsies on 8,360 bodies, of which 4,670 have been identified and handed over to relatives, the NPA said.
  • Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) will compensate farmers for losses caused by the nuclear radiation leaking from its power plants, BBC reports. Japan has banned all shipments of milk, spinach and other leaf vegetables from the area around Fukushima. The World Health Organisation (WHO), has said the radiation impact was becoming more serious than first thought.
  • Japan's police agency now reports that 9,200 people are confirmed dead and nearly 14,000 remain missing. The latest report shows 264,000 displaced people registered at the temporary shelters at 1,800 locations in 16 prefectures.
  • Japan has proven ill equipped to respond to the health crisis unfolding after the devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami, the medical journal the Lancet said Tuesday. The journal said that the largely rural earthquake-stricken region is suffering from a shortage of doctors and nurses and highlighted desperate conditions in still-operating hospitals and medical clinics, where usable food, water and medical supplies are scarce. The report (PDF). also said described the Japanese health care system as "ill prepared to address long-term mental health problems triggered by the disaster," including the likely need to provide post-trauma counseling for thousands of survivors who lost loved ones and over 100,000 children displaced by the disaster.
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  • John V. Roos, United States Ambassador to Japan, delivered a message to the community of U.S. citizens in Japan on March 22, 2011, to update Americans on the situation in Japan following the devastating earthquake and tsunami of March 11. The number of people working at embassy now is larger than before the earthquake due to experts who have come to assist the Japanese government, Roos said.
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  • Regarding the nuclear situation, Roos reiterated the Nuclear Regulatory Commission recommendation for U.S. citizens to relocate at least 50 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Radiation levels near the reactor remain very dangerous, he said, but outside the 50-mile perimeter radiation levels are well below levels dangerous to human health. Potassium iodide was made available to U.S. families in Japan on Monday, but they have been told to consume it only after specific instructions from the U.S. government. "There are no indications to take it now, but it was provided out of abundance of caution," Roos said.

  • Toyota said its assembly plants, which were slated to open today, would remain closed until the weekend or beyond. Honda is in a similar situation, and doesn't plan to restart production until Sunday at the earliest.
  • (AP) - A pool for storing spent fuel at the crippled nuclear plant nearly reached the boiling point Tuesday, but appeared to be brought under control after officials doused it with 18 tons of seawater. Steam, possibly carrying radioactive elements, had been rising for two days, and the move lessens the chances that more radiation will seep into the air. Nuclear safety agency official Hidehiko Nishiyama told reporters Tuesday that the high temperatures in the spent fuel pool are believed to be the cause of steam that has wafted from Fukushima Dai-ichi's Unit 2 since Monday.
  • (AP) - The operator of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant says power lines have been hooked up to all six reactor units, though more work is needed before electricity can run through them. It is likely to be days if not longer before the cooling systems can be powered up, since damaged equipment needs to be replaced and any volatile gas must be vented to avoid an explosion.
  • Dozens of residents near the plant have told The Associated Press they never received any information about how to avoid the threat of radiation. Japan is famous for drilling its citizens on how to prepare for natural disasters. But it has done far less to prepare those who live near its many nuclear reactors for emergencies. The AP interviewed dozens of residents who said officials never prepared them for such an emergency. Distributing emergency preparedness information is a basic requirement in some other countries that operate nuclear power facilities.
  • The wisdom of a crowd armed with radiation detection devices is helping to chart radiation readings across Japan as the country struggles to avoid a nuclear catastrophe. RDTN.ORG, built by Portland, Oregon-based Uncorked Studios, with the help of many external contributors, asks people to submit readings from their locations for posting on a Google map that aggregates the data.
  • (Jiji Press) - Dr. Robert Gale, a well known U.S. leukemia specialist who met on Tuesday in Tokyo with the Japanese press, said that the amount of radiation dispersed so far in the atmosphere is about one one-thousandth that of Chernobyl. At this stage, the risk for cancer among the people in the country is higher from cigarette smoking, but he expressed caution regarding risks associated with food contamination.
  • (TBS Newsi) - Fukushima governor declined to meet with TEPCO chairman on Tuesday citing that TEPCO's priority at this point is work to put an end to the crisis instead.

Disaster in Japan: Latest developments, March 21

  • The Defense Department was considering whether to pull out all American military personnel and their families from the areas of Japan threatened by radiation exposure Mon. night after the departure of nuclear-powered aircraft carrier earlier in the day, CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reports.
  • The Japanese government ordered Fukushima and three other prefectures to suspend shipments of spinach and another leavy green vegetable after radiation levels surpassing legal limit were detected, reports Kyodo news agency.
  • Japan's national police said Monday that the death toll from the devastating earthquake and tsunami which ravaged the nation's northeast would likely exceed 18,000. The agency has recorded 8,805 deaths so far, while 12,664 people are listed as missing. It is possible those two lists have some overlap, and that unidentified bodies in the tally of deaths may match names on the missing list once their identities are confirmed. More than 2,600 people are listed as injured and some 319,000 remain displaced in around 2,100 locations.
  • Complete coverage: Disaster in Japan

  • A 24-year-old American teacher's body has been found, bringing a tragic end to the weeklong search of a family that believed she might still be alive.

    Taylor Anderson's family said that the U.S. Embassy in Japan informed them Monday of the discovery of her body.

    Jean Anderson said her daughter was last seen after the earthquake riding her bike away from an Ishinomaki elementary school after making sure parents picked up their children. A tsunami struck shortly after the earthquake.

  • A top official at the U.S. nuclear regulatory commission said that the situation at the stricken Fukushima plant is stabilizing. Dr. William Borchardt, operations executive director for the NRC said that the imminent restoration of power to the Fukushima's reactors is "perhaps the first optimistic sign that we have that things could be turning around." He noted that the situation involving volatile spent fuel pools is stabilizing and that cooling water is being injected in to reactors 1, 2, and 3.

    Borchardt was addressing the commission regarding a major short and long-term review of U.S. nuclear safety in light of the Japanese disaster.

    TEPCO said late Monday that Units 1-4 were all continuing their "cold shutdowns," had stable water levels and showed no signs of leaking cooling water into their reactor containment vessels.

  • The nuclear crisis has exposed huge weaknesses in how the world deals with such disasters, the United Nations' nuclear chief said Monday, urging changes in emergency responses worldwide.

    Yukiya Amano, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said the situation at Fukushima seems to be improving, but acknowledged concerns that IAEA nuclear safety standards are voluntary and out of date.

  • The carrier USS George Washington has left the naval facility at Yokosuka, south of Tokyo, where it was undergoing repairs and potassium iodide pills have been distributed to sailors and families remaining at the naval base and at the Atsugi Naval Air Facility. Both actions are a response to a predicted shift in the winds, bringing increased radiation to the U.S. bases, reports CBS News correspondent David Martin. A Navy press release said that the George Washington got underway to maintain its long term readiness -- a euphemism, Martin reports, for saying that if it remained in Yokosuka it would become contaminated and take forever to be decontaminated.
  • In a report nine days before the earthquake and tsunami, Japan's nuclear safety agency criticized the plant operator for repeatedly failing to make inspections of critical equipment.

    The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency cited Tokyo Electric Power Co. for ignoring inspection schedules and failing to examine 33 pieces of equipment at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant.

    Among the machinery the utility missed were parts crucial to the cooling systems needed to keep Fukushima's six nuclear reactors and their fuel storage pools from overheating: emergency diesel generators in Unit 3, pumps for reactors in Units 1 and 2 and generator equipment for Unit 4.

  • Workers were able to connect newly-laid power supply cables to all of the Fukushima plant's reactor's Monday -- including the most heavily-damaged Units 3 and 4. Plant officials have yet to try to switch back on the primary cooling systems at the plant, and because the components themselves may have been damaged in the earthquake and tsunami, it is unclear whether they will function as intended when power is restored.