Japan earthquake: situation as of today

I thought I would write a quick summary of the situation following the huge earthquake in Touhoku, as I understand it, possibly with more updates to follow.

1. I am fine, and there is no immediate danger to me personally. When the quake occurred, I was in Sapporo, and I came back to Tokyo on Saturday night.

2. There was huge devastation in the affected area in Iwate-ken, Miyagi-ken, Sendai and so on. Many people are still missing in those areas.

3. Ever since the tsunami, Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) has struggled hard to  cool down its nuclear power plants in Fukushima. Here is one of many articles that summarise the situation. Useful graphics from Washington Post. Various incidents have happened, such as explosions (apparently not in the reactor core, but as a result of hydrogen and oxygen being released) and a fire in one reactor, which has now been extinguished. Elevated radiation levels have been measured near the reactors and people in a 30 km radius are asked to stay indoors or evacuate.

3.5. The water level inside some of the reactors’ so-called second containments was too low at certain points, exposing the fuel rods, and it is likely that fuel inside was melting. Supposedly, even if it melts, it is meant to be collected in a container underneath the core.

4. Tokyo is 250 km from Fukushima, and the radiation levels are far lower here. Some Geiger counters (in Tokyo) are available online (also on map). While the radiation levels near the reactor are now at dangerous levels, in Tokyo, so far they have not gone above harmless levels.

5. Accounts of the disaster vary widely, from careful, measured fact reporting to doomsday predictions. Foreign media are generally playing up the disaster angle quite a lot. For example, this article from Der Spiegel. What is reported in Japanese media still sticks mainly to observed facts and public advisories, although there is a sense of increasing exasperation with the lack of information from TEPCO and the government.

6. If the radiation level keeps going down, the biggest risks to us living in Tokyo should be the risk of a strong aftershock following the initial quake, especially if there is an associated tsunami. However, as time passes, this risk is written down.

7. Across Japan, people are trying hard to conserve electricity because so many power plants have been shut down. Parts of east Japan are having a controlled power outage on a rotational basis. Trains run less frequently than usual, but as of now, in central Tokyo, daily life is basically still normal.

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