For the first time in a week, the ongoing crisis that began with the massive earthquake which struck north-eastern Japan last Friday isn’t leading most international news bulletins (having been replaced by Libya’s decision to call a ceasefire against rebel fighters).
This doesn’t mean the crisis is over, but certainly the rhetoric about a catastrophe at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has died down.
Speaking Friday, Prime Minister Naoto Kan described the situation as still ‘very grave’, adding: ‘In order to overcome this crisis, the police, the fire department and self-defence forces are all working together putting their lives on the line in an attempt to resolve the situation.’
The same day, the country’s nuclear safety agency upgraded the crisis from a level 4 to a level 5 problem on a seven-point scale, putting it on par with the Three Mile Incident in the United States in 1979 (Chernobyl was rated level 7). Most analysts, though, appear to agree that the Fukushima crisis is worse than Three Mile Island, including one former US nuclear regulator quoted by CNN as saying that: ‘In terms of severity, this accident left Three Mile Island in the rear view mirror several days ago.’
Still, workers at the Fukushima plant appear to believe they have a chance of restoring power to two of the six reactors some time on Saturday, which could enable them to restart the water pumps that would help cool the overheated nuclear fuel rods.
And if that doesn’t work? Talk has now moved to what is seen as the last option available, which would be to bury the plant in concrete and sand to prevent a major radiation release.
I’m back in Tokyo — which was quiet for a Friday night, but still seemed calm — and will update later Saturday.
— The Editor