Japan Update: As of 17:00, 31/March, TOKYO
Countries around the world have pitched in with equipment, materials and experts to help bring the critical situation at the F**ushima No. 1 nuclear power plant under control.
Although radiation levels monitored around the plant are on the decline, fine dust mixed with radioactive materials have been detected in the air.
One way to reduce the risk of radiation exposure is to introduce robots to handle dangerous tasks. The United States has stepped into the breach by offering to dispatch robots to Japan for use in the nuclear plant free of charge.
On Tuesday, the United States airlifted a military robot of the type used for bomb disposal in Iraq and Afghanistan. The robot was manufactured by QinetiQ North America, Inc., a U.S. defense technology company, with funds from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
The robot is a remote-controlled, full-tracked vehicle that can navigate on uneven terrain and detect explosives and radiation.
In addition, the United States has dispatched to the Defense Ministry a senior official of a unit dealing with chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons and materials, while making preparations to send about 450 personnel specializing in radiation damage control.
Washington has also airlifted 10,000 radiation protection suits and about nine tons of boric acid, a neutron-absorbing agent, to control the uranium fission rate. South Korea and France also are expected to send boric acid.
The disposal of a huge quantity of radiation-contaminated water in and outside buildings housing turbines for the Nos. 1-3 reactors is a priority.
To help deal with this, Areva, a leading French nuclear power company, has dispatched experts to Japan.
Areva processed the mixed oxide (MOX) fuel used in the No. 3 reactor. The French company once cooperated with Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant's operator, in removing radioactive materials from components inside a nuclear reactor at the plant.
Meanwhile, two barges provided by the U.S. armed forces have arrived at Onahama Port, F**ushima Prefecture, carrying about 1,140 tons of freshwater that will be injected into the nuclear reactors.
Sany Heavy Industries Co., a leading construction machinery maker in China, has sent free of charge a truck-mounted concrete pump, worth 80 million yen, to Japan.
Using its 62-meter-long arm, the vehicle will pump water to cool nuclear reactors from above. It arrived in the prefecture Monday.
A German-made concrete air-compressor also is being used to spray water into temporary storage pools for spent nuclear fuel rods.
News Source: Yomiuri Shinbun
A girl eating a rice ball with candle light.
KAMAISHI, Iwate--More than two weeks after being left homeless by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami and taking shelter at evacuation centers, many victims remain distressed despite relief supplies and medical care gradually starting to reach them.
At 8 a.m. Sunday at the Kuribayashi Primary School's gym in Kamaishi, some of the residents began delivering food for breakfast to other residents. Each person, from the elderly down to young children, was given chocolate-flavored bread, an orange and a canned drink.
The school gym in a mountainous area about five kilometers from the coastline has served as an evacuation center since the quake.
"I am very thankful to receive food. But my boy won't take it," said a 29-year-old woman, holding her first son, who she said just turned 1 year old.
Before the disaster, the baby had already begun to eat weaning food. The woman had always served him homemade meals, such as stewed vegetables and rice porridge.
As her husband has been tied to his workplace in Miyagi Prefecture since the quake, she has been living in a two-tatami-mat space at the gym with the baby and her parents.
Although she tore off tiny pieces of the bread one after another and brought them to the baby's mouth, he seemed to have little interest in eating it. "As I just began feeding more weaning food to him, I'm concerned he may suffer malnutrition," she said.
Seeing her concern, Masako Fujiwara, 56, a worker for the city's maternal and child health program, began cooking weaning food at home and delivering it to the woman to give to her son. On Sunday, Fujiwara brought rice porridge, egg and pineapple.
Fujiwara said: "As everybody at the center endures difficulties, I'm aware she can't ask for rice porridge just for her son. But it's enormous mental stress for mothers if their children don't eat."
The center houses about 230 people, including about 20 children.
Most of the children used to live in the Unosumai district, which was one of the worst-hit in the city. They personally saw their houses washed away and their hometown instantly reduced to ruin in the tsunami following the quake. The traumatic experience left serious psychological wounds.
At noon Sunday, Wataru Yamazaki, 11, and his family left the center by bus to move in at the home of relatives.
When the tsunami hit his town, Wataru, a fifth-year student at Unosumai Primary School, took shelter at another primary school with classmates. It was not until two days after the quake that he again saw his mother Keiko, 52, who traced him to the school.
Until he saw his mother, he had been frightened by the frequent aftershocks. He was also forced to live by candlelight.
After his mother took him to the evacuation center, he had a high fever and vomited repeatedly, his mother said.
"Although he was very scared [after the tsunami], he managed to desperately fight back his fears. But finally it was more than his heart could take," said the mother. "Now, I'll try to keep him from seeing the tsunami damage as much as possible."
Some children, after visiting morgues or their destroyed homes to look for missing family members, were struck by severe vomiting or high fevers and ended up requiring continuous intravenous drips.
On Saturday afternoon, Ayumi Kawakami, 24, visited the evacuation center again with her 2-year-old son Kyohei for the first time in two weeks.
As their house was washed away in the tsunami, they stayed at the center on the first night. Later, however, they had moved nomadically from one relative's home to another.
"Honestly, I was worried my son might come down with a contagious disease [at the center]," she said.
On the day of the quake, when she managed to reach the center with her son, she saw other quake survivors entering it without taking off their shoes and eating rice balls from their mud-stained hands. Although she was aware it was a time of emergency, she was also concerned about the center's unsanitary environment, she said. "We were lucky enough to survive the tsunami. It would be my fault if my son dies of a disease," she said. "I was so anxious that I departed the gym with him."
When she came back to the center after a while, she found bottles of antiseptic solution at the entrance. Also, the floor had been cleaned.
She said she did not want to trouble her relatives by staying at their places for a long time and thought about settling down at the center. "But he cries at night much more than before, so we might annoy the other residents," she said.
Akihiro F**e, a doctor at Osaka City General Hospital, which opened a small clinic at the center, warns: "It's a fact that infectious diseases become more prevalent when sanitary conditions deteriorate. The stressful living environment at an evacuation center degrades our immune strength, increasing heath risks."
A mother's death
A local children's center in Unosumaicho echoed with the sound of little voices laughing on Sunday afternoon, as members of a nonprofit organization from Hokkaido played soccer and card games with the kids.
One member, 25-year-old Mirai Kashiwazaki, is from the neighboring town of Katagishicho. Her home was swept away in the tsunami and her cousin was still unaccounted for.
"When I watch the kids, I see my own childhood," she said. "At very least I hope I can help them forget things while they play."
On the way back from the children's center, 3-year-old Nahoka Fujiwara was all tired out from playing so hard. Walking to the shelter, she held tightly to Kashiwazaki's hand.
Nahoka and her 16-month-old sister Ayaka live in a corner of the shelter with their father, grandmother and six other adult relatives. When the earthquake hit, their mother ran out to make sure her daughters were safe but she got caught in the tsunami and died.
"I just can't believe my wife is dead," said their father, Manabu, 27. "But now we have to put everything we have into raising these two little girls."
He said he had not decided when he will tell his daughters about their mother's death.
An uncertain future
The lights at the shelter went out at 9 p.m. on Sunday, leaving only the emergency lights shining weakly. Fusako Sawamoto, 34, and her 8-year-old daughter, Sakura, laid out a straw mat and some thick blankets on the wooden floor and cuddled up to sleep holding hands.
Sawamoto works as a nurse and is a single mother, raising Sakura on her own. A little spoiled even before the earthquake, Sakura now cannot tolerate being separated from her mother. If Sawamoto goes to the bathroom in the middle of the night, she might come back to find Sakura standing up in a panic, shouting, "My mom's gone!"
Sakura recently has started playing with the other children at the shelter and psychologically it seems she is gradually settling down. But Sawamoto knows if she does not get back to work, they will be unable to make a living. So for now, she tells Sakura every day, "You've got to practice being away from mom."
Will her workplace, destroyed by the tsunami, be rebuilt? Where will Sakura go to school? Can she stay home by herself?
In the dark gymnasium, Sawamoto's worries about the future seem like they are crushing her chest. But she tells herself while she squeezes her daughter's hand, "I've just got to look at what's in front of me and keep moving forward."
News Source: Yomiuri shinbun