Japan Update: As of 13:30, 17/May, TOKYO
Goshi Hosono, tasked with handling the nuclear crisis, said at a press conference that Tokyo Electric Power Co. had not been able to cool down the reactors' cores due to loss of external power for a long time after the quake, acknowledging that fuel in the vessels might have largely melted "in the worst-case scenario."
But he added the utility, known as TEPCO, has been succeeding in preventing the reactor's fuel from overheating so far and reiterated the government will stick to the timetable set by the firm, which announced April 17 it aims to bring the crisis there under control in six to nine months.
His remarks came a day after TEPCO said a nuclear fuel meltdown at the No. 1 reactor is believed to have occurred around 16 hours after the devastating quake and tsunami crippled the plant's critical cooling systems.
TEPCO is slated to release on Tuesday an updated roadmap for bringing under control Japan's worst nuclear accident based on new information about the plant's condition.
Hosono has said that it has no choice but to abandon an initial plan to flood and cool the No. 1 reactor's containment vessel as holes have been created in the pressure vessel by the melted fuel.
The government will also unveil the same day its own version of a roadmap that will outline measures on how to deal comprehensively with the crisis amid growing discontent by lawmakers and the public over the government's handling of it.
TEPCO, meanwhile, said Monday it will start transferring highly radioactive water at the No. 3 reactor of the atomic power complex to a waste-disposing facility the following day to prevent it from leaking into the environment.
The move is believed to be essential to contain radiation leaks from the power station as well as to allow workers to get access to the damaged vessel, from which the contaminated water may be leaking to its adjacent turbine building and other places.
While such water previously found at the No. 2 reactor has been already stored in the facility, the utility has stepped up its efforts to set up equipment at the water-disposing facility to decontaminate the radioactive water so it can be reused to cool fuel in the vessels in the near future, company officials said.
Under a plan by TEPCO, a total of 4,000 tons of water is expected to be pumped out of the No. 3 reactor turbine building to the nuclear waste disposal facility by using hoses.
The utility has been injecting more water into the reactor than in the past to cool down its vessel as its temperature has been rising recently, pushing the level of water up there, the officials said.
The government's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said it has already given the green light to TEPCO's plan.
The tainted water, the level of which has been rising by around 2 centimeters a day in the No. 3 reactor's turbine building, may be leaking into the sea, prodding the plant operator to remove it as soon as possible.
But TEPCO is also being forced to keep injecting sufficient quantities of water into the reactor as workers have been struggling to cool down its vessel stably.
The temperature inside the No. 3 reactor has been rising since the beginning of the month, topping 200 C on May 7, compared with around 90 C on May 1, TEPCO said.
While the temperature fell to 141.3 C on Monday morning, TEPCO remains vigilant as there is some skepticism about whether water has remained in the reactor, company officials said.
News Source: Daily Mainichi
K**AMOTO — The Meteorological Agency on Monday raised the volcanic alert level for Mount Aso from 1 to 2, prompting local authorities in K**amoto Prefecture to ban entry to areas within 1 km of the crater of Mount Naka, one of five peaks in the active volcano's central cone group.
The alert includes a warning for rocks ejected from Mount Naka in the off-limits areas.
The move came after the mountain belched a small amount of volcanic ash Friday and experienced a small eruption Sunday.
On Monday, a small eruption and a 500-meter-high column of volcanic smoke were observed at around 10 a.m.
News Source: Japan Times
Special significance: Cardinal Robert Sarah throws flowers into the ocean during prayers for victims
of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami as he rides on a sightseeing boat in Matsushima Bay, Miyagi
Prefecture, on Monday. KYODO PHOTO
SENDAI — An emissary of Pope Benedict XVI on Monday visited a disaster-hit tourist spot in Matsushima, Miyagi Prefecture, to pray for victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Cardinal Robert Sarah offered the prayers aboard a sightseeing boat cruising the Matsushima area, which is dotted with small islands devastated by the tsunami.
"People in Matsushima are helping those in neighboring towns who were seriously affected by the disaster even though they themselves are also victims. I was moved to see people helping each other," Sarah said.
The Roman prelate came to Matsushima, one of Japan's three most-celebrated scenic sites, referred to collectively as "Nihon Sankei" (Three Views of Japan) at the invitation of Deputy Mayor Koichi Nishimura.
Nishimura developed connections with the Roman Catholic Church in 1995 when he helped disaster relief activities as a volunteer worker at Kobe's Takatori Catholic Church after the Great Hanshin Earthquake, in which more than 6,400 people died.
Nishimura became aware of the cardinal's impending visit through an email magazine from the church.
"I am rejoicing that my activities 16 years ago are now producing fruits in this manner," Nishimura said. "I hope the cardinal's visit will help promote Matsushima's recovery as a tourist spot."
News Source: Japan Times
HIGASHI-MATSUSHIMA, Miyagi--Dealing with the loss of his grandparents and home in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, a local youth almost gave up on baseball and his dream of playing in the national high school championships.
But baseball gloves donated by youth teams in the Hokuriku and Shikoku regions encouraged the teenager and his teammates--some of whom also lost their homes in the disaster--to play on and try to reach the championships at Koshien Stadium in Hyogo Prefecture.
At a baseball ground in Higashi-Matsu-shima on Saturday morning, about 40 used gloves were handed out to local middle school students, including members of the Higashi-Matsushima Little Senior baseball team, which last year represented the Tohoku region in a national competition.
The young athletes were visibly excited to receive the gear. Ryo Sato, 15, a third-year student at Naruse No. 2 Middle School, stood still and smiled as he tried on his new glove.
Sato's house was destroyed by the tsunami. The bodies of his grandfather, 79, and grandmother, 68, who lived in the same house, were recovered shortly afterward.
Sato's grandparents often told him they hoped to one day watch him playing professional baseball on TV.
At a relative's house where his family is taking shelter--his parents survived, although both were made unemployed by the disaster--Sato would play with the battered glove when he was alone, trying it on even though he knew it was beyond repair.
He suppressed his desire to play baseball. "Playing games is out of question at a time like this," he thought.
About one-fifth of the players in Sato's team lost their homes in the disaster, but little by little, the team began to get back into their regular practice routine.
Sato's parents encouraged him to attend on Saturday, saying: "Don't worry. Go and continue your training."
He said he felt guilty about going at first, but when he put on his new glove, his doubts dissolved.
Attached to the donated gloves were messages from young ball players in other parts of the country. One read, "Believe that one day you'll be able to play baseball again!" Another said, "Let's try hard so we can meet at the national championships!"
Sato was touched by the messages. "It gives us a real lift just to know people are supporting us," he said.
Nara movement goes national
The gloves were sent to Higashi-Matsu-shima thanks to Nobuhiro Umehara, 46, who runs a baseball goods shop in Yamato-Koriyama, Nara Prefecture.
Umehara has been asking baseball coaches across the nation to donate gloves for children who lost their homes in the March 11 disaster. In April, he sent about 300 gloves to kids in F**ushima Prefecture.
The 40 gloves sent to Higashi-Matsushima were collected by ball players at middle schools in Ishikawa and Kochi prefectures, with help from former players in their areas.
Each glove has been branded with the same mark: a star enclosed by an incomplete circle. The circle is intentionally incomplete--it represents the hope that fortune will favor the Higashi-Matsushima players. The idea is that they will complete the circle on their glove when their dreams come true.
Ryuzo Oku, 14, is one of the students who helped organize the glove donations. Captain of his baseball team at Nambu Middle School in Komatsu, Ishikawa Prefecture, Oku has branded his own glove with the same design.
Oku sent a message of warm encouragement to Sato and other students in Higashi-Matsushima. "Please don't give up. When we train, we'll always keep the students in devastated areas in mind," he said.
Sato has resolved to train hard, and now has a new goal in mind.
"I'd like to complete the star-and-circle design when my team and the teams that sent the gloves play against each other some day. Until then, I'm determined to practice hard and keep improving," he said.