Japan economy, Toyota feel quake effects

Published by rudy Date posted on April 14, 2011

TOKYO: The impact of Japan’s earthquake and nuclear crisis rippled through the economy on Wednesday, when the government downgraded its outlook and Toyota announced temporary plant shutdowns overseas.

About 55 Filipinos, including children, living within the 100-kilometer radius of a crippled nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture in Japan have confirmed their interest to be repatriated to the Philippines, the Department of Foreign Affairs said also on Wednesday.

Another strong aftershock from the 9.0-magnitude quake that struck the northeast coast over a month ago hit the disaster region, further fraying nerves amid tense stop-and-go containment efforts at the stricken nuclear power plant.

Emergency workers at the tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear site northeast of Tokyo started siphoning off tons of highly radioactive water and eyed long-term plans to encase dangerous spent fuel rods in steel caskets.

The government, meanwhile, worried over food safety after the plant leaked radiation into the air, soil and sea, ordered a halt to mushroom shipments from the region, having earlier restricted vegetables and dairy products.

The Cabinet Office cut its assessment of the world’s No. 3 economy for the first time in six months, in light of the March 11 tectonic disaster that has killed more than 13,000 people and left over 15,000 missing.

“The economy was picking up, but it has shown weak signs recently due to the impact pact of the Great East Japan Earthquake,” the Cabinet Office said in its monthly economic assessment. “It remains in a severe condition.”

The disaster devastated infrastructure and manufacturing facilities, breaking key supply chains and bringing power shortages that have crippled production for Japan’s biggest companies, such as Sony and Honda.

Toyota, the world’s largest auto maker, said that parts shortages would force it to halt production for several days at five European plants over the next two months, after announcing similar steps at most of its 14 North America plants.

The International Monetary Fund on Monday lowered its 2011 growth forecast for Japan—which has long battled sluggish demand, deflation and high public debt—to 1.4 from 1.6 percent, citing “large uncertainties.”

Japan estimates that rebuilding will cost up to 25 trillion yen or $295 billion.

Japan’s nuclear disaster on Tuesday was upgraded to the top level of seven—the same “major accident” category as Chernobyl—although officials stressed that far less radiation was released and no one had died from contamination.

Unlike at Chernobyl 25 years ago, where the reactor vessel exploded and scores died from radiation exposure within weeks, Japanese crew have been able to work on site, pushing on with efforts to eventually shut the plant down.

Overnight, they started pumping off the highly-radioactive runoff water left from reactor dousing operations, having earlier freed up space by dumping 10,000 tons of less contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean.

“Workers are pumping a total of 700 cubic meters from the trench tunnel, hoping to reduce the water level,” said a spokesman for the nuclear safety agency. “This work is expected to take four to five days.”

Getting rid of the most toxic water would allow workers to resume the crucial task of repairing reactor cooling systems that were knocked out by the 15-meter high tsunami and damaged in subsequent hydrogen explosions.

Workers also refocused their attention on spent fuel rods stored in containment pools beside the reactors that threaten to spew radiation into the air unless they are constantly covered and cooled with circulating water.

The embattled plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) hopes to eventually remove and safely encase the thousands of spent fuel rods.

“This is to learn more about the condition of the spent fuel pool,” said a Tepco spokesman. “They will have to put the spent fuel rods into some sort of container eventually.”

The Asahi Shimbun daily, citing internal Tepco documents, reported on a plan to lower steel caskets into the pools to seal and take away the fuel rods, perhaps using ladders because original cranes may be damaged.

Pinoys going home
In a report to the Foreign Affairs department, the Philippine Embassy in Tokyo said that it has set a center in Omiya in Saitama Prefecture as a “rendezvous area” for Filipinos where their travel documents will be processed prior to their repatriation.

“The embassy has also arranged for their accommodations in Saitama while awaiting repatriation,” the department said in a statement.
It has set for April 17, Sunday, the repatriation of Filipinos within the 100-kilometer radius of the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

About 2,000 Filipinos are said to be living within the exclusion zone.
The “mandatory evacuation” for Filipinos living within the 50-kilometer radius and the “voluntary repatriation” of those within the 51- to 100-kilometer radius of the nuclear plant comes after the Japanese government raised the crisis alert level there from 5 to 7.

Level 7 is the most serious level on the International Nuclear and Radiological Events Scale (INES), and is used to describe a major release of radioactive material with widespread health and environmental effects requiring implementation of planned and extended countermeasures.

Japanese residents living within the exclusion zone, having a radius of 20 kilometer set by the Japanese government, have already evacuated the areas.

The Foreign Affairs department’s Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs has set up hotline numbers and an e-mail address for those who would like to inquire on the conditions of their Filipino relatives in Japan.

These are 834-3245 and 834-3240.

Requests for information may also be sent through dfaoumwa.cmc @gmail.com.

No radiation danger

Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI) Deputy Director Corazon Bernido said also on Wednesday that the Philippines remains safe from radioactive materials released from the stricken nuclear plant in Fukushima.

She added that the increase of the crisis level in Fukushima does not mean that the situation is worsening, when in fact the situation there is slowly getting better.

The upgrade in the crisis level, Bernido said, was based on the total volume of radiation that has been released in the atmosphere since last month when the plant was hit by an earthquake and tsunami.

“The impact of radiation from Japan to the Philippines remains insignificant as it has been from the beginning,” she told a press briefing.

Based on result of the ration level monitoring conducted by PNRI on the sea and fresh water samples taken from Cagayan and the La Mesa Dam in Quezon City, there were still no traces of Iodine 131 and Caecium 134 on the samples.

This means, Bernido said, that the country’s sea and fresh water bodies remain free from radiation released by the damaged nuclear plant.

She added that radioactive materials released by nuclear power plant will not reach and have an effect on the Philippine environment.

Bernido said that radioactive material released in the sea would be diluted even before it reaches Philippine waters.

She added that the agency will continue to monitor water and soil for radiation to reassure the public that radiation levels stay normal in the country. –AFP, Bernice Camille V. Bauzon And Jefferson Antiporda, Manila Times

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