Thursday, March 17, 2011

A roundup of resources for following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster

If you've seen my last few posts, you know I'm following this story pretty closely. I'm basically completely obsessed with it.  My wife's family lives one prefecture over from Fukushima, and we have a business that relies almost exclusively on products shipped from Tokyo. So I've got good reasons for keeping my eyes glued to this nuclear plant.

Over the past day or so, I've gotten a real feeling that the technicians working to try to prevent disaster are starting to turn a corner. You would never know this by reading the American press, which continues to call it a "widening disaster" and an "unfolding catastrophe" and says that technicians are growing "increasingly desperate". But looking at a variety of sources, many of which are a lot more knowledgeable on nuclear matters than the American press, I've gotten a different picture over the past 24 hours. No, they're definitely not out of the woods, and things could still go very wrong. But I just get the sense that Japan is starting to figure this thing out.

I've decided to post a roundup of some of the sites I've been checking out that have given me that impression - you won't find most of these linked from the mainstream US press (ok, maybe one or two), but they've really given me a lot of info:

Reuters live blog - this is where I've gotten a lot of my other links. And they post every little bit of info, without too much commentary. The other users often make informative comments with good links too.

Fukushima Daiichi webcam - not the best angle, but this public webcam has been useful in knowing whether the plant is spewing smoke or steam at any given hour. (It's updated at the top of each hour during the day.) It's been fairly quiet lately. It's safe to assume at this point that any smoke or steam you do see is radioactive.

Tokyo live Geiger counter - I posted this earlier. It's been in the normal range for two days straight now.

Chiba prefecture live Geiger counter - this one's streaming video of an actual meter someone has in front of a camera. It has also been in the normal range for 2 days, after spiking several times before that.

Target map of radiation readings by prefecture - also posted earlier, seems to be updated hourly. Prefectures around the plant are elevated but not dangerous. Fukushima itself is "under survey", which probably means it's censored (and most likely pretty radiated).

Japan Atomic Industrial Forum - they're providing timely and detailed updates on the status of the plant. Be sure to check their "Reactor Status Update" reports, which clearly lay out exactly what's going on. (I get so sick of hearing our news reports say TEPCO is going to "douse the reactors with water in a last ditch effort to prevent a meltdown" - the reactors are more or less stable at this point. It's the spent fuel pools that they're worried about now.)

TEPCO's English press site - the operator of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Company. Their updates are not always timely, but they do sometimes post info that the mainstream sites somehow seem to miss. For example, the reports that 2 employees were missing after one of the blasts at the plant was first posted on this site.

Kyodo News English web site - normally this is behind a paywall but they've opened up their coverage of the earthquake and nuclear crisis. And like Reuters' liveblog, they post every little detail without a lot of commentary. If you just want to know something like how many fire engines are being used to pump water into the spent fuel pools or who supplied them, chances are you will find that info in a Kyodo story. (You'll also find the broader and more general topics too.)

NHK World Live stream - I watched the tsunami live as it happened on this stream, and they've been pretty good since then on the nuclear crisis too. An example of what public television should be all about! They have actually mostly returned now to a "Headline News" style format where they just re-run a collection of stories over and over, but it's still usually more informative than CNN or MSNBC, and occasionally they will break in and show a TEPCO news conference or other event live. They also often show segments from their Japanese broadcast (translated to English) where they have experts explain what's going on at the plant - sometimes these aren't any better than the equivalent "expert" segments you'd see on TV here, but the reporters at least know the difference between a reactor and a spent fuel pool.

Radiation units - kind of tangential, but this is a very straightforward explanation of the various terms used in measuring radiation and what they mean, with some real-world examples. I've found myself referring to this writeup so many times over the past few days that I just leave the tab open all the time in my browser now. I feel like I've had a crash course in nuclear technology over the past week, but I still get confused when people talk about rems vs. rads vs. sieverts vs. grays.

Looking at all of those sources, I know that the reactors themselves at the plant have been mostly stabilized, the injection of water into the spent fuel pools seems to have actually worked (though there doesn't seem to be verification of this), and electricity is going to be restored to at least part of the plant either today or tomorrow.  Hopefully that will get some of the primary cooling back online.  There is reason to hope, though we won't really know that things are fully under control for several weeks even in a best case scenario.

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About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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