Japan nuclear plant explosions increase meltdown fears, rock global markets
Tuesday, March 15, 2011; 2:43 PM
A third explosion at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex caused authorities to evacuate most of the plant's personnel. As Steve Mufson and Chico Harlan reported:
Japan worked desperately to contain explosions and fires at a damaged nuclear power facility on Tuesday, evacuating all but a few dozen workers, forbidding planes from flying overhead and searching for ways to keep spent fuel rods submerged in water so they would not emit potentially dangerous radiation.
Radiation levels shot up early Tuesday after the third explosion in four days rocked the seaside Fukushima Daiichi complex and fire briefly raged in a storage facility.
Three hours after the explosion, the radiation level at the plant measured 11,930 micro sieverts per hour ¿ several times the amount a person can safely be exposed to in one year.
Toyko Electric Power Co., which owns the facility, said it was considering using a helicopter to douse a storage pond with cold water, an effort to bring down the temperature of the pool, which reportedly has been heated to the boiling point by the spent, radioactive rods.
Global markets reacted strongly to the devastation caused by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami. As Neil Irwin and Ariana Eunjung Cha explained:
The Nikkei index of Japanese stocks fell 10.5 percent on Tuesday and is down 17.5 percent in the three trading days since the catastrophic earthquake in northern Japan. That is the equivalent of a 2,000-point drop in the Dow Jones industrial average, and the trading week began with the steepest two-day decline since the 1987 stock market crash. The steep fall has come despite two days of vast infusions of yen into the financial system by the Bank of Japan.
The damage has spread to markets around the world, with the Standard & Poor's 500 down about 1.8 percent at noon and money gushing into U.S. Treasury bonds as global investors seek a safe haven. Financial markets were pricing in a higher degree of risk in developing nations, particularly major trade partners of Japan such as South Korea, China and Indonesia.
Prices for oil and other commodities are also falling, with a barrel of crude oil down $4.14 to $98.56 since the earthquake. That drop is linked to concerns that global demand for fuel will decrease amid Japan's troubles (though the likely shutdown of Japanese nuclear power plants could actually increase the nation's demand for fossil fuels).
Meanwhile Japanese authorities continue to direct rescue operations in areas ravaged by the earthquake and tsunami. As Chico Harlan reported: