BANGKOK, THAILAND — Japan has now raised the alert level of the Fukushima nuclear power plant to five, according to a report today in the BBC. That’s the same severity as the Three Mile Island crisis in 1979.
Plant operators tell AP reporters that by the end of Saturday, they hope to have four of the six units at the Fukushima Daiichi site reconnected to power. But even if the power is connected, it’s still not certain that the cooling systems would then kick in or be effective enough to cool the uranium rods and avert disaster.
Last Friday afternoon, when the 9.0 earthquake struck Japan, I was in the remote islands of Batanes, about half way between the Philippines and Taiwain, right at the intersection of the Pacific and the China seas. Like many people around the region, we filled water tanks and prepared for possible evacuations as news reports came in. Thankfully, the expected tsunami did not reach Philippine shores as some had feared.
(This despite a viral text message that circulated throughout metro Manila that warned people to seal themselves inside their homes and prepare for an imminent radiation outbreak – turned out to be false.)
The picture that is now emerging from Japan is one of devastation – and ongoing fear and frustration. As the BBC puts it, “Millions of people have been affected by the disaster – many survivors have been left without water, electricity, fuel or enough food; hundreds of thousands are homeless.”
As world leaders, scientists and government officials work to confront the problem, people on the streets throughout Southeast Asia are also taking action. I came across this local Thai group in Bangkok this week who were raising funds for Japan by dancing hip hop. They generated a lively, supportive crowd during a time of regional crisis.