Radioactive snow in Japan?

Emergency workers are taken out of the power plants as high radiation levels stop cooling efforts

Reuters

Japan‘s nuclear crisis appeared to be spinning out of control on Wednesday after workers withdrew briefly from a stricken power plant because of surging radiation levels and a helicopter failed to drop water on the most troubled reactor.

In a sign of desperation, the police will try to cool spent nuclear fuel at one of the facility’s reactors with water cannon, which is normally used to quell riots.

Early in the day another fire broke out at the earthquake-crippled facility, which has sent low levels of radiation wafting into Tokyo in the past 24 hours, triggering fear in the capital and international alarm.

Japan’s government said radiation levels outside the plant’s gates were stable but, in a sign of being overwhelmed, appealed to private companies to help deliver supplies to tens of thousands of people evacuated from around the complex.

“People would not be in immediate danger if they went outside with these levels. I want people to understand this,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told a televised news conference, referring to people living outside a 30 km (18 miles) exclusion zone. Some 140,000 people inside the zone have been told to stay indoors.

Workers were trying to clear debris to build a road so fire trucks could reach reactor No. 4 at the Daiichi complex in Fukushima, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo. Flames were no longer visible at the building housing the reactor.

High radiation levels prevented a helicopter from flying to the site to drop water into the No. 3 reactor — whose roof was damaged by an earlier explosion and where steam was seen rising earlier in the day — to try to cool its fuel rods.

The plant operator described No. 3 as the “priority.” No more information was available, but that reactor is the only one at Daiichi which uses plutonium in its fuel mix.

According to U.S. government research, plutonium is very toxic to humans and once absorbed in the bloodstream can linger for years in bone marrow or liver and can lead to cancer

The situation at No. 4 reactor, where the fire broke out, was “not so good,” the plant operator added, while water was being poured into reactors No. 5 and 6, indicating the entire six-reactor facility was now at risk of overheating.

Nuclear experts said the solutions being proposed to quell radiation leaks at the complex were last-ditch efforts to stem what could well be remembered as one of the world’s worst industrial disasters.

“This is a slow-moving nightmare,” said Dr Thomas Neff, a physicist and uranium-industry analyst at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Japanese Emperor Akihito, delivering a rare video message to his people, said he was deeply worried by the country’s nuclear crisis which was “unprecedented in scale.”

“I hope from the bottom of my heart that the people will, hand in hand, treat each other with compassion and overcome these difficult times,” the emperor said.

Panic over the economic impact of last Friday’s massive earthquake and tsunami knocked $620 billion off Japan’s stock market over the first two days of this week, but the Nikkei index rebounded on Wednesday to end up 5.68 percent.

David Cameron ready to bail-out BP

Financial Times

Shares in BP lost further ground on Thursday on growing concern about the impact of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill on the company’s

UK Prime Minister, David Cameron

financial health.

The potential cost of the crisis, and fresh fears over whether BP will pay its dividend, sent the shares tumbling 11 per cent at the open, The stock, which on Wednesday closed below 400p for the first time since October 2008, recovered some of those losses to stand 3.2 per cent lower at 380p by midday in London on Thursday.

But as US trading started, the stock was under more pressure, losing 7.3 per cent to 361.6p, even as its American Depositary Receipts, instruments that allow US investors exposure to its shares without a full listing on an exchange there, recovered from 14-year lows in a sell-off over the previous session. As New York markets opened, BP’s ADRs rose from their Wednesday close of $29.20 to $32.14.

The fall in the share price followed a near-16 per cent drop in New York overnight for the company’s American Depositary Receipts, which have now halved since the accident on April 20.

The cost of insuring BP debt against default also rose sharply, with five-year credit default swaps quoted at 510 basis points at one stage, having closed at 386 basis points on Wednesday. That means it would cost $510,000 a year over five years to protect $10m of BP bonds from default. At these levels, the market is indicating a “junk” rating on BP’s debt.

BP said in a statement on Thursday that it was “not aware of any reason” for the sharp fall in its ADRs. It said that its “strong and valuable” asset base , and its strong cash inflows and outflows, “gives us significant capacity and flexibility in dealing with the cost of responding to the incident, the environmental remediation and the payment of legitimate claims.which justifies this share price movement.“

The severe market reaction came as UK industry expressed alarm at the “inappropriate” and increasingly aggressive rhetoric being deployed against BP by Barack Obama, US president, and warned that the attacks on the oil company could damage transatlantic relations.

Adopting a more emollient tone, David Cameron, UK prime minister, said on Thursday that the British government stood ready to help BP with its clean-up efforts and that he completely understood US frustration. Speaking on a visit to Kabul, he said he would be discussing the “environmental catastrophe” with President Obama, with whom he is due to talk on the telephone over the weekend.

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