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Fukushima status little improved
by Staff Writers
Tokyo (UPI) Mar 12, 2013

Japan tsunami town on watch for shark deal
Kesennuma, Japan (AFP) March 13, 2013 - An international agreement to protect sharks could spell trouble for one tsunami-wrecked port in Japan as it struggles back to its feet two years after being swept away, locals say.

Shinichi Sato said his shark processing business in Kesennuma has only just re-started, but he fears a global vote to regulate trade in several species of the predator could put paid to its recovery.

"We don't just take fins and dump the fish in the way now criticised by the world," Sato told AFP on Tuesday as he laid out the boomerang-shape fins to dry in the sun.

"We make very good use of the resources."

Kesennuma has been Japan's sharkfin hub since the 19th century, and once dealt with 90 percent of all shark landed in the country.

As well as the fins, which are used to make sharkfin soup or stew, a highly prized delicacy in China and Japan, other parts are used in the production of supplements such as liver oil, while the skin is used as leather.

Each fishing boat usually returns with about 30 tons of blue sharks. The fins make up around a tenth of this weight. The remaining meat is used in fish sausages, Sato said.

But much of the town, including the processing factories, was swept away when the powerful tsunami of March 2011 crashed ashore, killing almost 19,000 people and making tens of thousands homeless.

Sato, 39, who has worked in shark processing for a decade, said his business was so severely damaged that it has recovered less than 20 percent of what it was before the catastrophe, the second anniversary of which fell on Monday.

On the same day a major wildlife conference in Bangkok, the 178-member Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), voted to restrict cross-border trade in the oceanic whitetip, the porbeagle and three types of hammerheads, as well as the manta ray.

Conservationists argue that "finning" -- slicing the valuable fins from live sharks -- is inhumane, as the rest of the animal is typically dumped back into the ocean where it bleeds slowly to death.

Activists hailed agreement in Bangkok as a major step forward in protecting endangered species.

But for Sato, the mood abroad could spell trouble, even though he does not use any of the species covered by the deal.

"About 90 percent of sharks we get here are blue sharks, different from those discussed at the wildlife conference," Sato said. "But I am worried the CITES debate may trigger a price collapse for shark fins."

Radiation is still at dangerous levels in the contamination zone of Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant, says a witness report.

The BBC report on Monday recounts a tour of the Fukushima site taken last week, the second such tour granted foreign TV journalists since an earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, crippled the nuclear facility, operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co.

In reactor building No. 4, which BBC referred to as "the most worrying," more than 1,500 spent fuel rods remain in a cooling pool outside the reactor's steel and concrete containment vessel on the third floor.

The fuel rods are "still highly radioactive," the report says.

A huge steel structure is being built around the building, intended "to raise the spent fuel out." However that operation will not start until the end of this year, and will then take another two years to complete.

The underground walls of Fukushima's foundation, designed to keep the plant watertight, also appear to have been severely damaged, BBC says. As a result, ground and seawater is leaking in to the basements around the reactors and becoming contaminated.

Tepco is storing that water in 1,000-ton tanks, hundreds of which are at the Fukushima site. Because of the large amounts of water leakage, a new tank is being added every two to three days, and within two years there will be no room for additional tanks, BBC says.

Fukushima plant manager Takeshi Takahashi, in a short meeting with the journalists after the tour, said: "We need to remove the broken and damaged fuel and safely isolate it. This work will take 30 to 40 years. Even during the process we should never release any radioactive material into the surrounding environment."

About 3,000 workers are involved in the cleanup.

Although the government said in late 2011 that the nuclear crisis had been brought under control, about 57,000 residents in Fukushima have taken refuge outside the prefecture, reports The Japan Times.

The Asahi Shimbun reported that 1,650 residents and evacuees filed lawsuits Monday, the second anniversary of the Fukushima disaster, against the central government and Tepco demanding a total of about $55.2 million to return their lives to what it had been prior to the disaster.

It's the first lawsuit related to the Fukushima disaster in which the central government was named as a defendant. The lawyers want the government to be held responsible because it promoted nuclear energy as a national policy and was in a position to oversee Tepco in its operation of the Fukushima facility.

Only two of Japan's 50 operable nuclear reactors are online, following shutdowns ordered after the Fukushima crisis.

Prior to the disaster, Japan was the third largest consumer of nuclear power, after the United States and France, with nuclear plants generating about one-third of Japan's electricity.


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