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Japanese Earthquake & Tsunami Relief

March 13, 2011

Update, Wednesday, March 23 4:30 EDT:

Despite good news that electrical power has been restored to all six reactors at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant as of yesterday, efforts to stabilize the six reactors at the complex continue to hit snags. Earlier today, the New York Times reported that the cooling system at reactor No. 5 -- one of only two reactors at the complex that had been considered under control -- had stopped working. That was on top of problems at reactor No. 2, where elevated radiation levels forced Tokyo Electric Power officials to pull workers from the building housing the reactor, and reactor No.3 -- the only reactor at the complex to use plutonium (mixed with uranium) and therefore the most dangerous -- started belching smoke. In addition, workers at the site were continuing to spray water on reactors Nos. 1 and 2 to keep them from overheating, while TEP officials hoped to have the damaged cooling pumps in reactor No. 4, where spent fuel rods stored on site are the problem, working by Thursday.

Just how much radiation is being released by the damaged reactors -- and pinpointing the exact source of the radiation leaks -- continues to be a source of confusion. The Times reports that elevated levels of radioactivity have been found in eleven types of vegetables in Fukushima Prefecture, causing the Japanese government to suspend shipments of produce from the area. The government has also suspended shipments of raw milk and spinach from neighboring Ibaraki Prefecture. And earlier today the New York Post reported that radioactive iodine 131 has been detected in sea water samples taken from the vicinity of the plant -- the same isotope that has been detected in the Tokyo water supply, prompting officials there to caution residents to keep infants away from tap water. Indeed, concerns about the safety of the public water supply has caused a run on bottled water in the greater Tokyo area.

According to the National Policy Agency, the official death toll as of Wednesday afternoon was 9,301, with 13,786 people reported missing. Meanwhile, the American Red Cross was reporting that 365,000 people were still living in its shelters.

On Monday, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported that Americans had donated $136 million to relief and recovery efforts in Japan (up from $105 million on Friday), while earlier today the U.S. Chamber of Commerce reported that 222 U.S.-based companies, multinational corporations, and foreign companies had made cash and/or in-kind contributions totaling more than $200.8 million. The chamber also reported that 157 of those businesses (representing $156 million in aid ) were U.S.-based companies, while at least 72 companies had pledged $1 million or more in cash and/or in-kind assistance.

The Foundation Center has created a "Japan Relief RSS feed that displays real-time grant data reported by U.S.-based grantmakers. To subscribe, click here.


Update, March 18, 4:00 EDT: We've posted the preliminary results of a Foundation Center survey of CEOs and EDs at independent and community foundations. So far, about one in five of the surveyed foundations either have made a commitment or are considering awarding funds in reponse to the multiple disasters in Japan.

Of the ten foundations (out of 47) that told the Foundation Center they expect to provide assistance:

  • four plan to provide only short-term emergency relief;
  • two plan to provide only assistance for mid-term recovery efforts; and
  • four plan to provide assistance throughout the relief, recovery, and rebuilding phases.

More here.

Update, March 18, 10:45 EDT:  The official death toll continues to climb and now stands at 6,539. Another 10,354 people are missing, 2,513 have been injured, and 382,613 people have been evacuated (via Bloomberg.)

As of 10:00 a.m. EDT, corporate contributions to relief efforts exceeded $158 million (via U.S. Chamber of Commerce).


Update, March 17, 8:30 EDT: As news out of Japan over the last twenty-four hours has slowed, confusion about what is happening at the Fukushima nuclear plant has grown. The Japanese and U.S. governments seem to have agreed to disagree over radiation levels above and around the plant, Japanese officials are trying to cool the damaged reactors with water cannons and helicopter water drops, and the status of spent fuel rods stored on site (in multiple reactors) continues to be an area of urgent concern. For a quick overview, check out this BBC clip posted earlier this evening (h/t The Big Picture).


Even though radioactivity levels in Tokyo are "well within safe limits," the city, as this CNN dispatch suggests, is becoming a ghost town.

Corporate giving in the wake of the multiple disasters has been robust and totaled $137 million as of Thursday morning, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Corporate Aid Tracker.

And earlier this afternoon the Chronicle of Philanthopy reported that, six days after the quake and tsunami, American donors had contributed $87 million to relief efforts. That compares to the $210 million and $457 million, respectively, contributed six days after the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.


Update, March 16, 11:50 EDT: More developments at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex, none of them good, since our update yesterday. On Al Jazeera, a Russian nuclear expert was quoted as saying the "Situation...is developing according to a worst-case scenario," while the French government has accused Japanese officials of hiding the severity of the situation and is urging French nationals in Tokyo, about a hundred and sixty miles south of the crippled plant, to leave the country or evacuate to locations further south.

Here's what we do know. Following explosions at the plant's No. 1 reactor on Saturday and No. 3 reactor on Monday, a fire broke at reactor No. 4, which had been shut down for maintenance before the quake, early Tuesday morning. An explosion followed a few hours later, damaging the reactor's outer wall and exposing a cooling pool holding spent fuel rods to the air. Radiation levels in the immediate vicinity spiked and were elevated as far away as Tokyo, but fell back after the fire was extinguished in the afternoon. Nevertheless, Tokyo Electric Power, the plant's operator, pulled 750 of its employees from the site, leaving fifty to try to get the deteriorating situation under control, while the Japanese government ordered residents within an eighteen-mile radius of the plant (about 140,000 people) to stay indoors and keep their windows shut.

Early Wednesday morning, temperatures in the spent fuel pools at reactors No. 5 and No. 6 reactors, which occupy a different part of the complex, began to rise. Then, the already grave situation appeared to take a turn for the worse when the country's chief cabinet secretary reported that reactor No. 3 -- the only reactor at the complex to use plutonium, a dangerously lethal element -- was venting steam. In the same press conference, the cabinet secretary stated that the chances of the reactor's containment vessel, a critical link in the fail-safe chain, having suffered damage was "low" and that Tokyo Power had sent an additional workers into the plant to battle the crisis. Earlier attempts to use helicopters to dump seawater on the damaged reactors to cool them were aborted after it was determined that radiation levels above the plant were too high.

This schematic, courtesy of the UK-based Mail, does a nice job of sorting out the often-confusing sequence of events since Saturday:


In related news, the death toll from the multiple disasters continues to rise and has now passed 4,300. Thousands of people are still missing -- 18,000 from the village of Rikzentakata alone -- 450,000 people are living in shelters, and one million people are living without heat or electricity.

Earlier this morning, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported that Americans had donated $47 million to disaster relief efforts -- about a third of the amount raised/pledged in the first four days after the devastating earthquake in Haiti and about the same as was raised over the first four days for victims of the 2004 Asian tsunami. Goldman Sachs had a note out this morning in which it estimated total damages from the quake/tsunami/nuclear crisis at $198 billion.

Our colleagues here at the Foundation Center have created a Japan Relief Grants RSS feed that can be accessed at the CrisisCommons wiki or directly, here. We'll be posting the feed to its own page the blog later this afternoon.


Fukushima_power_station Update, March 15, 10:50 EDT: It's 11:50 p.m. in Japan, and the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex has gone from bad to worse. Early this morning (Japan time), an explosion at the plant's No. 2 reactor -- the reactor Tokyo Electric Power officials had been most worried about -- "almost certainly damaged the reactor's containment vessel, raising the prospect of a full meltdown of the nuclear fuel inside," the New York Times reports. A few hours later, fire broke out at the plant's No. 4 reactor, which was being refurbished before the quake and tsunami struck. With the plant's cooling systems compromised by the quake, the fear now is that spent fuel rods in a cooling pool on the reactor's top floor could overheat and catch fire, releasing clouds of radioactive material into the atmosphere. Indeed, radiation levels in the immediate vicinity of the plant spiked after the most recent explosion at the complex (although they since appear to have fallen back from their highest levels). According to experts, the worst-case scenario -- that the spent rods in the cooling pool catch fire, leading to a massive release of radiation into the atmosphere -- is days, if not weeks, away. Should the situation deteriorate further, however, one would expect to see mass evacuations of the surrounding region to begin.

The official death toll from the quake and tsunami now stands at 2,475. But with reports of thousands of bodies washing up on coastlines in Miyagi Prefecture and other hard-hit areas, it is almost certain to climb higher (maybe much higher) than the 10,000 figure cited by Japanese officials over the weekend. The Times reports that as many as 350,000 have been left homeless. On Monday, the U.S. Geological Survey revised its estimate of the quake's power from 8.9 to 9.0 on the Richter scale.

Uncertainty and the very real possibility of a full-scale meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi complex have rattled financial markets in Tokyo. The Nikkei, the Japanese equiavlent of the Dow Jones stock index, closed on Tuesday having suffered its worst two-day loss since 1987 and is down 20 percent since Friday.


Update, March 14, 4:30 EDT: The New York Times is reporting that efforts to cool the core of the No. 2 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex failed late Monday (Japan time), increasing the odds of a partial or complete meltdown of the reactor's fuel rods, an explosion of the reactor's containment vessel, and/or "a potentially catastrophic release of dioactive material into the atmosphere." Over the weekend, officials of Tokyo Electric Power (which operates the complex) struggled to prevent a total meltdown of the station's No.1  and No. 3 reactors and for the moment seem to have succeeded, though not before the outer structures surrounding both reactors exploded (No. 1 on Saturday and a partial explosion of the structure housing reactor No.3 early Monday). Both reactor cores remain covered with seawater, and radiation levels around the plant are said to be close to normal. All eyes are now glued to events unfolding at the plant's No. 2 reactor....


Here's our original post from Sunday...

Japanese-tsunami-hitting-shore- The violent 8.9-magnitude quake that struck Japan on Friday, triggering a massive tsunami that devastated large swaths of the country's northeast coast, has plunged the island nation into its worst crisis since World War II. While the number of confirmed deaths has climbed past 1,300, tens of thousands of residents of coastal villages in Miyagi prefecture, the area closest to the quake's epicenter, are unaccounted for, and Japanese authorities are fearful the final death toll could hit 10,000. Hundreds of thousands more are into their third day without water, heat, or electricity.

(Click here for incredible composite before-and-after satellite images of the region put together by the interactive graphics team at the New York Times.)

The mind-numbing devastation has been excerbated by damage to a handful of nuclear power plants north of Tokyo, resulting in what appears to be a partial meltdown of two reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station and cooling problems at four other reactors at two separate plants (New York Times). The grave situation has prompted the evacuation of more than 200,000 people from areas around the plants, and it is anyone's guess when the reactor cores will be brought under control -- or local residents allowed to return to their homes.

Over the last forty-eight hours, a number of mobile text campaigns have been launched to facilitate donations to quake and tsunami relief efforts:

(Joanne Fritz has a good post on her About.com blog about things to watch out for when texting a donation.)

Resource pages also have popped up on a number of Web sites:

Donors and grantmakers considering a more substantive reponse will want to consider the advice on Schimmelpfennig's blog or the GiveWell site, and/or may want to browse the short checklist developed by the Raqim Foundation and Philanthropy Now.

It may be days, even weeks, before the enormity of what happened to Japan on Friday is apparent. While the country, one of the wealthiest and most technologically advanced in the world, is in a better position to recover from this disaster than most, it's clear it will need -- and welcomes -- the help of the world community.

We'll continue to track developments as they unfold. In the meantime, our thoughts and prayers are with the Japanese people.

(Photo credit: Kyodo / Xinhua Press-Corbis)

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Posted by Elaine Gast Fawcett  |   March 14, 2011 at 11:29 PM

Thanks for sharing this. I referred to some of these sites on my blog post as well, after reading yours and others' updates. Appreciate the good information, always.

Posted by Regina J. Faighes, Coordinator The Foundation Directory  |   March 16, 2011 at 10:43 AM

To think of the perilous situation at the Fukishima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, from which most people were fleeing, is to think of the employees who returned to that facility in an attempt to cool down the nuclear reactors. By casting aside concern for their personal safety in the interest of safeguarding the life and health of others, they were performing an act of philanthropy--which is rooted in the Greek word philanthropos(loving mankind)--in its noblest and purest form. I am in awe of these selfless and brave souls!

Posted by Regina J. Faighes, Coordinator The Foundation Directory  |   March 16, 2011 at 04:29 PM

As an animal lover, I find it heartening to know that animal welfare organizations are numbered among those charities that are rising to the occasion to provide relief to earthquake and tsunami-stricken Japan.
Humane Society International (HSI) and The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), of which I am a member, have dispatched disaster-response staff to Japan and are working with Japanese organizations to assess the needs of animals who were affected by these disasters in order to provide them with the necessary resources and care. More detailed information is available at HSI’s web site: http://www.hsi.org/news/news/2011/03/japan_aid_plan_031411.html
American Humane Association, through its Red Star Animal Relief Services and Japan Relief Fund also is involved in relief efforts for animal victims of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. Anyone who would like to obtain more information , including how to contribute monetarily toward this cause should visit American Humane Society’s Red Star Animal Relief Services and Japan Relief Fund web site at: http://americanhumaneblog.org/2011/03/red-star-animal-emergency-services-and-japan-relief-fund/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+AmericanHumaneAssociation+%28American+Humane+Association%29

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