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Japan faces nuclear crisis after massive quake

March 12, 2011 1 comment

Fukushima – Japan scrambled on Saturday to contain a crisis at two nuclear plants damaged when a massive earthquake and tsunami struck its northeast coast.

The quake-hit nuclear plant Fukushima No 1 located about 250km northeast of Tokyo “may be experiencing a nuclear meltdown”, Kyodo and Jiji news reported on Saturday.

Parts of the reactor’s nuclear fuel rods were briefly exposed to the air after cooling water levels dropped through evaporation, and a fire engine was pumping water into the reactor, Jiji Press reported.

The water levels are recovering, said operator Tokyo Electric Power, according to Jiji.

A Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) spokesperson told AFP that “we believe the reactor is not melting down or cracking. We are trying to raise the water level”.

Kyodo News agency moments later said radioactive caesium had been detected near Fukushima plant, citing the nuclear safety commission.

The government said it was still too early to grasp the full extent of damage or casualties. The confirmed death toll so far is almost 300, though media reports say it is at least 1 300.

Thousands flee homes

“Unfortunately, we must be prepared for the number to rise greatly,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters.

The tremor, with a magnitude of 8.9, was so huge that thousands fled their homes from coastlines around the Pacific Rim, as far away as North and South America, fearful of a tsunami.

Most appeared to have been spared anything more serious than some high waves, unlike Japan’s northeast coastline which was hammered by a 10-metre high tsunami that turned houses and ships into floating debris as it surged into cities and villages, sweeping aside everything in its path.

“I thought I was going to die,” said Wataru Fujimura, a 38-year-old sales representative in Koriyama, Fukushima, north of Tokyo and close to the  area worst hit by the quake.

“Our furniture and shelves had all fallen over and there were cracks in the apartment building, so we spent the whole night in the car… Now we’re back home trying to clean everything up.”

Tepco was battling to reduce pressure at its two plants in Fukushima, 240km  north of Tokyo. Radioactive steam was released from the Daiichi plant, but the leak was described by Prime Minister Naoto Kan as “tiny”.

Thousands of residents were moved out of the area to avoid any risk of contamination.

But the danger was far from over, with Tepco warning that fuel rods may have been damaged falling water levels at the Daiichi facility, and pressure also rising at the nearby Daini plant.

Experts in Japan and the government both insisted there was no threat of radioactive disaster.

“No Chernobyl is possible at a light water reactor. Loss of coolant means a temperature rise, but it also will stop the reaction,” Naoto Sekimura, a professor at the University of Tokyo, said.

“Even in the worst-case scenario, that would mean some radioactive leakage and equipment damage, but not an explosion. If venting is done carefully, there will be little leakage. Certainly not beyond the 3km radius.”

The unfolding natural disaster, which has been followed by dozens of aftershocks, prompted offers of search and rescue help from 50 countries.

In one of the worst-hit residential areas, people buried under rubble could be heard calling out for rescue, Kyodo news agency reported. TV footage showed staff at one hospital waving banners with the words “FOOD” and “HELP” from a rooftop.

In Tokyo, tens of thousands of office workers were stranded overnight after the quake shut down public transport. Many were forced to bed down where they could, with newspapers to lie on and briefcases for pillows.

Kyodo said at least 116 000 people in Tokyo had been unable to return home on Friday evening due to transport disruption.

The northeastern Japanese city of Kesennuma, with a population of 74 000, was hit by widespread fires and one-third of the city was under water.

City mayor Shigeo Sugawara said: “A huge number of houses have been washed away.” He said fuel storage tanks had been destroyed, sending oil flowing out which then caught fire.

The airport in coastal city Sendai, home to one million people, was on fire, Japanese media said.

“Sendai (city) is now completely sunk underwater,” said limousine driver Yoshikatsu Takayabe, 52. “What do I want the government to do? I can’t flush the toilet, I want the water back on in my house.”

TV footage from Friday showed a black torrent of water carrying cars and wrecked homes at high speed across farmland near Sendai, 300km northeast of Tokyo. Ships had been flung onto a harbour wharf, where they lay helplessly.

Kyodo news agency reported that contact had been lost with four trains in the coastal area.

The disaster poses a huge challenge for Kan’s government which has come under such concerted attack from the opposition and within the ruling Democratic Party (DJP) that it has struggled to implement any policy.

Just hours before the quake struck, Kan was rejecting demands that he resign, his political future looking increasingly bleak and unable even to muster enough support to ensure the passage of bills needed to enact the new budget.

But after the tremor, politicians pushed for an emergency budget to fund relief efforts, with Kan urging them to “save the country”, Kyodo reported.

80 fires

Japan is already the most heavily indebted major economy in the world, meaning any additional borrowing by the government would be closely scrutinised by financial markets.

The quake, the most powerful since Japan started keeping records 140 years ago, sparked at least 80 fires in cities and towns along the coast, Kyodo said.

“When I felt the quake yesterday, I actually thought it was a strong wind slamming the door,” said Emiko Nakahara, 61.

“But then my husband said no, it’s a quake. I was frightened like I’ve never been before.”

Other nuclear power plants and oil refineries were shut down and one refinery was ablaze. Power to millions of homes and businesses was knocked out. Several airports, including Tokyo’s Narita, were closed on Friday and rail services halted. All ports were shut.

Nuclear power plant operator Tepco warned of severe power shortages over the weekend.

The central bank said it would cut short a two-day policy review scheduled for next week to one day on Monday and promised to do its utmost to ensure financial market stability.

The disaster struck as the world’s third-largest economy had been showing signs of reviving from an economic contraction in the final quarter of last year. It raised the prospect of major disruptions for many key businesses and a massive repair bill running into tens of billions of dollars.

The earthquake was the fifth most powerful to hit the world in the past century. It surpassed the Great Kanto quake of September 1, 1923, which had a magnitude of 7.9 and killed more than 140 000 people in the Tokyo area.

The 1995 Kobe quake caused $100bn in damage and was the most expensive natural disaster in history.

– Reuters

Apple to launch iPad 2 today

(Beirut Business Review) — You wouldn’t think that Apple, the largest and most hyped-up tech company on the planet, would have anything left to prove. But Wednesday’s iPad 2 announcement will be an important test for the company.

A year ago, when Apple introduced the iPad, it was the first tablet of its kind on the market. Now there are as many iPad competitors as Dalmatians. Meanwhile, the iPad has become a critical revenue stream for the company — so there’s far less margin for error.

And one more thing: Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500) will likely be without its charismatic leader at the San Francisco event, which kicks off at 1 p.m. ET. Steve Jobs remains on a medical leave of absence. Investors will be keeping a close eye on the presenters to evaluate how the company is being led in Jobs’ stead.

That’s not an insignificant amount of pressure.

“This event is not to be taken lightly,” said Brian White, analyst at Ticonderoga Securities. “Apple must make a convincing case for why the iPad 2 is better than the plethora of competitors coming to market.”

Increased competition: The good and the bad news for Apple is that the year-old iPad still rates highly among even its newest rivals.

That’s good news, because Apple should again have the best-in-its-class tablet if the iPad 2 is as improved as the rumors say it will be.

But that’s also bad news: How much thinner, lighter, faster, better — and perhaps most importantly, cheaper — can the iPad get? Did Apple shoot itself in the foot by making its first generation tablet too good?

Tim Cook, Phil Schiller or whichever Apple executive introduces the iPad 2 will need to offer some impressive specs, lest Apple fans walk away disappointed.

Rival tablets have front- and rear-facing cameras, dual-core processors, four times as much RAM as the iPad, HDMI output and Adobe Flash support. Other than Flash, Apple is expected to at least meet all of its competition’s features — and to significantly slim down iPad 2 compared to the original.

If that’s all Apple does, its fans will probably be unimpressed. Apple may need to have something “magical” up its sleeve, as Jobs likes to say, to wow its potential customers.

Though it’s not facing a whole lot of price pressure from its rivals, cost will also be an important factor. Only the 32 gigabyte $599 Motorola Xoom tablet gives the iPad a real run for its money in cost: It is a full $130 cheaper (if you shell out for a a required Verizon data plan) than the similarly sized $729 iPad 3G, which has an optional data plan for an additional price.

With a strong marketing campaign and hype-machine behind the Xoom, Apple may opt to drop the price of the iPad 2. Alternatively, some analysts expect Apple to slash the cost of the original iPad and keep iPad 2 prices steady.

The importance of the iPad: Getting it right is so crucial because Apple is becoming increasingly reliant on the revenue it generates from iPad sales.

In 2010, Apple sold $9.6 billion worth of iPads, which represented 12.5% of Apple’s revenue. That surpassed iPods and iMacs in net revenue. Not too shabby for a device that Apple started selling in April.

And while Apple’s Macintosh computers have always struggled for traction in the business world, the iPad is generating strong crossover interest from business customers. Around 80% of Fortune 100 companies have deployed the tablet for their employees.

“The iPad is a critical device to Apple,” said Colin Gillis, analyst at BGC Partners. “The iPad is remaking a landscape for consumers, and it’s even making its way into the enterprise.”

The Jobs factor: It’s unlikely that Steve Jobs will be presenting the iPad this year (though he’s reportedly definitely maybe thinking about the possibility of going there, perhaps).

Jobs was not present at the unveiling of the iPhone 3GS, deferring to Phil Schiller, Apple’s marketing head. Everything went swimmingly, and Apple’s shares rose nearly $5 after he began his presentation.

But this is Jobs’ third leave of absence in seven years. Investors are concerned about the company’s future post-Jobs. Some shareholders are clamoring for a succession plan, and people want to know how the company is being run without Jobs overseeing day-to-day operations.

All of that will be scrutinized on Wednesday.
“With this company, every piece of minutia analyzed to nth degree, sometimes to levels that are not rational,” Gillis said. “People are very concerned about Steve.”

Rock Guitarist Gary Moore Dies

February 6, 2011 8 comments

The renowned rock guitarist Gary Moore has died..

Mr Moore, 58, was, originally from Belfast, and was a former member of the legendary Irish group Thin Lizzy.

Adam Parsons, who manages Thin Lizzy, told the BBC that Mr Moore had died in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Mr Moore was originally drafted into Thin Lizzy by its singer Phil Lynott. He later gained acclaim for his solo work and was a former member of the Irish group Skid Row.

The Northern Ireland guitarist was only 16 when he moved from Belfast to Dublin in 1969, to join Skid Row, which featured Lynott as lead vocalist.

He was later brought into Thin Lizzy by Lynott to replace the departing Eric Bell, another guitarist from Northern Ireland.

Mr Bell told the BBC on Sunday he was still “in shock” at Mr Moore’s death.

“I still can’t believe it,” he said.

“He was so robust, he wasn’t a rock casualty, he was a healthy guy.

“He was a superb player and a dedicated musician.”

Police: 1 dead, 11 shot at Ohio fraternity house

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Authorities in northeast Ohio say a shooting at a fraternity house just north of the Youngstown State University campus killed one student and injured 11 people, including six students.

Youngstown police Lt. Franklin Palmer says the shooting happened during a party early Sunday and no arrests have been made, but police have at least one suspect.

The Mahoning County coroner’s office has identified the dead student as 25-year-old Jamail E. Johnson and says he was shot in the head and legs.

Information on the identities and conditions of the injured was not immediately available.

The school says YSU President Cynthia Anderson met students and their families as the hospital this morning and called it “a sad day for the YSU family.”

Associated Press writer Sofia Mannos in Washington contributed to this report.

Read more: http://www.kentucky.com/2011/02/06/1625080/police-1-dead-11-shot-at-ohio.html#ixzz1DCcRLLHY

Facebook Messages by the Numbers

According to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who is currently speaking at an event preceding the Web 2.0 Summit, the number of messages sent on Facebook is outpacing the growth of Facebook itself.

In his remarks, Zuckerberg revealed that 350 million users make use of Facebook messages, sending 4 billion a day — that’s personal messages, not messages from Pages or Groups.

Due to the rapid growth of Facebook messaging — and the increasingly anachronistic nature of e-mail (in his opinion) — Zuckerberg plans to revamp the service. “We don’t think a modern messaging service is going to be e-mail,” Zuckerberg says. He is currently detailing the new service.

Source: Mashable