Monday, March 14, 2011

US Embassy #Japan: Is Authorized/Ordered Departure Coming Soon?

Note for govies: Wikileaks references included below. Read with caution!

Note2: US Embassy Japan went on authorized departure
on March 17, 2011

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said in a news conference over the weekend that "The earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear incident have been the biggest crisis Japan has encountered in the 65 years since the end of world war two."  

IEEE Spectrum also reported that starting Monday, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), Japan’s largest electric utility, and Tohoku Power Company, plan to introduce rolling power cuts throughout their areas of coverage:
"TEPCO supplies electricity to Tokyo and seven surrounding prefectures with relatively large populations, including Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba. The measure is necessary after several of the companies’ nuclear power plants in north-eastern Japan were impacted or shut down by the 9.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Friday, as well as the tsunami that struck soon afterwards. Yukio Edano, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, said in a press conference Sunday evening that TEPCO estimates a shortfall of roughly 10 million kilowatts when Japanese industry and businesses go back to work on Monday. Under normal conditions, the company generates some 41 million kilowatts. TEPCO plans to divide its region of coverage into 5 areas and alternately cut power to each area for 3 hours."

The US Embassy's Warden Message dated March 14 says that all of Tokyo’s 26 cities and Tama-gun are affected. Neighboring areas may experience partial blackouts as well.

Now blackouts, I'm sure folks can handle.  But on 14 March at 11:01AM local Japan time, another hydrogen explosion occurred at the unit 3 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. IAEA says that all personnel at the site are accounted for but six people have been injured. Apparently, the core was not damaged.

Then ABC News reported that the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and other US Navy ships in the waters off the quake zone in eastern Japan were repositioned after the detection of a low-level radiation plume from the troubled Fukushima nuclear plant located 100 miles away.  According to Reuters, seventeen Americans were exposed to low levels of radiation that escaped from a quake-damaged nuclear power plant in Japan.

A wikileaked confidential cable from 2008 released by the Guardian earlier today has Japan's Lower House Diet Member Taro Kono accusing the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) "of covering up nuclear accidents, and obscuring the true costs and problems associated with the nuclear industry" (see paragraph 6). The cable which has former Ambassador J. Thomas Schieffer's signoff also reports that "In describing the clout wielded by the electric companies, Kono claimed that a Japanese television station had planned a three part interview with him on nuclear issues, but had canceled after the first interview, because the electric companies threatened to withdraw their extensive sponsorship" (see paragraph 3). 

If you are not reading this from your official workstation and are not afraid to go blind, you can read the cable here.

Meanwhile, the French embassy in Tokyo has reportedly advised its nationals to leave the capital city because of threats posed by the nuclear plants 160 miles north of the capital.

According to, the German embassy made a similar announcement, saying German residents in Japan should assess if their presence in the country is necessary. If not, they should consider leaving, especially families with small children.

WSJ's Japan RealTime  quotes this advise on the Swiss embassy website: “All Swiss citizens in the crisis-stricken areas as well as in the area of Tokyo/Yokohama (are advised) to think about whether their presence in Japan is currently necessary, and, should this not be the case, to consider temporarily leaving the country. This advice is particularly meant for families with small children.”

Today, YNet reported that the families of Israel diplomats serving in Tokyo decided to return to Israel  following the massive earthquake in Japan. A Foreign Ministry official told Ynet the decision is not related to fears of a nuclear fuel meltdown in Japan.  

The United States as well as the UK have so far only advised that non-essential travel to Japan be deferred.

If I remember right, the last time we had an embassy on evacuation due to a natural disaster was shortly after the Haiti earthquake in January 2010. Japan, of course, has a much better infrastructure and well-tested disaster preparedness than Haiti. Nonetheless, with continuing after shocks, rolling blackouts, reported food and gas shortage, and the threat of a nuclear meltdown, I'm wondering if the US Embassy in Tokyo is moving to an authorized or ordered departure for family members and non-emergency personnel any time soon.  It seems to me that with the scope of the disaster, and 160,000 as the estimated number of  Americans in Japan that the embassy potentially has to track down, not having to worry about family members and nonemergency personnel in harms way would make for
less nerve-racking complications at work.   

The ambassador has extraordinary decision-making authority as the senior USG official on the ground during crises.  The ambassador with the approval of the Under Secretary of State for Management (U/S Pat Kennedy) can order the evacuation of USG personnel and dependents to a temporary safe haven in the region or back to the United States (US Embassy Tunis staff was temporarily evacuated to Morocco earlier this year).  The only ones exempted from this evac order if issued are private Americans and uniformed personnel of the US Armed Forces and designated emergency-essential DOD civilians who are not under the authority of the ambassador.

But so far, no authorized or ordered departure has been announced.  

Updated @ 2:34 pm with Kono info and link on confidential cable referencing the nuclear industry in Japan.

Related post:
US Embassy #Japan Evacuates to Safehaven in Asia | March 17, 2011

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