French embassy advisory says low level radioactive wind could reach Tokyo within hours; as crisis worsens and scale of devastation unfolds, stock markets dive
Japan's prime minister today warned that radioactive levels had gone high at the Fukishima Daiichi nuclear power plant, after explosions at two reactors in the past 24 hours. Prime minister Naoto Kan urged people living within 30 km of the plant, to stay indoors.
Reuters news agency reported that the French embassy in the Japanese capital has warned in an advisory that a low level of radioactive wind could reach Tokyo, about 240km to the south, in about 10 hours. The reactor operator has asked the US military for help. Kyodo news agency said radiation levels nine times the normal levels had been detected in Kanagawa near Tokyo.
Mr Kan said in an address over television: "There is still a very high risk of more radiation coming out. We are making every effort to prevent the leak from spreading. I know that people are very worried but I would like to ask you to act calmly."
Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) which operates the power plant said, "There was a huge explosion" between 6am (0230IST) and 6.15am at the number two reactor of Fukushima No 1 nuclear power plant.
Radiation levels around Fukushima for one hour's exposure rose to eight times the legal limit for exposure in one year, the plant's operator, TEPCO said. The radiation reading at 0831 Japan time (2331 GMT) climbed to 8,217 microsieverts an hour from 1,941 about 40 minutes earlier, Tepco said. The annual legal limit is 1,000 microsieverts.
A fire which briefly broke out at the plant's reactor 4 today is also believed to have led to radioactive leaks. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that Japanese authorities have told it that the fire at reactor 4 may have been caused by a hydrogen explosion.
The government also reported apparent damage to part of the container shielding the same reactor at Fukushima, although it was unclear whether this resulted from the blast. Chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano told journalists that the suppression pool of the number two nuclear reactor appeared to have been damaged. This is the bottom part of the container, which holds water used to cool it down and control air pressure inside.
As the immeasurable impact of the massive earthquake and the terrible tsunami on Friday unfolds, stock markets around the world have reacted sharply, with the Japanese market the worst off, plunging over 10% today, after a 7.6% drop the day before, to its lowest level in two years. At 1030 IST (1400 Japan time), the Nikkei was down 1,127 points to 8,493. The two-day fall is estimated to have wiped around $500 billion off the market.
In Mumbai, the Sensex dropped over 500 points but recovered a little to 18,081, still 358 points (1.94%) down, and the Nifty was at 5,413, down 118 points (2.14%) at 1030 IST. Other Asian markets were also hurt. The Hang Seng was 3.84% (896 points) lower at 22,449 and Shanghai lost 2.14% to 2,874.
In a sign of the mounting fears about the risk of radiation, neighbouring China said it was strengthening monitoring and Air China said it had cancelled flights to Tokyo. Embassies are advising staff and citizens to leave affected areas. Tourists are cutting short vacations and multinational companies are either urging staff to leave or said they were considering plans to move outside the city.
There have been two other explosions at the nuclear power plant since it was damaged in the earthquake and tsunami four days ago. Authorities had been trying to prevent meltdowns in three of the nuclear reactors by flooding the chambers with sea water to cool them down. On Monday, a hydrogen blast at reactor 3 was felt 40km away. The first blast happened at reactor 1 on Saturday.
WATCH THE CRISIS UNFOLD...
Concerns about the pace of the economic growth following the quake in Japan rattled investors worldwide
The local market is likely to witness a sharply lower opening on the back of a massive decline all across Asia on Tuesday morning. US markets closed in the red overnight on concerns over the impact of the Japanese quake on the global economy. Concerns about the a slowdown in economic growth in Asia following the devastation in Japan last week led the markets in the region lower in early trade on Tuesday. News of another explosion at a Japanese nuclear reactor rattled investors worldwide. The SGX Nifty was down 83.50 points at 5,472 compared to its previous close of 5,555.50 on Monday.
Yesterday, the Indian market opened flat, tracking the weak Asian markets in the aftermath of the huge earthquake that struck the north-eastern region of Japan on Friday. Concerns over the Reserve Bank of India's (RBI) move on interest rates in its mid-quarter policy review on Thursday also kept investors on the sidelines. Metal, oil & gas and banking counters witnessed decent demand pushing the indices higher in mid-morning trade.
The marginal rise in headline inflation for February resulted in the market paring some of the earlier gains and trading was range-bound thereafter. The indices touched intra-day highs in late trade, on all-round buying support that began post-noon. The market closed a tad below the day's high. The Sensex (up 1.46% or 266 points) and Nifty (up 1.58% or 86 points) closed at their best levels in eight days, both in terms of percentage and points.
The market is trading close to its extreme levels, after which there is a strong probability of a reversal.
US markets closed lower on Monday on concerns over the impact of the devastating earthquake in Japan last week on the world economy. Nuclear power stocks were down following news of explosions at Japanese nuclear power facilities. Shaw Group plunged 9.2% while Cameco Corp tumbled 13% on the New York Stock Exchange. Both nuclear power companies traded on volume that was more than 10 times their 10-day average. General Electric Co, which has combined nuclear ventures with Hitachi, declined 2.2% and was the top percentage decliner on the Dow.
The Dow fell by 51.24 points (0.43%) at 11,993.16. The S&P 500 shed 7.89 points (0.60%) at 1,296.39 and the Nasdaq declined 14.64 points (0.54%) at 2,700.97.
Markets in Asia were in the red in early trade on Tuesday on worries about the slowdown in economic growth in the region. Production shutdown at Japanese factories due to power outages and damage to infrastructure also added to the pressure. News of a third explosion at a nuclear power plant on Tuesday led the Nikkei sharply lower for the second day in a row.
The Shanghai Composite was down 1.65%, the Hang Seng tumbled 3.65%, the Jakarta Composite declined 1.10%, the KLSE Composite was down 0.63%, the Nikkei 225 sank 6.45%, the Straits Times tanked 2.33%, the Seoul Composite fell 1.35% and the Taiwan Weighted was 1.49% lower in early trade on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, oil prices fell on Monday on the prospect of lower demand from quake-hit Japan, but losses were capped by mounting Middle East supply concerns as Saudi Arabia sent troops into Bahrain.
New York’s main contract, light sweet crude for April delivery, shed 99 cents to $100.17 a barrel, after earlier falling below $99 for the first time in two weeks. In London afternoon trade, Brent North Sea crude for April lost 63 cents to $113.21, after earlier tumbling to a three-week low of $111.16 per barrel.
While there are still concerns about privacy, those who have gone to register for the UID number have found the enrolment process more like a punishment
The much-hyped, ambitious project of the Union government, the biometrics-based unique identification number (UIDN) programme has kicked in. However, residents are finding it very difficult to enrol themselves for the 'soon-to-be-mandatory' UIDN due to a lack of facilities.
People are complaining that procedures involved to get UIDN are lengthy, time-consuming and troublesome. As a result, certain sections of people, mainly senior citizens and working professionals are finding it difficult to visit enrolment centres.
According to the procedure, an applicant must first collect the enrolment form by standing in a queue that is usually very long. Most of these centres are at municipal schools and the forms are available only on Mondays and Saturdays, between 10am and 12pm. So, you need to get into the queue well before the counter opens to stand a chance of getting a form. But, again, there is no guarantee of getting a form, as some centres do not have a sufficient number of forms.
In addition, one must carry an identity or address proof, whether it is a public distribution system (PDS) or ration card, or a PAN card, to be able to get a form to apply for the UIDN. Interestingly, while it is printed on the ration card itself that this cannot be used as a residence or identification proof, almost every authority, including the UID registrars, ask for it. This defeats the fundamental purpose of UIDN, which is being created as an identification for those who do not have any.
It this is not bad enough, there's more trouble at the counters, where staff are themselves clueless about most issues. "The exercise is conducted at a municipal school where the collapsible gates are drawn and one has to stand on the outside, barely able to get a glimpse of the staff inside. Every query is dismissed with a monosyllable answer-a "yes" or "no"-and this raises even more questions," says a resident who unsuccessfully tried to enrol himself for the UIDN.
If one manages to obtain and fill up an enrolment form, the registrars issue a token after two days and the person has to collect it between 10am and 1pm or 2pm and 5pm only. During the last stage of registration, the person has to carry an identification proof, like a PAN card or driving license. For children parents are required to produce the birth certificates as well.
"Already there is a lack of awareness and clarity among people, especially senior citizens, regarding the UIDN project. There is also a mobility issue for senior citizens. For them to physically go and complete the procedures is a big challenge," said Shailesh Mishra, the founder of Silver Lining, an NGO that works with senior citizens. "Why can't they come and conduct the enrolment procedure at housing societies, where people can reach easily," Mr Mishra asked.
On the subject of furnishing personal details, Mr Mishra says, "Mumbai has around 10 lakh senior citizens, of which only 50,000-60,000 have registered for the senior citizens cell of the Mumbai police. This is because elderly people are sceptical to share personal information, especially their financials details. I don't know how successful this UDIN project will be in getting information from them."
Another issue is that there is no online facility for enrolment. While forms are available on the UIDAI website, there is no enrolment number on these forms, so there is no option but to stand in the queue at the registration centres.
In order to reach more people, especially senior citizens, the project should have volunteers and work together with not-for-profit organisations. "If they want senior citizens to participate in the enrolment procedure, collaborating with NGOs is a good option. We are ready to help the government in this," Mr Mishra said.
Moneylife has consistently written about the flaws in the UDIN project. In a series of articles, we have described how the project could turn into a threat to the private lives of individuals through misuse of the database. One report pointed out how, despite making an open declaration that it would not be mandatory, the Union government (the chief financier for the project) and the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) were busy creating backdoor compulsions for UIDN, through financial institutions and service providers, to ensure that people enrolled or were left out of the system. (Read,Why is UID number being made compulsory through the backdoor?)
Moneylife has also written previously that this ambitious and expensive project uses biometric information like finger prints, IRIS scans and face photos to create a UID number. The authority is roping in fat-profit organisations as its partners, which will very likely result in the database being used for targeted marketing. (Read, 'Fat profit institutions continue to board UID bandwagon' .) In addition, UIDAI has roped in many registrars to undertake this enrolment. These agents are said to be adding their own parameters, and creating their own databases for business. (Read, 'Is the UIDAI database vulnerable?' .)