Earthquake and tsunami damage to Japan’s transport infrastructure is almost twice as severe as originally feared.
The latest figures from the Japanese National Police Agency show that 1,703 roads have been damaged following the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and catastrophic tsunami, compared to 704 initially estimated (News last week).
The number of bridges damaged now stands at 26, and 15 railway lines have been damaged, both almost double the original estimates.
Japan’s Railway Technical Research Institute (RTRI) told NCE that two high speed lines that had been closed following the disaster have reopened − the northern line between Morioka and Shin Aomori and a section of the Tohoku Shinkansen line between Tokyo and Nasushiobara in Tochigi prefecture.
The Japanese government’s rail bureau states that Shinkansen lines closest to the country’s eastern coast are only operating in small sections − the Tohoku line and the Yamagata line between Yonezawa and Yamagata.
No rail lines in Sendai, the capital of one of the most affected regions, Miyagi, are operating. This prefecture accounts for 12 of the 15 damaged lines.
The RTRI spokesman said that re-opening the country’s roads was the government’s priority at this stage, adding that the Japanese railway companies will begin the repair of the network themselves after the rescue effort has been completed.
Main roads in the most affected part of the country are being re-opened day by day, he said. But no-one knows the full extent of the damage to minor roads. Miyagi is the worst affected prefecture in Japan in terms of damaged roads, with 575 roads damaged.
Radiation found in water supply
High levels of radiation in the local water supply this week led the Japanese government to warn some Fukushima residents not to drink from their taps.
The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) found levels of radioactive Iodine 131 in the village of Iitate peaking on Sunday at 965 becquerels per kg (bq/kg), well above the recommended limit of 300bq/kg.
The government told Iitate residents on Sunday not to drink the water, but said it was safe for other domestic uses, including for use as a temporary drinking water source if no alternative was available. Iitate is just 40km from Fukushima prefecture’s troubled nuclear plant.
Kawamata town − 45km from the plant− also experienced high levels of Iodine 131, peaking at 308bq/kg last Thursday. However, tap water radiation levels were much lower elsewhere.
Fukushima’s prefectural government − based in Fukushima City, 60km from the nuclear plant − reported that Iodine 131 levels in the local water supply peaked at 180bq/kg on Thursday, and dropped to the mid-20s by Saturday. Other prefectures with notable readings were Tochigi (peaking at 77bq/kg on Friday) and Ibaraki (at 58bq/kg on Monday).
University of Bristol particle physics expert Helen Heath told NCE Iodine 131 is unlikely to pose long-term dangers in the food chain or in infrastructure contamination.
Its comparatively short half-life of eight days means it is likely to decay before reaching anyone outside the local area, she said. And the radiation would be unable to contaminate local infrastructure, because when it decays Iodine 131 emits an electron or positron rather than a nucleus.
“To make other elements in the pipes radioactive there would have to be interaction with the nucleus, and that’s extremely unlikely,” said Heath.
Some 2.4M people in 1M households across Japan remain without water supply. The government’s Emergency Disaster Response Headquarters said it has distributed 3.2M bottles of water to date, with another 1M still in transit.