Japan Fallout Sparks Fears

But monitors say radiation is blowing away from China and out to sea.
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Health workers assist a person believed to have been contaminated with radiation in Japan's Nihonmatsu city, March 13, 2011.
Health workers assist a person believed to have been contaminated with radiation in Japan's Nihonmatsu city, March 13, 2011.

Chinese authorities have moved to quell fears of nuclear contamination following quake-triggered accidents at key nuclear power stations in Japan, as netizens showed mixed reactions to the disaster.

"Owing to prevailing westerly winds around Japan, the pollutants are mostly concentrated in eastern Japan and are being dispersed over the north Pacific," the Chinese seismological bureau said in a recent forecast.

"China, positioned to the west of Japan behind the Sea of Japan, the Korean peninsula, the Yellow Sea, and the East China Sea, is unlikely to be unaffected in the next couple of days," the agency said.

An official who answered the phone at the State Seismological Bureau in Beijing said that authorities were monitoring the situation closely.

"We are paying close attention to the latest developments," the officials aid. "At the current time, the leaders are holding emergency discussions."

She said that the bureau's forecasts were for three days, and that the situation had so far matched the latest forecast.

"There has been no change," the official said.

Levels remain the same

Recent monitoring data from Shanghai, on China's eastern coast, showed that background radiation levels have remained the same as before.

Guo Wei, a nuclear safety expert at Hong Kong's City University, said he thought the fire at the Fukushima reactor, which caught fire following Friday's 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami in northeast Japan, was down to human error.

"There shouldn't be such a failure in their emergency back-up plans," Guo said. "Simulation tests for large earthquakes and even missile strikes."

"There is likely to have been some human error in the repair of the power station, to allow this accident to happen."

He said that China's Daya Bay nuclear reactor, just across the border from Hong Kong, is newer and has more advanced contingency plans than the one at Fukushima.

Meanwhile, Zhou Jinhao, a physics professor at Hong Kong's Baptist University, congratulated the Japanese on the lack of death or injury at the plant, which had seen a class 4 accident, compared with the class 5 accident at Three Mile Island in 1979 or the class 7 disaster at Chernobyl in 1986.

"A class 4 accident means that the effects are limited to the local area around the plant," Zhou said. "The explosion ... wasn't in the reactor's core, however."

"The concrete shell around the reactor was undamaged ... so there should only be light radiation from leaked materials."

An official at the Hong Kong Observatory said background radiation levels had remained at normal levels in the territory.

"I don't think there is any need to worry that Hong Kong will be seriously affected in the next week, at least," said senior meteorologist Chen Jixiang.

"It seems right now as if the radiation is being blown away, and the chances of its being blown to Hong Kong are very slim indeed."

Mixed reactions

The Japan earthquake and subsequent tsunami sparked millions of microblog tweets in China, with many expressing sympathy and admiration for the orderly rescue effort, and others expressing pleasure at the misfortune of their economic rivals and former enemies.

Shenzhen-based commentator Zhu Jianguo blamed Beijing for tapping into anti-Japan sentiment in China when it suits their political purpose to do so.

"The Japanese army committed atrocities in China during World War II," said Zhu. "But since the end of the war, the Chinese government has often made use of anti-Japanese sentiment among its people."

"This attitude on the part of the government has given rise to an unhealthy wave of popular sentiment in the wake of the Japan earthquake," he said.

"This will inevitably result in estrangement between the two peoples."

Searches for "Congratulations on the Japan Earthquake," a popular phrase being used to gloat over the disaster among Chinese netizens, yielded thousands of results on the popular search engine Baidu on Monday.

However, Chinese netizens have also expressed sympathy and concern, as well as admiration for the way the Japanese have handled the disaster.

"They are very united," said a Jiangsu-based netizen surnamed Liu. "They know how to take care of themselves, and they care about the big picture."

"I think this has made some Chinese sit up and take notice, but these sorts of things can take several generations to change," she said.

Reported by Fung Yat-yiu for RFA's Cantonese service, and by Tang Qiwei for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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