Entries in Japan (7)


Tsunami Debris Cleanup: Lawmakers Frustrated Over Lack of Plan

Sankei via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A set of lawmakers on Capitol Hill expressed frustration Thursday that states, not the federal government, will have to deal with the majority of clean-up when marine debris from last year’s tsunami in Japan hits the West Coast.

During the first hearing on tsunami debris held by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard Thursday, David Kennedy, Assistant Administrator for NOAA’s National Ocean Service, outlined the agency’s efforts to handle the debris, which includes developing models to predict the track of the debris to conducting marine debris surveys in impacted areas over the next two years.

But Kennedy also admitted states will have to assume the majority of debris clean-up responsibilities, a suggestion with which the chair of the subcommittee took issue.

In the 2012 fiscal year, NOAA’s  Marine Debris Program received $4.6 million, but President Obama’s 2013 fiscal year budget proposed a 25 percent cut to the program.

“I think we should be discriminating in terms of what’s essential as a priority, and obviously this is a priority and we should have some pre-planning and some forethought involved knowing that the bulk of this degree is going to occur presumably in 2013 and 2014,” Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said. “Here we are facing reductions in the very program that’s going to be essential.  Ok, well obviously it doesn’t make sense, and that’s something that needs to be remedied.”

The government of Japan estimated last year’s tsunami swept 5 million tons of debris into the Pacific Ocean.  Over half of the debris sank near the coast of Japan, but 1.5 million tons of debris are still floating and while some of the debris is expected to break down, it is still expected that some products, including lumber, plastics and vessels, will hit the coasts of the United States in the next two years. Kennedy said experts say it is highly unlikely the debris is radioactive, but there is a possibility for hazardous items to drift ashore.

“I’m definitely going to react when thousands of cans of hazardous materials wash ashore and they have things like rat poisoning and gas in them.  We are going to react,” Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said.

In early April, a “ghost ship” set adrift by last year’s tsunami in Japan surfaced off the coast of Alaska and eventually sank in the Gulf of Alaska after a Coast Guard cutter fired at it.  Earlier this month, a Harley Davidson that was swept away by the tsunami washed up on the shores of Canada.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


'With a Very Heavy Heart,' Clinton Signs Book of Condolences at Japanese Embassy

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Following Vice President Biden’s stop Tuesday morning and President Obama’s stop last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Tuesday visited the Japanese embassy in Washington, D.C., to sign the condolence book for the victims of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.

The Secretary spent numerous minutes writing in the book in silence. Her written note said:

“At a time of unprecedented disaster there is unprecedented sympathy and solidarity for the Japanese people from the American people. Our prayers, thoughts and hearts are with you and in the months and years ahead as you rebuild and recover.  But one thing that shines through is the resilient spirit of Japan which is an inspiration to us all. The United States is your friend, partner, and ally. We will stand with you now and into the future. God Bless Japan, Hillary Rodham Clinton.”

Afterward Clinton said that “it is with a very heavy heart” that she came to the embassy Tuesday to pay her respects to the people of Japan.

The Japanese ambassador to the United States, Ichiro Fujisaki, thanked Clinton and the United States for support teams on the ground during the crisis.

“It’s an honor to stand with Japan,” the Secretary said. “Japan’s generosity to people around the world is so well known. In the midst of disasters large and small you see the assistance that comes from Japan. And there has been an outpouring of support now in your time of need.”

Mrs. Clinton signed the book amid vases of flowers and handwritten cards from local area children to the people of Japan. “There is hope,” one card said. Another had a drawn picture of sun with a smiley face. Vice President Biden signed the same condolence book Tuesday morning, and President Obama signed last Thursday.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


God's Wrath? Japan Quake Stirs Religious Debate

Thomas Northcut/Photodisc(NEW YORK) -- The devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan last week has renewed an age-old debate over God's role in a natural disaster. Though he later apologized, Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara said Monday that the calamity that hit his country was "tenbatsu," or divine punishment, for the wickedness of the Japanese people. In some right-wing religious circles, leaders have called the disaster a prophecy about the need for more Japanese to turn to God.

"Because the Japanese people shun God in terms of their faith and follow idol worship, atheism, and materialism, it makes me wonder if this was not God's warning to them," Rev. David Yonggi Cho of South Korea's Yoido Full Gospel Church, considered to be the world's largest single congregation, told the online newspaper News Mission.

Religious experts say that while comments blaming humans for natural disasters are not unusual, they reflect a misplaced desire by some leaders to promote adherence to certain beliefs and behaviors.

"Personal or communal suffering often elicits questions -- why me, why us? That's understandable," said University of Virginia religious studies professor James F. Childress. "Religious perspectives offer ways to help explain or give meaning to such suffering."

"However, it is one thing to use suffering as the occasion for self reflection on personal or communal relations to the divine; it is another to blame the victims of an earthquake, for example, for provoking divine wrath," he said.

U.S. Christian televangelist Pat Robertson said the 2009 earthquake which rocked Haiti and claimed more than 200,000 lives was because the country was "cursed" after making a "pact to the devil." In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina slammed New Orleans, Texas mega-church pastor John Hagee said the storm, which left 1,400 dead, was the "judgment of God" for the sins that took place on its streets. And in 2001, just two days after the Sept. 11 attacks, Rev. Jerry Falwell said the U.S. shared blame for the crisis which had befallen it.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama: Trade with Latin America Means Jobs

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama in his weekly address stressed the importance of trade with Latin America in the United States economy.

"We've always had a special bond with our neighbors to the south. It's a bond born of shared history and values and strengthened by the millions of Americans who proudly trace their roots to Latin America. What's clear is that in an increasingly global economy our partnership with these nations is only going to become more vital," he said.

The address comes as the president travels to South America. He cited Brazil, his first stop on the trip, as an example of how American exports to Latin America are a cornerstone in U.S. job creation.

"Today Brazil imports more goods from the United States than from any other nation. And I'll be meeting with business leaders from both countries to talk about how we can create even more jobs by deepening these economic ties."

Obama also reasserted that the U.S. is responding to the crisis in Libya and the emergency in Japan.

"We will work with our partners in the region to protect innocent civilians in Libya and hold the Gadhafi regime accountable. We will continue to stand with the people of Japan in their greatest hour of need."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama Downplays Radiological Impact on US; Warns Americans Abroad

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- After days of silence on the nuclear crisis in Japan, President Obama Thursday downplayed concerns of a potential radiological impact in the U.S. while urging Americans near the crippled reactors to take "prudent and precautionary measures" to protect their safety.

"I want to be very clear: We do not expect harmful levels of radiation to reach the U.S., whether it's the West Coast, Hawaii, Alaska, or the U.S. territories in the Pacific," Obama said in a Rose Garden statement.

"Furthermore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and public health experts do not recommend people in the U.S. take precautionary measures beyond staying informed. Going forward we will continue to keep the American people fully updated because I believe you must know what I know as president."

But Obama said the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and other experts warned Americans living in Japan that the danger from radiation spewing from the Fukushima power plant extends well beyond the 12-mile radius Japanese officials have suggested.

"Even as Japanese responders continue to do heroic work, we know that the damage to nuclear reactors at Fukushima Daiichi plant poses a substantial risk to people who are nearby," Obama said. "That is why yesterday we called for an evacuation of American citizens who are within 50 miles of plant. That decision was based on a careful, scientific evaluation and the guidelines that we use to keep our citizens safe here in the U.S."

Meanwhile, the State Department authorized the voluntary departure of family members of U.S. government personnel late Wednesday and issued a warning to other Americans to "consider departing" Japan. The first U.S. government-chartered plane ferrying nearly 100 family members of American diplomats and a few private citizens left Japan Thursday for Taipei, Taiwan, with more flights planned for Friday depending on demand.

"These measures are temporary and dependents will return when the situation is resolved," Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan said.

For now, radioactivity levels are only extreme in the immediate vicinity of the power plant. And forecasts show that winds for the next three to five days would send any contamination away from population zones and out over the sea.

But one U.S. official told ABC News that Japanese efforts to contain the crisis have been insufficient and that "heroic steps" are now needed to stave off a meltdown.

Obama urged Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan during a phone call late Wednesday to take decisive steps to end the crisis because time is of the essence.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


President Obama Discusses Japan, Middle East at DNC Fundraiser

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Golf, NCAA brackets, Democratic fundraisers, trips to Rio...the president may be engaged in a lot of hard work on Japan, the Middle East and North Africa, the budget, and the economy behind the scenes, but he seems conscious of the fact that participating in some of these other activities might not look so good.

At a Democratic National Committee fundraiser at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel late Wednesday afternoon, President Obama took a moment to discuss Japan and American leadership.

"We're at a moment in time where obviously all of us are heartbroken by the images of what's happening in Japan,” the president told the crowd. “And we're reminded of how American leadership is critical to our closest allies, even if those allies themselves are economically advanced and powerful, there are moments where they need our help. We're bound together by a common humanity. But we also have the convulsions in the Middle East that offer the prospect of incredible change and offer enormous opportunities so that our children could live in a more peaceful world, but we're gonna have to take advantage of them."

The president's remarks were more somber than you might expect at a DNC fundraiser. He mentioned Iraq, the need to bring Afghanistan war to an end in a way that's safe and secure, fighting terrorism, education and other issues.

The remarks come at a time when pundits and others are starting to criticize President Obama’s leadership style as too remote and detached, ceding too much leadership in international affairs when it comes to Libya and spending too much time engaged in activities that seem less than priorities, such as the round of golf he played over the weekend and the NCAA picks he revealed on ESPN and ESPN 2.

President Obama urged those watching his NCAA picks special to donate to Japan relief at On Wednesday, a reporter asked White House press secretary Jay Carney if it was appropriate for the president to be addressing a crisis of this gravity as he's standing before a whiteboard talking about the basketball tournament.

“There are crises all the time, and for every president,” Carney said. “And again, this one is happening halfway around the world, and it is severe, and it is important, and it is the focus of a great deal of the president's attention, as are the events in the Middle East, as are the agenda items that he is pursuing to grow the economy and increase jobs in America and make sure we out-innovate, out-build and out-educate the competition in the 21st century.”

Carney continued, “It's a hard job. It requires a lot.” He noted the president urged March Madness fans to take a moment while filling out their brackets to make financial donations to a variety of charitable organizations to help the Japanese. “So yes, I do think it was appropriate,” Carney said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


DOE Sends Equipment, Personnel to Monitor Japan's Nuclear Crisis

Sankei via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Department of Energy has deployed equipment and 34 team members to Japan to help monitor radiation levels and address the country's nuclear crisis, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Tuesday before a House appropriations subcommittee on energy and water development.

"These teams have the skills, expertise and equipment to help assess, survey, monitor, and sample areas," Chu explained, adding that officials from the Energy Department and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission "have maintained close contact with Japanese officials."

DOE officials in Japan include an emergency response representative deployed as part of the USAID Disaster Response Team, a nuclear engineer with Japanese language skills, and a larger contingent to provide monitoring equipment.

Chu stressed the safety of reactors in the U.S. and said repeatedly that the administration will apply lessons learned from the crisis in Japan here at home.

The secretary, who described Japan as being hit with "a double-barreled whammy of devastating earthquake and tsunami," went on to assure the American people that reactors in the U.S. are designed to anticipate these kinds of disasters.

Asked about the future of nuclear power in the U.S., Chu emphasized the importance of relying on a diverse set of energy sources and said it was "probably premature to say anything except we will learn from this."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio