Sat, Apr 09, 2011 - Page 5 News List

Tokyo says its economy now in ‘severe’ condition

NO QUICK FIX:Japan said there was no quick recovery in sight, as power restrictions, factory closings and fewer tourists combine to wallop into its economic gut

Reuters, TOKYO

Members of the Korean Federation for Environmental Movement hold a rally in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul yesterday to denounce Japan’s recent discharge of radiation-contaminated water into the sea.

Photo: EPA

Japan’s economy is in a “severe condition” with no quick recovery in sight following a triple disaster triggered by the March 11 earthquake that has sent service-sector sentiment plummeting the most on record, the government said yesterday.

While Japan confronts the economic impact of the disaster, it also faces increasing alarm from its neighbors with China expressing concern at the pumping of radioactive water into the sea from a crippled nuclear plant.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it would “closely” monitor Japan’s actions to end the crisis at the plant, where engineers are battling to contain radiation leaks. It demanded accurate information from Tokyo.

“As Japan’s neighbor, we naturally express our concern about this,” ministry spokesman Hong Lei (洪磊) said in a statement.

China is the first nation to publicly express its concern over a crisis that has lasted close to a month. Other countries have banned or restricted food imports from Japan over radiation fears.

“We ask that Japan reports the relevant information to the Chinese side in a swift, comprehensive and accurate way,” Hong said.

Power blackouts and restrictions, factory shutdowns and a sharp drop in the number of tourists have left the world’s third-largest economy reeling. Many economists expect it to slip into recession this year as factory output and exports suffer.

The crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant means power shortages and supply disruptions that will leave the economy weak for some time, Japan’s central bank said yesterday.

The Cabinet Office’s assessment was equally bleak.

“Japan’s economy is suddenly in a severe condition due to the effects of the earthquake,” it said after releasing a monthly survey of hotel workers, restaurant staff and taxi drivers that showed a record fall in confidence to levels last seen during the depths of the global financial crisis.

In an obvious sign of the downturn; taxis park in long lines in central Tokyo each night, their drivers staying warm by idling the motor as they wait forlornly for a fare.

Japan is facing its worst crisis since World War II after a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and a huge tsunami battered its northeast coast, leaving about 28,000 dead or missing and damaging six nuclear reactors north of Tokyo.

The UN’s nuclear watchdog sounded an encouraging note when one of its officials said there were signs of progress in stabilizing the Fukushima plant, though the situation remained very serious.

“The situation at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant remains very serious ... [but] there are early signs of recovery in some functions such as electrical power and instrumentation,” International Atomic Energy Agency head of nuclear safety Denis Flory said.

The agency said radiation in the region around the plant, as measured by gamma dose rates, had peaked in the early days of the crisis, and aside from a rise on March 22, had since fallen to “a level very close to background.”

Japan’s neighbors have grown increasingly anxious at the risk of contamination from radiation, with some schools in South Korea closing because of fears of toxic rain. Officials there said the radiation levels in the atmosphere were harmless.

The Chinese Ministry of Health said this week traces of radioactivity had been found in spinach in three provinces and the Xinhua news agency reported trace levels of radioactivity detected in 22 provinces.

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