Japan: UN Stepping Up Assistance in Wake of Quake and Tsunami

NEW YORK–(ENEWSPF)–14 March 2011 – A United Nations disaster team has arrived in Japan and local officials have asked the world body to dispatch a team of nuclear safety experts as emergency operations continue in the wake of Friday’s catastrophic earthquake and tsunami.

The seven-member UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team will set up an onsite operations centre to help Japanese authorities disseminate accurate and timely information on the disaster and the emergency efforts.

The team of specialists will travel to affected areas in the days ahead to assess the humanitarian needs, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). They will also assist the Japanese Government in providing advice on incoming international relief goods and services.

Numerous countries have sent specialized international search and rescue teams to help authorities mount emergency efforts in the wake of the quake and tsunami, which have killed thousands of people and left many more missing or unaccounted for.

Authorities remain concerned about the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, northeast of Tokyo, which was damaged in the disaster. Local officials pumped sea water into the reactors at the plant to prevent a meltdown, and several explosions have occurred at the site.

Yukiya Amano, the Director General of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said in a briefing today that while “the nuclear plants have been shaken… the reactor vessels have held and radioactive release is limited.”

Staff at IAEA’s incident and emergency centre is in close contact with their Japanese counterparts to monitor the situation, and Mr. Amano said the agency can also offer technical support in such areas as radiation surveys, environmental sampling and medical support.

“In situations such as this, it is extremely important that the general public, both in Japan and internationally, is kept fully and accurately informed about the situation,” he added.

Japan formally requested that the IAEA provide expert missions and the agency is in discussions with authorities about the details, he said.

Mr. Amano spoke today with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UN World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan to discuss the latest developments.

The IAEA chief told Mr. Ban there should be minimal health consequences as a result of the release of radioactivity from the reactors so far.

Mr. Ban and Mr. Amano have also stressed the importance of next month’s international summit on nuclear safety that will take place in Kiev, Ukraine.

For its part, WHO has stated that the Japanese Government was taking necessary precautions by distributing potassium iodine to those at risk and evacuating residents of areas close to Fukushima Daiichi.