Japan Shut Down

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Japan’s nuclear crisis intensified yesterday as authorities raced to combat the threat of multiple reactor meltdowns, while investors feared a share market crash.

More than 170,000 people have been evacuated from the northeastern coast where fears spread over radioactive contamination.

Nuclear plant operators were frantically trying to keep temperatures down in a series of nuclear reactors, including one where officials feared a partial meltdown could be happening yesterday.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano also said that a hydrogen explosion could occur at Unit 3 of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex, the latest reactor to face a possible meltdown.

That followed Saturday’s blast in the power plant’s Unit 1, as operators attempted to prevent a meltdown there by injecting sea water into it.

A spokesman from Japan’s nuclear agency, Ryo Miyake, said that up to 160 people, including 60 elderly patients and medical staff who had been waiting for evacuation in the nearby town of Futabe and 100 others evacuating by bus, might have been exposed to radiation.

Japanese Trade Minister Banri Kaeda warned that the region was likely to face further blackouts, and power would be rationed to ensure supplies to essential facilities.

The government doubled the number of troops pressed into rescue and recovery operations to about 100,000 from 51,000, as powerful aftershocks continued to rock the country.

The impact on Japan’s economy has been disastrous.

Production was halted at Toshiba’s chip plants on Friday and could delay crucial shipments, although partner SanDisk said output losses were minor.

A fifth of the world’s semiconductors are made in Japan.

Toshiba Corp and SanDisk share cutting-edge facilities in Yokkaichi, where they make NAND chips increasingly in demand by Apple and other mobile device makers.

In the coastal city of Sendai, employees at a facility owned by Freescale, which makes chips for Amazon.com Inc’s (AMZN.O) Kindle electronic reader, were evacuated and the plant has closed.

Sony Corp shut six factories, two in Fukushima and four in Miyagi, including a plant making laser diodes used in DVD, Blu-ray players and Playstations. Panasonic Corp (6752.T) also halted production.

Tokyo stocks are poised to fall today as investors seek clarity on the damage done to companies and the economy.

Japan’s Big Three auto manufacturers have suspended production at all their domestic plants, continuing Friday’s close downs, due to difficulties in procuring auto parts following the earthquake.

Toyota Motor said its twelve domestic plants will be closed. Nissan Motor has shut its three plants, and Honda Motor its two.

Insurance stocks worldwide took a big hit on Friday. In London, Prudential fell by 2.18%, RSA Insurance dropped 2.12%, Aviva fell 1.28% while Admiral slumped 1.60%.

In Frankfurt, insurers Munich Re fell by 5.2%, while Allianz fell by 2.5% and Swiss Re and Hannover Re were also down by more than 4%.