People watch a television broadcasting Japan's Emperor Akihito's televised address to the nation at an electronics retail store in Tokyo. (March 16, 2011)

Akihito, the nation's 77-year-old sovereign, delivered an rare address to his people on Wednesday in which he urged calm, perseverance and solidarity in "the difficult days that lie ahead." As the pre-recorded speech was broadcast, workers redoubled their frantic efforts to stave off a catastrophic meltdown at a nuclear complex on Japan's northern coast, devastated five days earlier by an earthquake and tsunami.

Wearing a dark suit and muted indigo tie, the emperor spoke from a reception room at the Imperial Palace, seated before a wood-framed backdrop whose appearance evoked a traditional Japanese shoji screen of rice paper. He began with a slight bow, urging victims of the disaster not to abandon hope.

"We don't know how many have died," he said. "It is my hope that many lives will be saved."

Often, Japanese court language is so arcane as to be nearly incomprehensible. In his five-minute address, though, Akihito used unusually direct patterns of speech -- still highly mannered, but amounting by palace standards to almost an imperial pep talk to a beleaguered nation.

"I am deeply concerned about the nuclear situation, and hope it will be resolved," the emperor said. "I hope things will take a turn for the better."

Despite ancient dynastic roots, the Japanese monarchy has changed with the times -- to a certain extent. No longer is the emperor regarded as a living god, as was the case for centuries. Still, Akihito is a much-revered figure.

There is precedent for the sovereign to offer public condolences and comfort in times of national crisis. In 1995, Akihito and his wife, the Empress Michiko, visited victims of the Kobe earthquake. That temblor killed about 6,400 people -- a toll expected to be dwarfed by the loss of life in this one.

In 1945, it fell to Akihito's father, Hirohito, to renounce his status as a divinity -- and to deliver to the Japanese people the news that the country had surrendered to the Allies. But in that scratchy radio recording, the imperial language was so freighted with ceremonial phrases and studied ambiguity that few of those listening, who were hearing the emperor's voice for the first time, actually grasped his meaning.

Employing what might have been the ultimate Japanese understatement in that famous address, Hirohito told his subjects that war developments were "not necessarily to Japan's advantage." And in an odd historical echo, he spoke of the strange and terrible power of the atomic bombs that had devastated the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki .

Although Japan's modern-day tabloids sometimes strike a gossipy tone when talking about members of the current royal family -- aggressively dissecting Empress Michiko's stress-related ailments, or the failure of her daughter-in-law, Crown Princess Masako, to produce a male heir -- there is rarely, if ever, a disrespectful word uttered of Akihito.

And normally, no one would dream of interrupting the emperor. But before the speech was telecast twice by the public broadcaster NHK, Akihito, according to the Asahi newspaper, gave a particular instruction. If there were an important development related to the ongoing catastrophe, the control room should do what it would normally do: Break in with the news.,0,5440665.story

Japan tsunami: Thousands of seabirds killed near Hawaii

Thousands of petrels and fish were also killed as huge waves swept over parts of the remote, low-lying Midway atoll.
The sanctuary is home to more than two million birds.
One lucky survivor was Wisdom, an albatross about 60 years of age, who is the oldest-known bird in the US.
The Laysan albatross came to prominence recently when she was spotted with a chick, astounding scientists that she could still raise offspring at age 60-plus.
Midway is one of the most remote coral atolls on earth, developed as a wildlife sanctuary after the US Naval Air facility on Midway Island closed in 1993.
Midway was a key military base for the US during World War II, as well as during the Korean, Cold and Vietnam wars.
Rescue operation
The US Fish and Wildlife Service reported that 1,000 adult and adolescent Laysan albatross died when the tsunami generated by last Friday's powerful earthquake off the coast of Japan struck Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.
Tens of thousands of chicks were also killed.
"...nuclear reactors use bundles of enriched uranium packed into stainless steelfuelrods in order to generate the heat that drives the turbines. You need to keep these bundles of pins cool otherwise they melt or burst.

Now, it seems the Fukushimapowerplant pulled spent fuel bundles (a collection of fuel rods) and stored them on site rather than shipping them to another location. Speculation is that in addition to the fires that are damaging the working reactor, these storage areas of their spent fuel bundles could [now] be on fire. This vastly compounds the problem of any meltdown, as this spent fuel will add to the contamination [because] it is extremely toxic.

In other words, as well as dealing with a potential meltdown, you also have the toxic products from the depleted fuel pins adding to the pollution.This is extraordinarily bad. The spent fuel bundles should have been relocated away from the reactor core a long, long time ago. Given the earthquake realities ofJapan, these reactor building were basicallydirty bombs waiting to be set off by a [natural] disaster."

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