Tainted beef served at the restaurants was processed by a meat wholesaler in Tokyo exclusively for the Yakiniku-zakaya Ebisu barbecue chain … see 4 die after eating beef at barbecue restaurant (NHK May 6):

Japan’s health ministry is investigating a series of food poisoning incidents in which four people died after eating raw beef served by a barbecue restaurant chain.

The food poisoning occurred at restaurants of the Yakiniku-zakaya Ebisu chain in Toyama and Fukui prefectures. Of the four victims, two were young boys and two others adult women. Dozens of other customers fell sick in other prefectures. // Health authorities say the O-111 strain of E. coli bacteria was detected in the bodies of the two boys.//Sources say the beef served at the restaurants was processed by a meat wholesaler in Tokyo exclusively for the barbecue chain.

Death toll in food poisoning at ‘yakiniku’ chain reaches 4  (Japan Times, May 6, 2011) Excerpts: TONAMI, Toyama Pref. — The death toll in a string of food poisoning cases believed to be caused by consuming raw meat at a “yakiniku” barbecue restaurant chain has risen to four after a 70-year-old woman died Thursday, local authorities said… //The woman had been hospitalized for food poisoning and fell into serious condition after dining at an outlet of the Yakiniku-zakaya Ebisu chain in Tonami, Toyama Prefecture, on April 23, according to the prefectural government.//She was a family member of another woman in her 40s who dined with her and died Wednesday.//In addition to the two women, two boys in Toyama and Fukui prefectures also died in April in the food poisoning cases involving the restaurant chain operator, Foods Forus Co., based in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture.//More than 30 people have been hospitalized in the food poisoning outbreak in Toyama and Kanagawa prefectures, with about 20 of them in serious condition. Enterohemorrhagic E. coli bacteria including the O-111 and O-157 strains have been detected in many of the cases.….more

BBQ chain: We didn’t do E. coli tests (JT, May.4)

Beef served raw, but intended only for cooking (May 5) Not one single piece of beef to be eaten raw that met governmental standards was shipped in fiscal 2008 and 2009–and possibly in earlier fiscal years–but since many restaurants served raw-beef dishes during this period, meat that was meant to be cooked was apparently served as raw fare, it has been learned.//The discovery came in the wake of recent incidents of mass food poisoning at yakiniku barbecue restaurants that killed two boys, allegedly caused by eating yukhoe raw-beef dishes.//The Consumer Affairs Agency and the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry suspect that beef that does not meet government standards is still being served raw at restaurants. The ministry and agency said they would investigate the problem with an eye to revising the standards.//The ministry’s sanitary standard for edible raw beef was set in 1998 after a fatal food poisoning in 1996. In this incident, eight people died after eating raw beef liver and other food tainted with enterohemorrhagic E. coli O-157. The standards require meat processors that ship meat to be eaten raw have equipment for handling raw meat and process the meat at 10 C or lower….more

These next two articles gives us valuable and important accounts of what was happening during the first hours of the Fukushima nuclear crisis that have been missing from the news until now:

Time not on workers’ side as crisis raced on (Japan Times, May 5, 2011); Worst case feared in early hours of Fukushima (JT, May 5,)

Realistic safety not nuke sector, regulator forte (Japan Times, May 5, 2011)

U.S. official urges beefed-up disaster teamwork

50% of surveyed firms hit hard by disaster / Companies describe effects of supply chain disruptions, plans to handle likely power shortages (May 5)

Ventilators installed at No.1 reactor (NHK May 6, 2011)

Tokyo Electric Power Company workers have entered the Reactor Number One building at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant for the first time since a hydrogen explosion in March. They installed a system to clean the highly radioactive air inside. // Twelve workers wearing oxygen tanks entered the building on Thursday. A hydrogen blast the day after Japan’s March 11th quake and tsunami left it badly damaged.//TEPCO says the team managed to install a total of 8 air ducts inside the highly radioactive building after one-and-a-half hours of work. //TEPCO says the purifiers are now working, and it will take about 3 days to vent the air, filter it, and return clean air. // It hopes to lower radiation levels enough to allow workers to remain inside for longer periods of time. // If everything goes according to plan, workers will enter the building as early as Sunday to check for damage to the pipes and valves. About a week later, in mid-May, TEPCO hopes to start building an external system to circulate cooling water into the reactor.

See also related earlier news:  Workers enter No. 1 reactor building for 1st time since explosion (Japan Times, May 6, 2011); Workers set to enter reactor 1 building (JT, May 5, 2011)

Eight workers are scheduled to be the first to enter the reactor 1 building of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant since it was ripped apart by a hydrogen blast the day after the March 11 tsunami, Tokyo Electric Power Co. says. More…

TEPCO says a flooding operation will be safe (NHK May 6, 2011)

Tokyo Electric Power Company says it will be able to safely conduct an operation to cool the number one reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. TEPCO is planning on filling the reactor’s containment vessel with enough water to bring the temperature below 100 degrees Celsius.//It reported its assessment on Thursday to Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency. The company says it hopes to start the work as soon as the agency approves the plan.//TEPCO says about 7,400 tons of water will have to be pumped into the containment vessel for the cooling process. It says the vessel and the reactor building will both be able to withstand the weight of the water.//But TEPCO’s calculation for risk to the reactor did not factor in another magnitude-9 earthquake in the foreseeable future.//Should radioactive water leak from the containment vessel, the utility says it would flow into the building’s basement, and then into the basement of a nearby turbine building. But TEPCO says it does not expect the water to get into the environment.//Pending regulatory approval of the operation, the company plans to increase the amount of feed-water into the reactor to 8 tons per hour, from the current 6 tons, in hopes of filling the containment vessel in 20 days.

Work for full restoration of reactor cooling system to start Sun. (Mainichi, May 5)

Combined gov’t and TEPCO news conferences don’t appear to be improvement (Mainichi, May 5)

Edano urges Tohoku Electric to ensure safety at Onagawa plant (May 6, 2011)

Money not reaching victims / Lack of staff, difficulty in identifying recipients seen behind delay (May 5)

U.S. official urges beefed-up disaster response teamwork

Japan and the United States should bolster disaster response cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region based on the success of their coordinated rescue efforts after the March 11 Tohoku disaster, a senior Pentagon official said.

The remarks suggest that the enhancement will likely be included in new common strategic goals due to be drawn up in the next round of the two-plus-two security talks between the foreign and defense chiefs from the two nations.

Building up both countries’ capabilities for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief as well as the security alliance “can bring to bear for the benefit of other countries in the Asia-Pacific region,” the official told reporters Tuesday on the condition of anonymity.

The quake, tsunami and nuclear accident underscore “the value in having a robust HADR (humanitarian assistance and disaster relief) capacity and robust HADR capabilities that the United States and Japan can bring to bear,” the official said.

Among ways to beef up cooperation on disaster response, Japan and the United States plan to develop and introduce various types of equipment that can be used in a mutually complementary manner, sources said.

The two countries are also considering enhancing the disaster response capabilities of the Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. forces in Japan through training, the sources said.

Better quality of life for nuclear workers coming: TEPCO (Mainichi,  May 5)

The improvements will begin going into effect in early May, with workers provided with two boxed meals per day. The new showers and beds will start to become available by the middle of the month. Furthermore, an industrial medicine specialist will be on site full time, providing checkups and internal radiation exposure tests to workers once every three months. //Some prefab dorms are already scheduled for construction in July at sites with low levels of radiation. //Nuclear workers are currently on the job five days a week. About 200 now sleep and work on the plant floors, while many others are bussed in from the Fukushima No. 2 Nuclear Power Plant to the south. About 1,000 people total are working at the stricken No. 1 power plant.

POINT OF VIEW/ Daniel P. Aldrich: A crisis silver lining: Volunteerism, smarter building and open debate(Asahi, 05/05)