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Japan's precarious situation at the Fukushima Daichii Nuclear Power Station won't be resolved anytime soon, and recovery from the devastation from the earthquake and tsunami is only tentatively beginning. On Wednesday, the latest news reports tended to focus on the economic cost of the disaster, water in Tokyo being unfit for infants' consumption, the black smoke rising from a Fukushima reactor and the updated official death/missing toll.

Here are notable news items emerging from Japan on March 23rd (live coverage sources listed below):

  • The Official Death/Missing Toll Rises - "The latest data from Japan's National Police Agency, issued Wednesday evening in Tokyo, puts the confirmed death toll from the nation's triple-disaster at 9,452. According to the police, 14,671 people are still missing and 261,118 have been left homeless by the earthquake and ensuing tsunami," CBS News relays. On Monday, The Washington Post reported the tolls to be over 8,000 dead and 13,000 missing.
  • The $300 Billion Earthquake - Estimates about the damage from the earthquake and tsunami have approached what experts are calling "the world's costliest natural disaster," reports Reuters. "The first official estimate since the March 11 disaster covers damage to roads, homes, factories and infrastructure, and dwarfs losses from both the 1995 Kobe quake and Hurricane Katrina that swept through New Orleans in 2005," the news organization reported. Japanese taxpayers will assume financial liabilities for the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant, Bloomberg reports, not "the nuclear industry or insurers." Meanwhile TEPCO (the Tokyo Electric Power Company, which owns the plant) is looking for loans from for up to $24 billion, a source tells The New York Times.
  • Black Smoke Rising From Fukushima Reactor 3  - According to CNN's status update of each reactor in the six reactor facility (procured from the non-profit Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, Tokyo Electric Power Co. and the International Atomic Energy Agency), "black smoke emerged from the building housing this reactor Wednesday. Officials have not said what caused it, or whether any radiation was released." The status report notes that power has been restored in the control room of no. 3, and that the fuel inside the reactor has been "partially exposed as temperatures rose and water levels dropped."
  • Tokyo Infants Shouldn't Drink Tap Water - Japanese officials have found that a sample of water from the Katsushika ward contains "double the permissible level" of radioactive iodine that infants can consume, but is safe for adults. The New York Times notes that the Japanese Health Industry has said in a statement that "it was unlikely that there would be negative consequences to infants who did drink the water, but said it should be avoided if possible and that it should not be used to make infant formula." Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara said that the water "was safe for 'non-potable' use and urged residents to remain calm. But some convenience stores were sold out of bottled water late Wednesday," The Los Angeles Times observed.
  • U.S. Becomes First Country To Block Produce Imports From Japan - In a "snapshot" report, Reuters writes that, due to radiation fears, "the United States becomes the first country to block produce from Japan's radiation zone, saying it will halt milk, fruit and vegetable imports from areas of Japan near the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant."

Updating Japan Coverage:

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