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Japan`s Nuclear Crisis Threatens a Financial Meltdown

Tue, Mar 15, 1:41 PM ET, by

The focus remains on Japan today. The Fukushima reactors are reported to have gone through another explosion earlier in the day, in addition to a fire breaking out in a storage area where the highly radioactive spent fuel rods of the past 20 years are being kept. The steel cover that isolates the reactor core is known to have cracked in one of the plants. In response, the company that operates the reactors is planning to pour water on the spent fuel depots from helicopters over the next days in the latest of its desperate and unconventional actions.

Although still in tolerable ranges, measurements in regions as far away as the capital have begun to show elevated levels of radioactive dust. Residents of the area surrounding the reactors have been advised to stay indoors, close the windows and wear masks when they have to go out. Those in the immediate vicinity are now being ordered to evacuate, in contrast to what was previously advice and recommendations to the same effect. Hoarding of foodstuff and necessities, energy and fuel shortages are being reported from around the country.

Japan`s natural disaster threatens to turn into a nuclear catastrophe, and the markets are not responding favorably. Commodities and stocks are selling off in a much anticipated phase of correction, while the the sharpest reactions continue to be experienced by Japanese markets. The Nikkei index has suffered its sharpest two-day fall since 1987, falling by 10% today alone, and Japan`s CDS yield has reached its highest ever level on record.

There are two major issues at the moment. How far reaching will the damage be on the Japanese psyche from the current crisis? And how much will the Japanese government borrow as it works to rebuild the economy? Will the world be willing to lend ever greater sums with the possibility that a significant proportion may not be paid back? Supply disruptions, the loss of Japanese demand, and market turmoil are serious issues, but their effects would be temporary if the Japanese people can get back to a degree of normalcy in a reasonable time. The nuclear crisis threatens to disrupt this process, and that is why the markets are reacting so nervously to the deteriorating situation.

Meanwhile, Bahrain in the Middle East has requested the deployment of foreign troops from the Gulf region yesterday in a bid to contain the unrest in the country as it threatens to transform into a shiite uprising. We are surprised to see a small Gulf nation call for the aid of its "brothers" so openly. The emirates and small kingdoms in the region are known to be highly suspicious of each other, and to prefer U.S. support over regional solidarity. So the common stance against a Shia minority may be regarded as a significant hint towards Iran that its intervention in the region is unwelcome, and may represent a hardening of attitudes in the Gulf Zone, with potential consequences for an eventual American-Israeli attack. It is interesting that the only regional power to condemn this action is Iran itself.

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