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Thursday, 22 December 2011

Happy Christmas!

What a year it's been. I've experienced fear and anxiety, but also love, support, help, information, and the power of the internet which can be used to enhance or aggravate all of these.

Thanks to all of you for helping and supporting me this year through this blog.

I'm off to Tokyo to meet my daughter hot off the plane and we're going to spend Christmas with friends. So I'll sign off now and wish you all a very happy Christmas from Koriyama!
Anne

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

New Words

Hi
About this time every year, the TV and newspapers do features on new words that have come into the language. One of the obvious ones is 's'maho', short for smart phone. And there are stupid catch phrases coined by show biz people.  But as you can imagine, a lot this year were to do with the disaster. Here's my choice:

SOHTEI-GAI (想定外) 'outside the realms of probablility'.  This was Tepco's first excuse for the nuclear accident and it met with derision from the general public. Actually it's based on the laws of probability. They meant that based on their  calculations, the likelihood of a tsunami of that size were slight. Later it became known that experts had been warning of a high tsunami (there was one of similar size 1,000 years ago in the Heian period) but the warnings had been ignored, because of cost. The phrase also seemed to sum up Tepco and the government's shirking of responsibility - if the accident couldn't have been predicted then no one was responsible for it. (So-called 'stress tests' are now being carried out, computer simulations  to calculate worst case scenario situations, on the remaining nuclear plants as a condition to them being reopened.) Anyway, this phrase has worked its way into common speech. The other day I made a rather unpalatable proposal to one of our mangers and he said it was 'sohtei-nai' i.e. 'within the realms of probability', or in other words, he was half expecting it.

FUHYO HIGAI (不評被害) This is a difficult one to translate. According to internet sources it means 'financial damage caused by harmful rumours or misinformation'. And indeed it is one of the criterion for compensation. But it's used in a much more general sense to mean prejudice against us in Fukushima.

JOSEN (除染)'decontamination, clean up'. We hear this word all day every day but you won't find it in a dictionary. It certainly isn't in my regular Japanese dictionary and an online search on Kojien, equivalent of the Oxford Dictionary, was fruitless. Just goes to show how our world changed on 11 March. On Sunday went with a friend to a farmhouse just outside Koriyama where they make traditonal paper-mache dolls. When I asked where the boss was, I was told he was out dong 'josen'. It was a Sunday and the village had roped in the locals to clean the neighbourhood, specifically to hose down the schools and the routes to school. JOSEN rules our lives at the moment. Until areas are cleaned up, peope won't be able to return to their homes. And  there is the still unresolved problem of where to dump the soil that's removed.

KIZUNA (絆) Every year a priest in Kyoto decides on a single Chinese character (kanji) which sums up the past year. And he writes it with a huge brush and a big flourish. This year he wrote the single character 絆 (kizuna) . It refes to the ties, bonds, connections between people.  A tragedy like this makes you re-evaluate your life. Suddenly someone to share your problems, someone to rely on, seems more important than having a nice house or car. Marriages are on the increase. It will be interesting to see if the children of today develop different values from the 'throwaway' generation of their parents.

And finally, something completely different. OSAKA-TO KOHSOH (大阪都構想), a new word meaning 'Osaka capital project' the baby of  Hashimoto Toru (橋下徹), 42, father of seven, newly elected mayor of Osaka City. Until two weeks ago he was governor of a much bigger area, Osaka prefecture (Osaka-fu), but resigned to stand for the lesser position of Mayor in order to promote his vision of a single Tokyo style authority for Osaka. His argument is that there is a lot of waste with both the prefecture (fu) and the city (shi) having libraries and other duplicate facilities. He wants to cut waste, cut losses and use the money saved to solve Osaka's many problems (education, homelessness etc. etc.) He has experience. He famously negotiated through the night with civil servant unions to cut pay and after that put Osaka-fu in the black for three years in a row. He's the person to watch:  refreshing, dynamic, decisive. Such a contrast to the government in Tokyo. I wish we had someone like that in Fukushima.
And a very goodnight to you all
Anne

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Cold Shutdown

Hi
The Prime Minister today announced that Step 2 of the roadmap has been achieved and Fukushima Daiichi has reached cold shutdown ahead of schedule. The temperature at the bottom of the pressure vessels in all 3 reactors is stable at well below 100'C ( 2,000'C at the time of the accident), there is a cover on Reactor No.1 and the emission of radioactive materials is slight: one of the standards was to get it down to 1mSv/hr around the plant. A cooling system is working for all four fuel pools. Actually there's nothing new to report since I posted Update on 31 October but the government is hailing this as a milestone, the 'end of the accident' (jiko no shusoku 事故の収束).

We're glad things are under control and emissions are down. The workers at the plant have done a great job. A few weeks ago Yoshida, the man who's been in charge since the disaster, was taken to hospital for health reasons. He's something of a hero in these parts (at the time of the explosion he famously disobeyed an order from head office and continued to inject seawater into the plant) and he's worked selflessly and tirelessly ever since. We were worried that he might have got radiation sickness. It turns out to be (by his own admission) cancer of the oesophagus so is probably not connected with the accident. We wish him a speedy recovery.

Although it may be the end of the accident phase there are still many unknowns. First, the temperature at the bottom of the pressure vessels may be under 100'C but the fuel has melted through  and is sitting on the concrete floor of the containment vessel. Temperatures there are not known. Only when the reactors are opened up will they know for sure and since levels inside the reactors are high and there is so much debris this won't happen for a long time. Secondly, there have been worrying announcements in the last few weeks: that fuel in Reactor No.1 has burnt through the 2 m concrete floor of the containment vessel leaving a rim of only 37 cm., that there are leakages of water etc.

It may be the end of the accident but for us this is the start. Or as Hosono, Minister for the Nuclear Accident, put it, 'korekara ga honban' (これからが本番). Time to get on with the Clean Up and get back to normal. The big question is when can the 160,000 evacuees go home? Can they go home? They've been in limbo for nine months but they may be getting answers soon. The government today announced guidelines which it is going to discuss with local leaders over the weekend. Areas with external radiation of under 20 mSv/yr are to be cleaned up so the evacuation order can be lifted. Areas above 20 mSv/yr will have some restrictions. People will not be able to return to areas showing over 50 mSv/yr. These are huge areas: all of Futaba-machi and Namie-machi and part of Iitate-mura.

Step 2 may be over but it's going to take 40 years to fully close the plant. Hosono, the Minister in charge, said he was committed to seeing it through: either getting people back or seeing they get proper compensation. He's 40 so with a bit of luck he might see it through - but it's not going to be done in my lifetime.

Meanwhile, the governor has announced that Fukushima is to be a no-nuclear prefecture. The four reactors at Fukushima Daiichi are to be closed but there are two more, 5 and 6, and then four more at Fukushima Daini. These are currently closed for safety tests but could be re-opened. It's a brave decision as the nuclear power plants provide jobs and generous government grants. But his stance reflects the wishes of the majority. So new energy companies, please flock to Fukushima!
Bye for now
Anne

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Winter

Hi,
Out and about this weekend. Saturday went to our copy shop in Sendai. Leaving Koriyama on Saturday morning the air was swirling with snow and momentarily I wondered if going by car was a wise choice. But changed the car's tyres last week to brand new studless snow tyres and you can't live here and be afraid of a bit of snow. Low dark clouds were swirling in from the west, but there were gleams of sunshine to the east. And as it turned out the journey up the Tohoku Expressway along the Pacific side was clear and free of snow, bright sunshine, hills a rich gold with the last of the leaves, and persimmons a picture on the bare trees. There are a lot of persimmons left hanging on the trees this year. Wonder why? Ah well, at least they look pretty. And in the distance the high mountains capped with snow: the Azuma mountains on the left as you go past the city of  Fukushima and the peaks behind on the pass to Yonezawa. Further north I couldn't see the top of Mount Zao for cloud, but the ski slopes were etched white against the black of the mountain. With a top up of artificial snow the ski resorts are open - just waiting for visitors.

This time I didn't have to show my 'earthquake damage certificate' (risai shomeisho 罹災証明書) at the toll. The processing was causing long queues at the expressway exits and we desperately need visitors so since 1st December travel on the expressways in Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate is free.

Sunday headed west to visit my friend in Kitakata. Came out of the tunnels on the expressway to heavy snow. The contrast is stark. It really is like the famous first line of Kawabata Yasunari's novel Snow Country: 'The train came out of the long tunnel - and there was the snow country. The night had turned white.' (Seidensticker)

Last night's snowfall was the first to settle this season. About 10 cms. Snowploughs on the expressway churning slush up into the air. A bit scary. But clear on the way back.

What a country of extremes. Not only is it sweltering hot in summer and freezing cold in winter but in the same area the weather on the east, on the Pacific side, is mild with hardly any snow, whereas the Aizu area  is in the snow country with several metres of snow. Good luck to those evacuees from the coast who're having to put on snow tyres for the first time!
Good night
Anne

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Baby Milk

Hi
I was intending cutting down on these posts and getting some early nights but the Fukushima saga takes so many twists and turns. The latest is contaminated baby milk. Meiji is to recall 400,000 cans of powdered baby milk which have been found to contain a maximum of 30 bequerels/kg of caesium (official limit 200 bq/kg ). As usual an expert was wheeled out to say that since the milk is diluted the dose for infants would be only 2 to 3 bq/kg and nothing to worry about but as you can imagine parents are frantic.

Worryingly, it was discovered not by Meiji or any officials but by a citizen's group in Nihonmatsu who pressed the company for details. According to our local paper, the Fukushima Minpo, the government carried out 25 tests of baby milk, including Meiji, in July and August and found no irregularity (nothing above 5 bq.) So this is another case of contamination slipping through the net.

Meiji reports that the milk was made from dried milk from Hokkaido and Australia. This was diluted with water which had been tested and was clear. The theory is that it was hot air (air from outside) used to dry the milk and turn it back into powder which caused the contamination. The milk was made between 14 and 20 March and the factory is in Saitama, 180 km from Fukushima!

The story illustrates several things we knew already. First, that in those first few weeks there was a lot of radiation around over a wide area, not just here in Fukushima. Secondly, random tests for food are not good enough. Everything should be tested and food should be labelled. If that's impractical for everything surely it should be done for baby milk and baby food at least. Professor Takeda (and others) has been calling for testing and labelling of baby milk since June. Why wasn't it done? Why are the milk companies only now stepping up their tests? Third, people probably are over-reacting and a bit of caesium is not going to kill you but again announcements that 'levels pose no immediate danger to human health' (tadachi ni jintai ni eikyo ga deru suchi de wa nai  直ちに人体に影響が出る数値ではない)don't exactly inspire confidence. Especially when the government is in the process of recategorising food and setting new lower levels with, at last, a separate category for baby milk and infant food.

Here's a link to the story on Japan Today, an online newspaper and discussion forum in English. You might find the comments after the story from residents here in Japan interesting/amusing:

And another story today which is almost comical. Trainloads of ash from incinerators which  had been transported to Aomori right in the north have been returned to Tokyo and environs as the locals won't have it dumped in their backyard. Radioactive rubbish being transported from pillar to post with nowhere to go. The problems are so huge you have to laugh.
Goodnight
Anne

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Compensation

Dear Friends
Applying for compensation is in full swing. A manual (a thick tome) written by a national legal association is best seller in the main bookshop in town. At the company we're preparing our application for the period to end August but we're getting lawyers in to do it. It's very complex and there are big sums of money involved. We can't claim for sales lost due to the earthquake, for example if a factory was closed for several months for repairs to earthquake damage, but we can claim for sales lost to businesses which were evacuated from the 30km zone, or for sales lost due to the nuclear accident - boxes to pack fruit and vegetables,  boxes used in our shiitake packing business, and loss of business to some industrial and food producers.

The word on everyone's lips is fuhyo higai  風評被害 which according to an online dictionary translates as 'financial damage caused by harmful rumours or misinformation'. Or in other words, this blight to the Fukushima brand.

The forms have been simplified but still too difficult for smallholder Endo-san to cope with. He sells about 200,000 yen's worth of persimmons every year, enough to pay his costs, but doesn't have receipts and can't cope with the paperwork. Good news then today that a government committee has decided that we're all going to get compensation. Up until now only those evacuated in areas where radiation levels amounted to over 20 mSv/year could claim. But now the area has been extended to cover three quarters of the prefecture, 1.5 million people, Koriyama included. So I'm going to get 80,000 yen ( that's 657 GBP or $1,026 ) for the period from March to end of December. Pregnant women and children under 18 are to get 400,000 yen each ( 3,288 GBP or $5,132).

From the start the prefecture has been demanding compensation for all, especially  those who evacuated voluntarily. It's been a long struggle to get some recognition for the stress we've suffered and I'm glad those who left are eligible too. This kind of stress and fear affects people in different ways, it's very subjective, so you can't blame people for leaving. And living in two places is expensive.

More good news for Endo-san. At last testing has become available for small scale growers and he took his persimmons along to the city office to get tested. He hasn't had the full results yet but had a phone call to say they were OK and he can sell them if he wants. I immediately sent a box off to my friend in Osaka who loves persimmons. She told me a local women's group she's a member of is taking orders for Fukushima apples. Good work.

And following on from the Dalai Lama, Yoko Ono visited a junior school in Fukushima city today. What fame. She told us we had to be strong as the world was watching and she hugged every child in the class.
Goodnight
Anne




New Office

Hi
This is an update for friends and family. Those of you who've been following this blog since it started in March will know that it's been a year of change for me personally, not just because of the disaster. In March we split the company, sold the box-making business to Rengo the industry leader, and carried on as a property management company. The box business moved off the Hoha-cho site east of Koriyama station to Rengo's old factory five miles away. I wear two hats: I have an honorary position with the box company, still called Tohoku Kogyo, and go there every day. My other job is managing the property company and a subsidiary.

Whilst the box business moved to a spacious factory and smart offices in September, Toshiaki and I remained in the old building. The crack on the stairs caused by the earthquake which I had had repaired in May re-opened with the aftershocks in June, and at the time of the typhoon in October water poured through the crack like a waterfall! We moved to a temporary office nearby but at last we've moved to 'proper offices' near the station.

We're on the 8th floor facing west. The immediate view is not pretty - a sprinkling of  pre-war wooden houses, some 1960's down-at-heel concrete buildings, a monster of  a derelict building that was once occupied by Daiei supermarket. But most of the land is given over to parking  (aozora chushajo 青空駐車場 'blue sky parking lots'). Beyond, there are the mountains. Mount Adatara to the north and the summit of Mount Bandai to the west, with the weather creating an ever-changing landscape.

It's not a big office but very smart: we have new furniture, lots of storage space so it looks clean and efficient. The building's owned by an insurance company and the way the building is managed is an eye-opener. I hadn't realised that the management of office buildings is a whole industry. There's a form for everything. In our office of two we have had to split the required responsibilities. I have overall responsibility and am in charge of recycling and sorting of refuse. (Note: 'in charge'. We have cleaners.) Toshiaki is in charge of fire, crime, and is the day to day contact.

The toilets are beautiful. The lights go on when you enter and the toilet flushes automatically. And the best thing of all - for the first time in many years, I don't have to clean them!

Coming out of the building on Saturday evening after the move, life seemed good. The area round the station was bright with Christmas illuminations (well done, Urara from Edison) and the streets were full of people. It's the bonenkai season (忘年会 year end, literally 'forget the year' party) and people are out having a good time. We have anxieties about the future but at last life seems normal again.
Goodnight from a cold and windy Koriyama,
Anne

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Iodine and Thyroids

Hi
I went to a lecture last week by a thyroid specialist and it did me good. It was good to hear an expert talk objectively. Since March we've been caught in the crossfire not knowing who to believe: the initial announcements by the government which in order to avoid panic did not tell the whole truth; the media doing their best to be objective but wheeling out experts on all sides; then information, misinformation and disinformation on the internet. So it was reassuring to sit in a lecture, have the anatomy and workings of the thyroid explained, and the risks assessed by someone who knows what they're talking about.

The lecture was one of a series organised by the older Dr Kikuchi, paediatrician in Koriyama. It is his son who I have mentioned before who is active with the  'Koriyama Post Disaster Children's Care Project' (that should be Kokoro no Kea, care of the heart, which I find impossible to translate) which, among many other activities, is opening an indoor play centre just before Christmas.
 http://taroman.blog.ocn.ne.jp/koriyamachildcare/

Anyway, the speaker was Dr Naoko Momotani. She showed us diagrams of the thyroid, wrapped around the front of the throat, shaped like a butterfly. (By the way, learnt a new word, do you know this one? Nodo-botoke  のど仏 literally, the Buddha of the Throat. It's the Adam's Apple! Funny how both languages have a religious reference - must look into that sometime ...)

Back to the lecture. Thyroid hormones are essential for regulating metabolism and the production, use and maintenance of energy. Symptoms are listlessness and lack of energy so diseases of the thyroid are hard to diagnose. Thyroid stimulating hormones (TSH) are produced in the pituitary gland in the brain and regulate the amount of thyroid hormones, FT3 and FT4 in the blood. FT4 are produced by the thyroid and need four iodine molecules, FT3 need three iodine molecules and can be converted from FT4 not only in the thyroid but in other parts of the body too.

Different amounts of thyroid are needed at different ages. The highest amount is needed from birth to three years (none is needed in the womb) for the development of the brain and for growth. That blood test on the heel of a newborn picks up any deficiency so there are no irregularities in developed countries. Diseases of the thyroid can be treated easily and cheaply.

Thyroid cancers account for 6% of cancers diagnosed. Only one kind is fatal (undifferentiated carcinoma of the thyroid) and occurs in people over 40. The rest can be treated and most people recover. The cancer amongst children in Chernobyl was papillary thyroid cancer and occurred 5 years after the accident.  She thinks the reasons for the prevalence of that cancer in Chernobyl were 1) Ten times more radioactive material was emitted from the plant at Chernobyl than Fukushima 2) children drank contaminated milk (this she thinks was the main reason, 80% of cases) 3) general insufficiency of iodine  4) late evacuation and 5) late diagnosis.

The Recommended Daily Allowance of iodine for an adult is 150 μg. Japanese consumption varies between 180 and 30,000 μg. That high figure is for the days you eat the konbu seaweed and drink the soup in that winter speciality o-den! Average Japanese consumption is 1,200 μg/day. (Incidentally, she pointed out that in a Western diet the main source of iodine is in salt - it's added to salt in most countries but not here - and in the US 10% of people are not getting enough because they are cutting their salt intake or switching to non-iodized salt.)
Talking about iodine pills, she said they have to be taken before the plume goes over, or up to 3 hours later. She said it's no use giving them later on. (I read different on the internet, but she's the expert).

Her conclusion, and that of three international conferences she's been to since March, is that there is no increased risk of cancer for children in Fukushima. The prefecture is, however, carrying out ultrasound tests on all children under 18 (for the rest of their lives) and she says this is to reassure people and create a baseline.

One mother got up and said she's been feeding her kids seaweed in all forms (nori, konbu) since the disaster but Dr Momotani urged moderation. Too much iodine can stop the thyroid working.

So there we have it. It's official. Fukushima kids are unlikely to develop thyroid cancer. We can knock that one off the list. Now, we need measured advice on all the other nasties. It's going to be a long haul but we're getting there one by one.
Bye
Anne

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Fighting Back

Hi,
It's been a bad week for Fukushima's image. First, fishing on the coast was supposed to be resumed before the end of the year but the fish is not safe and the ban's not been lifted. Then after the discovery of contaminated rice last week, high levels of caesium have been found in the rice of more farmers in the next valley. It makes a mockery of the governor's declaration last month that Fukushima rice is safe. Two tests per area had been taken but it's obvious now that such tests are simplistic. Tests need to be more detailed taking into consideration the topography, soil, rainfall etc.

Meanwhile the fruit farmers in the north have been issued with power hoses and taught how to sluice down their fruit trees. Two thousand hectares of orchards (peaches, cherries, grapes, apples, pears, nashi pears and persimmons) to be cleaned this winter.

A group of local leaders visited Chernobyl and they were shown on TV. Twenty five years on people still take their food to be checked for radiation. Koriyama's alright but the people from the 20-30 km area, for example the people from Kawauchi evacuated to Koriyama, is that what it's going to be like for them?

Even when the produce is safe, will people buy it? Will people visit? How long is the stigma going to remain? Five years? Ten years? This is what's at the back of everyone's mind.

People here are working very hard to stay cheerful and live a normal life, or rather to adapt to the new reality. And they're fighting back. Attended a rally on Sunday organised by the Chamber of Commerce. Two resolutions. The first for measures to boost the economy following the earthquake: call for the Ministry for the Recovery and WHO and IAEA research institutes to be based here, for special funding and help for businesses, and rebuilding of roads and infrastructure. The second resolution calling for an end to the nuclear accident, for Koriyama to be throughly cleaned, for a speedy decision on the permanent disposal area for radioactive waste; measures for health and children (free medical treatment for all, more monitoring of radiation, free education, more indoor play facilities) and for compensation. There was also a call for the word 'Fukushima' to be dropped from the name of the nuclear plant.

In spite of the all the bad news though you can't help admiring the way people just carry on with their daily lives.
Anne
"Eh, Eh, Oh!" and the resolutions were passed.
(I was given an orange hachimaki headband but sorry to say I didn't wear it.)


Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Christmas Shopping

Hi folks,
Not very Christmassy round here yet, but Christmas is only a month away and I'm going to do something unusual and blow my own trumpet. If you're looking for Christmas presents, here are two suggestions.

First, let me introduce my very talented daughter, Reiko. She's based in London. She started out designing all sorts of things for the home - furniture, lights, cushions - but is now settled into designing bone china tableware. The best thing is that the china is made in England, in 'The Potteries' in Staffordshire, where she can keep an eye on manufacturing and quality, which wasn't the case in the early days when she was having things made in China and eastern Europe. She's still in her twenties, works very hard and has come a long way. I am very proud of her.

Her company is called Reiko Kaneko and this is the address. Take a look.

I can't get back to England this Christmas so she's coming here to visit. As you can imagine I'm looking forward to her visit immensely.

Next, my book. Last summer, 2010, when the mercury hit record levels, I spent every weekend on a book which was published last  month with the title, 'Conversational Japanese: The Right Word at the Right Time'. I'm not supposed to say this but it's actually a revision of a book I wrote years ago. I added the kanji and brought it up to date adding internet shopping to the shopping section and e-mail to the chapter on letters. Every chapter has an orientation in English as I've learnt the hard way that knowing the bare bones of the language is not enough to make yourself understood. Then there are dialogues for real life situations, often disaster scenarios, which were fun to write. There are chapters on the neighborhood, the telephone, traveling, business, children, as well as gifts, weddings, funerals and speeches.
Here are details of the book.
Conversational Japanese: The Right Word at the Right Time
by Anne Kaneko (Tuttle Publishing)
It's selling on Amazon.com for $9, Amazon Japan for 1,470 yen, Amazon UK for 13 GBP.

If you like it, please give it the thumbs up ('Like' on sites in English and いいね on Japanese sites).

That's all for now,
Bye
Anne





Monday, 21 November 2011

Budget Passed

Dear Friends,
Hurrah! The 3rd Supplementary Budget that will provide the money to reconstruct the tsunami hit region was passed today. Only two months late. That's 12 trillion yen, half of the 5 year budget for the recovery. That means that all those plans, for example, for moving people to higher ground, can start at last. Let's hope the  money gets to the regions quickly.

There's money for shifting debris, building roads and infastructure; finance for small businesses; and money to start the Clean Up here in Fukushima. Not before time. Winter's setting in which will hamper work.

Endo-san came round the other day complaining. He's got a friend who works in some official capacity and got him to come to his house with his 'proper', 'official' geiger counter (dosimeters are one a penny but a lot are unreliable). Anyway, the readings were high at 0.8μSv/hr and he's creating. The city have told him to scrape the topsoil, collect it in a corner and cover it with a plastic sheet. He's not happy. Kept saying he thought levels were low round here (sendo ga hikui 線度が低い). This must be a new word. People don't say hoshasen (radiation) any more, it's contracted to sendo (literally, wave levels). Six months ago we didn't know a sievert from a sausage, now we're so used to talking about radiation we shortcut the language.

While on the topic of the Clean Up, the other day a leaflet dropped through my door from the City, the Do's and Don'ts of Clean Up activities. Don't attempt to clean areas over 10 μSv/hr (contact City Hall). Leaves and weeds are to be put in bin bags and will be collected but soil has to be piled up, higher radioactive stuff in the middle, covered over and the city notified. There are grants of up to 500,000 yen for organisations volunteering to do the work. There's a fuller version of the manual here: Koriyama City Clean Up Manual
Sorry to be mean spirited but I'm in no rush to volunteer.

And here's an article I came across which suggests that since the radiation here is low dose and since cancer is such a major cause of death, the effects on statistics may be so slight that we'll probably never know whether radiation here in Fukushima led to more cancers. Is that reassuring or not?

BTW I've corrected an earlier post (Bonfire Night) where I said 2,000 workers were working at Fukushima Daiichi. The correct figure is 3,000.
And a very goodnight to you all
Anne

Osaka and Back

Dear Friends
Busy week. Spent Friday and Saturday in Osaka. Took the shinkansen bullet train from Koriyama to Osaka, 470 miles in four and a half hours, and that was on a slow train with a change in Tokyo. Bad weather, not much to see, a few fields of tea in Shizuoka, otherwise mile after mile of conurbation and the factories and head offices of Japan's household names: Pola (cosmetics), Ajinomoto (seasonings), Chugai (pharmaceuticals), Wacoal (underwear).

Went to attend the twice yearly meeting for Rengo subsidiaries. Can't say anything about the meeting but once again it was a chance for me to be thankful that in these difficult times we are now backed by the industry leader's money, brains and expertise. Everyday I am thankful to those who got the deal done. (Photos of our new and old offices below)

My first time in Japan was in Osaka, at Expo 70 when along with 11 other British students of Japanese we worked for six hot months in the British pavilion. At that time visits to Osaka were for okonomi-yaki pancakes and yakisoba fried noodles in cheap dives around the station. Hot, no air conditioning. All gone now. Unrecognisable.

I stayed with an old, old friend from those days. She's now 79 and recently moved into a new apartment on the 14th floor with splendid views, underfloor heating, lights that go on and off automatically and a TV in the bathroom. Her hobby is editing and making DVDs of a lifetime's photos. When I visited her a couple of years ago I was thrilled to find Fukushima veg in her supermarket. But not anymore. And I'm ashamed to say I bought up lots of vegetables and fish from the west of the country and had them sent up here by chilled delivery. Tonight I gorged on tomatoes and cucumbers. I've hardly eaten any all summer.

Big setback here in terms of food. Last week a farmer from Onuma, about 10 kms east  of Fukushima city centre, took his rice along to be tested and it was found to contain 630 bq/kg of caesium, over the limit of 500. Some had got as far as the shops but none had been sold. All shipments have been stopped pending further tests. The area is in a valley surrounded on three sides by steep hills and the theory is that caesium collected in the paddy from streams on the hills. An agricultural 'hotspot' as it were. It's exposed a flaw in the random testing conducted up to now and shown that testing is not straightforward. Experts are calling for detailed 'soil maps' and soil analysis. What is needed of course is testing of every bag of rice (and other food) but we're told there aren't enough machines or technicians.

Election of local councillors today. Lowest turnout on record, 47% (including postal votes). But maybe not too bad when you consider 150,000 are evacuated from their homes, 59,000 of these outside the prefecture. Electoral officers have had their work cut out travelling the country these last few weeks trying to persuade people to vote. The head of Okuma village, where Fukushima Daiichi is situated, fought on a platform of keeping the village together and working towards returning one day. He won but his opponent who said they should all give up and move to other local authorities got 40% of the vote. What is going to happen to those areas within the 20 km zone?
Lovely and warm in Osaka and Tokyo. Got off the train to a freezing Koriyama night.
All the best
Anne
The office building at the new site newly emblazoned with the name 'Tohoku Kogyo'. Very satisfying for me to see the company name live on.
The old building, covered in scaffold and netting.

Demolition of the office building. Can you see the water being hosed in to keep the dust down?

Demolition of No 2 workshop complete (the empty space). Now working on No 1.




Saturday, 12 November 2011

Bonfire Night

Hi folks
Tonight it's Bonfire Night in the neighbouring town of Sukagawa - or rather the Taimatsu Akashi Festival that goes back 400 years. Last year I had visitors from England (Hi Heidi!) and we went to see it. The climax of the festival is the burning of about twenty bamboo poles, packed with grasses and reeds, hand made by local schools and organisations. This year, however, the reeds (kaya カヤ, as in kayabuki - thatch)were found to contain caesium.  The city appealed for donations and bamboo and kaya were sent from all over Japan. The  poles have been made as usual and a radiation-free festival will be enjoyed by all. This is the website (Japanese only) and I've put some of last year's photos at the end of this post.
Sukagawa Taimatsu Akashi website

Had dinner last night with some people who'd been to the Dalai Lama's talk. They were sitting in the front row and their main impression was how young he looked. He's 76 but has no wrinkles! He must be doing something right. When asked about the radiation he told listeners to heed the scientists. When asked about the tsunami he told people to move to higher ground. "If you have too much fear, too much worry, too much attachment, your mind becomes biased. With that kind of mind, you can't see reality. You need a calm mind to see things clearly." Good advice and I think we're getting there but certainly the first few months after the disaster there was a lot of fear, a lot of worry, people did get biased one way or the other, and we couldn't see the reality. Easier now, but still difficult for us mere mortals.

Reporters were taken on a bus tour of Fukushima Daiichi today. Foreign press too so the pictures are on the BBC. Up until now we've only seen fuzzy pictures taken from 30 km away but close to, the destruction, the mess, even eight months on is shocking. With radiation levels at 50 to 300 μSv/hr no one was allowed off the bus but they did to get to go into the control centre where officials are working and where the clearance workers get scanned (two thousand people - correction: three thousand people - working at the plant everyday). A few weeks ago the Spanish gave an award to honour those working at the plant and today Yoshida, the plant manager (the one who in the early days famously chose to ignore his boss's order to stop adding seawater) said in an interview that several times in that first week he thought he was a gonner. Yes, we owe these people a lot. Things are bad but they could have been even worse.
Good night
Anne
Taimatsu Akashi festival in Sukagawa. These youngsters have received the flame after a ceremony at a shrine
and go on to light torches around the town.

Everyone joins in taking the torch up the hill. (Fire hazard?)

At the top of the hill, the poles are set alight, one after the other.

And burn all night.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Cold Winds

Hi folks
The weather's turned cold and I've succumbed and put the heating on for the first time. From now on cold westerlies will blast Koriyama until next spring. Like Chicago it's a Windy City. But at least the winds will be blowing away from the plant and out to sea.

The plan for the indoor children's play centre that I mentioned earlier has been officially announced. What I hadn't realised was that the motivation for it was a survey done by paediatrician Kikuchi Shintaro of about 250 children at two kindergartens where he found that children in the year to June this year had only put on one quarter of normal weight gain. He attributes it to two things: hormone imbalance due to stress partly connected with not being able to play outside, and then physically not being hungry so not eating because they're not playing outside. The play centre is to have a huge sandpit, jungle gym and tricycle track and has been made possible through the generous sponsorship of Koriyama based supermarket chain, York Benimaru. It's to open on 23 December (nice Christmas present for the kids) and entrance will be free.

The authorities in Motomiya (just north of Koriyama) have provided two machines for people to go and get their home-grown produce tested. At last! Up until now only produce going through JA (the agricultural cooperative) has been able to be tested. But why has it taken so long? It's the end of the season. Why wasn't this kind of machine available in the summer to test all those lovely tomatoes and cucumbers? It's too little to late.

It's not that the Tokyo bureaucrats or politicians are lazy it's just that everything has to be decided in Tokyo. So local government officials have to go to Tokyo, petition for what they want done, then the Tokyo bureaucrats have to sift through everything (on top of their normal work) and make their decision. This is what devolution is all about - making local decisions local. The bill that's doing the rounds (the government doesn't have a majority so likes to get agreement from the opposition parties first) has provisions for special areas (tokku 特区) which will be exempt from a lot of red tape. All the disaster areas want to be tokku. But getting that decision itself is taking a long time!

Our salesman who lives 34 km from the reactor has no plans yet to return home. His house is surrounded by trees which the city has agreed to cut back. He's hoping that will get some air moving through and improve the situation. Unlike his neighbours 4 km away he is not eligible for compensation.

Good night from a chilly Koriyama,
Anne

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Satoyama

Hi,
Spent last Thursday, the holiday, celebrating the harvest in Hirata-mura, about 30 miles south east of Koriyama. In the past we've planted and harvested the rice but sadly Sato-san died of illness last year and the work has been contracted out. But with a yield of 750 kilos there was still a lot of work to be done taking the brown rice to the mill to be polished, bagging it up and sending it off to the many supporters who're prepared  to eat rice from Fukushima. Having said that the rice in the area has been tested and shows no trace of caesium and a letter with these results was put in every package.  (I have to say though that I opted to take white rice this year - cleaner than brown rice - just to be on the safe side.)

It was a lovely day to spend in the country, the weather mild, trees beginning to turn colour, some post-harvest activity in the fields (threshing, cutting grass, burning stubble), but generally still and calm. Paddy fields, dry fields, villages, bamboo groves, woods: there's a word in Japanese for this country scene, satoyama (里山) which has been coined by conservationists to describe the symbiosis of people in their environment and biodiversity.

The Satoyama are under threat. No one looks after the woods any more. The average age of the farming population is 66 and the vast majority of farmers have another job - they can't earn a living from farming alone. That's in spite of subsidies for growing rice, for not growing rice and with the price of rice ten times the world price. I don't begin to understand the complexities of farming here but the country is currently split in two over whether to enter talks  with a view to joining the TPP, the Trans Pacific Partnership, a sort of EU with free movement of goods and no tariffs. America and Australia are in. As are Chile, Peru and Malaysia. China's not in and Japan is dragging its feet. Of course the farmers are against.

But the rice really was delicious. How much water do you add to rice when you cook it? I was amazed to hear that for each cup of this rice you need less than a cup of water. First, it's fresh and still moist (it'll need more as the season progresses), secondly it hasn't been in a dryer like most rice but dried out in the fields. So it had a beautiful nutty aroma, glistened in the bowl, and was chewy to eat. Delicious.

Last night I went to a one man show by Issey Ogata. I saw him in London over ten years ago. If you get the chance do go and see him. He's immensely talented and very funny. He did seven sketches, changing on stage, becoming seven different personalities: the old lady who can't ride a bike, a foundry worker whose most exciting moment in fifty years work had been the time a goat got into the factory, or the lady of a certain age in a bar. Just everyday scenes but very cleverly observed and acted out with a face that moves like elastic.

Back to work tomorrow.
Anne
Sato-san's family home

Harvest festival

Rice hanging out to dry the old fashioned way

Me measuring rice into 5 kg bags

30kg sacks of Fukushima rice stacked up in the old farmhouse

The rice really is good, fragrant and glistening

Country scene

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Trouble at No. 2

Dear Friends
Fukushima back in the news with the announcement today that Xenon, a radioactive gas, has been found coming out of Reactor No.2 (that's the only reactor with its building still intact, a pretty square box painted blue with white cloud patterns). Xenon 133 has a half life of 5 days and Xenon 135 of only 9 hours and they're produced when the fuel Uranium 235 has a nuclear fission reaction. So this means that some small nuclear reactions may be continuing inside the reactor. Everyone's playing it down saying that there's no possiblity of criticality, a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction, and that the temperature is down to 76'C so should not affect the plan for cold shutdown by the end of the year. Nonetheless, announcements like this make you realise how big the accident was and how little is known yet. No one can get inside that building so it's all supposition. The centre of the reactor may be 76'C but the fuel has melted down, off the rods, and is sitting in water at the bottom of the building and may even have melted through the floor. Underestimate of the dangers? I don't know. Meanwhile, boric acid is being injected to neutralise the stuff.

Tomorrow is a national holiday, Culture Day, and the lucky people of Iwaki were treated to a ballet performance by Sylvie Guilleme. Here in Koriyama our huge concert hall is bottom of the list for repairs so is still shut. Couldn't even be the venue for the Dalai Lama who is coming to Koriyama on Sunday. The Dalai Lama coming to Koriyama! (All tickets sold out)

Main topic of conversation in our office is the tax office's announcements today of 'adjustments' to land valuations. Every summer land valuations are announced which form the basis for taxes (inheritance tax, property tax etc). The value of land has been falling every year since the bubble burst so land now is worth half, or in some expensive areas one tenth, of what it was in 1991. Don't let anyone tell you that the price of land always goes up! Today's announcements put a figure on the effects of the earthquake and the nuclear accident. So Koriyama is 0.85 which means that property tax will be reduced by 15% as a result of the accident. It's supposed to be a goodwill gesture but it would be naive to think that this will not affect sale prices. Areas on the coast in Iwate and Miyagi were valued at 0.3 and land in the exclusion zone at 0. Good that these people will not have to pay tax on their land but a slap in the face to be told your land is worth nothing.

On a brighter note, todays news showed foreign companies moving into Aizu Wakamatsu. A Chinese company which makes heavy machinery and sees big business in the recovery and Accenture, global management consulting company, that sees that local hydro and geothermal could form the basis of new renewable energy. When we here are reeling from the news that Xebio, a local sportswear company that made it nationally is moving its HQ out of Koriyama as foreign buyers won't come, frightened off by the radiation, this is good news indeed. The government does nothing, the local people are doing their best but basically waiting for instructions (and money) from Tokyo, so it's great that some outsiders are putting their brains together and looking for a way out of this mess we're in.

Tomorrow I'm off to the country to pick up my year's supply of rice. The weather is mild and it's too nice to stay indoors.
Love to all
Anne

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

My News

Hello again,
Yesterday I gave a macro view of what's going on in Fukushima. Tonight I'll give the micro view: what's happening in my life. Interesting for my friends and family I hope, and perhaps mildly interesting trivia for anyone else who can be bothered to read this.

Well, having split the company in two in April, I currently  have two jobs. As (honorary) Chairman of the box company (which we sold to Rengo), I go every morning and late afternoon to the new factory. Here are some pictures of a ceremony held last week at the little Shinto shrine on the premises. A Shinto priest was invited over and we all prayed for Safety at work.
The Shrine decked out for the ceremony
The priest doing his stuff, much waving and shaking of white paper wand, paper confetti, and deep bows
And here's me. One bow, two claps, one bow. Perfect!
Then in the middle of the day it's back to our temporary office. Just the two of us, me and Toshiaki. From there we oversee the  demolition of the old factory (photo below), make plans, and run a copy shop business (12 staff).

My old office. How they got that digger up to the 2nd floor I don't know!
I had an accident the other day. Caught my hand in a chair and gouged a bit out of my right index finger. Needed to go to hospital. Very quick and efficient and it is mending well. Strange to be in the orthopaedic dept. of a hospital and surrounded by 'good' radiation in the form of X-rays, scans and radiotherapy. There's a good health insurance system here and I had to pay 30% of the cost: 4,000 yen for the treatment and 2,500 yen for some antibiotics and painkillers. (That doesn't seem expensive to me here but I just converted it into pounds sterling at the current rate of 125 yen/GPB and got a shock. I'm used to thinking 1,000 yen is 4 pounds but it's 8!)

Went to Tokyo on Saturday for a funeral. Had lunch there, just a bento box but delicious. Full of things I don't normally eat. I haven't eaten fish for a long time (might contain strontium) and mushrooms were a bad source of contaminaton in Chernobyl so I avoid those. It really brought home to me the fact that we are not leading normal lives. Just those ordinary things that you take for granted.

Waiting for the bus on the way back I got talking to a man who'd been demonstrating outside the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Big anti-nuclear demonstration over three days. He was complaining that the recent health questionnaire we've all been sent is too vague and was calling for more health checks and health passbooks for all. Saw on the news tonight that the Prime Minister has signed an agreement with the leader of Vietnam to build two nuclear plants there. Admittedly it was agreed before the earthquake but there are talks going on with other Asian countries too. Seems incredible to us here.

And finally, here's a quiz question for you. What do you think these are and how do they work? Repair work has started on our apartment at last. Scaffolding is being put up and these curious gadgets have appeared all over the outer walls. They look a bit like fairy lights but the 'bulbs' are of hard plastic. Presumably a device to fill the cracks in the walls but we'll have to wait and see.


This has been an odd blog. You've been very indulgent.
Much love to you all
Anne



Monday, 31 October 2011

Update

Hi
A while back a reader suggested I did an overview of the general situation here but for a long time things were unclear and we seemed to be in limbo. There's still not a lot of action on the part of the government but there have been some major announcements. So here's an update on the situation here in Fukushima.

Let's start at the centre, at the nuclear plant at Fukushima Daiichi. All three reactors and the four spent fuel pools have been cooled to under 100'C and stable cold shutdown will be achieved in December, a few weeks earlier than planned. Reactor No. 1 has a smart new cover although Reactors 3 and 4 won't get theirs until next summer. The next stage is to remove the fuel from the spent fuel pools, work which is expected to start within three years. Work to remove the reactor fuel is planned to start within ten years. Note these dates are for work to start. It will take ten years just to make the preparations. According to yesterday's Nikkei, the situation is much worse than at Three Mile Island - there's a lot of debris, contamination to be cleaned up, robots to be developed. Then it's going to take 30 years to close the plant for good (normally it takes 15 years). By the way, the plant is said to be emitting 100 million becquerels/hour of radiation (that was before the cover went on) which sounds a lot but apparently is one millionth the levels in March. (Incidentally, these figures didn't start to be announced until July. We were kept in the dark for a long time.)

No news for the poor people evacuated from the 20 km No-Go zone. It's unlikely that people from the two villages of Futaba and Okuma where the reactor is situated will ever be able to return home but nothing's been said. Someone told me that people from there just want to know one way or the other so they can get on with their lives.

The evacuation ban in the 20 to 30 km zone was lifted a month ago but only 500 people, a mere 1%, have returned. Hardly surprising since nothing's been done to reassure them that they are safe. The local authorities are now working to decontaminate the area, get schools and hospitals up and running, and attract businesses with a view to getting residents to return by next March. Old people may go back but they're going to have a tough job attracting the young people.

Here in Koriyama outdoor radiation levels stick stubbornly at 0.8 μSv/hr. Life goes on as normal but no one goes into the parks and the kids don't play outside.

The whole country has gone radiation mad. It seems like everyone has a geiger counter and is out finding 'hot spots' and 'micro spots' in Tokyo and beyond, sometimes with odd results such as discovering rubbish dumped decades ago, nothing to do with the accident.

The big issue is the Clean Up and where to put the contaminated soil. The government just yesterday announced that in 3 years time it will have an Interim Storage Facility up and running (in the prefecture) and has asked that local authorities store the waste locally until then. That's supposed to reassure all those people who're objecting to having dumps in their backyard. The Facility is planned to have a 30 year life after which the stuff will be moved elsewhere (we're told). The soil will be packed into concrete boxes underground and will cover an area of 3 to 5 sq kms.

Compensation continues apace. An organisation financed half by the government and half by the electric companies is in charge. The bill is estimated at 1 trillion 119 billion yen (To put that in context, total government expenditure this year is expected to be a record 106 trillion yen.) Families who've been evacuated will get about 4.5 m yen in total, then there's compensation to farmers for ban on sales or price falls, and for businesses who've suffered because of the accident. Tokyo Electric has promised to be more customer friendly in dealing with claims after criticism of its previous high handed manner.

All this is going to cost a helluva lot of money and the 3rd Supplementary Budget is still not passed. This will provide money not just for us in Fukushima but for the tsunami disaster areas and is crucial to the recovery.  Sales tax (VAT) is a mere 5%  and is to be raised to 10% over the next few years but that had already been earmarked for social security so the bill has to be paid through higher taxation. The prime minister gave a speech to the Diet on Friday outlining the plan. He had been saying that this generation should finance the recovery so there was to be a 10 year recovery plan and higher taxes for 10 years but he's had to concede to a 15 year redemption date for bonds to finance the recovery. There was talk of putting the tax up on cigarettes. I was all for that. A packet of 20 is only 440 yen. But that got shelved due to opposition from tobacco farmers (... and the PM himself is a heavy smoker). But he has pledged to cut his own salary by 30%.

We continue to worry about the effect of radiation on health. Last week a government committee opined that a lifetime level of 100 mSv from food alone posed no risk to health and will revise (downwards) the current 'provisional' safe levels for food. But in July the same committee had said that the 100 mSv lifetime figure  included external exposure too. But no one is giving us a figure now for that. Each government department studies its own area. There's a word for it in Japanese, tatewari (縦割り), split vertically. It seems to us that no one's adding up the figures, and giving us the practical information we need. And our constant gripe, no separate levels for pregnant women and children.

This has got very long but I hope it's given you an idea of the huge scale of what is happening here both in terms of the amount of money it's going to cost to fix and the long timescale. Even in Japan neither Fukushima nor the disaster areas are top news any more. Floods in Thailand, snow in New York and Eurozone crises grab the headlines. We battle on nonetheless.
Love to you all
Anne











Monday, 24 October 2011

Persimmons

Hi folks
My close friends and family will know of Endo-san, an old family friend who has a field of persimmon trees near where I used to live in Sakuragaoka. Persimmon come in two kinds: the ones you can eat straight off the tree and the ones that have a terrible taste (shibui 渋いin Japanese), that make your mouth pucker and you have to spit out. But if they're treated, either by wiping in alcohol (shochu 焼酎) and keeping wrapped up in a box for a couple of weeks, or by drying, they are food for the gods. Endo-san and his wife spend many weeks every autumn peeling the fruit and hanging them up in strings to dry.

But bad news this year for dried persimmons. Samples in Date (pronounced Dattey) north of Fukushima which is famous for its Anpo-gaki, luscious semi-dried fruit, have shown high concentrations of caesium. One sample, for example, showed 40 bq/kg for the raw fruit, but 122 for Anpo-gaki, and 213 for regular dried fruit. Some were higher than the permitted level of 500bq/kg and shipment has been stopped in three areas. Bad news for the boxmakers there too.

Endo-san and his wife peeling persimmons three years ago

I was worried about Endo-san and his wife but didn't want to say anything. I saw him yesterday. He said that one of the varieties he grows (Mishirazu, a seedless variety) has been tested locally and is clear. But his son has been nagging him not to dry the fruit so he says he'll not do it this year. I asked him what he would do with all the fruit and he said he'd leave it on the trees for the birds. What a waste. And it's a good crop too.

One of our salesmen went to Minami Soma today and drove through the 'planned evacuation area' . He said it was like a ghost town. No one around. No cars. Silent. No crops in the fields. There were weeds but only a foot or so high. Eventually he met a woman walking a dog but it turned out that she was just visiting to take care of the dog and doesn't live there. He said the houses didn't look bad as people are visiting to take care of things. He was stopped from going (accidentally) near the no go zone and put in on the right track by a policeman from Osaka.

And finally, here's a new word for those of you who like to keep up with the language. Do you know what a Sumaho is? スマホ It's a contraction of スマートフオン or Smartphone!

Bye for now
Anne


Sunday, 23 October 2011

Live and Learn

Hi
A while back, in the midst of the confusion and anxiety over our exposure to radiation, Fukushima prefecture pledged to check the health of its two million citizens and my questionnaire arrived in the post a few days ago. For every day and night from 11 to 26 March you have to show where you were at what times and whether you were a) inside  b) in transit  c) outside. To help jog your memory there's a 'calendar' of the main events during that period. A catalogue of explosions, suspicious wisps of smoke from the reactors, and the dates when milk, spinach and greens were banned. It makes sobering reading. It's taken me well over an hour to fill in the form even though I have this blog as a record. Next, for the period from 26 March to 11 July you have to give any variations on your general movements (in my case, the five days I spent in England over Golden Week). If you ate home grown fruit and vegetables or drank home produced milk you should give details of what you ate and how much.  There are questions on what water you drank during the month of March (that's worrying), whether you took iodine tablets, whether you were screened and whether you were a radiation worker. The questionnaire is to be returned to the Medical Department of Fukushima University and in due course I'll be sent an estimate of how much radiation I've been exposed to. I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation myself a month or so ago so it'll be interesting to see how the results compare.

Is it my imagination or are we getting more relaxed about radiation? Certainly we're more savvy. We've come a long way, even compared to a month ago. We're getting more information. And at last more food is being measured rather than random sampling. The new season's rice is coming on the market. After the scare a couple of weeks ago when brown rice from Nihonmatsu showed 500 bq/kg, polished rice from there is clear. Koriyama JA (Agricultural Coop) tested 1,000 places (the whole prefecture only tested 68 places) and all the rice is clear, no caesium at all.

Last week a morning show on NHK took the meals for one week for 7 families across the country and tested them for radioactive substances. I didn't see it myself but there's a link below to the website.  The results for the  family in Sapporo were 5.7 bq/kg,  Osaka 3.4, Hiroshima 0, Edogawa (Tokyo) 4, the family in Koriyama that ate Fukushima veg 0, the farming family in Sukagawa (just south of Koriyama) who grow their own veg and had never had it tested 3.7 and the big surprise the family in Meguro in Tokyo the highest level of 9 bq/kg. All levels well under the 'safe' amounts of 500 bq/kg so reassuring but there was some debate on our Fukushima Info Facebook site with some people saying the sample was too small to be valid.

We live and learn.  We're certainly learning and we're getting more information these days to make informed choices. We're also learning to live with radiation. After all, the majority of us don't have much choice.
Good night from a wet and chilly Koriyama
Anne

Cleaning up one of the parks in Koriyama

This part cleaned.  An addition to the 'Poop Scoop' sign reads '14 October, 1.37 μSv/hr'

The fountains drained and stones washed clean.

My health questionnaire


The page for an hour by hour breakdown of my movements from 11 to 26 March



Sunday, 16 October 2011

People Power

Dear Friends,
With the experts unable to agree on what levels of radiation are safe and with the government dithering between levels of 1 mSv, 5 mSv and 20 mSv per year, people are taking things into their own hands. Seems like everyone has a radiation detector (except me). People in Tokyo are getting particularly nervous and measuring everything they can (resulting in the fiasco a few days ago of the 1950s radioactive rubbish!). But people are finding high levels in the usual places, drains and where rainwater collects. There's a new word for these places: microspots.

There's widespread distrust of the government along with a thirst for information so people are getting organised. There's a 'National Parents Network to Protect Children from Radiation' (子供たちを放射能から守る全国ネットワーク), a self help group which at the weekend invited a Russian expert to Tokyo to tell parents what was done in Chernobyl and give practical advice.

Most of the schools and school routes in Koriyama have been cleaned now and elementary schoolchildren can play outside in the school yard for one hour a day but that's as far as it goes. After the recent success of an indoor play facility in Koriyama (3,500 visitors in 3 days), a group of paediatricians here has got sponsorship for a permanent faciltiy which will provide areas for kids to run around and let off steam as well as rooms for counselling worried parents.

No one goes to the park (and we have some lovely parks) and cleaning up ordinary homes and gardens has been conspicously absent from official plans. People are measuring levels in their own gardens and removing the soil. It seems to be effective. But the contaminated soil is just shovelled into plastic sacks and put in a corner. It's illegal to move it. And there's still no place you can take the stuff to though I've heard on the grapevine that Koriyama has a site which it will be opening soon.

Or you can get people in to clean your house. Cost between 100,000 and 200,000 yen (750 - 1,500 GBP). Saw on TV one company that will spray the outside walls of your house with a blue gel that gets peeled off along with the radioactive particles.

Similarly, in the face of massive opposition, Tokyo Electric has done a U-turn on the way compensation is to be handled. It's brought out a simplified explanation (the original was 150 pages long!), said it will visit old people to help them fill out the forms, and has removed the disclaimer that people had been asked to sign. It's also going to reconsider the basis for compensaton to the tourist industry. Originally it had arbitrarily decided that it would compensate for only 80% worth of last years sales. Tokyo Electric (Tepco) has a monopoly and there had been much criticism of it lording it over the people (tono-sama shobai 殿様商売)but they got their comeuppance.

Thank you for all your comments, particularly on Radiation 5. I've made one correction. I quoted a method of measuring the effect of radiation which should have read Linear No Threshold Model. This is a link to a Wikipedia page which makes interesting reading. Even the experts can't agree on what levels are safe. No wonder we're all confused!
Bye for now
Anne


Saturday, 15 October 2011

A Funny Thing Happened

Dear Friends,
Traces of Plutonium found recently in six places in Fukushima (outside the plant), Strontium discovered on a roof in Yokohama, and yesterday mystery radioactivity in Tokyo! The country's gone mad. Mothers from the 'Protect our Children from Radiation Society' who walk Tokyo streets with dosimeters found high levels in Tsurumaki in Setagaya. (Nice area, quiet, low rise, lots of temples.) The police got to work with power hoses but no change in the levels. Then it became apparent that it wasn't Caesium but  Radium, so nothing to do with Fukushima. The authorities moved in and removed old bottles dumped in the garden,  probably fluorescent paint that had been there since the 1950s!  Quite funny really. Just goes to show how nervous everyone's got. People are over-reacting, especially in Tokyo.  

Tom made a good comment on a recent post, that at Chernobyl the stress was more damaging than the radiation. That could well be the case here too, what with families living apart, or living with the unknown. Still no guidelines as to what are safe levels. Is it 1 mSv/year or is 20 mSv/year alright? We just want some sound guidance.

A start was made today with the publication of educational materials to be used in schools nationwide. Basic knowledge about radiation is to be on the curriculum for children of all ages. The move seems to be welcomed by teachers. Seminars are also being held to train teachers on counselling or 'care of the soul' (kokoro no kea 心のケア). Definitely needed as children face big upheaval: latest figures show 17,000 children have moved school, 11,000 of these moving outside the prefecture.
Here's the link to the text for primary school kids on the Ministry of Education's website. It's 20 pages long and informative (did you know that radiation is used to reinforce rubber tyres?). It  explains the sievert measurements very well and tells kids how to protect themselves in an emergency. The only information about safe levels is that cancer has been found to increase after a single dose of 100 mSv with the rider that cancer has other causes too. On the whole it's a pretty grown up text.

Or maybe we should loosen up and measure radiation in bananas. Not so whacky as it sounds. My brother-in-law sent me this from the BBC which suggests that we measure radiation not in microsieverts or rems but in bananas - which contain Potassium 40 and have been known to trigger sensors for nuclear materials at ports. Living here for two weeks in March, the article claims, is the equivalent of eating 1,000 bananas. It's a refreshing take on this subject which is getting us all down. The comments at the end make interesting reading.

Here at home, work is to start soon on repairing this apartment block. It will take six months. I'll get a new front door and door frame. And all the hideous cracks will be filled. Since the building was rated 'half-destroyed' there will be insurance money but the bulk of the funds will be met from accumulated service charges (the residents' association here is well off). I won't have to pay anything as I rent.  
Weather here pleasantly warm in the daytime but much cooler at night. How much longer can I put off going into winter clothes?
Cheers
Anne