Saturday, 14 May 2011


Shocked today to hear that Reactor No. 1, which we’d understood to be the most advanced in terms of nearing shutdown, has suffered meltdown. 10,000 tons of water had been pumped into that reactor and we’d been shown drawings of the inner vessel full of water, right up to the top. However, when engineers got into the building for the first time this week and actually measured the water, they found only 4 metres at the bottom of the vessel. The fuel has melted and is sitting in this water and must have burnt holes in the casing through which the water has escaped. Where to nobody knows. The good news is that what water there is is between 100 to 120 degrees so cold shutdown has been achieved. But the clean-up is going to be much more difficult than expected and will take longer than the 6 - 9 months announced earlier.

I was in Osaka on Thursday and the boss of Rengo, Mr Otsubo, is very hands-on and impressive. He was in London for a few years before joining Rengo (in 2000) and he peppers his speech with English. He was telling us that the ‘daishinsai’ (大震災) was a ‘catastrophe’, that the earthquake and tsunami were ‘tensai’ (天災) ‘Act of God’, whereas the nuclear accident was ‘jinsai’ (人災) which he translated as ‘human neglect’. He told us his response to the natural disaster had been quick. He’d immediately announced that the Sendai factory would be rebuilt (further inland) and within a month the staff had been given jobs at other factories. But the company’s paper factory 25 km from Fukushima Daiichi can’t be reopened until more information is available about damage to water, soil etc. Yes, we’re all in limbo. It’s beginning to look like years rather than months before things get back to normal.

We were told to think up ways to cut electricity. The government announced today that everyone - households, businesses – have to cut electricity usage by 15% in the summer peak. It’s the peak that has to be cut. Obviously using less is part of the picture but some of the suggestions yesterday included shifting to weekend work and taking two days off in the week, working shorter hours in summer, allowing casual wear in the office and providing specially cooled jackets in the factories.

I heard for the first time about the ‘Shift West’ in production, and for me a new word, ‘shinsai tokuju’ (震災特需) which translates as ‘special demand as a result of the disaster’. It’s obvious that factories in the west of the country are going to take up the slack when factories in the east have been put out of action. And the disaster areas need bottled water and foodstuffs which have to be produced somewhere. This is economic reality. But as one manager after another got up and talked about how well their sales were going, I’m afraid my blood began to boil.

The local paper has photos of the Emperor and Empress visiting shelters in Fukushima. No one wants to see the Prime Minister (he got heckled a few weeks ago when he visited) but the Emperor and Empress are a lovely couple and took time talking to everyone in the shelter. Even the governor of Fukushima, who always looks so tense, was smiling.
All for now

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