Monday 11 July 2011

Hot, hot, hot

Dear Friends,
The rainy season's officially over (unusually short) and it is HOT. 35 degrees in Tokyo and Fukushima City, 32 degrees here in Koriyama and a sweltering 37 degrees in Kitakata. Then a thunderstorm in the evening (yudachi 夕立), the road turned to a river, the rain so heavy that those who wanted to go home couldn't leave and one salesman stuck in his car for twenty minutes outside the door before he dared dash inside.

It was too hot to think and I took my laptop downstairs to the main office to be in the air conditioning. But then the alarm on the electricity monitor went. We've set a voluntary peak target of 371 kWh (15% under last year's peak of 437 kWh) and every time it gets near this an alarm sounds. We switch off the air conditioner in the office and phone the factory to tell them to cut usage. Our peak is under 500 kWh so we're not liable for a fine but last month we overstepped out target twice which could have meant a fine of 2 million yen (over 15,000 GBP). In theory you get fined every hour you go over the limit so it's no wonder big companies are serious about cutting electricity usage.

This combination of stick, and an appeal for people to do their bit in this time of crisis seems to be working. In spite of the record heat today consumption in Tokyo was 88% of available power. It is amazing.

Bad news for Fukushima farmers and for Fukushima in general. Beef from 11 cows in Minami Soma (within the 30 km area) has been found to contain up to 2,400 bequerels of caesium/kilogram. That's five times the legal limit. The worrying thing is that the cows were 'screened' before being sent to market and nothing untoward was detected. Only when the meat was 'monitored' in Tokyo was the contamination discovered. So now we learn what these words mean. 'Screening' appears to mean moving a geiger counter over the live animal. Whereas, 'monitoring' means putting a piece of meat in an elaborate piece of equipment (looks a bit like a heavy oven) and measuring the radiation, a process which takes several hours. (It's the difference between external and internal radiation that we're all worried about. Not that anyone's going to eat us!)

The cause has been found to be rice straw that the farmer collected in April (prohibited) to mix with imported feed. And to make matters worse, meat had gone undetected last month from the same farm and has already been consumed in restaurants in Shizuoka and elsewhere.

The lists we see in the local paper everyday are for random samples that have been 'monitored'. Currently fruit and vegetables are clear but most fish seem to contain some caesium. Beef up to now has been clear.

This is a big blow for Fukushima. Just as we were getting consumer confidence back. The beef industry has said it wants every animal monitored. I guess there are lots of practical problems and this is easier said than done but traceability must be the aim. The livelihoods of so many people are at stake.

Four months today since the quake. The problems Japan faces are enormous. We need a strong leader to guide us out of this mess.

Goodnight from a very hot and sticky Koriyama,

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