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