Saturday 11 February 2012

Eleven Months On

Coming up to the anniversary. How are we doing 11 months on? In December the Prime Minister proclaimed the 'end of the nuclear accident'. He meant that the emergency stage of the accident was over but his remarks didn't go down well here. As far as we're concerned the accident won't be over until the reactor is closed in 40 years time. And how safe is it anyway? As if to prove us right, there has been a string of minor problems in the last month. Frozen pipes, leaks (though only on a very minor scale), then the news these last few days that one of the thermometers on the compression chamber of Unit 2 was registering temperatures of 73'C. It turns out that some work had been done on the pipes taking water in for cooling and it's thought that afterwards the cooling was uneven causing the temperature to rise in a certain place. It's falling steadily, currently 68'C, and the other thermometers are reading 40'C. Nonetheless, temperatures of 80' could jeopardise the status of cold shutdown, so, no,  the accident is far from over.
(20 February: Turns out to have been a scare. Broken thermometer.)

A few weeks ago a camera was put inside the same reactor but the pictures were disappointing. Click on the link below and you'll see lots of colourful speckles which are radiation, white streaks said to be water (condensation), and blistered orange paint. It had been hoped that the level of the water would be visible but it wasn't (so less water than anticipated). The inside of the reactors remains a mystery and radiation levels far too high for people to go in and work.
And here for good measure is Tepco's live cam of Fukushima Daiichi. The building in the foreground is Unit  1 with its smart cover. Then Unit 2 (building intact) then the mess of Units 3 and 4.

Current figures for the number of people evacuated is 156,000 (and rising). 96,000 are still  in Fukushima prefecture. Of these 32,000  are in temporary housing - flimsy prefabs - and the rest in rented accomodation. 60,000 people have gone to other parts of Japan. One of these is the young guy from our company who was on national TV at the end of last year. His wife and two small kids moved to Sapporo in Hokkaido and he came back from the New Year break and handed in his notice. He's leaving and he's going to try his luck in Hokkaido.

There is good news. To everyone's surprise, Fukushima University  is oversubscribed. Thyroid tests on 3,800 children living in the 0-20 and 20-30 km zones showed only 26 children (0.7%) with any problems and these were not related to the accident. Data on accumulated exposure (kids hand in their glass badges every month) is generally low. The Ministry of the Recovery opened yesterday (at long last) and a bill will be put to the Diet next week for special measures to stimulate the Fukushima economy (Fukushima fukko saisei tokubetsu hoan 福島復興再生特別法案). I hear there is interest in the grants and tax breaks which are promised to businesses that move here or expand existing facilities.

To the casual visitor, all might seem well in Koriyama. The streets are busy, people are going around doing all the things that people do. But at the back of everyone's mind there is unease (fuan 不安).  Worries about health, and the dawning realisation that this is really big, the clean up is going to take decades and will be immensely costly. There's wide public distrust of the government, everything is delayed (the clean up, the new Ministry, still no solution as to where to put the waste) and there is general anxiety about the future of Fukushima.

I have to say people here are amazingly strong. They put up with it all, put a brave face on things and keep each other going. Their watchword? Fukushima wa makenai 福島は負けない Fukushima won't give up.

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