Sunday 1 April 2012

1st April - All Change

A new school year and school entrance ceremonies. Ceremonies and a pep talk from the boss for those starting work. Fresh starts which, if you're lucky, will  be blessed with sunshine and cherry blossom.  April 1st also heralds lots of administrative changes.

A week or so ago in  New Zones I explained the new set up for the exclusion zones. Areas with external radiation of over 50 mSv/year will be closed off, barricades set up on the roads, no one allowed in, patrolled for security. On the other hand, barriers will be taken down in areas below 50 mSv. Residents will be able to go in and out freely, without special clothing, but they're not allowed to stay overnight. So today people went to their homes,  aired their houses and generally started to tidy up. (One couple shown on TV even found their cat!) In theory, businesses can set up again and people can go to work.

All the councils were supposed to have decided by today what they would do but only three have been settled. They are Kawauchi  and Tamura which were mainly in the 20-30 km zone and Minami Soma which straddles three new zones. They are going to press on with the clean up and hope to get schools open by next spring. Residents seem to be happy to be able to return to their homes but are waiting to see how things proceed (especially for example to see if hospitals and clinics get back to normal, in addition to keeping an eye on the situation at the reactor itself) before deciding whether to move back permanently.

New, more stringent, food regulations out today. Level of caesium allowed in 'general foods' (cereals, vegetables, meat, fish, eggs etc) is 100bq/kg. That's one fifth of what it was. Milk which was 200 bq/kg cut to 50 bq/kg and water which was also 200 bq/kg cut to 10 bq/kg. Then there's a new category called 'infant foods' for which the level is 50 bq/kg. Good for consumers, a lot of work for producers. I'll talk about this in more detail another time.

Corporate tax changes today. It was 30% (well, actually there's 12% local tax on top of that so really it's 42% but the national part is changing). It was supposed to be slashed to 25.4% but a 2.5% tax to help the recovery (復興税 fukkozei) has been levied for 3 years so the cut is just under 2%. Individuals will have to pay an extra 2.1% 'recovery tax' starting next year and lasting for 25 years!

Tepco electricity prices to businesses in Tokyo go up 17% today to pay for all the extra oil and LNG that's having to be purchased with all the nuclear plants down but more than half of businesses are refusing to pay saying Tepco should make more cuts first. In a separate development, Tepco has asked the government for a one trillion yen bailout (that's in addition to the 2.5 trillion yen the government's already handed over to fund compensation). (To give you an idea of the figures the government's basic annual expenditure last year was 68 trillion yen.) Nationalisation could be on the cards.

Going to have to pay on the expressways as of today. They've been free in the three prefectures affected by the disaster but not anymore. Pity as we need the tourists. And finally, we've gone digital. The rest of Japan changed over last July but the disaster areas got a reprieve.

11:05pm. Just had a big earthquake. It was a really sudden vertical jolt. The doors and building rattling. Duck under the table. Switch on the telly. Korean period drama stopped. NHK reports take over.  "Fukushima-ken Nakadori (that's here) Force 4." "Hamadori (that's on the coast) Force 5. No danger of tsunami."
11:09 pm. Seems OK. "No irregularities at Fukushima Daiichi." The announcer starts going through the list of places and the force of the earthquake. Kind of reassuring. "Magnitude 5.9."  "No irrregularities at Tokaimura nuclear plant."
Why does Japanese have to have the verb at the end? The announcements go like this: "At the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant - reports of irregularities - there are none". It's so stressful waiting for the end of the sentence!
Well, that solved my problem as to how to end this blog! 
Good night.


  1. I discovered this blog while searching for local information which didn't have an obviously biased viewpoint. Thank you for such clear and detailed writing!
    In one of your earlier posts, you said the people needed to hear more positive news. You might like this presentation from a certified Health Physicist at a major US university, from about 3 months after the accident:

    The key point comes in slide 25, where the excess cancer risk to the general population around Fukushima is estimated at ~0.001% (one-thousandth of one percent). Very small.

    The new limits on Cs-137 levels in food seem quite conservative to me, perhaps overly so. Here is a previous discussion following an article in the Vancouver Sun, which at least had the journalistic integrity to label the source as an "anti-nuclear group" in the headline:

    Mine is the third comment. I calculated the dose from eating 400g a day of fish contaminated at twice the new limit to be 0.4 mSv, about 1/6 of average annual background radiation. So I think the new limit mainly serves to hurt farmers and fishermen without really improving protection.

    The other piece of relevant new research on the risks of low-level radiation exposure is here:

    “Our data show that at lower doses of ionizing radiation, DNA repair mechanisms work much better than at higher doses,” says Mina Bissell, a world-renowned breast cancer researcher with Berkeley Lab’s Life Sciences Division. “This non-linear DNA damage response casts doubt on the general assumption that any amount of ionizing radiation is harmful and additive.”

    This research was done not by statistical methods, but by directly imaging cellular repair processes in living cells after radiation exposure. All the very large estimates for cancer from Chernobyl, for example, were derived by applying the Linear No-Threshold theory at very low doses to enormous populations. The work cited above essentially proves that to be invalid.

    This is not to say 50 mSv/year is perfectly safe. It may not be. But the US NRC allows that much for workers in radiation-related fields:

    so perhaps "uninhabitable" is pitching it a bit strong. I hope this info is useful to you.

  2. Hi,
    Thank you for your interest and all the information (most of it reassuring) which I shall certainly refer to and direct people towards, perhaps in a later blog?
    It's hard to stay level headed and unbiased (especially regarding nuclear power) when you're here in the thick of it day in and day out,so information (especially clear information in English) is very welcome.
    Thanks a lot.