Saturday 11 August 2012

Update: 11 August 2012

Dear all,
One year five months since the disaster. How are we getting on? If you came to Koriyama you'd see a bustling city. But look closely and you'll see lots of empty spaces - buildings damaged by the earthquake are still getting pulled down.

We've got used to the radiation and I think most people are being sensibly cautious. The monitoring post in the park near my apartment registers 0.412 μSv/hr. It was 0.438 when it was put up in February, so not much of an improvement but a lot better than it was. I remember it was about this time last year that levels in Koriyama eventually fell below 1 μSv/hr.

Since accumulated exposure works out at more than 1 mSv/year (there's a calculation based on being outside for 8 hours a day and living in a wooden house), we're officially 'under observation'. But since I live and work in a concrete building and don't go outside much I reckon I'll be under 1 mSv this year. Though children play outside at school (the playgrounds have been cleaned) most parents are not keen on children playing outside so indoor play facilities are the thing.

Food testing seems to be pretty good. The authorities, farmers, supermarkets - everyone is testing. And you can take your home-grown produce to the local village hall and get it tested. Every sack of rice is to be tested this year. Generally people are a lot more confident that the food we eat is safe. 

At the latest count there were 162,000 evacuees: 100,000 in Fukushima prefecture (32,000 in emergency housing) and 62,000 who've moved away, the last figure slightly less than last month though not clear yet whether this is a trend.

There is good news. After the government reorganised the no-go areas according to contamination levels and issued guidelines for compensation, four areas (Minami Soma, Tamura, Kawauchi and Iitate) have been reorganised and yesterday the barriers were lifted in Naraha. This area is only 20 km south of Fukushima Daiichi and home to Fukushima Daini nuclear plant. Levels are under 20 mSv/year and it will be made ready for the ban to be lifted, in two years if all goes well. Residents don't need those white suits anymore but will be able to go in and out as they please, though they can't stay overnight. The clean up is to start in September though they're still arguing over where to dump the waste. Infrastructure has to be repaired, police will have to patrol the area. In spring 2014 they'll start to get local government, schools and hospitals going again. 50% of local businesses say they want to go back. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

Compensation varies according to which zone you're in and it's a package covering property, household effects and 'stress'. As an example, a family of three in a house built 5 years ago in the no-go zone (over 50 mSv/yr) would get over 57 million yen (440,000 GBP) whereas in areas to be prepared for repatriation, like Naraha above, the same family would get 23 million yen (177,000 GBP). There are plenty people objecting saying that while the government may say the ban will be lifted, they don't want to go back and want more money.

Compensation for lost earnings is being paid separately and some are doing very nicely thank you. Playing golf when the weather's fine and pachinko when it rains. Doesn't go down well with hard-working  people here.

At Fukushima Daiichi work started on dismantling Reactor 4 which houses thousands of spent fuel assemblies and was rumoured to be unstable. Then there was the scandal of the subcontractor (7th down the line!) who fitted a lead cover to his dosimeter as he knew he was over the limit and then got his staff to do the same. Apparently the dosimeters sound an alarm that can't be silenced. Deplorable. But it does highlight the problems. The limit for workers was raised after the accident but is now back to pre-accident levels: 100 mSv over 5 years, with no more than 50 mSv in any one year. Once over the limit you're not allowed to work again in high radiation areas. There are 3 to 4,000 people working every day at Fukushima Daiichi. But a shortage of workers is a serious problem and this kind of accident is not going to help.

The biggest problem at the moment is sorting out where to put the interim storage facility for highly radioactive waste. (中間貯蔵施設 chukan chozo shisetsu). Nobody wants it in their backyard and discussions broke down in March. The government say it's an interim facility, that it will only be there for 30 years, that the waste's final resting place will not be in Fukushima, but the locals, understandably, are not convinced.

So many people affected, such complications in so many different spheres. Decommissioning the plant alone is going to take 30 years. The task is enormous. But I guess month by month there is progress.
Sorry this got rather long.

1 comment:

  1. Glad to hear that things are getting back to normal. What does "under observation" mean?

    What's the annual average exposure for people in Koriyama? The average annual radiation exposure in the UK is 2.7 mSv, 6.2 mSv in the USA and the average exposure to radon alone in Cornwall is 7.8 mSv. Does that meant that if the 1-mSv threshold applied overseas, everyone in the UK and USA will be "under observation"?