Sunday 14 October 2012

One Year Seven Months On

The Emperor and Empress came to Koriyama yesterday - on their way to watch decontamination work on houses in Kawauchi about 20 miles away. They came by train, then drove right past my office and I have to admit I joined the knot of people on the kerb. We were entertained by a young plain-clothes policeman from Niigata who gave us instructions. Cameras to be held chest height, flags to be waved in a narrow arc so as not to poke anyone. Then a rehearsal. He walked up and down giving us our cue. By this time the crowd was in high spirits. Hopefully Their Imperial Highnesses did not notice the man in hair curlers and silver cape who'd popped out from a nearby hair salon. I just wish I'd been quick enough to catch him on film when he posed with a policeman for a souvenir photo. What a hoot. 

With a general election in the offing, Fukushima has had a lot of visitors. The PM, dressed in white protective suit and full face mask, visited Fukushima Daiichi last Sunday. The press were shown round later in the week. Although a lot of tidying up has been done, Units 2 and 3 are pretty much as they were.  High radiation prevents working outside for long periods. 

A new water purification system is being tested. Currently water used for cooling the 4 reactors has the caesium and salt removed and is then recirculated. The new equipment will remove as many as 62 types of radioactive material. But the question of where to put the water remains. There are already 210,000 tons of water in tanks on site. 

From time to time we get reports of attempts to find out what's going on inside the reactors. Cameras inserted, water tested etc. This is the big difference between dealing with this accident and regular decommissioning - the situation concerning meltdown inside the reactors is still not at all clear.

Last month saw the disclosure by Tepco of 6 more hours of video conferences following the accident. Some of it was bizarre, for example the tale of a  whip round among the staff to raise the cash to go out on a futile trip to buy car batteries. However, the tension between the staff on the ground and Tokyo head office is palpable. Orders from head office to open the vents. Staff on the ground not able to do so. Pleas for assistance and for some source of water for cooling. What is clear is the complete lack of preparedness. (You can catch some of it on Youtube.)

This past week Tepco have admitted that they could have taken measures to prevent the effects of the tsunami and have apologised. This is a big change from their view up to now that it was unforeseeable (想定外 soteigai). The company has also got foreign experts in to reform the company.

Negotiations for 'new towns' for the evacuees continue. So much uncertainty still about the future. Even in Kawauchi where the Emperor and Empress went yesterday and which had the ban lifted a year ago has only seen 10% of its residents return to live full time. The mayor did everything right. He went back with his staff in March and got everything up and running. He got new companies to set up in the area. But it's heavily wooded and most residents feel levels of radiation aren't low enough. I realise now that safety and peace of mind ( 安心安全 anshin anzen) are as basic as food and water.
That's all for now,

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