Monday, 30 April 2012


I got up early today to try (again) to see the famous weeping cherry. (The things I do for this blog!) I got there at 8:30 am and had only a 20 minute wait for the car park. Cloudy sky so pictures (below) not as good as the other day. When I first came to this area many years ago you just pulled up in the car right next to the tree. This was the first time I'd battled the crowds in the new set up and I was amazed. There are two huge car parks, a tunnel connecting them to the site, a 300 yen entrance fee and a paved approach, lined with local farmers and nurseries selling their wares, to rival a Kyoto temple. The tree itself was in full flower at the top (mankai 満開)but further down the leaves were beginning to appear (hazakura 葉桜).  Wish I could have seen it floodlit. Tonight is the last night. In the night pictures it really does look like its namesake, a waterfall. Maybe I'll make that next year's project.

Then on for coffee at Aoitsuki. Lovely house looking out onto woods, calming. Speciality of the house - home made cake and pumpkin creme caramel. The proprietor gives readings of Miyazawa Kenji stories once a month. Like me, she's used writing as a means to come to terms with the nuclear accident. Check out the blog (Japanese only). And if you want to visit, be warned it's very difficult to find. Print out a map before you set off.

Next stop, the Tofu Cafe in Miharu no Sato near the lake. This is run by local tofu maker Oh-hataya, famous for their thick triangles of fried tofu. But you can get anything there: quiche (made with okara and soy milk) 1,050 yen, fried tofu pizza 680 yen, or a big lunch plate of assorted tofu goodies with rice, soup, dessert and coffee for 1,250 yen.

And finally, back to Koriyama and one of my favourite places, the Sato Sakura Museum. It was built a few years ago by a prosperous local car dealer to house his collection of post war Nihonga, Japanese style paintings. The pigments are made through mixing ground coloured stone with deer hide glue to give a mellow, textured finish but it's the scale of these paintings that surprise. The owner commissioned five paintings of the Miharu Takizakura from different artists and each painting is in four sections, each section the size of a tatami mat! The gallery, as usual, was empty of visitors which is a great pity. The huge pictures of tigers and elephants, cats and monkeys would stop a child in its tracks. The museum has opened a branch in Tokyo, in Naka Meguro so you can see one of the Takizakura pictures there. (Tel: 03-3496-1771)

So the season is over. The cherry blossom in town has gone, the Takizakura will soon be green and look more like a weeping willow than a cherry. This year there were only two days, Tuesday and Wednesday last week, when the flowers were out and the weather warm enough for picnics (hanami 花見). The petals fall like snow (hanafubuki 花吹雪)and it's gone. That's what it's all about: catch it while you can. I was once in England when the cherries were in flower but come rain or wind the cherries (admittedly they were double cherries) seemed to stick on the trees for weeks. Here the Somei Yoshino variety is fragile and symbolises the  uncertainty, transiency, impermanence of things - or as they say here, mujo 無常. Yes, in this country of earthquakes, tsunami and volcanoes, when you never know what's round the corner, the sakura are very special. Enjoy the moment.
The 1,000 year old Takizakura (Waterfall Cherry) in Miharu
9.5 metres round the trunk. Lots of support for the old dear.
A little shrine at the foot of the tree. I was surprised to see people bowing their heads in prayer.
Shinto in action? (The national religion that believes there is a spirit in every living thing.)
I was once told off for taking a photo from this angle! (The tree is supposed
 to be seen from the front like ikebana.) But who cares?
Aoitsuki cafe
The Tofu Cafe in Miharu no Sato
Three paintings of the Takizakura in Sato Sakura Museum.
Detail of painting by Hayashi Junichi.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Sakura, Sakura

After a week of cold, wind and rain, today at last we had warm weather. Time to go cherry blossom viewing (hanami 花見). Already past its best in town so I drove out to Miharu which has scores of weeping cherries most of them saplings of the famous 'Takizakura' (waterfall cherry) 1,000 years old and one of the 'Three Great Cherry Trees' of Japan. I knew it would be crowded so headed first to my favourite, the 'Fudo-zakura' which is uncommercialised and has a small shrine at its foot. Drove around trying to get to the Takizakura by the back way but the police had it blocked off. Faced a wait of an hour or so (and that was from a shortcut; there was a jam of 5 or more kms from the expressway side) so gave up. I'll try again another day.

Headed back to Koriyama where people were having picnics or sampling the food from stalls. There's a saying 'Hana yori dango' (花より団子), sweet cakes rather than the flowers. A cherry blossom equivalent of  'I'm only here for the beer', perhaps.

Golden Week has started. Nine days holiday for some lucky people. I have Sunday and Monday off. Back to work on Tuesday and Wednesday,  then four days off, returning to work on Monday.
Happy holidays!
The Fudo-zakura, 350 years old
Five metres round the trunk, this guy seemed to be an expert
The little shrine. The dull thud of the gong echoed out over the countryside.
Other  sounds: the  singing of the nightingale and croaking of frogs.
The flowers - dark pink and delicate

Another ancient tree, the Kaisan Yakushi-zakura.
Can you see the huge camelia tree growing alongside the trunk?
Delightful countryside to travel through. Scenes like this not uncommon.
Back in Koriyama at the Kaiseizan shrine.
Wonderful smells: yakitori, grilled corn, pancakes, candy floss 
Picnic in Kaiseizan Park
Notice: 'This area decontaminated. Before 2.49μSv/hr. After 0.55μSv/hr.  18 April 2012.'

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Four Green Bottles

Many times in this blog I've referred to Japan's 54 nuclear reactors. Well, now there are 50. Units 1 to 4 at Fukushima Daiichi, which you might say 'accidentally fell',  have been officially closed.

But this has caused new problems for the authorities in the area and serves to highlight the symbiotic relationship between the nuclear industry and local authorities in this country. The prefecture and local authorities have refused the extra handouts they used to get but Okuma where the reactors are situated is still wanting its property tax. But what are the facilities at the plant worth? How do they get in and value them? And what's the value of all the new decontamination equipment that's been put in place? It's all got to be worked out.

While Fukushima's 10 reactors (the fate of Units 5 and 6 and the four reactors at Fukushima Daini have still to be decided) were the main source of nuclear power for Tokyo Electric, there is another cluster of four nuclear plants (13 reactors) on the Japan Sea coast in Fukui prefecture which supply Kansai Electric (Osaka).

These are constantly in the news but everyone was surprised yesterday when NISA (The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency) announced that the Tsuruga plant in Fukui has a fault running right alongside it and should never have been built there in the first place and, worse still, there are mini-faults running right underneath Reactors 1 & 2 which might move if the main fault ever moved. This coming from a government agency is a first. Further tests are being done but the plant (built in 1970) might have to be decommissioned.

The debate over whether to open the Oi plant in Fukui continues. Kansai Electric forecast  a 20% shortage of electricity this summer if it's not opened. But their figures were based simply on an increase in demand equivalent to that of the sweltering hot summer two years ago.  This has been challenged and an independent enquiry is being held which will take other factors into consideration, for example how much can be saved by economising like last year, and using hydroelectric to cover the peak. The problem is that trust in the government and the electric companies is at rock bottom.

Pity then the new Chairman of Tokyo Electric, Mr Shimokobe, a lawyer and currently heading the compensation board. Various business leaders had been approached but no one would touch the job.  Businesses have to make a profit and how can Tepco be made profitable with so much conpensation to pay, and latent decommissioning costs? The basic question of how much responsiblity the state takes and how much the electric companies take still hasn't been addressed. But at least the new man will know that Tepco needs to make drastic cuts to meet its obligations. A word you often hear these days in connection with the electric companies is tono-sama shobai (殿様商売), 'running a business like a daimyo', i.e. complacent, not trying hard enough.

So the government's plans to reopen the closed reactors are not proceeding smoothly. At this rate, there'll be no more green bottles (sorry reactors) left hanging on the wall.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Still waiting ...

Hi folks
I was hoping to tell you that the cherry blossom's out and it is in some sunny sheltered spots but it's been cold these past few days. The famous weeping cherry trees in Miharu won't be in flower till the end of the week. NHK had everything set up prime time Saturday evening: a one hour live programme under the floodlit 1,000 year old Takizakura (literally 'waterfall cherry'). Genyu Sokyu, priest at a Zen temple in Miharu and Akutagawa literary prizewinner was there sitting out in the cold. But the tree wasn't in flower. It's a venerable old tree and wonderful  in any season but it's a pity it didn't bloom to order.

Had some interesting comments from Diogenes (thank you!). Check them out at the end of previous post Food 1. In addition to the serious points, lots of interesting trivia. Did you know that all lead exposed to the air since Hiroshima is radioactive and there's a market for pre-WWII lead from sunken ships and old buildings to use in measuring equipment? And here's another. A 70 kg human being contains 8,100 bq of natural radioisotopes. That works out at 116 bq/kg - over the new levels of 100 bq/kg - making people too radioactive to eat! And finally, calculations to show that the odd high radioactive food doesn't matter that much. It's the cumulative average that's important. So maybe I'll break my fast. Actually I have to admit to having succumbed recently to the local strawberries. 

If I'm really worried I could always pop into a new clinic that's sprung up on the main street (駅前通り)calling itself The Radioactive Premium Dock Centre. It offers whole body counter testing and thyroid testing. It looks very modern and the boards in the window which sport flags from Belarus and stress international connections give the impression of an international semi-official organisation but a search on the internet identified it as an IT company called The Japan Third Party Company, listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. I suppose it was inevitable that enterprising businesses should capitalise on people's anxieties and maybe there is a demand. They opened a clinic in Tokyo in January, one in Sendai in March and now one here in Koriyama and another in Iwaki. Normal price 12,600 yen but special price for Fukushima of 5,250 yen for adults and 3,500 yen for children under 15. I certainly wouldn't pay the full price. Will I be tempted to have a go? Last summer I would have said yes. But now I'm feeling better informed and a lot calmer. Probably not, is the answer.

Did you hear about the football and volleyball washed up in Alaska? Owners (a teenage boy and girl) who lost everything in the tsunami are delighted to get them back.
Cold and rainy today but better weather forecast from tomorrow. The start of the cherry blossom season at long last?
Bye for now

Monday, 16 April 2012

Ban Lifted in Minami Soma

The evacuation order has been lifted in the southern part of Minami Soma. People have been able to make quick visits but from today they're allowed to go in and out freely (though not stay the night). 4,000 people went in today - including teenagers who weren't allowed on the earlier visits. It's as if time stopped. Everything's a mess from the earthquake and there's a lot of tidying up to do. The TV showed one man clearing out his fridge. Stuff had been in there for a year!

There's still no water, roads are in a bad way, some houses collapsed and on the coast the debris from the tsunami is untouched. It's hoped to get the water supply going and emergency repairs to infrastructure completed by next March.

It's the start of the spinach season. Lovely stuff that's grows through the winter snow and cold and is thick, very dark green and sweet (unlike the pale, lanky stuff we're getting from elsewhere). But some on sale at a farmers' market was found to contain over 500 bq/kg of caesium. Turns out some stupid idiot used last year's plastic to cover the ground. Can you credit it? While some farmers are going to extreme lengths to monitor their produce and put information out daily on the internet some idiot does that and gives everyone a bad name. JA (the agricultural association) hurriedly sent round a memo and is holding meetings in an attempt to limit the damage.

After cold and rain on Saturday we've had two days of warm weather and suddenly it feels like spring. Warm, pleasant, and the light is dazzingly bright. The cherry trees in town are tinged pink - the buds are swelling - but they're not open yet. A few more days. This year the cherry blossom will be very special indeed.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

11 April 2012 - Update

One year and one month since our world changed. How are we getting on?

At Fukushima Daiichi, freshwater and nitrogen continue to be pumped into the reactors to keep them cool.  Removing this water and decontaminating it is a lot of work. There was an announcement a week or so ago that 12 tons of water, which had had the caesium removed but still contained strontium, had leaked from piping into the sea. The state of the building over Unit 4 continues to be cause for concern as 1,331 spent  fuel assemblies are in a pool 100 ft above ground. (There are over 11,000 spent fuel assemblies in total at Fukshima Daiichi.) (Corrected from earlier version)

There's a lot of wrangling going on at the moment. Wrangling about whether to bring the nations's nuclear plants back into operation and wrangling about what will happen to the area around the nuclear power plant.

First, re-opening the nuclear power plants. (In Japanese the phrase is genpatsu no saikado 原発の再稼動) Only one of Japan's 54 reactors is currently in operation and obviously the government, industry and the electric companies want to get them going again. Last Friday the PM ordered the Ministry of the Economy (METI) to produce new 'preliminary' safety standards for reopening the Oi Plant on the Japan Sea coast. These were produced in what seemed like unseemly haste, on Monday. Then the boss of Kansai Electric (Osaka) was asked to submit a schedule for extra safety measures and METI Minister Edano was seen (on television) grilling him and asking him to bring forward the dates on some of the plans. Real ham acting.

But there are real problems. First, we've only had an interim report on the causes of the Fukushima accident. The final report will not be out until the summer. Next, Kansai Electric has put forward a schedule for say, building a higher breakwater, constructing a new earthquake-proof control centre at Oi, but they're not built yet. The IAEA and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (Hoanin 保安院)have both said that the first round of stress tests is not enough. Standards for the next round of tests were to be set by a new independent standards agency (Genshiroku Kiseicho 原子力規制庁)which was supposed to be in business by April 1st. (The  Hoanin is not independent, part of the 'atomic village' mentality which got us into this mess in the first place.) Legislation for the setting up of this new agency is still not ready. Negligence on the part of the lawmakers (opposition party included). This legislation really should have been at the top of their list of Things To Do.

Now abrasive young Osaka mayor Hashimoto has entered the fray saying that since radioactive particles from the Fukushima accident spread 100 km, prefectures (counties) within a 100 km radius of the Oi plant (five in total) need to be consulted. He does have a point. If the plant is opened without implementing the lessons from Fukushima then nothing here will change.

The other wrangling is between the mayors of the local authorities near Fukushima Daiichi and the government, over compensation and how the area is to be reorganised in future. Areas have been re-zoned according to the level of soil contamination but authorities say they want to relocate en masse and want everyone in their area to get the same full compensation for their land, buildings etc. In a separate development the government has mentioned for the first time the possibility of buying up a small area around the plant. Right from the beginning we thought that this is what would happen but there's still no clear direction and this wrangling continues.

Finally, some good news. Since May last year primary and junior high school children in Koriyama haven't been allowed to play outside for more than 3 hours a day. But the ban has been lifted. Schools have had playgrounds scraped and the average exposure in schools is down to 0.2μSv/hour. Last year kids had their sports days in the gymn in the autumn. This year things will be back to normal with sports days outside in the May sunshine. Maybe this will encourage some families to come back?
Bye for now

Wednesday, 11 April 2012


Driving along on Saturday lunchtime, heard a programme on the local radio station where they get a couple of doctors in to answer listeners' questions. E-mail from a woman, pregnant, wants to know if it's safe to breastfeed her baby. Answer: the benefits of breastmilk outweigh the risks. But to be on the safe side, try and reduce your internal exposure. The doctor didn't give any specifics but I would understand that to be: wear a mask on windy days; eat food from as far away as possible; and if you're really concerned, drink bottled water.

Many pregnant women and mothers of small children chose to leave. Some, like the woman above, have chosen to stay. One's attitude to risk is such a personal thing. Here's an interesting article. Many people choose to use a sunbed even though they know it's dangerous but it's their choice -they have control - so they can live with it. Being the victim of a nuclear accident is completely different, we have no control, so feel at great risk. Nonetheless, I think most people weighed the pros and cons and decided pretty quickly what level of risk they were willing to accept. Maybe we're more level-headed than people further away?

At first Tepco wasn't going to pay compensation to those who evacuated voluntarily but later changed its policy. I think this was good as it was recognition that everyone is different, that everyone copes with this kind of stress in a different way, and that no one way is right. My form for compensation has just arrived and as I'm neither under 18 nor pregnant, I'm entitled to 80,000 yen (just over 600 GBP). The form seems pretty straightforward. Just personal details and bank details. I don't have to promise never to claim for compensation again. No space either to claim for expenses (a friend was threatening to claim for all the bottled water and a futon dryer she bought!). It seems more concerned with Data Protection than anything else. Is 80,000 yen a fair payment for all the stress I've suffered? Hard to put a monetary value on it but it's something.  So, if you'll excuse me, I'll be off to the city office for some ID, and get my application in the post.  All the best,
Tepco Form for Compensation.
400,000 yen for each person under 18 or pregnant woman who stayed. 600,000 yen for each person under 18 or pregnant woman who evacuated voluntarily. And 80,000 yen per person for the rest of us.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Food 2

Hi again,
After their shambolic efforts last year to show that the rice harvest was safe, the authorities seem to have got their act together for the coming season.  Last year, in an effort to protect farmers' livelihoods and pretend that all was well, random sampling was carried out and the governor proclaimed that all Fukushima rice was safe. But he soon had egg on his face. The sampling was grossly inadequate (only two samples from each area) and rice well over the then safety standard of 500 bq/kg was found in 'hotspots'. The farmers couldn't sell their rice and only recently has the government said it will buy it up.

The safety standard for general foods has been tightened from 500 bq/kg to 100 bq/kg. So this is the new plan. Rice  that had less that 100 bq/kg last season (and that's 93% of the acreage) is to be sampled every hectare in the central and northern parts of the prefecture and every two hectares in the south and in the Aizu area. Apparently the average farm is one hectare (2.5 acres) so that means virtually every farm will be tested. Where levels of over 50 bq/kg are detected, more tests on smaller lots will be carried out or if the rice has been dried out in the fields, every bag will be tested. Areas which last year measured over 100 bq/kg are to have every bag of rice tested. Sorry to go on about rice but it's important as people here eat such a lot of it.

At last everyone is realising that 'ganbaru' - showing true grit and perseverance - is not going to do it. People want data. The prefecture's Agricultural Research Centre in Koriyama has 10 germanium detectors (very expensive) working flat out. As well as rice, they're testing vegetables (random tests every 5 hectares) and milk (every cow). York Benimaru, big Koriyama-based supermarket chain,  announced new testing and labelling as of 1st April. Up to now it's been gung-ho and very pro-Fukushima. (In the early days their supermarkets were the venue for tomato-munching PR stunts.) It's still pro-Fukushima but has now introduced its own voluntary checks in addition to those done by producers and the authorities. Aeon supermarket (biggest national chain) has been doing its own checks for a while.

The new standards are very strict, even by international standards, and in reality probably not necessary. But such is the allergy here to any radiation in food that even the farmers seem to agree that it's the only way to restore consumer confidence. (The phrase used is fuhyo higai o fusshoku suru 風評被害を払拭する). It's going to be a long slog and one hopes that results are seen soon. You have to admire the way people press on regardless.
Bye for now

Friday, 6 April 2012

Food 1

Hi again,
As I said earlier, we have new stricter food standards as of April 1st. The level of Caesium allowed in the new category of 'general foods' is 100 becquerels/kilogram. It was 500, so it's a big change. But three days into the new regime, bamboo shoots from Chiba (outskirts of Tokyo, Narita airport) were showing 120bq/kg and shiitake mushrooms grown outside in Miyagi  (north of here) registered 350 bq/kg.  Japanese are great foragers, and there are lots of lovely buds and shoots to be had at this time of year (make wonderful tempura) but mushrooms and berries really soaked up the radioactive nasties at Chernobyl so it's probably not a good idea to forage in the woods. You can buy cultivated ones anyway - though that's not as satisfying as getting 'summat for nowt'.

Talking of Chernobyl, I remember last summer bemoaning the fact that we didn't have facilites like they have in the Ukraine where people can go along and test their own food. Well, now we do. Koriyama, which covers a wide area, has installed 40 machines in village halls. I went to the one opposite my office in the Big-i  building next to Koriyama station and here's a picture of me with my newly tested rice from Hirata village. Yes, fellow rice planters and harvesters of the Odaira Club, you'll be pleased to know that the rice from Sato-san's farm is as near as dammit free from contamination.

It works like this. You take along a bag of rice (5-6 cups) and they put it in the machine and you go back half an hour later for the results. I slipped out on a Thursday afternoon and it wasn't at all busy but the woman on duty said it would get busy from now on as spring produce appears in gardens and small farms. (You can take in food from shops as well.) To test vegetables you have to chop them up small and you need 1 kilo of stuff, as closely packed as possible. I got a slip of paper to say that no radioactive Iodine 131, Caesium 134 or Caesium 137 had been detected in the sample. But with the rider that the machine can't detect below 12.1 bq. According to the lady at the centre, it's not zero as there will always be some background radiation. A germanium machine gives more accurate results but those machines are very expensive (10 to 20 million yen, 75-150,000 GBP). The machine she was using (that little thing at my feet) costs 3.6 million yen (28,000 GBP).

By  international standards 100 bq/kg is low. The EU was 1,250 but tightened it to 500 after the accident in Fukushima. In Canada it's 1,000 bq/kg. Had some positive feedback from a reader in Canada. Take a look at the end of the post 1st April - All Change

He (she?) says, "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."

I'll have more to say next time about how farmers are coping with the new regime.
Cherry blossom at its peak in Tokyo but still cold here.
Goodnight all

Monday, 2 April 2012


I've had a draft of this written for a few weeks but didn't want to indulge in scaremongering. But after the big tremour last night - just as I was writing this blog - and in the light of yet another report and lots of media coverage, I decided to go ahead.

The aftershocks following the disaster last year tailed off after September but they increased in frequency after that one on New Year's Day - to the extent that I started carrying my transistor radio around with me again (when there's no electricity and no phones this is the only way to find out what's going on) .

The 3.11 disaster was caused out at sea when the edge of the North American plate (on which Japan stands) flipped up unleashing pressure built up against the Pacific plate which used to grind away under it in the same westerley direction. But now the geology has changed and the North American plate is moving east against the Pacific plate moving in the opposite direction. In the face of such realignment it's no wonder there are so many aftershocks, and over such a wide area. Apparently there have been 740 aftershocks over Force 5 in the last year, 4 times the number the year before.

A professor Hirata from The Earthquake Research Insititute of Tokyo University caused a stir a few weeks ago when he announced that there was a 70% chance of a Force 7 earthquake hitting Tokyo within the next 4 years. But it turns out that this was based on the frequency of aftershocks from March to September last year continuing at the same rate. Thankfully they're not so frequent and the official (Meterological Office) figure is 70% within the next 30 years.  But Force 7 is big. In a Force 6, the previous estimate, you crouch down and hang onto the furniture (that was what it was here). In a Force 7, the furniture starts jumping around.

Incidentally, the earthquake predicted for Tokyo has a different cause. The word you hear is  直下地震 (chokka jisshin), a 'direct earthquake' which sounds alarming but apparently it's an earthquake that occurs directly above its epicentre, along a fault.

The Great East Japan Earthquake was M9.1, magnitude being a measure of the amount of energy released. In Japan we also talk about 'force' (震度 shindo) which measures how it felt at a certain place. There are 600 monitoring posts throughout the country. So when there's an earthquake everyone switches on the TV or radio and NHK will announce the magnitude and whether there's risk of a tsunami, and then start to list how big it was at certain locations. It can get a bit boring after a bit as they reel off the names of towns and villages. If it's a big one, NHK will interrupt programmes but more often it's shown as surtitles on the screen. The other channels will interrupt programmes if it's really big otherwise they don't bother. NHK kindly waived licence fees for six months as our apartment was registered badly damaged. I felt bad as it was one of the few times I didn't begrudge paying the fee.

And then last Saturday, a new government report. This time regarding the Nankai Trough which goes from Shizuoka down to Kyushu. Worst scenario is for a M9 earthquake along the length of the trough. The whole area could suffer a Force 6 or Force 7, with tsunami over 20 metres. Worse, the tsunami could reach land in less than 10 minutes. As you can imagine, this has caused consternation. For example, at the time of the last survery in 2003, one town (Numazu) was predicted to have a tsunami of 6 metres so they built a sort of tower 12 metres high. Now they're told a tsumami could be 34 metres!

And of course, the first words on everyone's lips after a tremour are Genpatsu daijobu? (原発大丈夫? Are the nuclear plants alright?)This report is bound to fuel the controversy about whether to reopen the nation's nuclear plants. One example. The Hamaoka plant in Shizuoka has been closed but has 9,000 fuel rods. A new breakwater is being built, 18 metres high, but the new worst scenario is for a tsunami of  21 metres. Back to the drawing board.

'Preventing disaster' (防災 bosai) seems have given way to a new word 'damage limitation' (減災 gensai) . In the past people arrogantly thought their breakwaters would keep back the tsunami but these were washed away. Now people are thinking more practically with saving lives the priority. These long suffering people have a lot of work to do now rethinking how to live in this seismically active country.
Goodnight from a - touch wood - calm and steady Koriyama.
All the best

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.