Tuesday 26 March 2013

PM's Visit

The Prime Minister visited Fukushima on Sunday. He spent the best part of the day here - usually it's only a rushed photocall. Unfortunately it wasn't reported on national TV and only got a minor mention in the national dailies.

He visited Tomioka (where Fukushima Daini is located) which has just been re-zoned. This means that people are able to go in and out of some parts for the first time since the disaster though they're not allowed to stay overnight. The Prime Minister stood in Tomioka station and surveyed the devastation. He said it seemed like time had stopped and vowed to speed up the recovery. Next he came to Koriyama and visited several farms. He saw mushrooms being grown in indoor factories and turnips grown in poly tunnels in brand new soil. He pulled some turnips, held them up and said he hoped the stockmarket would keep on rising. (Get it? It's a pun on the word kabu which means 'turnip' and also 'shares'.) The farmers complained that sales are still not back to normal. They've changed the soil and done rigrorous testing but still people won't touch food from here. A beef farmer complained prices were still 20% down on what they were before the accident.

A lot is being done though to counter such prejudice. Just out is the news that 200 farmers are to be trained to go round shops in Tokyo and talk about what's being done. And it's not just Fukushima that's suffering. Tepco has said it will continue to accept applications for compensation from farmers and businesses as far away as Hiroshima to offset the cost of finding alternative suppliers, lower prices, and the cost of buying testing equipment. More generally this lack of consumer confidence (fuhyo higai 風評被害) continues to blight not just agriculture, but also manufacturing, services and tourism. A lot of people still seem to think that this whole area suffers from high radiation and we're all going round in white suits! We need more people to come here and see what it's really like.

Of course when the Prime Minister visits, the main thing on everyone's mind is energy policy and if (or when?) the country's nuclear plants will be re-opened. Last time he came, at the end of December, his first words on his return to Tokyo were of re-opening (saikado 再稼動). That didn't go down too well with people here. And it was the same this time. Humming and hawing about the need for a stable and cheap supply of energy and that he would consider all aspects of the issue before reaching a decision. Quite.

But there is progress. Another landmark today was the presentation to the government of the prefecture's Three Year Plan for some key projects for the recovery which will attract government funding. Renewable energy and medical equipment are two main themes and projects include the floating wind farm to be built off the Iwaki coast and a factory producing pacemakers here in Koriyama. These things take time.

The cherry blossom is almost over in Tokyo. Still cold here. Cherry blossom expected to be in full bloom around the 12th of next month.
Can't wait. Time to party.

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