Thursday 11 July 2013

Update 11 July 2013

The 11th of the month always gets a mention in the media although these days it's just a quick relay of the latest figures for the disaster: 18,550 people dead or missing and 2,688 'related deaths' (most of these are in Fukushima due to evacuation stress). The number of evacuees from the Fukushima accident has fallen below 150,000 for the first time (149,949 to be precise). It peaked in June last year at 164,000 but people are coming back or are moving into permanent accommodation.

The situation at Fukushima Daiichi doesn't get any better. The latest set of troubles centres on high levels of radiation in groundwater on the seaside of the reactors. The first revelation was in April when strontium and tritium were detected in a well in front of Reactor No 2 but this was put down to leakage at the time of the accident. However, levels of caesium have since been rising at an alarming rate (100bq/litre in April, 1,100 in June and now 2,300bq/litre) so there are real worries that all this stuff is seeping into the sea. Chemicals are being injected into the wells to solidify the water but again these are only stop gap measures. 

Yoshida Masao, who was in charge of Fukushima Daiichi at the time of the accident died two days ago. He was taken off the job late in 2011 after being diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus and although his exposure was estimated at 70 mSv his illness is said to be unrelated - though you can't believe that the stress he was under wasn't a contributing factor. He's been hailed a hero and certainly watching those videos of the teleconferences with Tepco head office in the aftermath of the accident you have to admire his leadership and presence of mind. He famously disregarded an order to stop injecting water, and when they were trying to open the vents he told his boss not to get in the way, 'disturb shinaide kudasai'. He's not 100% squeaky clean however. Years previously he delayed the construction of higher seawalls as he didn't think they were necessary. But he always said that water was the main problem and he's certainly been proved right on that.

There's been some progress on housing for evacuees. Government funding seems to have been sorted at last and new housing for 3,700 households is to be built within the prefecture by fiscal 2015. Some initiatives are already underway. Iwaki on the coast where most of the evacuees are, announced that 1,600 dwellings would be available next March and was inundated with applications. Iitate county has put forward plans for a development designed to house 23 young families (80 people) in Iino, Fukushima City. It looks really nice with a community centre and lots of space to play. A bit different from the utilitarian block going up in Hiwada, in the north of Koriyama. Then there's a plan for evacuees from Futaba county evacuated to Saitama, outside Tokyo, to be rehoused en masse in existing blocks of flats in Iwaki. The Reconstruction Agency is also going to set up an advisory committee which will implement lessons from the Kobe Earthquake when rehousing people. So, as usual in this country, it takes an age for anything to happen but once it gets going it's done meticulously.

Energy in the headlines too. A floating wind turbine over 100 meters high was towed up from Tokyo. In August it will be moved to the Naraha coast for tests (including effects on fishing). The wind turbine (in Japanese fusha 風車 windmill) has been named Fukushima Mirai, Fukushima Future, and by fiscal 2014 there will be 3 turbines producing 16,000 KWH of electricity, the world's biggest floating sub-station.

A group of farmers from Tomioka have got organised and, working with Kyushu University, have been experimenting for the past year on different crops which can be used to produce bio-ethanol. They've been working on small areas in Tomioka. They may not be able to grow food but at least they can use their skills in growing for some useful purpose and to earn a living.

Meanwhile there's an election campaign going on. Voters go to the polls on 21 July to vote for members of the Upper House. The PM avoids all mention of nuclear power but presses on with getting nuclear plants back into operation. The LDP in Fukushima however have said they want rid of all nuclear plants in this prefecture. They had to - otherwise they wouldn't get any votes ...  I wonder if Mori Masako. Fukushima MP and Minister in charge of consumer affairs and dealing with the falling birthrate, will get in?
That's all for now.
It's getting hot even up here.

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