Tokyo is to host the Olympics in 2020. Prime Minister Abe swung the vote by asserting that the situation in Fukushima is under control and personally guaranteeing the safety of athletes in Tokyo. The governor of Fukushima has been begging the government to take control ever since the disaster but only when the contaminated water crisis threatened Tokyo's Olympic bid did the government intervene.
It's been hailed here as an 'international pledge' so we're hoping the government really is going to take charge and get results. Money has been found from this year's budget and a team of vice-Ministers, foreign experts, and frontline specialists are to work on decommissioning the plant and finding solutions to the contaminated water issue. The Prime Minister sounded super-confident but is the situation really 'under control'? Is the 'silt fence' (a net curtain supposed to stem the flow of water) really effective? Is there really no contaminated water escaping into the open sea, as he claimed?
In the long term things should be under control. In all there will be three walls to contain contamination and stop water going into the sea: the 'frozen wall' around all four reactors (work to start next year and to be completed during fiscal 2014); a seawall already half built and to be completed in December this year; and an earthen wall reinforced with waterglass around several contaminated areas between the reactors and the sea. There has been some trouble with this last one where contaminated water was found to have been flowing over the top of the wall, and also a recent discovery of water flowing from one of the tank areas along a trench and into the open sea, south of the seawall. So all is not quite as under control as Abe seemed to suggest. The immediate crisis of the leaking tanks needs to be solved and there is a serious shortage of staff.
The government's also pledged to step up overseas PR. The farmers and manufacturers of Fukushima have been fighting this battle for three years now, measuring all their produce, explaining over and over that Fukushima is safe. Now it seems that that battle has to be fought internationally. A cartoon in a French publication showing sumo wrestlers with 3 arms and legs has been widely shown here. In bad taste certainly, but it shows the kind of prejudice one is up against. It wasn't good to hear the person responsible for Tokyo's bid repeatedly say that Tokyo was 250 km from Fukushima so nothing to worry about. For us it only served to reinforce the gulf between us here and the powers-that-be in Tokyo. So in a way we have to thank the foreign journalists who have reminded Tokyo - and the rest of Japan - that Fukushima is a national and international issue.
But it's good that the Olympics are coming to Tokyo. For far too long Japan has been in the doldrums and people have been gloomy. Then there was the disaster. It would be great if the Olympic Torch were carried through a regenerated North East Japan (including Fukushima). The owners of J-Village, the national youth soccer centre which still serves as a dormitory and base for workers at Fukushima Daiichi, are already making plans, hoping that it will have some support role in the Olympics.
Bye for now