Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Over and Out

It's 3 years since that fateful day, 11th March 2011, 2:46 in the afternoon. The day everything changed and time stood still. It's become a measure of time. People talk of things happening 'before the disaster' (shinsaimae 震災前) and 'after the disaster' (shinsaigo 震災後). But there's little appetite here for anniversaries. The nuclear disaster is not something that's over and done with. There are 130,000 people still displaced, most of whom still have no clear idea of their future or where they will live. Contaminated water continues to accumulate at Fukushima Daiichi. Reactor 4 is the only one which people can go into. Radiation is so high in the other three that no one can get near. The radioactive materials that fell over Fukushima prefecture have been collected but the interim storage facilities have not yet been completed so the stuff sits in people's gardens, parks and schools. In the former exclusion zone decontamination is progressing but it's way behind schedule; it will only be carried out once; and it does not cover the woods. No, the accident is far from over.

I've been privileged (is that the right word? I think it is) to have shared the earthquake and the nuclear disaster with the people of Fukushima. But now my company's work is done and the office is moving to Tokyo (I will be based in Tokyo but spending more time in England). I've spent a heartbreaking few weeks saying goodbye to people I've known for over 30 years. And I've decided to end this blog. Some say I should continue from a distance but that doesn't seem right. I wrote it because I read the local papers, watched the local news, talked to people, walked around taking everything in with my eyes and ears, and camera. I don't want to be another commentator, a casual observer who comes and goes with no commitment to the place. There are too many of those already. So this will be my last post.

It's been a life changing experience. There were no phones or electricity for the first few days after the disaster. No water for a week. We all learnt to be self reliant. I bet there isn't a household in Fukushima that doesn't have at least two weeks' stock of food and water, and gas for heat and cooking. People get used to being able to buy anything from the convenience store at any time of day or night and don't know how to cope when things go wrong. We've learnt to stand on our own two feet, take charge, and depend on no one.

We also learnt to be aware and question important issues that affect our lives. I personally am still undecided about nuclear power. It may be a necessary interim measure to prevent the serious worldwide consequences of global warming. Fukushima prefecture has proclaimed - for obvious reasons and quite rightly - that it will be non nuclear and I uphold that stance. But we should all be concerned about nuclear waste. Before the disaster I don't think many people in Japan were aware that spent fuel was stored at the plants with nowhere to go. Worryingly, Abe's recently announced 'Energy Plan' made no mention of nuclear waste. Finland justifies its use of nuclear power through its construction of an underground facility where the waste will be buried until it is safe - 100,000 years. A facility in France is storing the waste for 100 years hoping that technology to dispose of the waste safely will be developed by then. People in Fukushima have seen the piles of waste in their own backyards and experienced the fear it brings. And this is only low level waste. The spent fuels and waste from decommissioning are much more dangerous. Reprocessing (in order to re-use the waste as fuel) produces plutonium which can be used for nuclear weapons. For these reasons the vast majority of Japanese citizens favour a gradual withdrawal from nuclear power. The current government seems set on re-opening the country's nuclear plants. One hopes public opinion will win out over the long term.

Koriyama, the second largest city in the Tohoku region after Sendai, has done pretty well attracting 'recovery' funding. A big national research institute for renewables, known here as Sansohken 産総研, is to open on April 1st. New buildings are going up on those empty plots of land I mentioned last year. New shops are being built to fill the gaps on the main road from the station. 

Finally, I'd like to pay tribute to the women and young people of Fukushima. After the earthquake the children had a month off school and the scenes on the TV were horrific. Families here suffered severe stress over fears of radiation and many families were separated. It's still common for the husband to work in Fukushima and his family to live somewhere else. March is graduation time, the end of the school year, and in interviews on TV and essays written by children many of them say they want to join the police or fire department, or become teachers and nurses for they saw these people in action after the disaster and admired the way they took charge. Or if a kid wants to be, say a baseball player, they'll add that then they'll be able to work with kids and give them a good time. Older students often say they'll go to university in Tokyo to get qualifications but hope to come back to help. Children were traumatised but the women here protected the children and the children have become strong, committed and public spirited. You can't help but feel optimistic about Fukushima's future.

Thank you for reading this blog. If it wasn't for your support I would never have kept it going.
Good bye,


  1. Thank you so much for blogging! It has opened worlds to us that have been monitoring the events in Fukushima. More importantly, your paving the way for other women leaders In Japan, is something that will inspire future generations. Thanks again for providing a definitive account of 3/11. Someone should turn this blog into a movie! Blake

  2. I am sad to see you will stop blogging but I understand your reasons. I want to say a most heartfelt thanks for all your information, your reasoned and carefully thought out posts, your love for Japan and Fukushima just shines through and it's been an honour to read your blog. Thank you.

  3. Thanks for this account of life following the disaster three years ago. I will miss its combination of news of attempts to recover and insights illustrating the character and resof members of the community

  4. Sorry the ending above should read '...and resilience of the community. I have also been interested to read of the attendant political shenanigans. Farewell!'

  5. Anne, thank you so much for your insight and compassion. I hope the public will hear more from you.

  6. I agree with you, there is not point blogging from "outside" as so many people do. Your posts will be missed ! Thank you very much.

  7. I will miss your posts. I'm of two minds about ending the blog. I agree that being in the trenches gives you the perspective that made this blog so engaging. However, I hope you leave the door open to observations from afar as those have value, too. Your subject will come to you, I'm sure.

    Something that caught my eye that I'd long thought about as in the first days I watched how teachers protected their students and were back in class as soon as was physically possible. You wrote: Children were traumatised but the women here protected the children and the children have become strong. Who is protecting the women (and the teachers) and other frontline service workers? Of course, the question is rhetorical.

    I wish you well in the way your life unfolds next.

  8. We've followed your blog with great interest, and will miss hearing the news of you and your family, as well as the Koriyama area and all points affected so deeply by the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident. All the best to you!

  9. Thank you for keeping the world informed of the people's experiences and life at Fukushima.
    Here's hoping another writer takes up your baton.

  10. Thank you Anne for your time and commitment in maintaining this blog, it has been a great source of information and enlightenment to myself and many others. Because you took me to Tomioka last June I was able to make a video of the images which as of today has had 753 views around the world on Vimeo and YouTube and has taken the message to those that watched it. It was a profound experience for me to do it. You are stopping the blog for the right reasons and must move on yourself. All the best for the future.

  11. There is a tested and proven solution to treat such a contaminted water without generating any additional sludge. It has been just tested @ nuclear certified laboratory. Test results are now disclosed..
    See the following CCN iReport about it:

  12. Thank you, Anne, for providing us who live in other countries with such reasoned and articulate newsletters. I have always felt that, when reading them, I was getting a truthful account of the situation and so valued your posts. All the very best with everything you do in the future.

  13. After CNN ( ) someone else is moving to advise about WOW Technology SUPER decontamination performances.

    It is Bouletin of French Ministry of Foreign Affairs only:

  14. Yes.
    After CNN iReport article ( ) someone else is reacting to advise about the new Technology by WOW Technology Inc. that is able to offer a SUPER decontamination performance for removing radioactive isotopes from water without generating any sludge.

    It is the Bouletin of French ministery for Foreign affairs:

    This Technology would allow a better cooling for those metdown rectors at Fukushima Daiichi and prevent additional problems.
    I hope that news will be spreaded all around the world.
    as it is a great news and a glimmer of hope.

  15. pretty nice blog, following :)

  16. Many many thanks for sharing your experience of the disaster and of life in Koriyama three years hence. I checked in often, and was always amazed by your ability to convey the facts without vaseline on the lens or vitriol toward the terribly skewed press coverage here. I will miss your "Fukushima Blog" very much.

  17. Thank you Anne for sharing your thoughts over the last 3 years. It was of great interest for me to follow your blog. All the best for your future in Tokyo

  18. Working in the nuclear industry, I used to follow your blog to get insights on the shinsai, in order to avoid the BS from the pro- & anti-. Thanks a lot for your work and your posts

  19. Hey, very nice site. I came across this on Google, and I am stoked that I did. I will definitely be coming back here more often. Wish I could add to the conversation and bring a bit more to the table, but am just taking in as much info as I can at the moment. Thanks for sharing.
    Golden Motor Wheelchair

    Keep Posting:)

  20. ミシエル個前 (ニユよるく)19 March 2016 at 10:46

    Dear Anne, you're such a strong woman. I really admire you. I heard about your blog from your interview with Robert Campbell aired recently.
    You have such a big heart to carry on.
    Wishing you all the best in the future.