Sunday 25 September 2011

Harvest Time

Hi folks,
It's beautiful weather here in Koriyama. After the hot summer and the typhoon, we have clear, bright autumn days. Temperatures in the low 20s, fresh and bright, perfect.

But the radiation worries rumble on. Not much good news. People eat a lot of rice here so naturally the coming harvest is a cause for concern. The system is that rice is tested two weeks before harvest and then after harvest. If any rice has over the limit of 500 becquerels/kg then tests are repeated and shipment is banned from that (small) area. We've been having reports of rice being clear for a while now but the areas were in Bange and Kitakata, both in the east on the other side of Mt Bandai where levels are low so we took the much publicised results with a pinch of salt.  But now results from Nihonmatsu, which is half way between Fukushima City and Koriyama and got a heavy dousing of radioactive particles in March, are showing 500 bq/kg. Not much of a surprise there then. More tests promised.

Professor Kodama from the Radioisotope Centre of Tokyo University, who gave that impassioned speech to the Diet in June, came to Nihonmatsu and told authorities about a machine being developed to test every bag of rice on a conveyor belt. He wants them to press the government to speed up development. That's the kind of constructive action we need.

Forms for claiming compensation from Tokyo Electric have been sent out to individuals (companies later). The explanatory booklet runs to 150 pages. It's like a self assessment tax form gone mad.  Receipts are needed for all claims. People who were evacuated got an interim payment of 1 million yen per household plus 300,000 yen per person but this is to be deducted from the final payment so they're still unable to plan for the future. Evacuees got 100,000 yen per month, or 200,000 yen if they were in a shelter, but this is to be cut to 50,000 yen per month for all from October. The payments are supposed to be for stress but as they still don't know where they're going to be living in a year's time it's no less stressful now. Volunteer lawyers are coming to Fukushima to help people fill in the forms. There's a full page ad in the paper from the Japan Legal Association warning people not to sign a  disclaimer that will prevent making further claims in future. So Tokyo Electric's attitude to compensation is proving pretty controversial.

Meanwhile, it's been announced that hydrogen has been found in the pipes at Reactor No.1. One percent which doesn't sound much but it turns out that 4% can cause a hydrogen explosion. Great. They're adding extra boric acid to neutralise it. Just goes to show that the situation is far from stable. Until they can get inside the reactors they don't know what they'll find. But that's going to take years.

I wish I had some good news. Well, I've reorganised my kitchen. I lost two thirds of my crockery in the quake and for the last six months I've been keeping what was left in boxes in my bedroom afraid to put it back in the cupboards. A friend who, believe it or not, was in the Kobe earthquake too, didn't have a pot broken. So I've taken a leaf from her book. My plates and cups are down below and only light stuff - tea and tupperware - are in the top cupboards!
Goodnight all
Koriyama yesterday. Mount Adatara to the north. Big I, the high rise building near the station, has the world's highest planetarium - it's in the Guiness Book of Records!

Big Palette Fukushima where I was at the time of the earthquake. At the peak it housed
2,000 evacuees from Tomioka and Kawauchi.

Most of them are here in Koriyama's temporary housing. I counted 300 households at this location
and there are more being built.

Saturday 24 September 2011

Photos of the Move

We've spent the past week moving to Rengo's old factory about five miles away.  At the new factory we'll be buying in cardboard sheet so no more corrugating - the end of an era. Here's a photo record of the move.

18 September - the corrugator that was so noisy falls silent
Not much paper left
First out are the computers and phones. They have to be set up straightaway in the new offices.
Then the other stuff
50 ton crane

Flexo-folder gluer being dismantled

Safe leaves through the window

Over 6,000 printing dies to move

And 1,300 wooden dies

19 September - a typhoon on the way. It starts to rain at 3 pm. Heavy flooding in Koriyama the next day

Two cranes needed for this one

Hurry before it rains!

Human chain to get stuff down from the 4th floor
Our new offices

View from upstairs
Huge factory

And even our own Shinto shrine. May the gods be with us!

Wednesday 21 September 2011


Dear All
What a bloody country. Earthquakes, tsunami and now a typhoon. We don't often get direct hits up here but after causing commuter chaos in Tokyo, Typhoon 15 (no romantic names in this country, just numbers) hit Utsunomiya about 7 pm and then quickly veered north-east to hit Iwaki on the coast. Koriyama got heavy rain and strong winds in the early evening and it probably peaked just as I was walking home. (I'd tried to get a taxi but no replies from several taxi companies.) Roads turned to rivers, water bubbling up over manhole covers, I was like a drowned rat.

I thought this would be a good test for my Senz umbrella, designed in Holland to withstand winds up to 60 kmph, but I got caught in a bad gust rounding Usui department store and I'm afraid the umbrella broke. Sorry, Takeshi. I need another. And I promise I won't test it in a typhoon!

We first realised something was amiss when water started leaking from that crack on the stairs. I'd had the stairs replastered in May but the aftershocks reopened the crack and today water poured down as if from a long horizontal waterfall. Thank goodness the factory has moved and everyone is out. Just in time. Others are not so lucky. 60,000 people have been evacuated in Koriyama, including people from temporary housing - evacuated twice! Poor people.

We are told things are under control at the reactor. Work has stopped, they are battenning down the hatches and water levels are low so there is no danger of contaminated water overflowing. There are still no covers on the reactors though a temporary cover was being fitted onto Reactor 1 and I have heard that more permanent covers are being made at Onohama Port.

Then to cap it all, an earthquake at 10.30 this evening. Force 3 here. Haven't had one for a while. It's now about 11 at night and outside the rain and wind have stopped. Apart from the odd siren, all is eerily quiet.
What a night.

Monday 19 September 2011

This and that

Thanks for the comments on radiation in food. I'll try and get back to that topic soon but the move of the factory is taking all my time and energy. All the machines except one were moved today and 65 years of rubbish cleared. I was black and had to scrub myself in the bath tonight to get the dirt off.

Today is 'Respect for the Aged Day' so Mum, I send my best wishes and look forward to the day when I can take you out and celebrate properly. Here, there are nearly 30 million people over the age of 65, that's 23.3% of the population. My mother-in-law is still going strong at 99 and next January she'll join the 47,750 other centenarians in this country.

News here today in Fukushima. People with homes in the 20 km zone have been allowed to take their cars in and bring their belongings out: heaters and winter clothes for the winter, but only as much as they think will fit in their temporary housing.

Plans are being made for the 29,000 people evacuated from the 20-30 km zone to return to their homes. Some authorities plan to get people back by next March. Other areas by the end of next year depending on the clean up. Schools are to be cleaned up first but it's not clear when other areas will be cleaned.

Hosono, Minster of the Nuclear Accident was in Vienna today and announced that Step 2, cold shutdown, may be achieved by the end of this year, earlier than planned. Cold shutdown means getting temperatures at the reactors below 100 'C.  The spent fuel pools in the four reactors have been cool for a while. Nowadays on the news we get announcements of 'todays temperature' at the three reactors, a kind of countdown to cold shutdown. Reactor 1 has been below 100'C since May, currently 84'C. Reactor 3, has at last reached 100'C which is a relief, since there had still been a faint possiblity of another hydrogen explosion. So that leaves Reactor 2 which is currently showing 112'C.

Demonstration in Tokyo today. 60,000 people demanding the abolition of nuclear power plants, led, of all people, by the novelist and Nobel Laureate Oe Kenzaburo.

And finally a lovely story on today's news. As a 'thankyou' to the people of Taiwan who gave a massive donation in a TV appeal at the time of the disaster, six young swimmers from Fukushima swam in relay from Okinawa to Taiwan. 110 miles in 52 hours. What an amazing thing to do.

Saturday 17 September 2011

End of an Era

The move of the factory has begun. We're moving to Rengo's old factory about 5 miles away. This is 'Silver Week' when public holidays clump together, second only to Golden Week in May, and the factory is closed for a week. We'll be working tomorrow (Sunday) and on Monday, Respect for the Aged Day (Keiroh no Hi  敬老の日)  then taking a holiday on Friday, the Autumn Equinox (Shuhbun no Hi  秋分の日), then back to work for the next weekend to test the machinery, opening again for business on Monday 26th.

The corrugator had its last day on Friday. The end of an era, kind of sad. Ojiichan (my father-in-law) put the corrugator in in 1966. That was at the beginning of Japan's economic boom when there was demand for big things, like fridges and kotatsu tables, which took a lot of cardboard to pack. It's no longer economic for us to buy paper in and make from scratch so at the new factory we'll be buying cardboard sheet from Rengo and making it up into cartons. We've sold the corrugator to a Rengo subsidiary and they're trying to sell it on. The corrugator itself is too old and narrow to be sold but some of the later additions may sell. We had someone from China and on Friday someone from Korea looking it over.

We had a lunch party today to say goodbye to the place and to 4 part-time women who will be leaving. I gave a little speech thanking everyone for working at the current place in Hoha-cho. That got a round of applause. Because of the disaster our new owners, Rengo, did not implement the voluntary redundancy scheme originally planned but those on short term contracts have not had their contracts renewed. So about five other people have left or are leaving.

The afternoon was spent packing boxes. And the machinery manufacturers moved in and started taking the machinery apart. We are leaving the corrugator and one other machine. The rest, eight big machines, are to be moved, along with all the other stuff. It's a big job.

Incidentally, since we will now be overstaffed, Rengo offered transfers to other companies within the group. We interviewed 13 of our staff under 35 to see if anyone was interested but sadly not one person took up the offer. Either because they had just built a house or because they are the oldest son and have to look after their parents. I thought some one might jump at the chance of getting away from the radiation but that didn't happen. Makes you realise how attached people are to this place, whatever the difficulties, and how unmobile most people are.

Tomorrow we put the stuff in the trucks and move. Another busy day.

Wednesday 14 September 2011

All Change

Hi everybody
Poor Noda, our new Prime Minister. He's trying so hard, only to be let down by his newly appointed Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry who visited Fukushima on Saturday and committed a number of gaffes. He said the area around the reactor was like 'Death Town'. Well we all know it is, but we want our leaders to give us hope and positive leadership. Then he brushed his sleeve and joked he'd got radioactive particles stuck on him and might give them to someone. That's worse. Fuels the prejudice against us. So by Sunday he was gone. To be replaced by our old friend Edano. He was Cabinet Secretary during the crisis, offical spokesman and tireless front man, reassuring us that the reactor was safe, and saying memorably, 'There is no immediate danger from radiation'. But at least he's familiar with the situation so will get on with the job. The danger is of course that the opposition will start hounding the Prime Minister and try to make him responsible and he'll fall and we'll get another Prime Minister, the so-called revolving door.

Some good news. Kawauchi-village, in the 20 to 30 km zone, has announced plans for its 2,800 strong population to return to the area by March next year. It depends on getting the water supply properly checked and schools cleaned up. Woods are to be cleaned after the people return - over the next TEN years. In spite of this upbeat plan, the residents being interviewed didn't sound too keen to go back. A lot of work needs to be done in reassuring them that they will be safe.

An international conference was held at Fukushima University over the weekend and world radiation experts seem to agree that the risk for us is very low, lower than at Chernobyl. But it did recognise that people here are very anxious and stressed and there needs to be transparency about the risks and policy decisions in addition to help for people under stress. Even the ICRP representative said they would reconsider their recommended levels. But more of that another time.

Listening to the radio as I drove around today I heard that the prefecture is recruiting people for its new Clean Up qualification. You can attend a two day course for free which will teach you the basics of radiation, radiation health and safety, and how to operate a digger. A hundred people for each of five courses with more planned. Now that's supply and demand.
Bye for now

Saturday 10 September 2011

Equation for internal exposure

In my post Radiation (4) a week or so ago, I quoted Professor Kunihiko Takeda who says that to work out how much internal exposure you get from food, you divide the becquerels by 100, to get the equivalent in mSv/year. I added that 'if you ate one kilogram of food with 500 bq of caesium in it (divide by 100) you would be exposed to 5mSv/yr'.

A reader challenged this and said the figure should be in μSv (microsieverts) not mSv (millisieverts), therefore harmless. I e-mailed Professor Takeda and got a reply confirming that the answer is in millisieverts and directing me to the details. For the record here is the full equation.

You take the bq/kg in the food. Multiply it by the amount you eat. Multiply that by the number of days. Then the equation is  x 2 / 100000. So to take an extreme example, say all the food you eat in a day (1.4 kg) has a measure of 500bq/kg and you eat that everyday for a year, you get the following:
500 bq x 1.4 kg x 365 days x 2 / 100000 = 5.11 mSv/year.

Let's take a more realistic example. In yesterday's paper, most fruit and veg were clear but figs from Minami Soma were showing some radiation. One kind had 77 bq/kg of Caesium 134 and 86 bq of Caesium 137. Add them together and that's 163 bq/kg. So, say you eat 100 grams just once the equation would be:
163 bq x 0.1 kg x 1 x 2 / 100000 = 0.000326 mSv or 0.326 μSv. Negligible.

But the point is that those of us who're living here have to add up external exposure, what we breathe in, and what we take in from food and water. If you think of it that way, the 'safe limit' of 500 bq/kg from food alone is not safe. Especially for children.

Professor Takeda is a professor at Chubu University, has been a member of the Atomic Energy Safety Committee, has received an award for his work on uranium enrichment. He is also a maverick with outspoken views on recycling and the environment. Since the disaster and in the absence of advice from the government that people can trust and understand he has taken on the role of fatherly advisor, especially to parents worrying about their children, helping us understand the figures and doling out lots of practical advice.
I don't know how authoratative he is. Comments welcomed. 


Friday 9 September 2011

New government: beginning of recovery?

Only a week into the job and our new Prime Minister visited Fukushima today. He went to J-Village and thanked the workers at the plant, saw a clean-up experiment in Date, Fukushima City and then met with the governor. So he seems to be true to his word, rolling up his sleeves and getting on with the job. And maintaining a sense of gravitas dressed in white radiation suit and blue swimming hat is no mean achievement. He's left the Minister for the Recovery (Hirano) and the Minister in charge of the Nuclear Accident (Hosono) in the same jobs which is good news. No time to waste in handovers.

Genba Koichiro, 47, is the new Foreign Minister. He's a local MP, from Funahiki, about 20 miles east of Koriyama. Disappointed he's not got a more active role in the disaster - Foreign Minister is about as far away as you can get. I remember him talking on TV about playing soccer as a boy and being amazed at the grass playing fields at away matches near the nuclear plants (he was used to playing on dirt).  Maybe it's also got something to do with the fact that he's married to a daughter of the former governor (Sato Eisaku, the one who was forced to resign in an alleged conspiracy for criticising safety at Fukushima's nuclear reactors). Oh well, I hope he's successful in explaining Fukushima to the world and getting us international help and support.

UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, was in Fukushima a few weeks ago and pledged international help. We're certainly going to need it. The scale of the disaster is beginning to dawn on people. When I was in Ura Bandai at the weekend at one of the hotels I met a lady evacuated from Namie-machi, eight kilometres from Fukushima Daiichi. She said she'd been back but had given up hope of ever returning. Even the mayor of Iitate, ever positive and constructive, has said that pregnant women and infants will not be able to return in two years. Radiation levels are falling and the problem is not so much with the air but with the particles that are on the soil. It all has to be cleaned up - at vast expense. Good news today that sunflowers have been shown to absorb caesium by as much as 50% thereby cleaning the soil. There's a problem though with the radioactive sunflowers themselves which have to be disposed of somehow.

Word of the moment is josen (除染), meaning clean-up, decontamination.

Series of rock concerts starting next week master-minded by show biz personality and son of Koriyama, Nishida Toshiyuki ( Starts in Oku-Aizu on Wednesday, moving to Aizu Castle on Thursday, shore of Lake Inawashiro on Friday, Koriyama on Saturday, Soma on Sunday and Iwaki on Monday. It's not my scene but wouldn't mind seeing Fukuyama Masahiro who'll be at the Koriyama performance. (He's a singer, songwriter and guitarist but starred as 19th century revolutionary Sakamoto Ryoma in last year's NHK Sunday night historical drama.) This is his latest song Kazoku ni Naro yo, Let's Make a Family. It's struck a chord here as the disaster has made people value family ties which before they'd taken for granted.

Good night from a pleasantly cool Koriyama

Tuesday 6 September 2011

Ura Bandai Photo Series

For a change here are some photos taken on a recent weekend trip to Ura Bandai, the weather not good unfortunately.

Mount Bandai in cloud. It erupted in 1889 when this side, the back of the mountain, was blasted away. Rivers were blocked creating over 300 lakes. The area's just been designated a Geopark (Japan) because of its unusual topography. The theme is regeneration, how nature will recover  in a relatively short time.

One of the Goshiki Numa (the Five Coloured Ponds)

What makes the ponds blue? My guidebook tells me that water containing allophane particles (an aluminium silicate clay) bubbles up from underground springs mixing with the acid water of the ponds. These particles reflect the blue in the light spectrum. The red pools are caused by deposits of oxidised iron.
Sorry to destroy the magic!

My Mum was very excited to find this when she first came to Japan.
It's a wild, climbing hydrangea, the forerunner of the cultivated ones.

The walk through the Five Coloured Ponds is about an hour and a half one way.
A ride back on this bone-shaker, the Bear Bus,  is good fun.

View from the venerable Ura Bandai Kogen Hotel (Mt Bandai in cloud, unfortunately). Lovely walk round the lake (30 minutes). Show your thanks by having coffee and cake (900 yen) or lunch (curry 1,300 yen) in restaruants with this view.

This is the walk round the lake at the Kogen Hotel. With its ferns and lush vegetation, it feels like a primeval forest

The Morohashi Art Gallery. Mainly Dali sculptures with some Impressionists.
Interesting building, well-maintained river flowing through the  grounds.

Il Regalo, the only restaurant open at night apart from the hotels.
Excellent Italian food and wine. Also a hotel.

The outdoor bath at Bandai Royal Hotel

A bit further afield, the outdoor bath at Tamuraya Ryokan in Numajiri Onsen.  The hotel is run down but it's near the source of the hot spring and the water is hot, cloudy, slightly sulphury and tingling to the taste.

and autumn is not far away .....

Friday 2 September 2011

Radiation (4)

Today I'm going to look at food. The 'provisonal' limit which was brought in after the accident (in the absence of any other) is for 500 bq/kg. So milk, fish, vegetables or meat with more than 500 bq/kg is not allowed on the market.  There's a complicated formula for measuring the accumulated dose but Professor Takeda says that if you divide the becquerels by 100, you will get the equivalent in mSv/year. So, if you ate one kilogram of food with 500 bq of caesium in it (divide by 100) you would be exposed to 5mSv/yr. (Once it gets in the body it keeps emitting radioactivity for years.)

From the beginning of the accident the local paper everyday has listed foods which have been tested. At first it was spinach showing very high levels of iodine but nowadays most vegetables are clean, blank columns on the chart. Some peaches are clear but some are showing levels of say, 18 bq/kg. So it you ate a kilogram of peaches you would get exposure of 0.18 mSv/yr. No big deal if you ate one peach and aren't living in Fukushima and getting all the other stuff.

Currently fish is showing between 20 and 200 bq/kg (0.2 to 2 mSv/year). These are below the limit of 500 bq/kg so are 'safe'. Seems quite high for me, when added to my tally. I haven't eaten fish since the quake.

Professor Takeda is leading a campaign to get the becquerels marked on food. Baby millk is now marked but not ordinary milk. His advice is to put up with the small amounts in fruit and vegetables - most of it can be washed away in water. But to go easy on meat, fish and milk which he wants labelled.

Most people in Fukushima with children have for a long time been buying different food for their children, with the grown ups eating Fukushima produce but buying foodstuffs  from the west of the country for the kids. The other day a friend gave me some small cartons of milk - from Kyushu! Very welcome. I put it in my tea.

I find myself in a dilemma. When people in the rest of the country are being really good about supporting our farmers, I'm afraid I'm not too keen on taking in extra radiation from local food myself. (A dilemma especially since the agricultural sector is important business for our company.) I get round it by buying  food when I go to Aizu and Ura Bandai (in the west of the prefecture) at the weekends since levels are negligible there.

I remember a link Takeshi sent me a while back to a BBC documentary on Chernobyl. The Soviet Union put milk from Chernobyl into the national supply so it was diluted. Everyone got a vey slight amount of radiation and the farmers stayed in business. But after the Soviet Union collapsed so did the distribution system and people had to depend on  local produce. That's how the problem with children's  thyroids came about. (Correction: Sorry, other medical problems. Thyroid cancer is caused by Iodine 131 which has an 8 day half life.)

So here's a suggestion. Would the rest of Japan eat our peaches, tomatoes and beef to keep the farmers in business whilst we who live here and have already been exposed to radiation don't take on any extra? A few cucumbers or peaches wouldn't be dangerous whereas for us, it's in everything: the air, the water, the rice, milk, fruit and veg.

Here's the link to Professor Takeda's blog. It's in Japanese only.

Next time I'll try and come to some conclusions about how the radiation's affecting me and see if I need to do anything.

Thursday 1 September 2011

Factory News

Dear Friends,
There was an accident today in the factory. A young man caught his hand in a printing machine. There are no bones broken and the nerves are intact but it's a bad wound and he'll be in hospital for 10 days. We haven't had a serious accident like this for more than 15 years. Safety is something I've put a lot of effort into and we've had awards so it comes as a shock. Accidents happen in manufacturing but I'll never get used to them and find them intensely upsetting. Once again, I am so glad that the company is sold and I only have an honorary position and the whole responsibility is not mine.

And the price of paper, our main material, will probably be going up again. Rengo (Paper division) have announced a 20% rise. It remains to be seen whether the other paper firms will follow suit. The price rises started ten years ago and every rise was a turn of the screw making it harder and harder for us to keep going. In the end I sold. Again, I am so thankful the sale went through. If it hadn't, what with the disaster, subsequent drop in sales, and this price rise we would have been facing closure - or worse. (Incidentally, the reason for the price rise is China. Over 95% of corrugated cartons in Japan are made from recycled paper and there is a good recycling system. It's a treasure trove for Chinese boxmakers and that pushes the price up.) 

The schools are back. A colleague whose children go to Takase Primary School, where my children went, told me that the playground hasn't been scraped (only 0.3 μSv/hr there as opposed to 0.9 μSv/hr  here in the centre of town) but parents went in over the holidays and cleaned up, hosing down the buildings and gutters, weeding, and wiping down the classrooms and corridors.

Figures just out about population. 27,000 people have left since March and the population of the prefecture is under 2 million for the first time in 33 years. Population of Koriyama down 4,000 to 334,749 people.

Planning another weekend in Ura Bandai but there's a typhoon on the way with heavy rain forecast. Might be spending a lot of time in the hot spring baths.