Thursday 20 December 2012

Lessons from Fukushima

The International Atomic Energy Agency Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety was overshadowed by the election but with 700 delegates from 130 countries and organisations it was a big event for Koriyama. There aren't that many foreigners here and I know most of them so it was unusual to see so many strangers in town. I could tell something was up when I saw a car with blue diplomatic plates (never seen one here before) and ladies wearing heels. Koriyama ladies may dress up when they go out but no one over the age of 20 wears high heels outside in this weather!

The conference took place in the Big Palette conference centre which was where I was when the earthquake hit and which for five months afterwards became an evacuation shelter for 2,000 people. As if on cue, there were a couple of strong aftershocks on Saturday afternoon which must have concentrated minds in the conference hall.

Friday and Saturday were given over to visits (Fukushima Daiichi, decontamination work, Fukushima Medical University), and there were some important announcements. Next year the IAEA is to establish a centre in Fukushima City to train experts from around the world to deal with nuclear emergencies. Other projects include technical assistance in decontamination, dealing with waste, and radiation monitoring, in addition to working with Fukushima Medical University on health management. In the joint comunique the IAEA pledged to do more to support safety in developing countries. Then the dignitaries departed leaving the experts to carry on with working level meetings for two more days. Having been here, and seen all that's happening in Fukushima, one would like to think that lessons have been learned and safety around the world will be improved.

Sunday was election day although only a third of the electorate bothered to vote. The conservative LDP won by a landslide. Big names in the ruling DPJ (including 8 Cabinet Ministers) lost their seats and at about half past eleven on Sunday night PM Noda announced his resignation. The new Prime Minister will be Shinzo Abe who held the post for a year in 2006 but resigned because of stress/stomach trouble. During the election campaign he was constantly photographed tucking into 'tonkatsu' (Get it? tonkatsu, fried pork cutlet. Also katsu 'to win'.) The election result was a resounding No to the ruling party. The so-called Third Force was too fractured to gain a majority. 

Whatever your politics I think most people here are relieved that the government coming to power will have a solid majority and will be able to get on with the business of running the country. Here in Fukushima we just want things speeded up. 30,000 people in barrack-like emergency housing face another cold winter.
Bye for now

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