Tuesday 11 December 2012

Monthly Update

Time again for the round-up of events I do every month around the 11th. News about Fukushima has been overshadowed by the coming election although both the Prime Minister and the leader of the main opposition party kicked off their election campaigns here - first time that's ever happened. With 12 parties to choose from and 40% of voters still undecided, it's going to be an interesting election. Voting next Sunday, the 16th.

But people here are not convinced by glib promises to speed up decontamination work or aid recovery, they want to see more action. Everything seems to be taking so long. Negotiations - for reorganisation of the no-go areas, for the interim storage facility - have been tortuous.

The 20 km no-go zone is being re-drawn and the barricades have just gone up in Okuma, which is where Fukushima Daiichi is situated. In theory the area is split into three according to levels of radiation but the council fought to have all residents treated the same - for how can you have a minority or residents return when there are no facilities? So all 11,000 residents now know they can't go back for 5 years. But as one resident said, it will then take 2 or 3 years to get electricity and water up and running, another year or so to rebuild his house. So he's looking at 10 years. But who knows?

The no-go zone is a wilderness. I hear that cats and dogs have been picked up by charities but there are 1,000 cows on the loose and wild boar are rife.

Slight progress on negotiations for the interim storage facility which is essential for the clean-up. After high handed announcements by the government and a frosty reception by local authorities the prefecture intervened and the government has got permission to do field surveys. But it's already December and plans are supposed to be completed by next March. It's all taking so long.

The other big news this month concerns the safety of nuclear plants in earthquake-prone Japan. The new nuclear watchdog, the NRC, has been flexing its muscles and decided that a fault running under No.2 reactor at Tsuruga on the Japan Sea coast is indeed active - well at least in geological terms, we're talking hundreds of thousands of years ago here. It seems the reactor should never have been built there in the first place so it looks as if it will not be re-opened and may be decommissioned.

Outside of the restricted areas, life here in Fukushima goes on as normal. Most of the evacuees are in Iwaki on the coast which is comparatively warm and has low levels of radiation. That area is doing well: lots of new houses, space on industrial estates at a premium. There are grants for investment and for employing evacuees (though some of these will cease next March). Koriyama too has seen an influx of people and is doing reasonably well.

Fukushima's a busy place these days and national and international organisations continue to lend support. We've just had the Japan women's professional golf tournament in Iwaki, the national ballet concours in Fukushima, a while back there was the national shogi (Japanese chess ) championship. I saw on TV tonight that two schools for evacuees that re-opened in Aizu had a surprise visit from Disneyland characters. And this coming weekend Koriyama is to be host to the IAEA Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety no less. Fukushima used to be a backwater that no one had heard of. Maybe there is a silver lining ...

That reminds me. We're going to get another payout of  80,000 yen (615 GBP) - more if you're a child or pregnant - to cover 'mental stress' between January and August this year. I'd better make the most of it. It's to be the last. ( 17 December, Correction: Got the papers today. I'm only eligible for 40,000 yen for expenses. Children and pregnant women get an extra 80,000 yen for stress.)
The snow has melted in town but the hills and mountains around are white. Beautiful to look at but cold.
P.S. I eventually got round to replying to the comments on Two Winds. Take a look.

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