Sunday 31 March 2013

Pinch into Chance

The NHK World programme 'Booked for Japan' is being broadcast today. I'd been apprehensive but it's very well done and eloquently encaptures the feelings of people here, the trauma we went through and the new determination to be self reliant and in control. At the hour of writing there are still two repeats, so catch it if you can.

Front page headline in the local paper yesterday: Tepco has eventually decided to cancel plans to build a new nuclear power station in Fukushima. The plans were first unveiled in 1967. Billions of yen have been spent on purchasing land and now, some 45 years later, they announce that in the face of local opposition it won't be possible to construct the plant. But why did the whole thing take so long? It doesn't exactly inspire confidence in those deciding our nuclear future. More to the point, the decommissioning of reactors 5 & 6 at Fukushima Daiichi and reactors 1 to 4 at Fukushima Daini is not included in Tepco's plan for the next fiscal year.

Front page headline in the local paper today: in response to a question in the Diet the Prime Minister has said that even if reactors 5 & 6 at Fukushima Daiichi and reactors 1 to 4 at Fukushima Daini meet the new safety standards, re-opening them will be difficult in view of the feelings of people in Fukushima. Well, well, he was listening when he came here last week. 

A few days ago the prefecture put forward its Three Year Plan for industry and jobs. Now we have robotics. Universities and businesses are to work together to get this industry going. Yes, lots of robots will be needed to decommission the damaged nuclear plants. A new Fukushima brand? There's a saying here that people use a lot, about turning a 'pinch' into a 'chance'. I think it must be a baseball phrase and I'm wholly ignorant of baseball so can't explain - but I think you get the idea. All the world knows Fukushima now, so let's put that name to good use. 

Got the bike out for the first time this season and took some pictures. The old wing of the town hall was badly damaged in the earthquake but has just been repaired. The offices had to move to several other facilities after the disaster which added to the general chaos. The city gymnasium too is about to re-open. Not very attractive buildings, but I was rewarded by the sight of plum blossom at the nearby Museum of Literature.

City Hall. This was the site of Koriyama's only earthquake fatality. The ceiling fell down in the
observation deck and killed a man. They didn't find him for a week.
This is the kind of work they do to make buildings earthquake proof. You see it a lot in schools.
Some private houses too. Not very pretty but it makes the buildings safe.
Putting finishing touches to the repairs to the gymnasium

Plum blossom outside the Koriyama Museum of Literature. Lovely scent.

Wednesday 27 March 2013

Booked for Japan

Hi folks,
I'm going to appear briefly on NHK World, NHK's international broadcasing service, in a programme called 'Booked for Japan' this coming Saturday, 30th March.  The programme goes out four times over 24 hours at 6 hourly intervals. As well as TV, there's live streaming on the internet.
Here are the details:
About 'Booked for Japan'
NHK World Live Stream
It's a great honour to be on this programme which usually features household names - a famous singer, Kabuki actor, astrophysicist - though to be fair the main focus is Genyu Sokyu, the Zen Buddhist priest I've mentioned before. He won the most prestigious literary prize in Japan, the Akutagawa prize, in 2001 for his novel Chuin no Hana which is about that nebulous time between dying and going to heaven. The wife of a priest obsessively makes decorations out of paper and hauls them up into the roof of the temple. As the priest and his wife pray, somehow, at some moment, someone - it's not clear whether it's the old lady who died at the beginning of the story, or their miscarried child - becomes a Buddha. It's very atmospheric, almost a ghost story.

Genyu came to prominence in the Fukushima saga when he sat on The Reconstruction Design Council which was formed straight after the disaster to come up with a vision for the future. People were still in a daze but the committee, under the leadership of Professor Iokibe, did, very eloquently, form a consensus that the whole nation should bear the taxes to pay for reconstruction, and came up with plans including building houses on higher ground and creating special economic zones which, after endless delays, are only now being translated into action. 

Since the disaster Genyu has published many books and has been a voice of reason, common sense and consolation. I always listen to his 5 minute spot on Wednesday mornings on Radio Fukushima (podcast available). His new novel is Ogami-mushi Praying Mantis. He also speaks excellent English.

The programme is fronted by Robert Campbell, professor of Japanese literature at Tokyo University and a familiar face on Japanese television. You'll be treated to the sight of him and me speaking in Japanese. Though in all honesty it didn't feel at all odd! He's a very learned man. Genyu says on his home page that when Prof. Campbell visited the temple, he read, with the greatest of ease, Zen writings which most Japanese would have difficulty deciphering.

The programme hangs on a peg, the 'Book' in the title. I don't know if it'll be shown but I chose 'Middlemarch' by George Eliot. I chose the closing words of the book and Robert had some really interesting insights. For me, this was the highlight of the filming. They also did some filming on the factory floor of Tohoku Kogyo, the box company of which I'm Chairman, which I hope they will show.

Also on the programme is Fujita Koshi who you may remember is the farmer whose speech I translated before he went to London in July at the time of the Olympics. He's an eighth generation farmer, a Vegetable Sommelier no less, and goes everywhere to promote his produce. He's also turning into a spokesperson for agriculture in these  parts.
Anyway, catch it if you can.

Tuesday 26 March 2013

PM's Visit

The Prime Minister visited Fukushima on Sunday. He spent the best part of the day here - usually it's only a rushed photocall. Unfortunately it wasn't reported on national TV and only got a minor mention in the national dailies.

He visited Tomioka (where Fukushima Daini is located) which has just been re-zoned. This means that people are able to go in and out of some parts for the first time since the disaster though they're not allowed to stay overnight. The Prime Minister stood in Tomioka station and surveyed the devastation. He said it seemed like time had stopped and vowed to speed up the recovery. Next he came to Koriyama and visited several farms. He saw mushrooms being grown in indoor factories and turnips grown in poly tunnels in brand new soil. He pulled some turnips, held them up and said he hoped the stockmarket would keep on rising. (Get it? It's a pun on the word kabu which means 'turnip' and also 'shares'.) The farmers complained that sales are still not back to normal. They've changed the soil and done rigrorous testing but still people won't touch food from here. A beef farmer complained prices were still 20% down on what they were before the accident.

A lot is being done though to counter such prejudice. Just out is the news that 200 farmers are to be trained to go round shops in Tokyo and talk about what's being done. And it's not just Fukushima that's suffering. Tepco has said it will continue to accept applications for compensation from farmers and businesses as far away as Hiroshima to offset the cost of finding alternative suppliers, lower prices, and the cost of buying testing equipment. More generally this lack of consumer confidence (fuhyo higai 風評被害) continues to blight not just agriculture, but also manufacturing, services and tourism. A lot of people still seem to think that this whole area suffers from high radiation and we're all going round in white suits! We need more people to come here and see what it's really like.

Of course when the Prime Minister visits, the main thing on everyone's mind is energy policy and if (or when?) the country's nuclear plants will be re-opened. Last time he came, at the end of December, his first words on his return to Tokyo were of re-opening (saikado 再稼動). That didn't go down too well with people here. And it was the same this time. Humming and hawing about the need for a stable and cheap supply of energy and that he would consider all aspects of the issue before reaching a decision. Quite.

But there is progress. Another landmark today was the presentation to the government of the prefecture's Three Year Plan for some key projects for the recovery which will attract government funding. Renewable energy and medical equipment are two main themes and projects include the floating wind farm to be built off the Iwaki coast and a factory producing pacemakers here in Koriyama. These things take time.

The cherry blossom is almost over in Tokyo. Still cold here. Cherry blossom expected to be in full bloom around the 12th of next month.
Can't wait. Time to party.

Friday 22 March 2013

Contenders for National Anthem

So the cooling systems for the spent fuel pools were brought to a standstill for 29 hours (see last post) by a small rodent which burned to a frazzle and shorted the system! It seems that while work was being done on two other switchboards, power had been diverted to the makeshift outdoor switchboard which, at that very same time, came under attack. While the NRA draw up safety standards for protecting nuclear plants from earthquake, tsunami, hijack and cyber attack, the system is brought down by a rat.
Taizan meido shite nezumi ippiki
which Wikipedia tells me comes from Horace, 'The mountains will be in labour and a ridiculous mouse brought forth'. Must be a moral in there somewhere.

Here in Koriyama it's spring at last. Some cold days still among the warm but the snow cap atop Mount Adatara is receding like the proverbial snow in summer.

Now for something completely different.
The wistful strains of the Japanese national anthem, Kimi ga Yo, are heard at sporting events but it's not exactly a catchy tune and no one seems to know the words. Since the disaster two other songs in particular have united the nation in a shared sense of purpose and emotion. They are Furusato 故郷 (Country Home) and Hana wa Saku 花は咲く (The Flowers will Bloom).

From the many offerings on youtube, I've chosen two children's choirs.  The lyrics, in both English and Japanese, are below. There's a good translation of Furusato by Greg Irwin. The other translation is not so good but it scans with the music - more or less. It's better in Japanese, believe me.

So here we go. This first one has a short introduction in Japanese by a member of an NPO which organised donations of musical instruments after the tsunami. The concert was organised in March last year to say 'thank you'. (You can skip the ads by clicking on the rectangle bottom right)
500 children from Ishinomaki sing Furusato

This next one is the Suginami Childrens Choir with images.
Children's Choir sings Hana wa Saku

Lyrics for Furusato
兔追いしかの山、 小鮒釣りし かの川、 夢は今もめぐりて、忘れがたき ふるさと
Usagi oishi kanoyama, Kobuna tsurushi kanokawa, Yume wa ima mo megurite, wasuregataki furusato
Back in the mountains I knew as a child
Fish filled the rivers and rabbits ran wild
Memories, I carry these wherever I may roam
I hear it calling me, my country home

如何にいます 父母、恙 無しや友垣、雨に風につけても、思い出ずる ふるさと
Ika ni imasu chichi haha, tsutsuga nashiya tomogaki, Ame ni kaze ni tsukete mo, Omoidezuru furusato
Mother and Father, how I miss you now
How are my friends I lost touch with somehow?
When the rain falls or the wind blows I feel so alone
I hear it calling me, my country home

志を 果たして、いつの日にか 帰らん、山はあおきふるさと、水は清き ふるさと
Kokorozashi o hatashite, itsunohinika kaeran, Yama wa aoki furusato, Mizu wa kiyoki furusato
I've got this dream and it keeps me away
When it comes true I'm going back there someday
Crystal waters, mighty mountains blue as emerald stone
I hear it calling me, my country home

Lyrics for Hana wa Saku
真っ白な 雪道に 春風香る、わたしは なつかしい、あの街を 思い出す
Masshiro na yukimichi ni harukaze kaoru. Watashi wa natsukashii, ano machi o omoidasu
Can you feel the spring breeze on the white snow-covered road.
It brings to mind my old hometown that I'll never see again.

叶えたい 夢もあった、変わりたい 自分もいた、今はただ なつかしい、あの人を 思い出す
Kanaetai yume mo atta, Kawaritai jibun mo ita, Ima wa tada natukashii, ano hito o omoidasu
I was always chasing rainbows then, I did want to change myself
I'm just holding onto my faith while I'm longing for my loved one

Dareka no uta ga kikoeru, Dareka o hagemashiteru, dareka no egao ga mieru, Kanashimi no mukogawa ni
I can hear you  sing to soothe the soul, I can hear you sing to be at ease, I can see you smile through the sorrow, I can see you smile after weeping

※ (Refrain) 花は 花は 花は咲く、いつか生まれる君に、花は 花は 花は咲く、わたしは何を残しただろう
Hana wa hana wa hana wa saku, itsuka umareru kimi ni, hana wa hana wa hana wa saku, watashi wa nani o nokoshita daro
Flowers will bud and bloom again, for you who will come into the world someday,
Flowers will bud and bloom again, have I done any good to stay in your heart?

夜空の 向こうの 朝の気配に、わたしはなつかしい、あの日々を 思い出す
Yozora no muko no asa no kehai ni, Watashi wa natsukashii, Ano hibi o omoidasu
Beyond the night sky I see the first dawn light in the darkness, It takes me back to the good old days that will never come again

傷ついて 傷つけて、報われず 泣いたりして、今はただ 愛おしい、あの人を思い出す
Kizutsuite kizutsukete, mukuwarezu naitari shite, Ima wa tada itooshii, Ano hito o omoidasu
Sometimes I hurt the one I love and hurt myself, only to cry, I just hold on, hold on now, longing for my loved one

Dareka no omoi ga mieru, dareka to musubareteru, Dareka no mirai ga mieru, Kanashimi no mukogawa ni
I can feel your thoughts, our ties to one another, I can feel your thoughts, coming home to me, I can see the gleam of dawn in your eyes, I believe you've started life again

※Repeat 3 times but last line:
Itsuka aisuru kimi no tame ni
For you will be in love with someone some day.

Tuesday 19 March 2013

My Fukushima Citizen Health Management File

Woke up this morning to the news that a power failure last night at Fukushima Daiichi had stopped nine facilities including the circulating system which cools spent fuel pools in Units 1,3 and 4, and a separate pool storing over 6,000 spent fuel assemblies. There had been some anxiety since we were told that temperatures in the spent fuel pool in Unit 4 had risen from 25 to 30 degrees and could reach danger level of 65' C in four days. By the afternoon, power was restored to all facilities except the spent fuel pool in Unit 3 (power restored at 10:30 pm) and the separate pool (scheduled for tomorrow morning). (The injection of water into the reactors themselves was not affected.) It is still not known what caused the power failure although the problem seems to  be in a switchboard which was temporary (i.e. on a truck) and people are asking why, two years on, there aren't better facilities. 

Questions are also being asked about the delay in reporting the trouble. It happened at 7 pm last night. The NRA and government were informed but the media weren't told until after 10 pm.  At the press conferences Tepco came over, yet again, as condescending and patronising. The prefectural government summoned two Tepco officials and gave them a ticking off in front of the cameras but they just looked like they were play-acting. The whole incident has done nothing to restore confidence in Tepco.
(Next day, 20 March: Seems like a rat got into the truck, burnt to a frazzle and shorted the system. Jesus.)

On a brighter note, I've received my 'Fukushima Citizen Health Management File' issued by the prefectural government and Fukushima Prefecture Medical University and subtitled, 'Safeguarding Your Health:  Aiming to have Japan's Healthiest and Longest Living Citizens'. There's space for my own records and I have to take it with me every time I go to the doctors. There's basic information on radiation. And pockets at the back to file all those bits of paper: results of the basic health survey, results of any tests etc.

Envelope and title page
健康長寿県日本一を目指して(Kenko Chojuken  Nihonichi o  mezashite)
Aiming to have Japan's Healthiest and Longest Living Citizens

'My Radiation Record' and 'My Health Notes' (for the next 10 years!)

Some of the pages, like the one on the left, are in cartoon style with
phonetic script (furigana) so children can read them

To tell you the truth I'm a bit chuffed to be called a 'Fukushima citizen'. And it is reassuring to know that our health will be monitored. We're going to be one of the most studied groups of people in the world! But then  the problems at the nuclear plant today bring it home that the accident is far from over. Also, there is a lot of discussion in the papers and on the television these days about the accident. As time goes on, more data is being recovered and new hypotheses are being offered. But more of those another time. No, this accident is far from over.

Sunday 17 March 2013

Fukushima Thyroid Petition

Hi folks
I got an e-mail from avaaz entitiled, 'Is there a cancer epidemic starting among Fukushima's children?' Now avaaz does good work raising awareness on a whole range of issues around the world, organising petitions, and sometimes carrying out PR stunts to make those in authority take notice. But I think it's got it wrong in this case.
avaaz: Fukushima thyroid petition

Fukushima prefecture is committed to carrying out tests on all those who were under 18 at the time of the disaster, 380,000 in all. It's an ultrasound test of the thyroid and there's often a Whole Body Counter test too. Tests started in October 2011 on those who were nearest the nuclear plant. Recently they've got round to testing children here in the Koriyama area. So far 150,000 have been tested. The rest will be tested this next year (up to March 2014). Under 20s will be tested every two years and when they're over 21 they'll be tested every 5 years for the rest of their lives. In February the prefecture disclosed 2 confirmed and 7 suspected cases of thyroid cancer among those who have been tested so far. Avaaz describes the situation in highly emotive language and is calling for 30,000 signatures to a petition calling for 'multiple thyroid cancer screenings and blood tests for all children living in radiation hotspots' which they will present to Governor Sato.

Let me make a few points:
1. A survey of this kind has never been done before. That's why they've found the 'spike'. These cases would have remained undetected until these children were in their 20s or 30s. It is good that they have been detected early.
2. Parents were indeed worried if the result was A2: nodule over 5 mm or cyst under 20 mm. The parents didn't know what this meant and as it  turned out neither did the authorities. A survey was commissioned of 4,365 children in Aomori, Kofu and Nagasaki - all well away from Fukushima - and the Ministry of the Environment announced the results on 8 March. It was found there was a higher incidence in these other places (Fukushima 41%, other 56%) so nothing to worry about. This has taken the worry off a lot of parents.
3. The prefecture has made mistakes: it was tardy in testing those who had gone to other areas and it wasn't all that transparent in the early days. But on the whole Governor Sato has handled this well. He started the survey straightaway and has said it will track children all their lives. He has also stuck out for free medical treatment for all children under 18 using a special fund. The national government refuses to fund this. If the survey is taking time it is because there is a severe shortage of doctors, nurses and caring staff. The figures speak for themselves. 100,000 people evacuated to other parts of the prefecture crowding existing facilities. 57,000 people gone to other parts of Japan. Most of these are women and children, the very women who staff hospitals and would carry out these tests if they were here.
4. There is evidence that a plume of Iodine 131 left Unit 1 before the vents were opened and subsequent explosion on 12 March 2011. Unlike the later caesium cloud which moved north west, the iodine cloud was dispersed south east. So efforts should be directed not at Governor Sato but at the national government and places further south such as Ibaragi and Chiba where children are not being tested. Governor Sato's got enough on his plate. This should be a national project.
5. Our greatest problem here is the loss of population and resulting decline in the economy. Factories are moving out. Smaller companies are finding it harder and harder to keep going. 44 countries still ban the import of food from Fukushima and neighbouring areas. Our greatest enemy is loss of confidence in and prejudice against Fukushima.
Campaigns like this do us no favours. Thyroid cancer in the vast majority of cases can be cured. We need more tests, more research, more reassurance, more support for parents.
Sorry about the rant

Monday 11 March 2013

11 March 2013

The sun's been trying to shine all day here in Koriyama but there's an icy cold wind with the odd flurry of snow. Just like that fateful day two years ago.

We remember those who died in the earthquake and tsunami, over 20,000. In Fukushima prefecture the death toll is just over three thousand. That includes 211 missing and over 1,300 officially recognised  'disaster-related deaths' - suicides, being moved around in the evacuation, stress etc. The families get a one-off payment like the other victims of the disaster and some have won compensation from Tepco though it's often difficult to establish a direct link. The vast majority of these deaths took place in the first few months after the disaster but there were 40 between March and September last year and with the prolonged evacuation the figure continues to rise.

It may be true that no one died as a direct result of the nuclear accident but that doesn't mean there have been no deaths.
Like these swans in Inawashiro yesterday battling
against the gale force winds, we don't give up easily ...

... we remember the dead ... 
... and look forward to a brighter tomorrow.

Update (3) Peace of Mind

After that post last night about the plight of the evacuees I felt I needed to get out of town so went skiing to Inawashiro. Conditions were bad, strong winds and driving snow, but the place was full: kids snaking down the mountain in ski schools and snow boarders showing off. I even managed to ease my aching legs in a deep hot spring bath before I left. Perfect. Or so I thought. Got to the station and gales were causing long delays. Had to wait over an hour for the train which then limped to Koriyama. The thirty minute journey took two and a half hours. 

But what of us two years on? Those of us who're not evacuated, not separated from our families, who're just getting on with life here in Fukushima. We've been through a lot and the anniversary brings it all back. I think we've done well. A friend said she thought people outside Fukushima were more worried than we are and I think there's some truth in that. That first summer was awful with the government telling us we were not at risk and the internet full of scare stories but we all in our various ways made an effort to understand radiation, rationalised the information and made our choices. People here are level-headed and just get on with things. 

People who live here never say they're worried (I've noticed that parents don't like to mention 'radiation' in front of the children) but there is a word that crops up all the time in the media. 'Fuan' is the word 不安 and it means 'not at peace', 'worried'. It's not a particularly strong word, it rather denotes a general feeling of unease. The parks have been decontaminated - but just to be on the safe side parents take their children to play in the indoor play centres. All the houses in Kawauchi have been decontaminated and levels are lower than here in Koriyama - but only 40% of residents have returned to live as they're worried about radioactive particles blowing in from neighbouring woods and forests. Consumers use it. They know foods have been tested and are safe - but somehow there's that nagging fear. Machines were introduced, all food is tested but scientific data doesn't seem to be enough. With the drop in population people worry about Fukushima's future. Getting rid of these nagging doubts is going to take a while yet. 

Some very good news just out which will go a long way towards allaying many parents' fears. All those up to the age of 18 are having their thyroids tested but since a survey of this kind has never been carried out before, there was some concern about small cysts that had been discovered in 40% of children. It was not known whether this was normal or not so a control group of over 4,000 children in Aomori, Yamanashi and Nagasaki (three different parts of Japan, all well away from Fukushima) was carried out and the results have just come out. The figures for Fukushima are actually lower than the control group (41.2% as against 56.6%) so parents don't need to worry on this score. Of course children will continue to be monitored. 
It's going to be a long slog but hopefully more news like this will gradually appease people's fears both here and further afield.
Good night 

Sunday 10 March 2013

Update (2) Evacuees

For us here in Koriyama, in the middle of Fukushima prefecture, life is pretty much back to normal. But the accident casts a long shadow on many families. There are still 150,000 evacuees. Refugees might be a better word as two years on they're still in limbo. 

First there are the 'voluntary evacuees' (自主避難者 jishu hinansha). They're not from the excluded areas but chose to leave, mainly women and children. Their rent will be paid for one more year but they're not eligible for compensation and are struggling financially and mentally. There are 30,000 of them. That's a lot of people. Some are drifting back but none of the people I know are planning to come back just yet. 

Then there are the people in those awful, cramped, flimsy pre-fabs they call emergency housing. They're designed for two years use but this was extended last year and has just been extended again so people can stay in them for four years. NHK has just carried out a survey (small sample, only 750 people) which showed 63% with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. As one man joked, he'd be better off in prison: at least he'd get three meals and some work to do!

There's a real sense of frustration. Residents in the areas closest to Fukushima Daiichi have been told they can't return for 5 years at least. But that's all. There had been talk of a 'Grand Design' a vision for the area 30 years hence, but instead of committing to it the government pushes forward plans for nine medium term storage facilities for radioactive waste which, necessary though they are, add to the anxiety people have about their future. Compensation for houses and the land they stand on has been promised (at the rateable value - not bad) and applications can start at the end of this month. But some say they wouldn't get enough to start afresh. Some are even saying they'd rather sell their properties but the government won't commit to nationalisation at this stage. The TV has been full of stories and interviews. Here are a few just to give you an idea.

First, a farmer living in emergency housing who just wants to farm. He wants to be given farmland somewhere else and get on with his life. But the guidelines for compensation for agricultural land haven't yet been drawn up so when is he going to get compensation? And how is he to afford machinery?

A couple in their 50s saved up the money they've been receiving in compensation and have just paid off the mortgage on the house they built 8 years ago. They say they're relieved to get it paid off. Now they'll wait for compensation for their old house and use that to buy a new property. He's set up in business in a small way. He says it seems like the government and Tepco are just waiting for people to give up and set up on their own.

Then the sad case of the man with a young family whose new house and big garden is just outside the 30 km zone. He has a hefty mortgage and two very small children. Not eligible for compensation he's in Tokyo with his family doing casual work and hoping to move back when radiation levels fall.  

There have long been complaints that the recovery is too slow but two years on things seem to be getting more complicated still. New houses will be built this year so hopefully many people will be able to move out of emergency housing, and compensation will be paid for houses and land in the exclusion zones so some people should be able to start afresh. There was a vision for the future in the first months after the accident but it seems to have got bogged down in a very complex and difficult reality. Perhaps it's early days yet. Again, the scale of this accident is mind boggling.

Saturday 9 March 2013

Update (1) Nuclear

Time for my monthly update. Usually I squash too much into one post so I thought this time, with it being a special time, I'd spread it out a bit. Today I'll look at the reactor and tomorrow the evacuees.

This last week or so restrictions on media access to Fukushima Daiichi and the exclusion zone seem to have been eased so we've been treated to shots of well known TV presenters donning white overalls and helmet-cum-gas mask headwear and clambering around Reactor 4. Helicopters are allowed to fly lower so we see lots of before and after pictures and Google has even driven a car round Namie so you'll be able to see the ghost town on Street View this summer.

But back to the reactors. Reactor 1 is covered over with a white roof (levels outside 300 μSv/hr, levels inside: 11 Sv/hr), Reactor 2 is the only one with the building intact (levels inside: 72 Sv/hr), Reactor 3 badly damaged but with the debris being removed (no success yet in measuring levels inside), and at Reactor 4 that unstable roof has been removed and a structure is being built alongside to take the cranes etc. which will remove the spent fuel stored there, work which will start in November. (Radiation in Reactor 4 is not at fatal levels as the reactor was not in operation and contained no fuel at the time of the disaster.)

The three reactors which suffered meltdown continue to be cooled with water which circulates in a self contained system. The trouble is that underground water - from the ground, from rain - leaks through cracks into the floor of all four reactors and has to be removed. At the rate of 400 tons a day. The water is treated: it has the caesium and salt removed, and then it's stored in tanks, solid metal tanks, each containing 1,000 tons of water. At present there is 260,000 tons of water stored on site. Before the disaster the plant was backed by a large wood but the trees have been chopped down to make way for more tanks. A facility (called ALPS) is being built to treat the water further and remove 62 kinds of radioactive material leaving just one. Diluting this and dumping the water in the sea is one solution but it's controversial.

Watching the footage on TV one is struck by how many people, all in their white boiler suits, there are working at the plant. Seems a busy place. The work is ahead of schedule and the plan is to have all the spent fuel assemblies (over 6,000) removed from all four reactors by 2021. Then they will start on the big one: removing the melted fuel from reactors 1 to 3. Next year they are to build a mock up to start practising. 

This new government revoked the earlier government's pledge to fade out nuclear power by 2030. But the new regulatory body is insisting on new safety standards. These will be finalised in July but the electric companies then  have to comply so it may be two years before any return to operation. The other bete noire of the NRA, is reactors built on earthquake faultlines so the one plant currently in operation may have to close.

Meanwhile 90% of Japan's energy comes from fossil fuels, most of it imported LNG. The weak yen is good for exporters but petrol has gone up and electricity prices, which rose in Tokyo last year, are set to rise in the rest of the country, including here, in the summer. 

Yangida Kunio was on TV tonight. He's a non-fiction writer who's specialised in aeroplane accidents and he made the point that the difference between a million to one risk of an aircraft or machine breaking down and a million to one chance of a nuclear accident is in the length of time and cost it takes to remedy, and the wide extent of the damage. At Fukushima communities in a 20 to 30 km radius have lost everything.
Food for thought.

Friday 8 March 2013

Poems for the Anniversary

I have a friend who writes senryu poetry. Like haiku, they're written in 17 syllables, 5,7,5, but whereas haiku are about nature, senryu are about people and are often ironic or satiric. The ones you hear in popular culture come across as funny one-liners but I'm told there's a lot more to the art than that. She's recently published a book and, with her permission, I reproduce here a few that she wrote at the time of the disaster two years ago. Please excuse my rough translations which do no justice to the succinct Japanese verse. I've also added notes to three of them.

Yume no yo, kyodai jishin ni yukiarashi
Like a dream, the huge earthquake and then a snowstorm
[I had the same experience. Minutes after the earthquake snow seemed to appear from nowhere. Weird.]

大震災 水が無い飯がない
Daishinsai, mizu ga nai meshi ga nai
Great disaster, no water, no food

Mikka sugi, shirasareta no wa hoshano
Three days later and we're told about radiation

大地震 賞味期限が忘れられ
Daijishin, shomi kigen wasurerare
Huge earthquake, best-before dates forgotten

Shiiberuto, niku sakana dame, atama dame
Sieverts, fish no good, meat no good, does your head in

お花見も原発騒ぎ 桜散る
O-hanami mo genpatsu sawagi, sakura chiru
Flower viewing time, uproar over the nuclear plant, the cherry blossom falls

Hinansaki Fukushima-ken ni giin kite
To the evacuation centres in Fukushima the politicians come
[I love this one. It's so typical. Even now the politicians come,  stay 10 minutes, have their photo taken and leave. With no real dialogue having taken place, people in temporary housing are left wondering why they bothered to visit.]

Fukushima ga Tohokudo de suterareru
Fukushima abandoned on the Tohoku Expressway
[You can take this any way you like but the writer told me this story. Shortly after the expressway reopened in May 2011, she was shocked to see bins at the service stations full to overflowing with boxes of food and cakes which had been given as presents. People frightened off by the  radiation had abandoned them as they left the prefecture.]

自然界 今日一日許してね
Shizenkai, kyo ichinichi  yurushite ne
Natural world, forgive us, just for today

Poems by Nakamura Yoshiko

Wednesday 6 March 2013

Approaching the Anniversary

I filed my tax return today. They have a good system here. I went to a big hall filled with computers and numerous tax office staff who come running when you raise your hand with a question. It's all a ploy to get you used to filing online (which I shall do next year) and they are ever so friendly and helpful. 11 March 2011. That's what I was doing - trying to file my tax return. Undeterred, I remember taking a paper version into the tax office on 15 March, the deadline. I remember feeling numb, in shock, as I handed the paper over. The official seemed equally dumbstruck to see me - I didn't know the deadline had been extended. Last year the hall was bedlam as people tried to work out how the disaster had affected their tax position what with buildings destroyed, loss of earnings, grants, compensation etc. This year there were queues but the Japanese are so good at dealing with a lot of people in an orderly way. The proceedings were very well organised, efficient, and polite 

Two years already. The papers and TV carry special features; memorial services are being held, some even within the exclusion zone. The prefecture is holding a service on Monday 11th in Fukushima City and there'll be condolence books to sign and live transmission around the prefecture. I'll be at work on the day but I've been wondering how I should mark the anniversary.

I could go out to Iwaki on Saturday night and watch the sunrise from the beach on Sunday morning. It's an event planned by Shimomura Mitsuko. She's the lady who persuaded the Dalai Lama to come to Koriyama over a year ago. She used to work for Asahi Shimbun and she's a descendant of a Nihonmatsu samurai family.

Or there's a pop concert on Monday 11th at Koriyama Women's College, Fukushima Soul, but applications for the 1,800 free tickets have already closed. Anyway, I'm probably a bit old for that.

There are anti-nuclear demonstrations planned in Fukushima, Tokyo and around the world, and demonstrations calling for the prosecutors to press criminal charges against those responsible for the accident. But I think I'll give those a miss.

I'll probably just take in the candlelight lanterns in the square round the station. They did this last year and it was beautiful. People, young and old, have been decorating the special paper which will be made up into lanterns. They call the event  'Spring Fireflies' after the 'Autumn Fireflies' festival held in September in the village of Ebine not far from Koriyama. They've been making the paper there for centuries out of a local bark. (Incidentally, the village is also known for its freeze dried tofu. It used to look very picturesque with strings of tofu plaited in straw hanging out under the eaves in winter in the freezing cold  - but I don't suppose they're doing that now since the accident. Ebine is also the village where my mother-in-law used to go during the war to barter her kimono for food to feed her large family and staff.)

Those traumatic early days seem a long time ago now and in some ways we don't want to remember but it is a chance to pause and reflect and we'll all be doing that on the day. Wherever we are.

Monday 4 March 2013

WHO Report

On Thursday the WHO issued a report. Full title: Health Risk Assessment from the nuclear accident after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami based on a preliminary dose estimation. The world's media screams 'Increased risk of Cancer in Fukushima'. Greenpeace accuses the WHO of being in cahoots with  the nuclear industry and says it 'shockingly downplays' the cancer impacts on the population. Whereas Mr Kanno, mayor of Iidate, says the projections are overestimates and not based on reality. He's a quietly spoken, moderate man who has skillfully steered his county through this disaster and when he objects, you sit up and take notice. But hang on a minute, what exactly is being said?

The WHO first assessed the preliminary dose (what we call hibaku 被爆 exposure) and then estimated lifetime doses and increased risk in all solid cancers combined, and also leukaemia, thyroid cancer and female breast cancer. The lifetime risks for both sexes were estimated at three different ages at exposure: 1 year (infant), 10 years (child), and 20 years (adult). Health risks for male emergency workers were estimated for three different ages (20 years, 40 years, and 60 years).

For most of us in Fukushima prefecture the results are reassuring. I quote, 'Outside the geographical areas most affected by radiation, even in locations within Fukushima prefecture, the predicted risks remain low and no observable increases in cancer above natural variation in baseline rates are anticipated.' Also, 'the estimated dose levels in Fukushima prefecture were also too low to affect fetal development or outcome of pregnancy and no increases, as a result of antenatal radiation exposure, in spontaneous abortion, miscarriage, perinatal mortality, congenital defects or cognitive impairment are anticipated'.

However, the report does point to an increase over baseline rates in areas where 'radiation effective doses for the first year ranged from 12 to 25 mSv' - Mr Kanno's county no less. The increases sound scary: around 6% over baseline rates for some cancers and a whopping 70% for thyroid cancer in females exposed as infants. But these are not absolute increases. As the report says, 'For example, the baseline lifetime risk of thyroid cancer for females is just three-quarters of one percent and the additional lifetime risk estimated in this assessment for a female infant exposed in the most affected location is one-half of one percent'. 

What Mr Kanno, the Japanese Ministry of Environment, and people here take issue with is the assumptions used. First, that people stayed in high radiation areas for four months. But people near the reactor were evacuated within days. Iidate county was evacuated in April. Only a handful of people refused to budge. Next, 'that consumers only ate food produced in the area where monitoring was implemented'. This is rubbish. There was a ban on all food in the exclusion zone and a prefecture-wide ban on milk, beef, spinach and other produce. 

The report does say that 'the dose estimates and assumptions used ...were deliberately chosen to minimize the possibility of underestimating eventual health risks' and I suppose it's good to have a few scare stories up your sleeve if you're trying to get people to prepare for the worst. But it doesn't do us any service, as we try and restore confidence in Fukushima.

Another moot point is the report's use of the Linear Model, i.e. that risks increase in direct proportion to the dose. I know this is controversial. You can download a copy of the report from the WHO website:  WHO Report

Already March. We had one warm day which fooled us into thinking spring was on the way but snow in the air again this weekend. My friend in Kitakata has two feet of snow. 
Love to you all