Monday 26 August 2013


It was back in June. An acquaintance who lives in the Shima district of Koriyama was grumbling about the decontamination work at her house. First the boss man came, re-moved 5 cm of soil from the garden, took readings and having satisfied him-
self that radiation could be halved (that seems to be the criterion, not to reduce radiation to a certain level), he disappeared leaving sub-contractors to carry out the work. Shrubs and trees were pruned and the top layer of soil removed. Several houses in the vicinity were having work done at the same time so one moment there would be 8 workers in the garden, the next minute - just as she'd taken out some tea (!) - there were none. It took the best part of a week.

She and her husband were complaining that more time seemed to be spent recording and photographing each branch as it was cut, rather than actually doing the work. You have to take this with a grain of salt but you get the picture. At the end of the week they dug a hole about 2 metres by one metre and one metre deep behind the shed at the back of the garden and buried the plastic sacks of soil. Then they covered the garden with rough sand (yamazuna 山砂) which she was convinced was going to kill her plants. I met her a month later and she hadn't yet had the final results which were to come in the post. She's in her 70s and what with the heat she'd found the whole thing stressful. No doubt younger families would have welcomed having the work done.

The city of Koriyama, 60 kms from Fukushima Daiichi, was not evacuated and is not eligible for decontamination at central government expense. But early on the then Mayor decided to carry out its own decontamination plan to reassure residents and stop the outflow of people. Work started in the most heavily contaminated areas (around Ikenodai, Saikon) in October 2012 and is now being rolled out across the city.

I want to point you to an excellent piece of work by Azby Brown on this subject entitled. Decon or Con: How is Remediation being Managed and how effective is it? available on the Safecast website. It's a bit long but clearly written and easy to understand. Safecast, a global voluntary organisation, takes issue with the fact that there is no independent evaluation of decontaminaton (or 'remediation') and sets out to try and compare their readings with official before-and-after readings taken by the government. Accessing the government data seems to have been very time-consuming and Azby deserves credit for ferreting it out.

There are good maps and explanations of the different zones, explanations of how decontamination is to be managed, how the government's dose rate calculations are reached, and estimates of the effects of natural decay and weathering. To summarize, the goal was to reduce radiation in areas over 20mSv/year (the evacuated areas) rapidly to 20 mSv/year and to reduce radiation in other areas (Koriyama included) over the long term to 1 mSv/year. The evacuated areas are to be decontaminated at central government expense and other areas by the local authorities with subsidies etc. While work by local authorities seems to be progressing transparently (despite the grumbles of my friend above), work in the evacuated areas is behind schedule and proving more difficult. To quote, 'By early 2012, when pilot decontamination projects had been completed and the results examined, the government knew they could get areas with dose rates less than 30 mSv/yr down to below 20 mSv/yr, but not if they were originally 40 mSv or above ...'  So the outlook for residents in the exclusion zone is not good.

For those in the 'restricted residence zones' and 'preparing for return zones' things are more ambiguous. Safecast measured two sites to see if decontamination had been effective and to estimate whether it had accelerated natural reduction (weathering and radioactive decay). Results for the two sites were different which highlights the difficulty of this subject but it seems that decontamination is worth doing at higher levels but it's difficult to reduce further to 1 mSv/yr. This is polarising residents into those who say they will go back regardless and those who insist that levels need to be reduced to 1 mSv/yr.

Anyway, check it out here. A good read.
Safecast: Decontamination blog

The headline in yesterday's paper was Forest Levels Reduced by 38%. What this means is that airborne radiation had reduced by natural means (weathering and radioactive decay) in 2012 over the previous year by 38% in forests outside the exclusion zone, 10% of which was attributed to systematic felling of trees. (Seventy percent of Fukushima prefecture is forested.)

So it's a complex question that involves us all, not only those of us who live here but the nation's taxpayers who have to foot the bill. Questions are being raised about the cost-effectiveness of decontamination. Then there's the question of where to put all the soil. Not to mention the thorny question of compensation.
Thanks for reading this

Friday 23 August 2013

Tomioka video and new comments

If you don't mind I'm going to cop out this time and pass on some of the feedback I've had recently.

You may remember that in June I visited Tomioka, since the end of March redesignated as a 'preparing to return' zone, with a photographer friend from England (Tomioka 1). He has made a video from the images and set it to music. Very moving. Take a look (6 minutes).
Tomioka video

Next, let me draw your attention to a comment on my post Airborne Radiation 1 (24 July 2013) by one DiogeneseNJ who was helpful and reassuring in those difficult days two years ago. He takes issue with my comment that 100 mSv of exposure to radiation causes cancer. I thought this was the received wisdom and the one figure that is generally accepted. However, the RERF (Radiation Effects Research Foundation), a cooperative Japan-US research organisation dating back to Hiroshima, says the 'association remains unclear'. In addition, there is new research (Dec. 2011, Berkeley Lab) on cellular repair processes which does show that exposure is not linear, i.e. low-rate doses are not as damaging as a single dose.

There is also a link to a paper showing how my glass badge worked (clever technology) and a final comment about risk concluding that when you factor in air pollution, Koriyama is probably a healthier place to live than Tokyo! Anyway, see for yourself at the following link. Unfortunately, the links on the comment itself don't seem to connect. You'll have to copy and paste. But worth it. The references are easy to understand.

Here, the news is dominated by the issue of contaminated water leaking into the sea. It's been rated a Level 3 accident. Two more tanks have been found to be leaking - and it's highly radioactive stuff (100 mSv/hour). Japan's nuclear watchdog, the NRA, visited the site today and complained of 'sloppy management' (zusan na kanri), for example radiation around the tanks is neither measured nor recorded. If it had been, the leaks might have been spotted sooner. Things didn't seem too bad at first back in April. But every time something goes wrong, Tepco  apologizes - and then make the same mistakes over and over. The PM has said the government will get involved but there's no money till next year. Action is needed not words.

The other issue being discussed here is the removal of the children's classic manga Barefoot Gen (Hadashi no Gen) about the atomic bombing in Hiroshima from school libraries in Matsue in a burst of political correctness on the grounds that the book shows violence to women and the images might disturb children. Barefoot Gen does depict the grisly reality of the bomb: horrid pictures of people's skin melting and hanging loose. But there's been an uproar. Japan as a country has not been good at facing up to responsibility for causing the War, but it has been good at keeping the horror of war alive. There's a national consensus that war should never be repeated. So most people, I'm glad to say, oppose the banning of this book.

Some welcome rain has given us a few cool days but the heat is to return this weekend.
All the best

Sunday 18 August 2013


A field of sunflowers planted on the ski slopes at San-no-kura, outside Kitakata
The O-bon holidays are nearly over. Back to work tomorrow. This last week was an odd week, as it always is, with the various ceremonies commemorating the end of the war coinciding with the peak holiday season. I was with an American friend in the mountain resort of Yanaizu at noon on the 15th. That's when the Emporer in 1945 gave his speech on the radio announcing the surrender, known in Japanese as gyokuon (玉音), the 'Jewel Voice'. Loudspeakers summoned the good people of Yanaizu to prayers in the square. 

Thankfully the Prime Minister decided not to visit Yasukuni Shrine this year. It's all very well remembering the war dead but 'A class' war criminals are interred there too and any official visit aggravates relations with China and South Korea. The TV does its best to keep memories of the war alive. One guest on a current affairs show said it's all very well remembering Hiroshima on 6th August, Nagasaki on the 9th and the end of the war on the 15th but Japan should also remember Pearl Harbor and the beginning of hostilities in China. Always interesting, and often shocking, are the reminiscences of people in their 80s and 90s, speaking up at last. As we approach the 70th anniversary, Abe is trying to rewrite the peace constitution so that Japanese forces can defend an ally under attack. It's an interesting time.

Young people from Fukushima were invited to participate in the ceremonies at Nagasaki. I suppose there is a link but I'm afraid that that word 'hibakusha' sends a chill down my spine. Not only did the victims suffer terribly from the atomic bombs but they've also been victims of discrimination and I don't want us lumbered in the same boat. 

But this last week was also holiday time when most companies, certainly up here, take works holidays. I spent it with good friends in the Aizu area. We went up the Tadami River deep into the beautiful area of Oku-Aizu. We saw fields of sunflowers, temples, lakes and mountains. The area's branded itself  'fairy land' and you can see why: it certainly seems a mystical place.

Families having fun at Lake Numazawa - paradise!
The magnificent Tadami River. It has many power stations along its length.
The Tadami River was developed in the early 1950's for hydro-electric power by Shirasu Jiro (educated at Cambridge, interesting man). I came across a book recently when I was tidying up the office called Fukushima: Electricity County published in the 1970s. Local dignitaries showed great pride in Fukushima's contribution to Japan's economic growth and were hailing nuclear power as the next phase with photos of Fukushima Daiichi under construction. So you see, it's not just nuclear, Fukushima has provided power for Tokyo for many, many years.

And finally, Matsuri in Kitakata. The last day of four days of festivities. Can you hear the drums?

Monday 12 August 2013

Update: 11 August 2013

At last the government's stepped in. PM Abe has recognised the urgency of dealing with the issue of contaminated water at Fukushima Daiichi and said he's no longer going to leave things up to Tepco. Not before time. It's a long running saga. In April and May 2011 there were two spillages in addition to the 10,000 tons Tepco dumped in the sea prompting an international incident. After that a cleaning and recycling system was developed which has been dealing with the water injected to cool the reactors. Then in May this year we heard about problems with underground water: 400 tons a day were pouring down the hill into the reactor buildings and is being pumped out and stored in an ever-increasing number of tanks onsite. In May, Tepco unveiled a plan to bypass the water before it got near the reactors and direct it into the sea but the fishing industry opposed the plan and it got shelved. All the while Tepco denied that any contaminated water had seeped into the sea. Then on 22 July, the day after the Upper House elections (I kid you not), Tepco said it was 'possible' that contaminated water had got into the sea. 

Things went downhill from there: trenches on the seaside of reactors 1 and 2 were found to contain highly radioactive material dating back to the time of the accident; contaminated water had been flowing over the top of a newly built containment wall at high tide. And then the Natural Resources and Energy Agency recently estimated that not 400 tons but 1,000 tons of underground water had been flowing into the nuclear plant every day since May 2011. Of this 400 tons per day had indeed ended up in the bottom of the reactor buildings but 300 tons had seeped into the highly contaminated trenches and from there into the sea, and the remaining 300 tons had flowed uncontaminated into the sea. 

To put this in perspective, we're talking about the shoreline at the plant. Beyond the plant is a seawall, a barrier between the harbour and the open sea. Obviously monitoring of the sea has been stepped up and the beaches in Iwaki to the south were declared safe. But fishing which was supposed to start in a small way in September has been postponed. These revelations have damaged the industry too much. The issue will also affect whether people return to the area, not to mention international relations.

So the Prime Minister is right to take charge. But why wait for next year's budget? There's money from the Recovery Budget that hasn't been spent and what about the money that was mis-spent on non-disaster projects and is supposed to be paid back? It's clear that a private company cannot sustain expenditure on this scale. The government's committed to paying for the 'frozen wall' to be built underground around all four reactors (1,000 rods stretching 1.4 km) and taxpayers will have to pay the electricity bill for this almighty fridge for the next 30 to 40 years - plus myriad other astronomical costs. And nuclear is cheap?
That's all for now

Saturday 10 August 2013


Hi again
It's hot. The mercury hit 40 degrees centigrade in Shikoku today and it's 33 degrees here in Koriyama. It's Saturday afternoon and even I have switched on the cooler.

I've been away so I guess the heat is getting to me. Maybe I'll have some more peaches. The Fukushima white peaches are so good. So good that every year the very best are presented to the Emperor. Here they pass fruit through a light sensor to measure the sugar content: the sweeter it is, the higher the price. According to the local paper, of 260,000 peaches passed through a light sensor 1,000 with a sugar content of 12% were selected and from these experts picked 180 perfect peaches. The Emperor and Empress are very popular here. They've just paid their third visit since the disaster. During a two day stay, they visited a factory in Iitate in the 'restricted residence' zone, and talked with peach farmers in an attempt to boost confidence in Fukushima fruit and veg.

Summer in Japan means Matsuri. Koriyama and Fukushima cities had their big festivals last weekend (on the same days - these two cities are so competitive) but it's the O-Bon holiday next week (13th to 15th) so there are still lots more festivals and firework displays to come. 

In this region at O-Bon you visit the graves of the ancestors and this seems to be very important to people. Graves in the 'difficult to return' zone have been repaired and decontaminated and former residents (wearing white overalls) are being allowed in. People are also being allowed to stay at their homes in the 'restricted residence' zones for this period only. 

For the kids, summer holidays should be about swimming and playing outside. But is it safe? Professor Takamura from Nagasaki University and an advisor to Fukushima Prefecture writes a column in the local paper once a week. He says that tests carried out in June and July of all school swimming pools, lakes and swimming beaches detected no radioactive material in the water and airborne radiation levels are generally below 0.1 μSv/hour. Even if a child swallowed water when swimming there is no risk of internal exposure, he says. He did say that there is a slight possibility of caesium being stuck to sand but you can wash this away by showering and washing the hair. Same for exercise. He says that if a child played outside in an area of 0.5 μSv/hour for two hours a day, that would be 40 μSv over the summer holidays, the equivalent of a chest X-ray. There are no radioactive materials in the air now so no danger of internal exposure from breathing. But like swimming, best to wash your hands and feet when you come home and shower and wash the hair at the end of the day. Likewise, rinse any cuts and grazes. The benefits of running around outside and getting Vitamin D from the sun outweigh any worries. Sorry this is a bit technical but it's practical advice and I thought I'd pass it on. Probably sensible advice, wherever you live in the world ...
Now if you'll excuse me, I'll go and get that peach ..