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Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Lest we forget.

December 7th 2011.
Almost 9 months since the magnitude 9 earthquake and tsunami.

9 months since the world shook us so we could not stand; since walls and roofs crumbled and crashed around us and roads cracked open. 9 months since just several miles away, the sea came inland to swallow up whole villages, an airport, cars, homes families, animals, pets, insects, trees.....Life.

Helicopters vibrating above in the sky; fires lighting up the horizon as gas leaks burned; no water, no food, no electricity, no gas for weeks... and then news that a nuclear plant not far away had exploded, and the wind and snow was carrying radiation and fall out farther than we could have imagined. The stories of death and horror, of rescue and miracle kept flooding in, every day without fail something new and more incredulous. And every day we lived with our hearts pounding as the news and the information from the govt and TEPCO continued to prove false and misleading and untrustworthy.

How long does it take to wipe out those images from our minds? How long does it take to say we are healed. To forget. It depends on how many tragedies were personalized I am sure and perhaps on our personal beliefs and faith. Yet, for all of us, for every one of us here, there will be images burned on the backcloth of our minds for ever.

Waiting in heavy snow minus 6 degrees for 3 plus hours for our ration of 10 dry grocery items.. anxious to join the line before supplies ran out, I left with  no coat..a woman tied her scarf around my neck.I cried ice tears, it would have been totally unbearable on any other occasion -or alone. Yet during those weeks we all wore suits of steel armor over our hearts and bodies and we became prisoners of war in our own homes, allies and comrades where all the comforts had been taken and we were forced to live almost  like Neanderthal people once did. A small exchange with a neighbor ~several matches for a few pocket tissues ~ changing as rations increased to larger and more useful shares....those were the highlights of a day; that was how our existence was those first few weeks and months. And in the evenings, we huddled around a candle..our only light source and only heat source. From somewhere came the strength to survive, the human will to survive and also the humble gratitude that we had survived, made most of us us able to face the unbearable, unpredictable and unfathomable.

And now, slowly the reconstruction of roads and bridges and shops and windows and hearts has begun and is going from strength to strength. And Christmas is coming and there are trees lit up all over town just like last year before the quake, and babies are being born every day who never knew anything of the magnitude 9 quake and the monster tsunami that came inland an unprecedented ten kilometers and reached  40.5 meters/133 feet high in Miyako.

And these babies born post quake, will perhaps look at the new towns along the coast when they become adult and maybe they will have their own families and they will say "Here is a place that looks good to settle" and they will live once more in areas that are so close to the dreadful horror of the devastation that they never knew .

 I can't help feeling the truth in the cliche that life does indeed go on. In one direction or another. With us or without us.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Business and chaos. Money in toilets.

Six months on from 3/11, clear data is now emerging that is being accepted by all parties as true. Detailed geological charts of cesium and plutonium hotspots are now available to everyone. Even the daily newspapers are carrying this information, alongside the air radiation levels which do continue to go down slowly everywhere.

Intensive aerial monitoring for fall-out/soil and air contamination was carried out in Tohoku and Kanto areas between Sept 8th and 12th. I don't know why this took such a long time to get going but this is progress and  much more reliable information now paves the way for the next step which will be removal of the top 5-10cm of radioactive soil (the depth to which particles cling) and then the humungous task of disposing of this waste will follow that.

Right now, the govt is still in hot debate about where the waste will be stored and how. There are two kinds of waste, the non radioactive kind (mostly wooden debris and washed up belongings etc) that can be burned..estimated at over 500.000 tons and the contaminated soil and sand that is estimated at 2.879 million cubic meters (an amount that can fill the Tokyo Dome/stadium 23 times). This is, needless to say a Herculean task. There are interesting BIOMASS plans to convert the non radioactive debris into fuel or resources. This sounds hopeful.

Proposals by the environmental ministry are to store some of the waste that cannot be burned (i.e radioactive) in 8 prefectures. Those affected by the disaster. Although i have no idea for an alternative this seems at first sight to be adding insult to injury, although promises are that it will be stored in a totally toxic-leaking-proof way.

Now that figures and data are being made public the govt has lifted police enforced regulations about people returning to their homes in areas where radiation (air) has decreased to so called safe levels. Some towns where people were evacuated have now been given the all clear for a kind of "return to live at your own risk" but most people are still in fear of doing so and I think are just returning to collect items and possessions. Areas within the 20-30km range of the plant have been closed off for ever. With the definite go-ahead for some contaminated soil burial to take place within this vicinity, it does not seem wise for people to return to the area ever but alternative relocation costs are just not being provided either fast enough or in a needs appropriate way yet.

While the bad news and grim hardship of shelter life continues for thousands of homeless people, in the midst of the chaos weird business opportunities are arising. The construction business of course as #1. Building new homes and building hotels to house the stream of volunteers, NPO and relief workers that will be in the disaster region cleaning up for some years. Radiation testing businesses have started up. Devices like 'tsunami safe" floating water tight escape pods that fit one person have been designed and are on sale for 288.000 en. Designed to withstand 7 tons of debris or water falling on them.

A new business of self service radiation measurement has opened in a shopping center in Chiba,
where radioactive particle hot spots have been found :

The medical world has had to take a close look at itself. In Saitama, one doctor has started a home visit service, never before heard of here as even when very very sick home visits are not done and patients must use an ambulance to get to hospital. Hopefully this will spiral as a good new trend.

In other more "curious"news, 10 million yen was found in a public toilet with an anonymous note reading "for the Tohoku disaster people". After 3 months (govt regulated on hold period) this will be added to he Red Cross donation funds -one third of which has still to be allocated.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

In America

I've been in the US for almost 2 weeks and won't be home till Sept 14th. This is a long time away, the longest in years. I miss my home but it is also good to be away and see things objectively. And good to get extended time with Fumi.I flew to Detroit and waited there 6 hours for a connection which was delayed, I go back via LAX . Hurricane Irene passed through this part of CT with little after effect in this area except a power outage of 2 days. New York Manhattan island has seen some serious flooding though and other areas around here are still without power. After the earthquake/tsunami where we had no water, gas, power for almost a month, it seems minimal damage. Attack from under and over and all sides beats us down harder than just from the air.The number of stressors add up.

I feel like a tourist in America, still don't understand the money and need help with the coins. My accent is not understood sometimes, ways of doing things and appropriate manner/s are different here.

When I go back, I go straight back to work and will also find out soon if I got an interview for either of the two jobs I applied for. Time here is an escape from that reality. Shiver.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011


I am so grateful for the friends I have that have not panicked and been caught up in the wave of hysteria that swept the world after the horrors unfolded at Fukshima.

When you live through and are close to this kind of world numbing never before seen scale industrial disaster  the last thing you want to hear is hysterical voices magnifying the horror. It is no use and no comfort at all for us to hear panicking voices and screeching sensationalism when in the very eye of fear itself. It really makes people involved in the crisis suffer far more.

The best and kindest and most memorable- helpful response to this crisis has been and will continue to be positive thinking. Hope. Faith in repair. The damage is done and we all know all about how terrible it was. Let's focus on what we can now do on a practical level to dispose of waste, to deactivate, decontaminate and test, test, test. Thank you to all those people who have encouraged us, helped us believe that this is at least partially achievable.

I don't want to hear any more you tube videos of doom and despair . It doesn't help. It never will help those of us who have to live and stay here. I hope if something like this God forbid should ever happen again, I can in turn give a calm、caring and helpful response to those suffering. This I have learned is the only response of any use.
Rant complete.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Rice, beef and fertilizer.

At the moment we are all still eating last year's rice crop. Very safe and very tasty :) The problem now is with the new crops that are half grown in the rice paddies. Govt has put in place a mandatory testing system for 18 prefectures (including ours) twice;  now- mid rice growing and for those crops that test near the upper level of not safe for cesium isotopes plus another testing after harvest. Poor farmers. Some are going to lose all their hard work. The govt has agreed to compensate all farmers whose rice crops this year exceed the safety margin of 500 becquerels per kilogram.

Then there is the beef issue. Cattle have been badly affected across the country. Rain during the first 2 months carried toxins very far and many radioactive particles bind best to soil where animal fodder grows. Soil can be made safe..topsoiling is very effective since radionuclides do not bury deep. Not only that, many farmers left their hay and feed outside during those first months and then fed them to their livestock unknowingly. Tests have shown cattle in Iwate (north of here), our prefecture, and even in southern and far west prefectures have also been affected. Again, compensation is being paid and whole herds are being slaughtered and their meat banned.Cattle were worst affected I assume because the feed is often kept outside, chickens and pigs less so.

We are still not eating any Japanese meat, sad. It is going to take several years of testing to get this sorted. i am reminded of the foot and mouth disease problems in the UK, very different I know but also a loss for farmers and something that took years to resolve.

Fertilizer is made from leaves, and the leaves are also contaminated being outside, so this year's produce in home and garden centers/DIY stores etc is also unsafe. Some has already made its way out there but much has also been discovered and disposed of.

Saturday, 23 July 2011


There has been a lot of progress at the Fukushima plant. From every source I have heard good news, even from the metcha skeptics. First of all the water has finally reached a cool enough temperature for nitrogen to be injected into it. In all plants. This is a huge step forward because nitrogen prohibits flame and means explosions are now far less likely. Explosions were a big fear because it is the explosions that carry the nuclear nuclides high into the air allowing for a wider range of fall out.

The process of de-contaminating the hosed in water is working too. When it is hosed in, it combines with the radioactive water in the vessel and turns radioactive itself. The de-contamination process uses zeolite and other chemicals that deactivate radioactivity and continue to do so. Figures for radiation around the plant are finally lower. Here in Sendai going down quite a lot weekly.

We have to praise the sustained efforts of the plant workers. Their dedication to their work. They have done an amazing job against all odds to get this under control. It is now looking possible to achieve complete cold shut down of all reactors by the end of this year.

Just when we were planning on leaving........

This is not to say Fukushima prefecture and random hot spots around are out of trouble. Far from it. With a half life of hundreds of years much of the nuclide fall out that has already fallen is still of grave concern. But govt measures are being implemented to topsoil the top 20 cms of soil that grows crops and burying or disposing of this radioactive soil will take place. Fall out falls. It falls on soil and in reservoirs and on land. It does not stay in the air. It is this that was not chartered with Chernobyl and it is this that we have learned : we can clear fall out to a point. And prevent cattle and animals grazing on this land and infecting their meat and dairy products. This elimination process has also started, late yes but started. It NEVER started at all with Chernobyl. Kids were still drinking contaminated milk for decades as people just did now know the risks at that time. It was not only air radiation that produced cancers there farther from the plant, it was mainly consumption of contaminated produce from contaminated land.

As for airborn radiation it is still too high for people to return and live near the plant. I hope they never do, although the govt here seems optimistic that people can return to collect possessions after shutdown.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Eco friendly dosimeters.

Today I learned that a dosimeter to measure radiation can be made out of used PET bottles. It's a much cheaper and eco friendly way to make a dosimeter and simple ones are going to be made for school kids..much like the dosimeters that those in the nuclear workplace carry around with them at all times to measure their own exposure. Nice. And practical since there is a backlog on dosimeter orders here and everywhere is sold out.

Thursday, 7 July 2011


Earthquake related suicide rates are still high. There are certain places people go, a forest, a bridge, a cliff...famous spots to end your life, it's one of the saddest things of survive but wish you hadn't. All kinds of mis-info abound and it can be very scary for people who don't really understand and are confused by so much trauma and do not know who to trust or believe.

On a more positive note, the nuclear situation looks slowly grimly a little better. News that the water hose has been repaired and is not leaking and is managing to continue to decontaminate the radioactive water at reactors 1,2,3 is good news. It is still going to take daily dedication and somebody has to be there every single minute to ensure nothing goes wrong, and this is only stabilizing, not shut down, which will apparantly  take another year at least to achieve safely. But, meanwhile bless the amazing plant workers and their courage and dedication as they salvage this mess at the cost of their health.

At street level, one thing has changed very much since the disasters. This is the nation's slow and definite 'satori' over how the government has manipulated them and decieved them generally over the nuclear accident and so many related issues. There is a new awakening. People everywhere are starting to "do it themselves". This involves ordering their own equipment to test soil and water if they can afford to; disobeying govt stipulations over safety levels and procedures. People are relying more on small community centered support groups; housewives, schools, groups to which people are tied, are taking the lead. There are small but major changes going on in how the disasters are going to shape change and alter the status-quo.
Once people start to question authority and their truth, a rebellion is born. However small, however polite and organized, it is definitely happening.

One man I know went drinking with some Tokyo govt diet members. The govt has told Fukushima city residents that they are safe. That their radiation exposure is safe, that their kids are safe to go to school...this city is 60km from reactor 1 and declared a hotspot in terms of nuclide fall out. He was told after some drinks I assume, by a diet member, that this is a lie. That it is not safe, but there is no place or money to evacuate families and so much evacuation does not fit well into political dynamics. Of course we knew this, but the fact that leaks like this are happening and spreading down into general street info, re-inforces the huge wave of distrust that is growing among not just the elite informed but everyone, spanning class and generation. Many lies and cover ups have come to the surface, too many to excuse, and ordinairy people are being made to think out of the box, to make major decisions for themselves.It's good mainly of course, but has a dark side too.

In Fukushima for example, people are taking matters into their own hands, with no specific guidelines from govt, they are topsoiling their yards and dumping the topsoil in forests and mountains creating huge radioactive hotspot deposits. This is one direct result of the govt's lack of advice on protective procedures that will boomerang. Another example is a woman here who is adding charcoal to her kids food because she has heard it will absorb ingested radioactive particles. The whole process of clean up may well end up costing far more than the entire profit of Japan's nuclear industry ever did.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Cows, beaches, death toll and mainly....debris.

Of all the beaches along the Eastern coast only  2 will open this summer. One is Jodogohama, where I first lived in Japan. Beautiful bay, wrecked with damage but it's a national heritage site so money poured in to swiftly clean it up. Other beaches are out of action due to the massive amount of rubble not yet cleared and the stench and unsanitory conditions. All the beaches are also being checked for sand radioactivity which takes time.

One hotel owner on the coast nearby said he thought his telephone had broken as nobody was calling to reserve for this summer. I guess hotels along the coast along with fisheries and farmers will also be suffering huge losses this year.

Thirty-four cows raised at Miyagi Prefectural Agricultural High School in Natori which was an area badly hit along the coast, were swept away by the tsunami. However, 14 of these cows survived, including three shown at a fair last week. These survivor cows have become lucky mascots at the school and are getting extra attention and care.

Meanwhile more than 90,000 people are still living in shelters more than three months after the Great East Japan Earthquake, and only a fraction of the debris dumped by the ensuing tsunami has been removed, according to official figures.
The death toll from the March 11 disaster reached 15,413 as of Saturday, although 13 percent, or about 2,000 bodies, have yet to be identified, according to the National Police Agency. Another 8,069 people remain missing.

The Environment Ministry estimated the disaster left 23.92 million TONS of debris in the three prefectures, Miyagi, Fukushima and Iwate, that is a phenomonal amount of rubble and no place for it to go. As of last Friday, about 5.19 million tons--just 22 percent--had been moved to temporary storage spaces.

In Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, the city that had the most debris dumped on it by the tsunami, only 7 percent had been cleared, the govt says. This disposal of debris along with disposal of contaminated radioactive waste and water remain some of the hugest problems ahead.

At the plant in Fukushima prefecture, radioactive water is being de- contaminated slowly but govt still not giving the go ahead for the building of a larger trench to house overflow and the installation of zeolite lining for such a trench,  and systems that decontaminate water faster than those used, have been offered by various countries but have apparantly been refused.

Meanwhile it's good to see radiation levels in Sendai at least, are going down little by little.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011


What really surprises me is that people are still consuming products from Itate, Mito, Soma, Ibaraki, and Fukushima!!!
Radiation is a cumulative risk. Fact.Those of us here during that first month of extremely high radiation need to be very careful not to exceed our annual danger limit and that means NOT consuming radioactive foods and water. It is quite easy to avoid. There are lots of imported foods available and foods from prefectures that have not caught the radioactive wind. Yet, still, products in the supermarket from these areas (sold extra cheap) are selling well!
It's sooooooooooooooo crazy.

TEPCO has managed to decontaminate some of the water and has definitely made some progress with the overflow problems at the plant. I am hoping progress continues and the groundwater can be decontaminated soon. Please let this happen!

Meanwhile here at home X stll refuses to leave Sendai. I just don't know if I can leave without him :( He's my baby! I would miss him horribly and feel so guilty leaving him!. I am beginning to feel that the worst is over, since we have clearly had a horrible exposure and levels these days are going down quite a lot. Maybe "next year" is like closing the barn door after the horse escaped. It's very confusing. Probably the best thing is to apply for only those jobs I would really, really like to have, not the many jobs which would take us away but also be jobs I would not really prefer to what I have now or offer a lower salary. It was so hard asking my boss for a recommendation letter, now he knows I want to leave, maybe my contract won't be renewed anyway. Sigh. So worrying. I love my students, my work, my friends, my life very much. We all do.

And. There is still so much to do here in terms of helping out. The Sendairect soap was delivered but I have had no time to take pics or get to the shelters. I want to get back to help but school is so busy till August.

So many tough decisions. As ever.

(PS Thank you Nat and Tink for comments last month, I only found them recently and dont know how to reply).

Friday, 24 June 2011

Solar energy

I just read SHARP manufacturer in Japan will build solar power plants domestically. So far solar power plants have been monopolized and it has been difficult for major companies to get licensed .. all it takes is one manufacturer like this and other majors will follow suit. This is good news. Just sad it takes an industrial disaster of such magnitude to prompt it.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Focus on Radiation and Fall out.Fukushima. Some more thoughts.

While my sympathies are 100% with all the people mending their fractured lives all along the coast and the enormous challenges still ahead for them I cannot stop a morbid obsession with radiation and fall out news. Every morning I wake I scan every newspaper online for updates and several home pages and blogs of people whose info I've come to respect and trust.
This week has been another week of delays. Last week almost sounded hopeful but this week, my faith is again weak that we are going to see progress any time soon. It may be that things are going to get quite a bit worse in fact with rainy season due from tomorrow in Fukushima. Rain falls into open reactors so water levels rise and radioactive water overflows.

We have reactors 1, 2 and 3 that have experienced explosions; partial meltdown and partial melthrough and we have reactor 4 in seriously unstable condition as the whole containment vessel is rampant with leaks and the rods are half exposed. Any worsening of this situation including an earthquake of a high magnitude is going to topple this very fragile containment structure and then we have  a situation for which man is totally unprepared and has never seen before.
This would be the point where half of Japan would need to evacuate. We need to pray that there will not be another large quake before this vessel is contained. Plans are underway to build  a structure around reactor 4, a tall building that will hold it sturdy and will eventually have a roof and be completely sealed off. this would be good. Seismologists are pessimistic and say we still have not had the big 8 aftershock that a quake of this magnitude usually brings :(  Moreover this was the Pacific coastal epicenter quake (200 kms offshore from Sendai) BUT the big one that has been predicted for decades is the inland huge quake for Miyagi ken...:(

As for reactors 1 through 3, all the water has to be cooled. Humidity is building up inside each vessel. On Sunday, reactor 1 was "vented" meaning a very slow release of steam (containing radiation and fall out particles). The key is to do this VERY VERY slowly, thus minimizing dangers (given the lower ratio of toxins per smaller amounts of steam=less harm factor cf. quick larger release and massive radiation levels which would travel farther) and this was done to release steam and therefore reduce humidity simply to allow workers back in for their 10 minute checks. These checks are crucial and cannot for various reasons be done as efficiently by robots.

The reactors are releasing toxins all the time. 4 of them. Depending on the wind, these fall out particles travel and clump (imagine dust..notice how dust collects in corners...dust bunnies..fall out poisons are the same and somehow fallout bunnies is not appropriate :/) and these are on a larger scale creating "hot spots" and areas that are toxin free too. Measuring for hotspots is costly and very time consuming BUT NEEDS to be done!! The fall out line with major hotspots seems to have initially been found in a T shape behind the Fukushima coast, northwest and west of the plants (and down farther south of Tokyo in Ibaraki), not concentric at all, so much for radius theory. Fall out leakage falls close to the plant unless there are winds over a certain velocity or rain. Weather matters.

There are things we can do. Zeolite is an amazing product that absorbs radioactive particles!! It needs to be used. In enormous quantities. And the govt needs to find the billions of yen ASAP to decontaminate the radioactive water that is almost overflowing and already seeping into groundwater. They have built a zeolite  trench to contain some, but the trench itself is now overflowing. What this means is the water is seeping out into the soil (and sea close by) and contaminatng soil.The trench needs to be made far bigger and deeper.

Efforts to start decontaminating water got off to a bad start when a billion yen filtration system designed to extract contaminants from the water became "full" after 5 hours. The filter was supposed to last several months. This is an example of how serious the levels of toxins are and how huge a task this is to decontaminate.

Products from Fukushima prefecture have been banned for consumption- good, yet children are still being allowed to go to school in Fukushima city! This is 50km away where radiation levels have reached 2.88 microsieverts! This is an unacceptable level for health. Children are especially vulnerable due to their extremely fast T cell and other cell regeneration process so affected cells literally have the ability to transform DNA patterns. Older people's cells take longer to renew so there is time for toxins to be cleared from the body. Anyway, the dangers are for all, even for adults it is all about length of time exposed and how much exposure. Stats and effects will be evident in decades from now, not overnight.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

3 months on. A little glimpse of hope.

Today I feel hopeful. So in love with this country that adopted me. I've met some great people in the last week and learned so many new things. New knowledge and facts are so inspiring and exciting. One of the best feelings in the world is when suddenly some of those jigsaw pieces you were struggling with for months, slide into place and make a picture that makes sense. Yet, even as the pieces shuffle themselves into small resolved areas, you know that the more you join up the bigger the jigsaw becomes.

Working as a team is what everyone knows Japan excels at and working as a team will be how the phoenix rises. A rabbit is born near the nuke plant without ears, a few brave souls from Tokyo return daily to the 30km danger no-go zone to rescue pets (police turn a blind eye); elsewhere rallies, lectures and support groups meet to share their frustrations and their news. This is the making of a new Japan. One that questions and shares.The good and the bad. No more polite lies.These are new days and everyone here feels an empathy, almost like a family bond having lived through this 3 fold disaster together.Instead of saying "hello where do you come from" the new greeting is "hello, where were you when the quake and tsunami happened?"

So much is happening on a local scale. Although it has been slow to arrive much is now starting to materialize. Not just broken roads and bridges being mended, but spirits and minds because hope heals and hope is here as people talk and share and act to make changes. Volunteer work is everywhere, everyone I know seems to be doing something, however small. Talking to my students and workers and speakers at the "Pray for Japan" lecture showed me how strong people are and how very determined to be happy, repair, clean up, move on.

Today is a good day for me, where I feel maybe just maybe the nuke plant beast can be tamed and houses can be built on higher land and nature can somehow repair the ghastly wasted coast land and it can be beautiful again. Rainy season is late, giving a precious few extra days of good weather to the plant workers to remove and decontaminate radioactive water that is building up. Rain sets them right back, but with this small delay and sunny weather a few steps forward have been made. Of course, nothing is over yet, things could still get worse, much worse....prayers of all kinds are still needed that another huge quake or terrible weather doesn't delay plans to seal the plant and that the workers that have worked so hard and risked their lives for us are going to be okay.

Yes, tomorrow and what it may bring is unknown, but please, luck/"un" has to be with us soon, and stay a while.........please.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Coastal clean up

It seems that some new housing has been built for evacuees on higher land farther inland from the coast.
Govt is giving them out on a lottery basis. Some families are reluctant to take them I heard because they have no income to support themselves once they have moved, what with fishing, farming and other jobs in coastal areas still not possible yet. So, if they move from the shelters there will be no more daily meals. Once relocated the govt is providing no more help. Others have moved in.

There are a lot of problems all along the coast with trying to clean up.It's going to take such a long time. Not just the endless rubble of cars and house parts and debris, but the tsunami also washed in fish and sea creatures that died and rotted and are now becoming a serious health hazard. One volunteer I spoke to recently said he had never seen so many flies. Now that it is heating up here and really humid, especially by the ocean, people are worried about bacteria, viruses and disease. Apparantly the smell of the air even wearing a mask is really, really bad. Volunteers are digging the sand sludge wearing masks and packaging it in large plastic industrial bags that are then tied and piled in a huge mountain but gases are still released even after being packaged and dumped.

People that lost homes are divided into 3 groups. Those that lost everything, those that lost half, and those that lost a small amount of possessions. These 3 categories are getting insurance money on a scale of 1,2,3. It is hoped that the money they are given will go back in to drive the economy; people spending on new furniture and goods..the insurance money has been paid out fast and has been very easy to get possibly for this reason, I've been told.

100 anti nuclear events were held today. It's 3 months today since the quake/tsunami/and first nuclear accident. In Tokyo 6000 demonstrators marched in an anti nuke parade. Right wing activists were there too and jeered at the marchers.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Reliable data V theoretical data and sludge.

If you want the truth (reliable living data not theoretical data), ask the University professors. Especially those active in research. This is a country (like others) where education is so important and so highly prized and respected that Universities still attract some of the countries best scientific brains and some amazingly brilliant people. They are also very well funded and have the finest labs and state of the art equipment there is and most importantly no financial gain political agenda.This is where some of the best and most accurate data and info is coming from now, re-safety and risk evaluation in the Fukushima aftermath.

So was really pleased to learn today that a team of University professors have teamed up to seek the truth of exactly what has happened at all the reactors and that this independent probe will be one that has no invested interest in nuclear power.

Professors are also joining forces to test vegetables and local produce here to cover a wider area than govt led testing can handle.Many professors are also involved in volunteer charity work up here like this man:

Meanwhile at the plant, a possible melt through confirms what everyone suspected anyway, that the groundwater issue will be the most serious long term obstacle for people living outside Fukushima. Growing food in contaminated soil. Radiation levels have peaked and are for now declining outside the area. Fall out is still the big concern up here with rainy season on its way. How melt through affects farmers and crops is going to pan out as main news next. So far, it is being said that soil will hold fall out particles only in the top 10cms meaning it may be possible for farmers in Ibaraki and surrounding Fukushima areas to change crops and grow things that are either very deeply rooted and less absorbent like fruit trees or to consider transfer values and manage soil accordingly.

Transfer values include: type of soil, temperature, rainfall and wind as well as the basic structure of the plant. Osmotic effect is more in vegetables that have thin wide leaves like...spinach.Under present sanitation laws
the limit for radioactive cesium for farm produce is set at 500 becquerels per kg of soil. Hopefully the govt isn't going to suddenly raise this. Knowing which areas of soil are "clumping" nuclides (as they fall in clumps) via testing can help farmers keep some soil safer. Building glasshouse/greenhouses over safe soil, topsoiling etc. Farmers are very worried as are fishermen that their livelihoods are in serious danger. Fukushima Fishermen held a protest the other day on any more low level radioactive water being allowed into the sea. Soil and water problems need attention asap. Farming and fisheries are top industries.

Then there is the sludge. Apparently cesium was found at high levels in sewage sludge in Tokyo bay, Saitama, Kawasaki and Ibaraki.Disposal units and re-cycling centers rightly refuse to take the sludge (which is usually made into cement)fearing radioactivity. Sewage sludge is building up and there is no place to store it. This adds to the huge coastal rubble disposal issues..nowhere for that either and it is not sanitary to just leave it.

Monday, 6 June 2011

June 6. 2011

A lot of people have left North Japan. There has been a huge exodus of non-Japanese and many Japanese who are able to, have moved south. I have morbid thoughts about re-locating, even though it is still the plan for us, maybe its just my present mind set :p  There are nuclear plants all along the coast after all here in Japan and the country is so narrow and small..imagine fleeing one disaster only to find it happens again somewhere else? And then there is the wind factor. We are 100km north of the nuclear plant here and north wind is unusual here. The most common wind pattern is south or offshore and then west, occasionally north west. It's  a mix but following the wind patterns daily as I have been doing I notice that direct coastal northern NE winds to Sendai are actually unusual. This explains why radiation levels are always higher in Ibaraki and down south of Tokyo than they are here. Even though Tokyo reads 100km farther from the plant than we are here, the winds so far have quite possibly taken fall out nearer Tokyo than they have here. It isn't so easy to decide where to go and where is safe :/

Today, one of my beloved student's Mother told me their family is leaving. This is a 100% Japanese family lived here all their lives. Going to friends in Australia and leaving the end of this month. I felt sad because I have taught Mie since fifth grade and she is now in 11th (first year high school) grade and I really adore this kid! I knew they had been thinking about it. Her Father is a doctor and gave us stable iodine tablets back when we may have needed them,he thinks because his kids are younger there is more risk. Also, and this is really horrible, the schools are refusing to say where their school lunch ingredients are from and since Fukushima products are so cheap it is likely these could be going into school meals :(  Another thing; schools are entering summer season here and the kids are obliged to clean the swimming pool with bare hands and then swim in what could be radioactive water. The govt refuses to check swimming pools in our prefecture (only Fukushima prefecture gets checked). So many parents complained however that the latest news is some schools in our prefecture have actually stopped swimming classes.

Everything is so different. Everything is changing. I feel that things are going to fall into place eventually and a new world will be born.That is the only way forward. A new way of living for people here, hopefully based on reliable facts and truth. So many people cannot leave, not everyone can afford to!.. and it is these people that need to know how to keep safe and how to carry on and rebuild their lives. Schools need to be more flexible and offer more education to parents on risks and ways to protect their students, take more responsibility regarding food. Water authorities, with pressure starting already from many, will need to offer more info on contaminants. It will happen, it will happen because people are starting to question and as more students like Mie move away, parents and schools alike are going to start wondering why.

Meanwhile the radioactive water building up at the plant is a huge problem as storage space is almost all used up. Huge vessels and an offshore ship are being set up to pump the water into. Can't help wondering what will happen in the next large quake/tsunami to these vessels and the ship too, when will we learn that the whole idea of nuclear energy is just not worth the risks. Germany has.

In Fukushima prefecture another tragedy is unfolding; cattle, chickens and pigs have been left to die as nobody has been allowed back in to feed them. That's so sad.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Science Advice in a Crisis.

Beddington and the science symposium was really disappointing. It was all dubbed in Japanese too so fell victim to certain styles of speech that are misleading and confusing. The Japanese speakers' speeches were true to "danraku" format and kept you waiting for the point which always comes at the end so it is tiring to listen to. In Western speeches the point is made first and then justified in supporting statements so you can get the idea quickly. Yet, I didn't get anything much new from Beddington (UK's chief scientific advisor), he seemed to be under the authoritative eye of the Ambassador beside him and he definitely dodged some questions which made me wonder what was being held back.

There was so much excess time given to speech introductions and the lead up it was very frustrating.
It was also not what I had been hoping for, which was an informed assessment of facts and risks. It was more of a conference in support of nuclear power and how the two countries could link scientific advice and knowledge and learn from mistakes. Nothing at all was said about side effects and the enormous psychological and health impact of this horrific accident. Instead there was an air of snobbery about the whole thing that reminded me of a scene from a  Renaissance painting where the rich are sipping wine and eating cherries and the poor are dieing at their feet with flies crawling on their bodies and mouths agape with thirst :(

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Looking for work for next year. My contract ends here in February. So I have some time to get organised. So many things to think about and so many decisions to make. A lot of change forecast again. In my job search  I was surprised to uncover 3 job postings from my own department where I work, evidently I am not the only one leaving, I can guess from the job title who they probably are. Those positions don't come up often and this time around may not get taken quite so easily either.

All is not bleak. We have settled into a way of life that involves import shopping and avoiding all products from Fukushima, Ibaraki and Miyagi.Watching for updates from the plant every day and checking radiation levels like the weather, as well as the weather in fact since the two are so linked. I'm wearing a nose/mouth mask on the bike and outside if its windy too just to be safe. Nobody else seems to be doing this however.

We are still getting aftershocks. There seems to be one every morning, a sort of shake you out of bed minor quake. And throughout the day always a few and up to 4 or 5. Not large quakes, small ones, each with their
own peculiar idiosyncrasies; start strong or weak, mellow out or not, up and down, side to side...duration..always different. You get less and less bothered by them, they are mere ants compared to the big 9 monster. I have noticed none of the doors lock properly anymore, they have all slightly shifted and are misaligned now, the glass patio windows won't lock at all.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Protective measures and plan A.

A typical food line up since the quake (since some people asked me about this) :

We are now drinking only bottled water (from South Korea at present as its the cheapest). This includes making tea and coffee. I found 6x 2 liter bottles at our local megamart for only 400 yen (around 4 US dollars) so cheap.

There is also a filter on our kitchen tap and we use water from that #1 and then into deactivated charcoal filter Brita jug #2  (so double filtered) for cooking water to boil and cook food. De activated charcoal removes most heavy metals including some radionuclides.

We are buying meat products like pork and beef and chicken from Australia, Brazil and nearby Asian countries. These are the biggest importers to Japan in this area. No meat from Japan. Fish we have only bought from Russia/Alaska since the quake and canned from America and Thailand. No Japanese fish at all.

Fruit and vegetables we are buying from Kyushu (far south Japan) only OR frozen vegetables from other countries.
Milk and butter we are getting from Hokkaido (far north Japan). Cheese we are buying at the import food store from Holland and Australia.
Eggs from Aomori (far north).

With this plan (plan A =above and below) launched we hope to keep as safe as possible from radionuclides in food for the rest of the time that we have to be here. It's expensive but of course it is necessary we do this.This is what we can do and it feels good to cando :)

As far as rain goes, we are always using umbrellas and leaving coats and shoes at the door. If soil contains radionuclides you can bring these in on shoes. It's a great thing that nobody in Japan wears their shoes inside.

Washing dishes and hair and doing fish tanks I'm using rubbergloves, but always did that. The fish seem to be doing okay in the water so far..
For most people that live here and cannot leave (Japanese citizens and long term residents) sensible advice and caring advice about how we should protect ourselves and what we can do to minimise carcinogenic danger is far more helpful and productive than more and more scaremongering. There is actually plenty you can do to protect yourself. There are some farms here that are testing their soils daily and public awareness is increasing via word of mouth of where to buy what. Top Japanese nuclear scientists at Universities here, every bit as clued up as Western nuclear scientists (and to be differentiated from Japanese TEPCO nuclear business and govt) are working hard to get data together and share it and are testing soil and water and providing  information to citizens when there are dangerous levels in any area. Radionuclides clump and are seldom spread out evenly. They are like dust and can be washed off the skin, we need to take showers morning and evening to rinse off possible particles if we have been outside with skin exposed. This is being very cautious but you just never know. We are told the air is quite safe here from these particles but really who can test each inch of rain and air.

The whole of Japan cannot relocate, we have to take action now to protect ourselves in small ways locally while supporting the teams at the nuke plant who are doing their best to shut the beast down as quickly and sucessfully as possible.

So with these measures underway I can feel a little safer and more confident that I can continue my work here that I love and the kids can be protected as best as possible. I need to keep working for a while because we have zero savings and I cannot just suddenly leave much as I would like to. I have to get some money saved for plan B. Tomorrow's scheduled conference with Sir JB and updated information generated from that is going to be key in mapping out that plan B.

Below is a map of radiation levels in the air (not nuclides...) today.

Sendai's 100km north background radiation level is lower than 100km south of the plant. Background radiation levels are being monitored daily by nuclear science professors like this man. Today's reading of O.O73 microsieverts per hour is within the yellow/safe range.

Friday, 27 May 2011

May 27th

 Another week of work over. It's good to be working. I love my students so much. I love all my classes this year. Some great students, some I have taught before and that's special. I am almost officially broke, my first pay check wont arrive till next month so we are really being careful here till then.

I suppose it's good news that I haven't updated here for a while. I usually write when things are bad not good. There have been some new developments, some not so welcome and some better and hopeful.
TEPCO now claims reactor 1, 3 and 2 in that order did in fact meltdown almost completely right after the tsunami. That means that radioactive levels of fall out nuclides and radiation were far higher and worse than suspected or claimed for the 3 days following the twin disaster. If I lived in Fukushima I would be wanting more than a bow and an apology about that. People hung around their homes, walking in streets right near the plant for days before any kind of information pertaining safety was made available and then, when it finally came it was grossly underplayed. National shame.

Here in Sendai, I remember we spent much of those first days inside because it was so cold...lucky we's safer inside....but we did have to line up for hours for food in snow blizzards. Deadly snow blizzards. Possible radionuclide snow blizzards as it turns out..

Too late to do anything about that now. We did eat a lot of iodine saturated wakame..raw seaweed we happened to have lots is supposed to protect the thyroid somewhat as it is a natural source of stabilized iodine which protects you from the radioactive kind that was in the air for 5 days. I almost feel to leave now is sort of ridiculous. Too late. Except for the food situation of course -ongoing- and  which I suppose will also be revealed as worse than they say in months or more likely years to come.We are eating imported foods, dairy products from Hokkaido and Australian or Brazilian meat which is easy to come by. Nobody dares eat sea food, and fish generally is also probably risky for some time.

Waiting anxiously now for John Beddington's assessment on the 30th. A team of nuclear scientists from Europe, he included, arrived in Japan to report on the situation to date and uncover some truths. I 'll watch the conference live or record it at least. John Beddington was one of my brother's professors at Imperial College London. He has this ability to make really complex facts and stats very easy to understand and has a kind,calm manner.Looking forward to that.

One thing I have learned is not to fear the facts; armed with them you can make much better decisions.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

May 19th 2011.

To clarify farther on "dangers". Yes there are vastly different estimates and stats coming out from even top nuclear scientists. Just like anything deemed carcinogenic... it takes and will take generations of statistics to actually prove facts and even many flaws in those stats.

I am not particularly alarmed by background radiation at 100km from the plant as of today. It's within acceptable range here so far. Of course this may change any minute which is why we have to keep tabs of what is happening with leakage, steam, release and news at the plant every day.
What is worrying is that radioactive fall out particles have definitely entered the food chain. How I would love my own test kit to test vegetables and water myself but apparantly the kind of sophisticated equipment needed to test these kinds of toxins are incredibly expensive and also sold out in Japan ..the only way to access them is via nuclear science laboratories at the main Universities in the area. One such department did test spinach here and found radioactive levels of toxins to be higher than normal...this should really have resulted in a wide scale inspection but the Mayor of Sendai is refusing to test all food products..yes, an enormous task and an expensive one and.......... the results of which could totally destroy the economy within days. Meanwhile we are expected to believe the contamination will cause no damage to our health.

It is so much easier to believe what we are told by the govt. That there is nothing to fear right now. ..(they always stress 'right now' on TV which is ominous). Should we just sit back and try to repair as best we can in small ways and get on with our lives and work? It hurts to think of all the wonderful people here I know who are doing just that.And there are merits to it, it isn't that I feel critical of this approach. It is just that this approach should ideally be one taken after all sides are weighed and I don't think that is what is happening because of the covering up of key facts and info.

So buying food here has become a time consuming event. One woman I know is only buying food that was produced before March 11 and is spending almost all her free time online tracking products and researching such products to then order. I am personally trying to buy food and drinks from Hokkaido or Kyushu down south or far north, just because soil in these areas cannot yet have been affected.Where possible, of course it's impossible to do 100%. It's expensive not to buy local products. Imported products are sold out fast too. Who knows what is going into restaurant food, and take outs, or ready to eat convenience foods. The idea of going out to eat makes me feel nauseus these days.

I heard some cows from near Fukushima have been killed and the meat has been sold on the black market. I don't know if this is true. It may be rumor. Milk and dairy products from Fukushima were halted immediately which was a good move but wind carries rain some distance and rain falls on soil and cows and animals eat the grass grown on that soil and then their produce is sold.

Yes, things could be a lot worse here. Indeed they may still become so.There are those affected far worse than us and with fewer options. Can't forget that.

Meanwhile what I would give right now for a huge big fresh, safe, spinach and cabbage salad :p

Monday, 16 May 2011

May 17th 2011

Everything becomes clear, later. Just as a syllabus is never what we expect or plan. It unfolds into a map of its own -one we didn't originally design however hard we tried- it has taken on its own contours and even destination as we sidetrack or digress - as necessity and needs demand. It is only comprehensible when it is complete. In retrospect.

So it has been since the quake. What happened is so much clearer now. How the prime minister visited the nuclear plant the day after and that is why the steam was not released till later; how TEPCO "company loyalty" pledge demanded secrecy from the onset ; how outside help was rejected at first when it was so needed for fear of divulging certain trade secrets and more. Workers everywhere worked so hard, important roads rebuilt in days and weeks, everyone moving as one to support and encourage each other. Everyone that is except the people right at the top in charge, the ones who also move as a (separate) group. The group with gloves on, who do not get their hands dirty and who have the means to protect themselves from health hazards because they alone know the truth.We should have known of course. Nothing is what it seems at first.

Right now, it is not helpful for us as a family to focus on what went wrong and how things should have been. There are more immediate concerns.The nuclear chain reaction has begun. Low level cesium was found in tap water in Sendai. All products from the area that are grown in soil could also be and are almost certainly affected.People who are clued up and have money are buying imported foods only and drinking and cooking with only bottled water from far south or north or from nearby Asian countries.This is very expensive, and ruins of course one of the pleasures of life here..Japanese food.

It takes some years for these kind of low level poisons to affect a person. But cesium has a lifespan of 30 years, it makes you wonder what will happen to farming in Miyagi and how many people will begin to migrate from here.

Most people appear to be unaware. Or choosing to ignore. In the supermarkets Miyagi products have signs that read "Ganbare Sendai" which stuck right on the product like this translates as "Buy local".

While it may seem we are privileged as a family to have various escape hatch buttons that most residents here do not have, in fact it is extremely difficult to leave a place that we have lived so long. I did grad school here, had kids here...but more than that now I have X absolutely refusing to leave Sendai.

This makes planning anything so complicated. It continues to be a constant battle with decisions and choices and stress. The daily aftershocks are no longer scaring me as much as they were. The longterm future here is.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Feeling scared. So many lies and cover ups. As usual to do with money and greed. TEPCO are a bunch of liars and I feel very disappointed with the lack of truth. 3 workers have died at the plant now ...who knows how many more will sacrifice their lives. 100km is estimated to be danger zone by many top analysts in the nuclear industry and we are exactly there at 100km from the plant. Not evacuation zone, but danger zone at 66% risk of cancer in the next 10 years with sustained dosage if we stay that long. An olympic swimming pool size amount of radioactive water has leaked under reactor #1. Ground water spillage of nuclear contaminents could be and look to be the worst in atomic history. Greenpeace ship has been forbidden to take ocean water readings..well that says enough..

I am stuck in a rut. No money to get out, but a job that pays me exceptionally well here. Its all about money...for everyone..not health or sanity. Feeling very depressed today. If I was alone it would all be so easy but i have two kids with lives, friends, school and who dont speak much English- to think about. This has been their home all their lives, I have some tough decisions ahead. i don't know if I can stay here more than this year..I am feeling very weary of this stress.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Back to work.

A message (from admin) on my desk today read "Some students suddenly dropped out of school but their names may still be in your roll book". : ( 

I couldn't read the roll. I had students write their names on a piece of paper instead and later I will check them off on the official roll and see which names are missing. It's so sad.

But when I look at the rows of eager, smiling students' faces I know that these students need the normality of class and schedule and learning. That mourning and sadness has to be sectioned off and separated from school and the curriculum. That the normality of school is an important part of healing for us all. I love my students. I love their belief and trust in me. I want to do my best for them and be part of that healing.

School is getting busy. I think I am going to hand over the rest of the shelter fund Sendairect money to the volunteers I worked with and let them use it in the best way. I am sure this will be as the poll results dictate...and I will keep you all informed.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Sendai station.

Sendai station was the hub of the town. It was where teens met after school and housewives met to go on shopping exursions or eat lunch with friends. Some of the best restaurants in town could be found within Sendai station. It was a really lively, fashionable,colorful, active place with something always happening. The main lobby inside the station regularly showed art or craft exhibitions or had food fairs from other Asian countries or Europe. You could go and taste free samples from the stalls or be introduced to new cultures and crafts. Every vendor shouting out their wares with pride and animation. The stained glass window that runs along the front was probably the most famous meeting spot in town and from within the building, networks of local lines and bullet trains connected the biggest city in Tohoku to the rest of Japan.

After March 11, things changed. There was a lot of damage to the front area of the station and nobody was allowed within several hundred feet of it. Inside, there was damage to restaurants and shops.The shinkansen bullet lines were badly damaged and buckled. Trains stopped halfway on tracks. Local lines too had structural damage and would take time to repair.

I walked down to see how it was a week after the quake. It was sad to see such a lively place so dead and sad looking. Police had yellow taped the area and crumbling walls and roads were sectioned off with huge blue plastic sheets and signs saying "danger". Government officials in flourescent yellow vests stood at night with flashlights and redirected people traffic..still no cars on the road then as we didn't have gasolene for 3 weeks or more.

Today I went back. It was amazing to see the progress! The station front has been rebuilt already and stores and shops inside are mainly re-opened. Although shinkansen trains are not operating just yet, local lines have been fixed and some are in use already. People are shopping and using facilities, escalators I see are brand new, shiny clean and moving perhaps a little slower than before :p In a bid to recover depressed spirits perhaps people are spending and restaurants that are open are full!

Outside cars and taxis and motorcylists honk their horns and skillfully navigate the compact and narrow roads that maze their way around the station and give the place its wonderful character. The sun came out as I got on my bike to return home, and above helicopters were no longer pacing the sky and in their place the beloved kites that sendai is so famous for, have returned.