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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.