Saturday, 19 March 2011

Children at risk near the Fukushima Daichi nuclear accident, Japan?

While now safe with my son in Hiroshima, we are still extremely concerned for everyone in Fukushima-ken, in particular the people, and especially children, living near (but outside) the official 30km evacuation zone, and we are working hard from here to help.

The American government has recommended a much bigger 80km evacuation zone. Inside that 80km area are many small towns and villages, but also Iwaki city just outside it (population 344,000), and Koriyama City, with a population of around 340,000. It is only about 60km (36 miles) west of the accident.

See map with example centres of population and their distances from the accident

We all hope that the incredibly brave, heroic workers fighting to save the plant are successful in avoiding the much larger release of radiation that would follow full meltdown of one or several of the six reactors in close proximity, and material in unprotected storage ponds, all affected by each other. We also hope that the more optimistic in a wide range of expert assessments are correct, that is to say that even if it comes to the worst, there will be no immediate risk outside the plant and the 30km evacuation zone. One described it as essentially "a local incident." I really hope so, though ineveitably this has now been upgraded to "an incident with wider consequences." But my personal view as a lay person with a deep affection for Fukishima-ken communities is that all along assessments have proved in fact to be too optimistic, from the design choices made in the building of the plant, to Tokyo Electric`s announcements, to the evacuation area. This is also view of the man who was in charge of the Chernobyl clean up.

This week I met a nuclear power worker travelling home to see his family before going to work at the Fukushima Daichi power plant. He said that we had been right to leave, and that he `expected it to get worse next week.` We think he had probably been given permission to say goodbye to his family and knew there was a chance he might not survive. The way he smiled at my son was heartbreaking.

Imagine everything going as wrong as it possibly can - it has so far. Can anyone really be sure that 6 reactors interacting at their worst, with sustained release of material including plutonium from controversial mox fuel, combined with strong landward winds and the fall of rain and snow, will not combine to create an unprecedented event? Surely `hope for best but prepare for the worst` is sensible. I am very aware of the huge pressure on government systems caused by the tsunami and earthquakes and the extraordinary scale of the logistics involved. I am also incredibly appreciative of everything that is being done already by countless hard pressed and exhausted officials, NPOs and citizens, who are struggling to decide priorities.

For example, Hiroshima City has offered to accommodate anyone from the 30km evacuation zone from Tuesday 22nd March. They will also accommodate anyone whose house has been destroyed from a very wide area including all of Tohoku, Hokkaido, Kanto, Koshin etsu in Yamanachi-ken, Nagano, and Niigata.

However amidst all this great work I am afraid that one group has been forgotten. The children and families outside the current 30km zone, but within, for example the American`s 80km zone, and with no significant mountain barrier between them and the plant, should be provided with transport to safe accommodation until the plant is stabilised. Children seem to be affected more quickly than adults by radiation of specific kinds (Iodine) because of their un-developed thyroid glands, so it needs to happen quickly -  before, not after the event.

Preferably government should do it, but if not then NPOs and volunteers could do a little. To these ends I am at the Hiroshima Peace Cultural Foundation in the Peace Park at ground zero, who have been very helpful and supportive with facilities, information and their channels of communication, which will hopefully bear some fruit. I have lobbied Hiroshima-ken (a branch of local government), and been interviewed by a journalist with the Chugoku newspaper. I have also contacted an NPO network arranged to deal with the crisis, tried to find local people to be host families, and asked all my friends and contacts to send money or food to help in the aid effort in general. I was contacted by the BBC while still in Kaneyama-machi, and spoke on a World Service's TV programme. I don't think anything has changed as a result yet.

Hiroshima City, with it's tragic history, has a unique understanding of what Fukishima's communities are going through, and I have no doubt will respond with any help they can offer. Hiroshima has just offered to accommodate anyone from the 30km evacuation zone from Tuesday 22nd March. They will also accommodate anyone whose house has been destroyed from a very wide area including all of Tohoku, Hokkaido, Kanto, Koshin etsu in Yamanachi-ken, Nagano, and Niigata. However, this does not yet include the group I am referring to, and at the least volunteer hosts will be needed, moving on to transport and lobbying official permissions if more is possible.

At the moment the parents we have spoken to are very afraid and confused, not trusting official information, and often without anywhere to head for even if they could find gasoline or an air or bus ticket for the few services left. Those with jobs are afraid of loosing them if they leave without permission, and life is continuing as normally as possible, with schools open, but no food in the shops or gasoline. What happens if you take your children out of school? What happens if you leave with nowhere to go to and no evacuee ID?What will people think of us afterwards if we leave?

Many areas of Fukushima-ken, far from evacuating, are actually receiving and looking after homeless evacuees from further north. The prefectural government has told our mayor that it is too busy to think about anything other than what central government is asking it to do. People need realistic options, and fast. They need to be encouraged to take them, to overcome the highly admirable Japanese social behaviour that in this situation, while preventing dangerous panic, can also be a barrier to sensible precautions.

If you are reading this and have any links that might help with anything, from offering aeroplanes (!), to links with Hiroshima groups, to future support or expertise for Kaneyama-machi, my small mountain community whose economy will probably be ruined whatever happens, please get in touch. Please forward this to people. My mobile number is ++81 (0)80-417-44847, but, only use this for something practical. Please use comments for anything non-urgent.

I don't yet know what can happen, if anything, as when it comes down to it I am just a foreigner with limited Japanese and a buggered laptop that has refused to connect to the internet for the last two days. I don't know if I am doing the right things, and am afraid of muddying the waters and adding to difficulties. But being safe and wrong is better than being over-confident and wrong. In any case any links I can make now will hopefully be of use to my home area Kaneyama-machi and Fukushima-ken as a whole in the future.

What we  really need is some definitive and reliable good news from Fukushima power station, to make all  our worries look stupid. Let's hope events are overtaken by us soon - it has been the other way so far.

Thanks for reading, yours in hope, Geoff

The BBC has summarised various views of the worst case scenario at 16th March:

This is the BBC's summary of health risks from radiation

This is the World Health Organisation information on the Japanese radiation risk


  1. Thank you so much for posting news from Aizu. I have wonderful memories of time spent there in my early 20s and the wonderful community, people and some good friendships for this California girl. Miss you Tadashi, Kenichiro and Katsuhide and hope you and your families are safe.

  2. Morning, message from the Toddies, whats the best kind of food we can put in the parcels? We've been thinking oats, dried fruit, lentils, chick peas....or are we better sending expedition food? The Dehydrated stuff....are water tablets needed? Think some folks have already bought some and its being brought together at pack run this week. Any pointers would be handy.


    p.s. stay safe.x

  3. Emma, fantastic, please have a look at the thread on the Toddies forum, I put more info on there. For anyone else reading, this was a specific case organised for a particular purpose. I think most organisations are saying send money now because of the logistics of moving things around at the moment.
    For example:
    Goes to 5 major NPOs
    goes to women, mothers and children specifically, in hard hit areas
    All will be incredibly welcome for the foreseeable future, even when it is on the news less.