Saturday, 12 March 2011

Fukushima nuclear reactor emmergency

The latest news is that there have already been some leaks from Fukushima nuclear power station. Radiation levels 1,000 times normal have been found at at least one place in the plant, so previous announcements that there had been no leak were inaccurate. No surprise there. The authorities have announced that they are venting radioactive steam from 9am. A second reactor 20km away from the first now has the same problem. The only good news for those on the mainland is that the wind is currently blowing eastwards, out to sea. However, it is in the nature of radiation that this may just means bad news for someone else later. I feel for the technicians who have to put themselves at risk to deal with this, and really hope that they succeed in averting a further major disaster. 

This is further evidence that nuclear power is not the solution for our energy needs, especially in earthquake areas of the world. This design was described by the government as the most earthquake proof in the world, but it has failed. Yet there are ongoing plans to  build more. In Japan hydro and solar generation seem far safer and very practical solutions. Having said that, we are living in a low lying area of the village beneath a series of hydro-electric dams built in 1958. At least if they go, the damage will be limited in area and time, and the energy is relatively clean and cheap. Rather death by an attempt at clean power than something that will poison the land for generations.

As well as the extensive tsunami damage all along the Pacific coast, three cities containing thousands of souls were completely inundated by the ocean. Casualty figures are irrelevant at the moment because of the impossibility of collating them over the whole of Japan at the same time as responding to numerous local emergencies.  We just have the examples of people we know, and thankfully everyone seems well. My friend Iwata-san walked north for six hours from his office in central Tokyo and reached the emergency shelter near his home where his daughter was volunteering. They spent the night there. He said the streets were flooded with people. My wife's mother spent the night awake on some station steps, and as I write at 9.30am is on a train, which is now stuck somewhere. She should get home soon.

My wife stayed up all night, unable to sleep, and there was another big aftershock based on Nagano at 4am. Her brother in Kawagoe near Tokyo said that there were so many shocks he ended up not knowing whether the house was still shaking, or it was just his dizziness. I slept fitfully, but wasn't aware of it. All of Japan is at risk of another big shock, but especially Tokyo, which is near the meeting point of five tectonic plates. There is in any case a high likelihood (estimated at a 50% risk), of Tokyo having a major quake in the next 50 years. As anyone who has visited Tokyo will know, it doesn't bear thinking about.

The news last night showed people bedding down on cardboard sheets in the stations, and escaping to Shinjuku Chuo park, where I have drawn the portraits of homeless people many times over the last ten years. I wonder if their sometimes critical attitudes will change when they have experienced what homeless people have to do every day. It could go either way, either leading to greater empathy, or to a greater rejection through feeling threatened by proximity. After the Kobe earthquake which killed 6,400 people, I heard that homeless people were chased away from the emergency aid stations. "No, you were homeless before the earthquake, it is not for you!"

However, I have found the great majority of Japanese people, like people everywhere, to be kind and supportive, and very communally minded, especially older people. The amazing stories of heroism and selflessness from this disaster will go some way to softening the pain of the next few weeks as the real picture emerges.

Many thanks to everyone who has got in touch to check that we are OK   


  1. We also live in Aizu, and I can tell you I feel exactly the same dizziness you described: I guess that our body moves all the time, but now, oversensitive as we have got to detect even the slightest vibration, we have lost the common threshold, and any move of our body is interpreted by the brain as a potential quake. We managed to sleep this night but indeed got woke up at 4:00 by the Niigata quake. I calculated that we are 93 km away from the Fukushima Power Plant, I wonder when the evacuation area will be extended to 100 km, so that we'll have to leave (although there are the Bandai mountains between us and Fukushima). When Tschernobyl occurred in Russia, they called it just an "avaria" (= slight incident). Will Japanese be more sincere?

    Tenez bon !

  2. Yes, we need accurate and honest information, but I think nuclear authorities everywhere usually play it down, partly to prevent panic, and partly to defend the long term interests of the nuclear industry. This is very wrong, especially for people who live nearby. I have just e-mailed you through your website to say you can stay with us if you need to move suddenly and we don't. If you don't get the e-mail please contact me through
    You are very welcome, or we can help you find accommodation here if you prefer that.

  3. Prayers and thoughts from Ireland...

  4. Thanks, Morgan, much appreciated. Yannis, I'm glad that you and your family made it to safety.