Day 215 Seven months since the disaster

Seven months since the disaster

It’s been 7 months since the March 11th earthquake and tsunami.

In the hardest hit prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima, 2,231 people are still living in 205 shelters, but more and more people are moving into temporary housings.

Police say that as of October 11th, the death toll stood at 15,822, with 3,923 people still missing.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011 07:20 +0900 (JST)

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Residents near Fukushima mountains face nuclear recontamination every rainfall

Workers decontaminate the roof of a home in Fukushima on July 24 with high-pressure jets of water. (Mainichi)
Workers decontaminate the roof of a home in Fukushima on July 24 with high-pressure jets of water. (Mainichi)

As the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Plant drags on, worries are growing particularly among Fukushima Prefecture residents over drawn-out and in some cases apparently futile nuclear decontamination operations.

The unease is especially strong in areas in and around mountains that must be repeatedly decontaminated, as every rainfall brings a new batch of radioactive substance-contaminated leaves and soil washing down from the hills. Since some 70 percent of Fukushima Prefecture is mountainous, such instances of regular recontamination could occur over a broad area, while the same effect has also been observed in some undeveloped areas of cities.

The central government is considering paying for any decontamination operations conducted by local governments at sites with radiation emissions of 1 millisievert per year or more, but residents in places faced with regular recontamination after every major rainfall are concerned the national government may not keep the cleanup funding flowing.

The city of Fukushima decontaminated its Onami and Watari district in July and August after a surge in local radiation levels. In the week following the end of the operation, the city took fresh radiation readings at 885 points, of which seven actually registered levels exceeding those found before the decontamination. One gutter measured even showed a rise from 3.67 microsieverts per hour before the cleanup to 4.63 after the work.

“Radiation increased close to the mountains and in spots where water and soil washed down the slopes,” the Fukushima Municipal Government stated.

One 52-year-old resident of the city’s Onami district, whose home backs onto woodland slopes, told the Mainichi that soil washes into her backyard with every rainfall. Radiation emissions at her front door are 1 microsievert per hour or less, but in the backyard they’re more than 2 microsieverts per hour.

“Everywhere around here is in the same situation,” she says.

Meanwhile, a man living in the Watari district with his wife and his son’s family discovered that the waterway running by his property had cesium levels of more than 300,000 becquerels after a citizen’s group did tests in the area.

“There’s no point in doing just one round of official decontamination,” he told the Mainichi. “We residents will get nowhere near anything like peace of mind if decontamination operations can’t be done regularly.”

According to guidelines in a Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries study released on Sept. 30, removing fallen leaves and other natural forest debris from the area within about 20 meters of residential properties is effective in keeping contamination at bay. However, the guidelines also warn that “conifer needles also accumulate radioactive cesium over time, and can normally be expected to fall after three to four years,” signaling a constant and long-term need to keep clearing properties of fallen needles.

The municipality of Fukushima has created a plan to bring radiation exposure in all inhabited areas of the city to below a microsievert per hour within two years. As part of this, cleanup operations will begin in the Onami district in October. No schedule has been set for decontaminating the city’s mountains and forests, but the municipal government is considering removal of the leaf soil (soil made up of decaying leaves) within 75 meters of local properties, pending the consent of land owners — significantly more than the forestry ministry’s 20-meter guideline. It’s thought that the decontamination process will have to go on for a long time to come, but the city has said it has yet to receive confirmation that financial support will continue to flow from the central government.

Furthermore, the problem of where to put all the contaminated material collected in the cleanups remains a serious headache. The central government has begun considering national forests as dump sites, but according to a disposal official in Date, Fukushima Prefecture, “’20 meters of forest’ applied to every region here would be an enormous amount of material. Setting aside a site for that much soil is extremely difficult. On top of that, how could we secure enough workers to do the job?”

On top of concerns about the sheer volume of contaminated material and manpower, there is also the issue of the important natural roles played by forests, such as collecting water that eventually ends up as well water. The village of Kawauchi, removed from the emergency evacuation standby zone at the end of September, is almost 90 percent mountain forest, and depends on streams and well water for all its fresh water needs.

The village plans to decontaminate all the forest under its jurisdiction over the next 20 years, but “the village needs the forests to guarantee its source of fresh water,” the decontamination project official said. “Is there no way to do decontamination while at the same time preserving the functions of the forest, without cutting down the trees?”

(Mainichi Japan) October 11, 2011

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Clearing up Fukushima

Fukushima was the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. Who would still want to work at the plant? And yet, thousands of people go there every day to work at cleaning away the radioactive debris and trying to secure the site. France 24 went to meet these workers who are ready to risk their lives to save Japan.

In the small world of Tokyo-based journalists, we knew that it would be difficult to meet the workers of Fukushima. Some could maybe talk to us, but only off-camera. Tepco, the operator of the stricken plant, was the first to disappoint us by refusing each of our requests. And no wonder: Tepco and its subcontractors strictly forbid the workers from speaking to the media.

Luckily, a Japanese woman who ended up becoming our interpreter managed to break the deadlock. A Christian, she worked as a volunteer with victims of the tsunami in Iwaki, a workers’ dormitory town located 40 km south of the Fukushima plant. Through a religious centre, she knew a worker who agreed to meet us. His name is Yukio and he is a colourful personality who wants to set the story straight about the plant’s workers. “Yes, it is hard work. But no, we are not slaves”, is his basic message.

The rest is all about luck…and blagging. We go straight to “J-Village”, the workers’ headquarters, located on the threshold of the 20 km-wide “forbidden zone” around the plant. We are not allowed to be there. Most of the workers know it and only give us a wary hello. But some of them agree to say a few words to us.

Open this link to view the video:

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This from Fukushima Diary:

[snip] [see the link above for the entire article]

“The video below is the athletic festival of a kindergarten in Yokohama held in October.

The soil around shows 0.95 uSv/h.”

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Related article from EX-SKF:

How to Enjoy Radioactive Autumn in Japan in Kindergartens and Elementary Schools

In Tokyo, Chiba, Kanagawa, they all do these fun-filled activities to enjoy and celebrate autumn, just like they did last year and year before, radioactive fallout or not. A minor nuclear accident must not disturb the preset schedule, ever.

At this point, though an increasing number of parents are simply horrified, the majority are quite happily following whatever the school teachers say and accuse the concerned parents as “monster parent” (a Japlish word that they use in katakana) – a troublemaker. The majority are more worried about their children’s prospect of getting into prestigious schools.

Read the entire article at:

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All shelters closing in hard-hit Ishinomaki

Officials in the city of Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture are closing the last remaining shelters for survivors of the March 11th earthquake and tsunami. Residents and volunteers have renewed their vow to rebuild their community.

About 50 of them gathered on Monday at one of the last remaining evacuation centers. All shelters will be closed on Tuesday because city authorities have finished building temporary housing units.

The survivors presented letters of gratitude and flowers to the volunteers who helped run the shelter. Some of them performed a traditional lion dance.

They also shared memories of the 7 months they spent at the evacuation center.

One man in his 60s said he will be sad to be separated from other survivors because they supported each other. He said he will hold onto the memory of the shelter and move forward. He also vowed to make a fresh start and return to where he used to live.

Ishinomaki is one of the areas in Japan’s northeast that was hit hardest by the earthquake and tsunami. About 50,000 people were staying at the city’s 250 evacuation centers at one point.

Monday, October 10, 2011 22:04 +0900 (JST)

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Gov’t decontamination work to cover low-radiation areas

TOKYO, Oct. 11, Kyodo

The Environment Ministry has decided to widen the area covered by a government-funded decontamination project to those with a minimum annual radiation exposure of 1 millisievert in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear crisis, officials said Tuesday.

The ministry lowered the minimum annual radiation exposure level from the previous 5 millisieverts in the face of calls by local governments.

The policy change is aimed at decontaminating low-radiation areas frequented by children, such as schools, the officials said.

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OCCUPY TOKYO?? Don’t laugh, there is a movement afoot.

Amateur protesters in the forefront of anti-nuclear demonstrations

photoA protest march held Oct. 9 in Tokyo’s Shibuya district (Teruo Kashiyama)

The Internet and simple word-of-mouth are proving to be unbeatable combinations in getting ordinary folk to come together for a common cause.

Protests against nuclear power plants held across Japan in recent months have had a distinct grass-roots civic movement flavor.

In a nutshell, amateur demonstrators are making their voices heard, and they are not relying on organized labor unions and other professional agitators to get the job done.

This was evident during a march held Oct. 9 in Tokyo’s Shibuya district. The demonstration was a particularly noisy affair as participants banged drums, even frying pans, and blew trumpets to attract attention.

An employee at a local restaurant, curious to find out what all the commotion was about, said, “I thought it was some kind of festival, but then I realized it was only a demonstration.”

One individual who has participated in a number of anti-nuclear protests since April does so because they are so enjoyable and quite unlike professional organized protests of the past where people were forced to take part.

Another person who marched with his pregnant wife said, “When I think about my wife and my child, I want the government to abolish dangerous nuclear plants immediately.”

The protest was organized by Minoru Ide, 31, who works in interior decorating and also plays in a punk band as a hobby.

Ide is very nervous about nuclear power and has carried a dosemeter to check radiation levels since disaster struck at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant northeast of Tokyo.

He considers himself an “amateur citizen” as opposed to the professionals in labor unions and other organizations that have played the central role in social movements until now.

While he applied to the police to hold the march, Ide had no organization. Interest spread via the Internet and word-of-mouth.

In his application to the police, Ide said he expected 100 people to turn up. In fact, 600 people showed up.

One of the web sites that had posted a notice about the protest had a link to video images of recent demonstrations in New York against corporate greed and Wall Street.

Hajime Matsumoto, who manages a shop that recycles goods in Tokyo’s Koenji district, is regarded by many as helping to kick off this new-found civic interest.

He was behind a highly publicized protest held in April.

Matsumoto, 36, graduated from university at a time when there were few job openings for new recruits. Matsumoto’s lack of ties to any traditional organization, like a company or a labor union, was instrumental in his being able to bring ordinary citizens together.

He has visited South Korea and France in an effort to develop cooperative ties. When images of his anti-nuclear protest were broadcast over the Internet, he was contacted by someone in Taiwan who wanted to organize a similar event.

The anti-Wall Street protests in the United States were also brought together by young people and the unemployed who learned of the events online.

At a gathering organized Sept. 19 and supported by Nobel Literature Prize winner Kenzaburo Oe, organizers said 60,000 people showed up.

The Japan Congress Against A- and H-Bombs (Gensuikin) was a key part of the organizing committee.

Gensuikin official Toshihiro Inoue estimates that only about half of that gathering was brought together by the organizations involved.

“While there is a sense of possibility in the actions of young people, it is also important to establish ties with people who we are certain will take part,” Inoue said. “What will be important is bringing those two sides together.”

Demonstrations in Japan took on a negative image from the 1980s after a number of violent incidents involving radical groups.

After 2000, demonstrations took on a new form, especially through protests against the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

The events were described as “peace walks” or “parades” and attracted several tens of thousands of people.

One of the organizers at the time, Ichiro Kobayashi, 41, said, “There is a strong negative image about demonstrations in Japan and there is also strong pressure to conform. We tried to not create an organization in order to produce a form that would make it easier for ordinary people to take part.”

He says the latest anti-nuclear protests seems to have been influenced by those earlier changes.

Kojin Karatani, 70, a noted literary critic, took part in demonstrations after the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake. It was the first time for him to do so in about half a century.

Karatani said he sensed that those who once took part in demonstrations as students joined the latest protests as though attending a reunion, while the younger participants were genuinely angry: not just toward nuclear energy, but over more pressing concerns.

Hiroshi Kainuma, a graduate student at the University of Tokyo who wrote “Fukushima ron” (On Fukushima), which looks into what nuclear energy meant for Fukushima Prefecture, offers words of caution about the extent to which the protests can spread.

“The movement will eventually run into a dead end if it gathers people through a confrontational structure of justice against evil and only attacks obvious targets such as the central government and Tokyo Electric Power Co.

“As an issue, nuclear energy is similar to what I call a lifestyle disease of Japan, in which continued economic growth was rampant by placing undue burdens on local communities. There will be a need to involve even the enemy to set a course that can change the social structure.”

(This article was written by Hideshi Nishimoto and Kazuyo Nakamura.)


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