Moral Disgrace: the abandoned people of Namie
Feb 6th, 2012 by Senrinomichi
In the immediate aftermath of the triple disaster, the residents of Namie unforgiveably evacuated in the same direction as the radioactive plume was headed, despite the fact that the government’s SPEEDI simulation system had correctly predicted the direction of the radiation, based on the prevailing wind pattern. In addition to failing to share this information with the local people – information which was made instantly available to the US military – neither the government nor TEPCO provided any proper evacuation assistance. Residents were forced to improvise, without having any idea where the radiation was heading.
Abandoned people. The trend was already emerging, though we didn’t yet know it.
In January, reports emerged from Nihonmatsu, where evacuees from Namie had been rehoused. Children living in a newly-built apartment block had been wearing dosimeters indoors and outdoors, and monitoring the results; when a teenager’s dosimeter showed consistently high readings (radiation levels higher inside than outside, and higher on the ground floor than on the upper levels), investigations revealed that the culprit was concrete; the stones used to make the cement for the brand-new apartment complex had come from a quarry in their former irradiated hometown…
Though I often referred to Namie, I never wrote up the story. I felt there was no way I could improve the article serialised in many parts in the Asahi Shimbun under the title The Prometheus Trap. The collected articles of Part one of this series are here. Part two is here. This is essential, if heartbreaking reading.
Today Ruthie Iida has published an article, which brings us up to date with the story of the abandoned people of Namie. Ruthie ties up all elements of the story quite beautifully, linearly, in a way I could not have done. She entitles her article an Act of Murder?, citing the allegation made by the Mayor of Namie on the criminal failure of the government to help the people of his town in their desperate hour of need. This too is essential reading.
It seems incredible that people should not be held accountable for what happened, or rather for what didn’t happen…
Please share the story of what happened in Namie. The people of Namie deserve this at very least.
And here is that article, reposted from:
An Act of Murder?
February 5, 2012 at 3:56 pm (Japan, Uncategorized)
Tags: Fukushima evacuation zones, Hiroaki Koide, Iitate village, Japan, Mayor Tamotsu Baba, Namie Town,Nihonmatsu, Prometheus Trap, radioactive cement,Senrinomichi
Yes, this is a pretty extreme title for one of my blog entries, but I’m only quoting the words of the Mayor of Namie Town, Fukushima. My previous post,” The Spirit of Madei“, told the story of another Mayor , Norio Kanno of Iitate Village, who advocated “slow life”, controlling one’s anger, and living in harmony with man and nature. While writing that particular post, I came to feel a great respect for the thoughtfulness and restraint of Mayor Kanno. I still feel that respect.
However, I am forced to admit that following the Mayor’s philosophy of retaining one’s dignity by not making a fuss will not effect change. Each day brings new and more outrageous news reports, and I’ve already been knocked off my peaceful plateau by stories about what happens when citizens don’t make a fuss. Mind you, I still think that retaining one’s serenity in the face of chaos is an admirable thing, and though I feel completely comfortable marching in demos, I would not be comfortable hollering into a microphone or leading the ranks. This past month’s news, however, makes me think I may need to move outside my comfort zone. For instance…
News reports during the third week in January featured reports from a town in Fukushima called Nihonmatsu, where
Apartment complex in Nihonmatsu…looked fancy, but it hid a deadly secret. (photo by Gen Hashimoto, Asahi Shinbun)
evacuees from Namie Town had been re-located. Children living in a newly-built apartment complex had been wearing dosimeters indoors and out, and monitoring the results; when a Jr. High school student’s dosimeter showed consistently high readings (radiation levels higher inside than out, and higher on the ground floor than on the upper levels), investigations showed that the culprit was….concrete. Ironically, the stones used to make the cement for their brand-new apartment complex had come from a quarry in their former irradiated hometown, Namie.
Neither the NHK televised report nor the reports in the daily papers used adjectives like “ironic” or ”unbelievable”–just the facts. Well, reports are one thing, but this is also a human interest story that begs to be written. Kevin Dodd, in his “Senrinomichi” blog, uses the analogy of a ghost train to describe Fukushima. While passengers doze in their seats, unaware of exactly where they are and what is passing by, the train progresses without ever reaching its destination . That is, unless (and this is the crucial part) passengers force themselves to stay awake and write postcards containing the stories, to be recorded in history and remembered. Thanks, Kevin, for that analogy, and here’s my postcard.
More on the contaminated concrete: a January 15th report from Kyodo News, stated that some 5,280 tons of crushed stones were shipped to some 19 different contractors from a quarry in Namie between the day of the quake and April 22nd. By the following week, investigations showed that at least sixty houses and condominium buildings in Fukushima Prefecture had been tainted by concrete made from Namie stones. According to another article from Kyodo News on January 24th, the same concrete was also used to re-build the infrastructure of damaged cities. In other words, Fukushima cars travel along roads built from radioactive asphalt, and walkers may stroll along the river, following the radioactive embankments. By January 26th, the amount of stones shipped from the quarry was listed at 5,725 tons, and more temporary housing units in Fukushima were deemed “likely” to have have been built from the radioactive concrete.
According to the head of the quarry in Namie, “I never imagined the crushed stones were radioactive when I shipped them. I feel very sorry for those who have been involved.” Fukushima Prefecture officials will help in finding new accommodations for those living on the first floor of the Nihonmatsu condominium, where radiation levels are highest. The Central Government “closely studied” the distribution routes of the Namie stones and the radiation levels of various housing units, but has declared that the annual radiation exposure in the units will not be high enough to warrant evacuation.
And that’s it: there’s been no news since then. Plenty of other head-shaking and even jaw-dropping incidents to focus on ( particularly the revelation that the central government’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency failed to keep records for 23 meetings held directly after the nuclear catastrophe. No records—nothing at all. They are now in the process of “reconstructing” the events of each meeting, for what it’s worth, ten months down the road. Although failing to keep public records is in violation of Japanese law, there is in fact no punishment involved for perpetrators, so the central government is legally off the hook, although its reputation at home and abroad is even further tarnished. Never mind tarnished, it’s shot. There’s really nothing left to uphold. )
Since the news has already moved on, let me go back and piece together the story of Namie Town for those of you who are not yet in the know. As you can see from the photo, Namie stretches from East to Northwest, and borders the ocean. The eastern area in particular suffered heavy damage from both the quake and the tsunami. After the explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, the town was under an information blackout which would prove to bring about tragic and still-reverberating consequences. While the citizens of Namie Town (dealing with the fresh emotional horror of the quake, the aftershocks, the tsunami damage, and the ensuing fear of the uncertain situation at the Fukushima Daiichi plant) were being assured that radiation levels outside of a 10 kilometer radius were safe, the central government was reviewing data based on radiation measurements that showed a blanket of radioactive fallout stretching as far south as Tokyo.
On March 14th, the central government’s computer-produced map predicting the pattern of the radiation fallout (the SPEEDI map, now a well-known and infamous entity) was shared with the US Military. This , oficials explained afterwards, was an effort to ensure US support, advice, and cooperation in the days to come. The US used this information in deciding on their own “safety zone” of a full 80 kilometers from the Daiichi plant. The SPEEDI map was not shared directly with residents, or even with the local government officials in Tohoku, who desperately needed the information to make life-changing decisions on behalf of their citizens. In fact, in those first days, there were no communications at all from the central government. Naoto Kan was busy directing an attempt to dump water from a tiny helicopter onto the smoking inferno that was the power plant. We all watched, as time and again the wind blew the meagre amount of water off-course and another helicopter bravely hovered over exactly the right spot in a futile effort to do something–anything–to avert further disaster. And so, lacking guidance and vital information, the Mayor of Namie decided to evacuate his people North, to the area of the town that lay furthest away from the still-smoking reactors.
The people of Namie, alerted by a community radio station broadcast, evacuated to the district of Tsushima, a mountainous region lying a full 30 kilometers Northwest of TEPCO, but still within the confines of Namie. Approximately 10,000 residents fled to Tsushima, where they were welcomed with generosity, receiving shelter and comfort as families, friends, and strangers set up housekeeping together in what they believed was a safe refuge. Mizue Kanno, who owns a spacious house in Tsushima, took in 25 friends and strangers on March 12th. She later told her story to Japan’s Asahi Shinbun, where it was published in serial form, under the title, “The Prometheus Trap“.
The serial story reveals that the radiation levels in Tsushima were, in fact, dangerously high on that day, but that police were forbidden to tell locals. Kanno-san and her
housemates learned of this from two mysterious men in white protective suits who drove to the house, stopping only long enough to warn them to evacuate immediately, then speeding off into the night. Sounds like something out of a novel?? Well, everything was surreal at that point in time, and Kanno-san and her new friends decided to trust the warning. Leaving in staggered groups, they all fled the Tsushima district; “Prometheus Trap” follows up, giving details on how they fared and where they eventually landed. Many others who had not been warned and chose to stay on in the district were exposed to varying levels of radiation. Although I share in the widespread dismay over the lack of detailed media coverage on many aspects of the 3-11 triple disaster, I give credit to Asahi for publishing the story, eight installments in all, in both its English and Japanese editions.
Let me continue the story where Prometheus Trap leaves off.
Take a leap of the imagina, and put yourself in the shoes of Namie mayor, Tamotsu Baba. He had successfully taken the initiative and evacuated citizens from the eastern part of the town when the western half of Namie (the Tsushima district) was then declared to be dangerous, and designated as part of a new, expanded evacuation zone. Those who had taken refuge in Tsushima from the eastern Namie were forced to move again, this time scattering far and wide. The Mayor himself became homeless, and felt the heavy burden of having chosen the wrong refuge for the citizens who had depended on him.
Some of the Namie citizens who fled the Tsushima district in March found shelter in the northerly village of Iitate, whose Mayor Norio Kanno welcomed them to his “slow life” community. Happy ending at last? No, not yet. Those of you who read my previous post know what happened in Iitate: an unexpected northwesterly wind had blown a blanket of radioactive snow straight across the village, effectively causing radiation levels matching–and in some places exceeding–levels within the evacuation zone. This was discovered some weeks after the fact, and Iitate was also evacuated, marking the third move for a number of Namie families.
Other Namie citizens fled from Tsushima to Nihonmatsu, a city lying well to the west of the evacuation zone…. and now it has been discovered that evacuee housing in Nihonmatsu has been built with radioactive cement from the Namie rock quarry, which continued to function after the majority of its citizens had evacuated. When I saw the article in the Japan Times, my heart sank. It seems that families from Namie have been betrayed many times over.
The radioactive cement incident is terribly disturbing, and the Ministry of Trade and Industry can certainly be blamed for establishing no radiation restrictions on crushed stones (if other products within radioactive zones have restrictions, why would stones not?) , and for allowing shipments to continue to leave the quarry well after residents, fearing for their health, had deserted the area. The head of the quarry’s protest (“I never imagined the stones might be radioactive!”) also rings hollow, and the central government’s easy dismissal of the incident is troubling as well. I remembered that the Mayor of Iitate had also fought to ensure that industries in his village could continue to function after the evacuation orders were in place, and wondered if similar damage was unknowingly done as a result of his desire to preserve his beloved Iitate’s economy. Complicated, isn’t it? I don’t pretend to have an answer, but I certainly recognize and feel the injustice suffered by the residents of both Iitate Village and Namie Town.
Now, fast-forward to January 2012, ten months after the quake. Namie Town’s Mayor Baba has learned that vital information that could have changed the fate of thousands of his town residents (the data contained in the SPEEDI map) had been purposely witheld. Apologizing for the “delay”, Reconstruction Minister Goshi Hosono explains that the central government had ”feared it might trigger panic. ” Ummmm…maybe a bit of panic had actually been in order, and certainly a measure of haste would have limited residents’ exposure to the high radiation levels in Namie following the quake and nuclear explosions. Certainly, if the mayors of both Iitate and Namie had realized the scope of the radioactive fallout, they would have acted differently, evacuating residents to areas well beyond the danger zone and preventing later multiple moves.
Mayor Baba of Namie recently spoke out in anAustralian news broadcast, regretting that, “Because we had no information we were unwittingly evacuating to an area where the radiation level was high, so I’m very worried about the people’s health. I feel pain in my heart but also rage over the poor actions of the government.” Yes, his word choice was “rage”. And it’s understandable rage at that. One never hears such extreme language in Japan (at least I personally do not), and his concluding statement is even more startling from the Japanese point of view. The Mayor himself realizes he’s breaking a social taboo by beginning it with an apology: “It’s not nice language, but I still think it was an act of murder. What were they thinking when it came to the people’s dignity and lives?” The answer is, tragically, that the central government was not thinking at all about either dignity or life, and Fukushima residents have every right to feel betrayed.
In fact, so do residents of Tokyo, and my own Kanagawa Prefecture. While we assumed ourselves well out of harm’s way, data generated by the government that we never saw clearly showed otherwise. Specifically, it showed that radiation levels on March 15th were alarmingly high, not just in Tohoku, but in Tokyo and Kanagawa as well. Hiroaki
Koide, from the Research Reactor Institute of Kyoto University ( a position he was relegated to as a form of “purgatory” according to some, because of his unguarded criticism of Japan’s nuclear industry) knew of the extent of this radioactive fallout, but was pressured to withhold the data from publication. Koide-san got his revenge by testifying in front of Japan’s Upper House Government Oversight Committee on May 23rd, and has since become somewhat of a national hero. His speech exposing the government’s dirty tricks and the reality of the threat of radioactivity to Japan’s children was viewed on live stream by thousands at home and abroad, while the you tube video has been widely viewed, shared, and translated into English. At every demo and rally I have attended, I’ve seen at least one, “Thank you, Koide-Senseii!” sign or banner.
And so, in the end, the full extent of the damage caused by the withholding of vital information by the Japanese government has yet to be evaluated. While Itaru Watanabe, representing the National Science Ministry, now admits that, “….maybe that same data [the SPEEDI map] should have been shared with the public, too. We didn’t think of that. We acknowledge that now,” residents of both Iitate Village and Namie Town continue to suffer from the aftermath of their respective evacuations and re-evacuations. Google Iitate Village, for instance, and you will find some disturbing statistics gathered from a recent survey of residents who evacuated. One third of all families, if the Wikipedia article is accurate, are now living apart from their children, which cannot be a good thing. The authors of the fine bi-lingual blog “SeeTell” take a strong stand on the SPEEDI incident, concluding that, “In the end, no-one will be held accountable for this act which was either a calculated and deliberate cover-up to protect the interests of the politicians, bureaucrats, nuclear industry, the US, and whoever else holds influence over this corrupt government or…well…there is no other explanation.”
As for me, I’ll do my best to speak up and speak out, in defense of those who were betrayed. Calling the government’s witholding of the SPEEDI map an “act of murder” is an extreme statement, but if there are a rash of deaths in years to come from the effects of internal radiation exposure, the Mayor’s words will have been prophetic. In the meanwhile, thousands of people must live with uncertainty and fear, for themselves and their children. That alone is reason for anger and for action. Thank you again for reading.
So, if you use these worms to catch fish off the coast of northern Japan, will you get a dangerous amount of radiation, or is that just baseless rumor?
High radioactive cesium levels detected in worms 20 km from nuke plant
Radioactive cesium registering some 20,000 becquerels per kilogram has been found in worms 20 kilometers from the damaged Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
The cesium was detected by a team including Motohiro Hasegawa, chief researcher in soil zoology at Japan’s Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute. Worms are a source of food for many wild animals, and it is feared that radiation could gradually accumulate in the bodies of animals throughout the food chain.
Article continues at:
Temperature rises at Fukushima No.2 reactor
The operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant says the temperature in the No.2 reactor remains high despite the injection of additional water.
A thermometer at the bottom of the reactor showed 73.3 degrees Celsius on Monday morning. It was around 45 degrees on January 27th and 71.7 degrees at 4 PM on Sunday.
Tokyo Electric Power Company began injecting 10.6 tons of water per hour from around 1:30 AM on Monday. That’s one ton more per hour than before.
The utility says 2 other thermometers placed at the bottom of the reactor have been giving readings of about 44 degrees.
It says the flow of water in the reactor may have changed after plumbing work, causing difficulties in cooling the nuclear fuel.
In December last year, the government and TEPCO declared the 3 reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant had been successfully put into a state of cold shutdown as their temperatures had fallen below 100 degrees. But the situation inside the reactors remains unknown.
TEPCO says the regulations set after the state of cold shutdown was achieved require the utility to keep temperatures inside the reactors below 80 degrees.
So it says the No.2 reactor is still in the state of cold shutdown.
Monday, February 06, 2012 13:12 +0900 (JST)
More from EX-SKF at:
Fukushima I Nuke Plant Reactor 2 RPV Temperature: 71.7 Degrees Celsius as of 4PM on 2/5/2012
The data is not entered yet in TEPCO’s plant parameter page. The last measurement of the location – RPV Bottom Part – is at 11AM on February 5, at 68.6 degrees Celsius (as reported in the previous post).
So it went up 3.1 degrees Celsius in 5 hours, the sharpest rise yet since February 1.
From Jiji Tsushin (8:16PM 2/5/2012):
Reactor 2 RPV temperature at Fukushima I Nuke Plant risen above 70 degrees Celsius, TEPCO increases water injection
TEPCO announced on February 5 that one of the thermometers on the bottom of the Reactor Pressure Vessel of Reactor 2 at Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant registered 71.7 degrees Celsius at 4PM. The location is one of several temperatures that [the company uses] to gauge the situation. The temperature there has risen sharply since it registered 52.0 degrees Celsius at 11PM on February 1. However, at two other locations at the same height, the temperatures remain steady around 45 degrees Celsius. TEPCO is considering the possibility of instrument failure, but in the meantime has increased the amount of water injected into the reactor by 1 tonnes, to 9.6 tonnes/hour and see if it makes difference.
The new safety regulation approved by the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency after the March 11, 2011 accident specifies that it is considered “deviation from operational limit” when the temperature taken at the standard locations reaches 80 degrees Celsius or the amount of injection water is increased by 1 tonnes [per hour?] per day, and the local municipalities have to be notified. TEPCO is planning the analysis of the gas inside the reactor in order to maintain the “cold shutdown state” where the temperature remains 100 degrees Celsius and lower and to prevent “recriticality” where the melted fuel starts nuclear chain reaction.
I wonder if the local municipalities have been notified.
Temperature rises sharply at Fukushima reactor
Tokyo Electric Power Co. reported a spike in temperature in the No. 2 reactor at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on Feb. 5, forcing it to increase the volume of cooling water there as a precautionary step.
TEPCO said cooling water may not have reached part of the fuel in the reactor’s pressure vessel while it switched to different piping for injecting water and changed the volume of water.
According to TEPCO, a thermometer at the bottom of the pressure vessel measured 71.7 degrees as of 4 p.m. Feb. 5, up from 52 degrees on Feb. 1.
However, readings at two other thermometers installed at the same height in the reactor have remained stable at around 45 degrees.
Radiation levels have shown no changes within the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
The amount of cooling water was increased by 1 ton per hour to 9.6 tons, and the temperature fell to 69.4 degrees as of 5 p.m.
In December, the government said the reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, damaged by the Great East Japan Earthquake, achieved cold shutdown, meaning temperatures are maintained below 100 degrees.
However, thermometer readings can sometimes be out by as much as 20 degrees. Therefore, a reading exceeding 80 degrees could mean that conditions for cold shutdown have been compromised.
New safety regulations were introduced at the Fukushima No. 1 plant after it was disabled last March. If the thermometer at the bottom of the pressure vessel shows a temperature reading of 80 degrees or more, or the volume of cooling water is increased by more than 1 ton per hour in a single day, TEPCO is required to notify local governments of such changes.
TEPCO will analyze gas in the reactor within a few days to check whether a chain of nuclear fission has occurred again in the melted fuel.
Yes, but will they really tell it as it is?
Japan enlists foreign bloggers to revive tourism in quake-hit areas
TOKYO, Feb. 6, Kyodo
Japan’s Foreign Ministry is inviting prominent overseas bloggers and twitterers to visit areas devastated by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
The ministry has launched the initiative to revive the tourist industry in quake-hit northeastern Japan. It wants foreign guests to write about the progress made in rebuilding disaster-ravaged communities and let the world know that the area still remains an appealing holiday destination.
At the ministry’s invitation, Spanish blogger Roger Ortuno Flamerich came to Japan in December, followed by Louisa Liu Chu, 45, a food blogger from Chicago and Khaled Hamza, 48, editor-in-chief of the official website of the Muslim Brotherhood from Egypt, who arrived here on Jan. 31.
The latest from Arnie Gundersen
IAEA states that they are not responsible for nuclear safety – it’s not in their charter to make safety regulations.
Area near Yokohama school closed due to high radiation levels
A vacant lot beside a canal near an elementary school in Yokohama’s Seya Ward, has been designated a no-entry area following the detection of high levels of radiative cesium.
According to Yokohama authorities, topsoil to a depth of 1 cm was found to be emitting 6.85 microsieverts per hour, almost 12 times the government’s legal limit of 0.59 microsieverts per hour, TV Asahi reported Saturday.
The radiation is believed to be connected to the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, city officials said. Authorities added that they have closed the premises of the disused canal in response to the discovery, TV Asahi reported.
Plans are being made to decontaminate the site by removing topsoil, a spokesperson added.