Tuesday, March 29, 2011

March 30 - Meltdown? ..... Whatever...

9:00 AM - Reports of what is happening at Fukushima continue to run the gamut from, not-to-worry (too much), to uncontrolled massive release of radiation.   After 2 weeks of this roller-coaster ride, a certain amount of fatigue is setting in.  Stoicism,  complacency or inertia.... I don't know which, but till things become clear, I don't intend to uproot my life on the basis of speculation.  Tokyo has been my home for 20 years.  I like the people here.   My children are happy in their studies and we all feel comfortable.  Barring a large radioactive plume containing dangerous levels of radiation, the plan for us is to sit tight and carry on.

The hustle and bustle of Tokyo life remains greatly diminished.  With the problems in the economy prior to the quake, it looks like the decreased economic activity may push many already struggling businesses over the edge.  Tokyo Disney Land is out of operation so that is a massive hit to local hotels.  No foreign visitors to Tokyo either (and even to areas far away from Tokyo).  So the hotel business is hurting.   Foot traffic in shops is way down, and will probably continue to be down for quite some time.  I'd expect a round of layoffs and restructuring to follow as businesses adjust.  

Still following the relief efforts in Fukushima.   The initial problems of distribution of food and water seem to have been addressed.  Now it is a matter of sorting out what to do with the folks who have seen their homes and communities wiped out by the tsunami, and now contaminated by radioactive particles.  Many are having to make the difficult decision of whether to start life over in another area, or try to go back to what is left of their communities.   Impossible to imagine how hard it must be for them.   I feel selfish to be overly concerned about my situation in Tokyo when I think of what the people in the areas hit by the tsunami must be going through.   Proud of the strength of character of the Japanese people and glad that the US is helping up there.   Hope world events in Libya and other areas won't diminish the focus and aid that needs to continue to be provided to the tsunami victims. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

March 26 - Uncertainty reigns...

10:55 AM -  Daily life in Tokyo goes on at a subdued pace.  No one is hurting for staple goods and many things continue to go on as normal (mail, trash pick up, etc.)  But, fewer businesses are open, fewer commuters are  on the trains, and people are not out very much.  What seems to be settling in is an air of uncertainty.  Every day we look at the news we are forced to work out for ourselves the meaning of the vague and often contradictory statements coming from the government.  It doesn't help that many sources from the media are alarmist and trumpet false reports.  At the same time the government tends to prefer to downplay everything.  What this leaves us Tokyoites with, is a feeling of real uncertainty.  Is the situation at the plants going to get under control or will it escalate?  Will it be spewing highly radioactive materials over Tokyo for months to come?  Is that a real possibility? 

Uncertainty is not good.  Imagine getting reports from the government that infants shouldn't drink the water 'today', but that the next day, it is perfectly OK to give your kids the water.  Who among us would do that?  So we ask, what is next?  No one really knows.  The result is that people can't get on with their lives, make decisions or even feel comfortable going to and from work.  Businesses certainly can't have uncertainty like this hanging over their daily operations.  If this drags out for months, and there are more and more events that spread even low levels of radiation, Tokyo could be in for very tough times.

Of interest to me was what happened to the USS Ronald Reagan.  Apparently the crew "freaked out" about radiation levels.  They had to decontaminate parts of the ship and steam out of the affected area.  In retrospect, this must have been what motivated the hasty departure of the USS George Washington from Yokosuka.  (Freak out on USS Ronald Reagan)

March 25 - Nothing here... move along...

4:00 PM -  Yesterday, it was the neutron beam story and today there is a report of possible breach of the containment.  (breach)  Hard to know how serious any of this is and what the potential might be for major release of radiation.  Just have to watch carefully.  Nothing else to do.

Trains running more regularly today but not 100%.  The local mall is open but stores nearly deserted.  Very low level of activity on the streets and in the stores.  Heard a report today of businesses considering moving operations out of Tokyo so they can be assured of stable situation.   Staple foods fine. 

Tried to plug in to efforts at relief in the Sendai area, but JRCS and CrashJapan both replied that they can't deal with individual efforts to help yet.  So, the best way to help remains to give money.  Saw an article about "Samaritan's Purse" getting a load of their emergency packs to people in Sendai and Miyagi.   The US military helped with delivery.  Glad to see these organizations helping each other.  The need is there now.  Had to turn off the TV because the stories of loss were just too much.  

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

March 24 - Neutron beams? What now?

11:51 AM - Just before going to bed last night there was a report of neutron beams being observed coming from the stricken plants in Fukushima.  Since this would seem to indicate that fission is taking place again, and greatly ups the seriousness of the situation there, one would think there would be a lot of discussion and analysis of this news.  So far, nothing.  News is focusing on Iodine and Cesium radiation in the food chain and water, and hasn't really explained the causes and potential ramifications of the appearance of the neutron beams.  So now I have to try to become knowledgeable about it in order to anticipate the potential repercussions for us.  Hard to go about ones life normally when these kinds of announcements leave one struggling to get useful, timely and trustworthy information upon which to make important decisions. 

Aftershock today that gave us a good jolt then nothing more.  Train schedules were reduced and bus runs more limited.  Trains going to Tokyo were almost empty at 7:30 this morning, when they are usually so full you are pressed up against other passengers.  Up escalators were turned on, down escalators turned off, which is an improvement over a couple days ago when they were all off.  The bright lights have been turned off at stores and shops everywhere.  It adds to the drab mood that is taking hold.  Staple foods are becoming more and more available but gas is still difficult to get. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

March 23 - Cloudy with a chance of radiation?

3:22 PM -  Iodine 131 levels in Tokyo tap water are now above safety limits for babies.  How does this happen given the distance from Fukushima and the low levels of radiation being reported?  Are we Tokyoites the frogs in the cookpot with more news everyday of incremental increases in radiation?  (tap water radiation levels for Tokyo)

2:21 PM - Excerpt from another blog (blog link) that captures the mood of Tokyo ... "The darkness of the capital feels incredibly appropriate lately. Every partially lit shop I pass, is like a flag flown at half mast.  Every unlit window is a constant reminder that so many, so close to us, are going through such unimaginable suffering. With so much empathy everywhere I look, it becomes impossible to forget a what I saw in the news today.
At the graduation ceremony for a junior high school in Miyagi, a father attends in place of his son who was washed away in the tsunami.  The man holds up a photograph of the boy in a baseball uniform as the accepts his son's diploma.
Moving through the train stations, the signs, billboards, clocks and vending machines that I had always presumed to be constructed of naturally glowing material, have gone dark and are hardly visible.
In Iwate, the results of the high school entrance exam- taken before the earthquake- are posted today.  A solemn-faced boy in his school uniform tells a reporter that he really wants to go tell his mother that he passed the test.  But she is still missing.
There are over 10,000 stories like these, and likely just as many darkened shops in the capital.  So perhaps it's my survivor's guilt talking, but personally, I am in no hurry to see the neon begin burning again."

11:25 AM - Saw some sun today after a couple days of rain.  So far, radiation levels in Tokyo remain normal.  Nuclear plants generally seem to be moving slowly toward being controlled but will be periodically venting nuclear materials at various levels of radioactivity for some time to come.

No blackouts for us yet, but after the 3 day weekend, today is a business day and demand is up again, so blackouts scheduled.  We still get the occasional aftershock and the constant need to check the news for updates on emergency information does increase anxiety levels a bit.  Still, compared to what the people of Fukushima are dealing with, it would be selfish to be overly worried about these minor issues.

Progress in getting food, water and gas to stricken areas in Fukushima is being made slowly.  11 days after the quake and still some people in shelters are lacking water and food.  This seems inexcusable.  This article talks about the government red tape and inflexibility that is stymieing the efforts at relief. Red tape

Monday, March 21, 2011

March 22 - KI pills available to US gov employees... all others, you're on your own.

10:05 PM - Probably the best article I've run across about how to help the people in Fukushima.  How to help

6:49 PM - Just got the news that the USS Geo Washington interrupted its maintenance cycle and got underway today to avoid a radioactive plume that is headed toward Tokyo area and will deposit more radioactivity "in the next 24 hours than in the previous 10 days".   No mention of the source of this info and no coverage in Tokyo news of any plume with higher levels of radiation.  Local monitors show no signs of significant increase.  So, is the Navy being very cautious with their 4.5 billion dollar investment or do they know something we don't?  GW report transcript   GW leaves town, video

The US Ambassador has made sure gov personnel and dependents are taken care of.  US citizens working in the economy not associated with the gov are left to fend for themselves.  Meanwhile, Ambasadoor Roos's Twitter feeds are all about what a great job the embassy is doing. 

12:00 PM  - Nothing much new on the situation with nuclear plants.   Every day that goes by without a major setback adds confidence that there won't be a large release of radiation.  Rainy day again today.  Off to work.

I note the British embassy has provided their citizens with KI pills or means to get them.  Not so the US embassy, that has limited distribution to US gov personnel and dependents.   Not that I think we need these pills at this point, but what are we... chopped liver?

Embassy's Travel Warning update follows:

On March 21, 2011, consistent with NRC guidelines that apply to such a situation in the United States, the U.S. Government is making available Potassium Iodide (KI) as a precautionary measure for United States Government personnel and dependents residing within Nagoya (Aichi Prefecture), Tokyo (Tokyo Capital Region), Yokohama (Kanagawa Prefecture), ....The KI should only be consumed after specific instruction from the United States Government. While there is no indication that it will become advisable to take KI, out of an abundance of caution the United States Government is making it available to its personnel and family members to be used only upon direction if a change in circumstances were to warrant. No-one should take KI at this time. In the event of a radiological release, sheltering in place or departing the affected area remain the primary means of protection.
........ For private U.S. citizens seeking information about KI, we advise you to contact your doctor or employer. Should you need further assistance contact the Department of State by emailing JapanEmergencyUSC@state.gov or calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

March 21 - Looking at the long term

2:51 PM - Things could still turn bad at plants 2, 3 or 4, but there is growing confidence that they won't.  Every day that passes seems to show some progress in being able to avert a major release of radiation.  Now, the issue becomes dealing with the radiation that has already escaped and the cumulative effects of any subsequent releases of even low levels.  Foods from as far as 120km from the plants are showing increases in radiation levels already so the new concern for Tokyoites is food and water contamination levels and just how  comfortable we feel with assurances that those levels are not going to be harmful.  contamination story I'm back to the analogy of the frog in the cooking pot with the heat being turned up very very slowly.  Still, I feel there is no need to jump (leave Tokyo) but radiation levels in the air, water and food supply bear close watching.

As for life just west of Tokyo, it is a rainy but relatively warm day.  National holiday too, so no need to go to work.  Milk was available and my favorite senbei were back on the shelves yesterday!  The inconveniences that occurred just after the quake are disappearing in the Tokyo area.  Rolling blackouts being scheduled for tomorrow.  We'll see if they materialize.

Beginning to be concerned about what recovery will look like for Tokyo.  Given the uncertainty that will remain for months about operations here, businesses will have to adjust by relocating as much of their operations as they can to outlying areas to avoid stoppages.  Also, I wonder how schools and universities will deal with the situation when the new academic year starts in a couple weeks.  The question becomes, what will the new normal be for Tokyo.

Finally, it seems that relief is flowing more consistently to those in Fukushima although still lots of bottlenecks.   The JSDF as well as US forces have been helping a lot and the government is working through some of the initial communication and logistics problems that resulted from the tsunami destroying roads.  The Japanese people in the area have just been amazing with their cooperation with and help for their neighbors.  Their example is something that all of us should admire and emulate. cooperation