Archive for the ‘2011 Japan Quake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Crisis’ Category

Fukushima Radiation Causes Serious Loss of Mental Capacity

October 13th, 2015 Comments off

I get real tired of alarmist reports of Fukushima mutations. A recent one: ‘Mutant flowers’ found near Fukushima. The Mirror warns about how someone in Tochigi Prefecture found “mutated” flowers. Such reports are quickly spread across the Internet by Fukushima-themed anti-nuclear web sites.

The problem: one can find such mutations nearly anywhere in the world. There’s even a name for it: Fasciation. While it can be caused by radiation, it can also be caused by “bacterial infection, mite or insect attack, or chemical or mechanical damage.”

There’s rarely proof that these were found where they claimed to be, and one can find identical photos taken throughout the world by normal people in normal places. Make no mistake: Fukushima was a horrific disaster, with powerful effects. However, nothing is helped by jumping at every shadow and then running around with your hair on fire.

In effect, this “mutant flower” is little different from a four-leaf clover, something with identical causes but which we usually find delightful. It’s pretty much certain that the exact same mutations were happening in those places before Fukushima, but now people jump to conclusions when they see them.

Here’s an idiot intrepid reporter who actually blames Fukushima for mutations in birds and flowers found in Michigan and Massachusetts. You see the problem: these places probably have about a thousand times more radiation from natural background sources than from Fukushima radiation (if there is any Fukushima radiation in these locations at all).

Nor is it just online hacks; there was a medical study published back in June 2011, just 3 months after the disaster, which claimed that there was a “35 per cent spike in infant mortality in northwest cities” that “may well” be due to Fukushima radiation. Naturally, the study was a crock, cherry-picking random spikes in specific cities to produce the desired conclusion.

One thing that you can be sure is caused by Fukushima radiation: hysteria.

Fukushima: On Whose Minds?

October 29th, 2013 4 comments

I saw this in Bloomberg today, highlighted on Sullivan’s blog:

As Tokyo shook early Saturday morning and loud shrieks from mobile-phone earthquake-warning alarms filled bedrooms around the city, one word immediately sprung to mind: Fukushima.

Those who don’t reside 135 miles away from the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl won’t understand this reaction. But the first thing most of Tokyo’s 13 million residents do once things stop wobbling is check if all’s well at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant still leaking radiation into the atmosphere and the Pacific Ocean.

My first reaction to reading this was, “What?” That’s not what I do. That’s not what anyone I know does.

This guy is full of shit. Cell phones did not go off last weekend. The alarm system only activates if an earthquake measuring 5 or greater on the Japanese damage scale hits, and last weekend was a 4. And people here do not nervously scramble to see if Fukushima was set off. Quakes have been so common here for the past few years, people just go, “Well, that wasn’t so big” and go back to their business. If one thing springs to everyone’s minds when the alarms do go off, it’s more likely, “Will this one hit Tokyo?”

This brings me back to the days after the big earthquake, when western news sources were reporting on the “panic gripping Tokyo” and the streets being deserted as everyone was “fleeing” the city.

Which was, of course, complete and utter crap. The streets downtown were empty because businesses were closed, the trains were not running, and people were not coming to work or going shopping in the center of the city.

Few people fled the city, and of those who did, many were non-Japanese who were panicked more from western news sources than anything else. That was such a notable exception that a new word was even coined to describe them: flyjin, a play on the Japanese word for foreigner, gaijin. Japanese people mostly sat tight.

And panic did not grip the city. People were tense, concerned—but there was no panic.

And now? Does everyone immediately think of Fukushima after every quake and check on Fukushima’s status?

Don’t make me laugh. Fukushima is in the news still, but people mostly ignore it nowadays. I rarely hear anyone talk about it. And after a quake, most people don’t check anything, except maybe for a few worriers.

The reporter who wrote that dreck actually seems to live in Tokyo. He should know better. My best guess is that he was trying to stir up interest in his writing by adding drama. People in the U.S. seem to be more rattled over Fukushima than do people in Japan—which is ironic, since the levels of radiation in Tokyo have been barely above normal background radiation. In fact, even at the height of the crisis, Tokyo was exposed to no more radiation than is consistently experienced in Denver (due to high altitude), save for very brief peaks.

Fukushima, naturally, is much worse. But Tokyo? We’re not sweating much here.

A Year Later

March 11th, 2012 4 comments

It’s 3/11.

Last year, it was a Friday, and like today, we were emerging from winter, still cold but warming. I was at school, on the 6th floor of my college’s building with other faculty members, preparing for my afternoon classes.

When the quake started at 2:46 pm, we felt a slight shaking. It was so similar to quakes commonly felt–Tokyo gets them all the time–we simply noted it at a level where we wondered whether or not to even say anything, to note, “hey, there’s a quake.”

This is also where you stop what you’re doing and pause, knowing that it could get bigger. And it did.

After a few seconds, the quake intensified to the level where we thought, “Wow, this one is a bit bigger than we normally feel.” Again, we felt it was nothing big, but at the same time, remained paused and alert should it grow.

And it did. By the third increase, we were all beginning to fear that this was a large one. I think somebody said that, something like “this could be big!”; it might even have been me, I don’t remember.

I think it was about at the time of the fourth surge that we got the distinct impression that it was big. A free-standing divider wall started shaking more than we’d seen it in even the strongest quakes. Things we’d never seen move before started moving.

And then it got intense. Books and stacks of paper started shifting across desks and shelves. You could hear the structure of the building beginning to complain. Furniture on casters, like chairs and the copy machine, started moving around. People started to scramble for cover, moving under desks; I got under a desk chair well myself.

And then we hit the strongest stage. Things started flying around; desk drawers flew open. Most items on the desks were dumped onto the floor. Under the desk, I re-evaluated the wisdom of being there as the damn thing kept moving back and forth, in the process banging the side of my head every beat of the quake.

It was at this point that everyone started to fear that the building itself would collapse. We were all thinking, “this is the big one.” However, I remember also realizing at the time that if it had been centered in Tokyo, or nearby, it would likely by more vertical in the shaking, and probably would not build as slowly as it did. It struck me that, as bad as this was, we were not even close to the epicenter. And yet, this was a huge quake, stronger than anything I’d ever felt–and I lived all of my life in either the San Francisco Bay Area, a few miles from the San Andreas fault line, or in Tokyo, near the convergence of four major tectonic plates (North American, Eurasian, Filipino, and Pacific).

A geologist who lectured on the event at LCJ later told me that the quake was actually a series of events, each one triggered by the last, this being the reason for the stages of intensification, rather than all the force hitting at once.

Eventually, after what seemed like five minutes but was more likely two or three, the quake started dying down. We came out from our hiding places and it began to sink in what had happened. The office looked exactly like this:

We evaluated and then acted. After something this big, we knew we could not stay in the building. We had no idea if an aftershock could send the structure tumbling down or not. After taking a few photos like the one above, I started going down through the building, telling people to make their way down to the street, where we’d organize and move to an evacuation area. When I got to the library, it was a mess. Books were literal everywhere. Thanks to the librarian’s foresight in having special braces on the stacks, however, none of them had fallen, and our students were spared injury from that, at least.

We got down to the street, really unprepared for what was going on. Few thought to bring their things with them, and some were without sufficient layers in the still chilly air. Everyone was outside chatting, people trying to figure out what happened, speculating on where the earthquake had been centered. Phones were out, but 3G Internet connections were still going (they slowed after the quake, but never stopped), and within a 10-15 minutes, we started seeing reports on news services, reporting a 7.9 quake.

We were hardly the only ones outside. Everyone was. I never knew, for example, how many dogs lived in the area, but walking around, you could see all the tenants of local buildings, gathered with family and pets. Workers from all nearby offices wandered around or clustered together.

Aftershocks hit frequently. There was a 40-story high-rise under construction nearby, still with four cranes at the top of the building, each with a crow’s nest control booth. We could still see them swaying widely. I can only imagine what it must have felt like to be in one of those when the quake hit. It must have been a nightmare.

There was surprisingly little damage. A few ceramic roof tiles falling to the street and breaking was as bad as it got in most places. The worst I saw that whole day was near the evacuation center, where a retaining wall for a temple and cemetery broke and spilled earth down on to the street below.

We eventually migrated to a nearby school yard designated as a post-disaster gathering place. We had established the fact that no one was hurt in the actual quake–very few were in Tokyo, surprisingly. Students began grouping and talking. I remember one student mentioning that they had family up in Tohoku, where by this time we knew the quake had struck. He was worried about them, worried about a tsunami. I believe that was our student from Ishinomaki, one of the towns most devastated by the tsunami.

After an hour or two, it was apparent that everything was under control. The staff were organizing what to do, and most teachers had no way home and were set to stay with the students in the same situation. Some students were already filtering out, especially those who lived not far away. Others had gone to local train stations and had come back–the lines were out and not likely to start running anytime soon.

Two to three million people commute into Tokyo every day, and now they had nothing but their feet to take them back. Good luck getting a taxi. I don’t even know if buses were running, but if they were (traffic was actually rather normal), they were bound to be overflowing.

I was in a special situation. Usually, I take the train like everyone else, as I have since we moved out to West Tokyo. However, that day, by pure chance, I had my scooter. I needed to get some documents from city hall for our house purchase, and I had decided on the spur of the moment to use my scooter and pick up the documents on the way.

Luckily, while everyone was being taken to the evacuation area, I decided to go to a gas station and fill up. I say it was lucky because after that afternoon, gas became incredibly scarce (due to refinery fires and broken distribution lines). When I got to the gas station–an expensive one, being in downtown Shinjuku–business was surprisingly light. I was even more surprised that the gas station was still operating after such a huge quake. I filled up my tank–the last gas I would be able to get for another two weeks.

However, after everything was getting squared away, I was beginning to worry about Sachi. Phones were out, and I could not get in touch with her by text messaging. I felt guilty leaving the school and the students, and stuck around for as long as I felt I could be useful, but eventually, could not take it any more. People were already striking out to walk home–some of them 5-15 kilometers away–and enough faculty and staff were staying on that there would be no lack of supervision. As everyone prepared to head back to the school for shelter for the oncoming evening, I took my scooter and headed home, traveling with a regularity few enjoyed that day.

Traffic was normal, and damage along the way was very hard to notice. Some emergency vehicles were out and about, but on my way home, things looked surprisingly normal. I got home, and Sachi was OK. Nothing was damaged. Later that day, I rode my bicycle to the house we would later buy, and it all checked out–no damage there, either.

So we watched the news, and learned of the tsunami, and learned of Fukushima. There is a gravity to such things as they unfold, a terrifying slowness, a feeling of falling, out of control, and nothing to do but watch. We saw the eastern coastal cities washed under water, we saw the buildings at the nuclear plant literally explode. We began to study wind patterns and find web sites to monitor radiation levels.

With Fukushima, everything was clouded by politics and secrecy. Neither TEPCO nor the Japanese government were telling the public what they needed to know. People in the nuclear industry reported that things were not nearly as bad as they were. People in the anti-nuclear realm regularly forecast major disasters, some saying that it was inevitable that much of Honshu would be uninhabitable. You feared the worst, hoped for the best.

The people hardest hit were in fact in the path of the tsunami. At least 20,000 people died. Entire towns were wiped out, erased with a graceless swath of ocean. It will take years before anything like normalcy will return for most of them. They still need help today.

Distribution lines were cut, suppliers temporarily out of business. Instant noodles, toilet paper, and batteries disappeared the most quickly, but for at least 10 days, half the shelves at most markets were empty. You could get food well enough, but at that point, we weren’t sure how long any of this would last, so there was some insecurity. Bread, milk, and other perishable goods returned to market shelves in Tokyo after a little less than two weeks. Some brands and products never returned, making us wonder why they didn’t.

My school shut down operations, switching to online mode, with teachers handling students from a distance. Aftershocks, large ones, hit regularly. In the days following the quake, they hit every hour or two, or so it seemed.

Fukushima, however, overshadowed everything. The tsunami, as terrible as it was, was over; the plight of those who had lost everything was drowned out by the drama of the nuclear power plants.

Foreign media and governments tended to react badly, If the Japanese government played their cards too closely, the foreign reaction was the equivalent of a meltdown on its own. TV reporters tried to sensationalize everything, suggesting that Tokyo was gripped by panic and fear. People were “evacuating” the capital city, and the streets were deserted by a fearful populace.

The truth, however, was far from that. The only people I saw panicking were some foreign residents, primarily the ones who paid too full heed to the alarmists warning that Japan was effectively a death trap waiting to explode. Most Japanese people I knew took the whole thing as calmly as you could expect anyone to. People were uneasy, but there was nothing much anyone could do about it, so life went on. The empty streets reporters highlighted as evidence of panic were in fact empty because businesses were shut down and trains were not running regularly. Expecting people to mill around as usual in a downtown area which had been more or less shut down was a ridiculous proposition at best.

Screen Shot 2011-03-17 At 4.13.16 Pm

Because of the sensationalist hair-on-fire attitude of the foreign media, a lot of people left, many never to return. Many of the rest of us who stayed were less than respectful, I will admit. One person I knew, who commonly freaked out at things like the health hazards of WiFi base stations, left Tokyo for good out of fear of the radiation–and relocated, in all places, to Poland. This person had roots there, but I am not sure if they were aware that Chernobyl was not far away and probably represented just as serious a radiation threat as Fukushima did to Tokyo.

Foreign reporters covering the tsunami would either stay in Tokyo to avoid traveling anywhere near Fukushima, or else would take incredibly circuitous routes to get around the radiation plumes–apparently unaware that their flight to Japan exposed them to more radiation than they could possibly be exposed to by anything less than being close up and personal with the nuclear plant itself.

It’s a year later, and while Fukushima is pretty much screwed, we seem to be doing just fine here in Tokyo.

As I said, the victims of the tsunami were the ones who actually deserved the attention. And far from running around in a panic, they held up as gallantly and as well as one could hope. Here’s an excellent example of a man coming out of his ruined house, in the midst of a destroyed town. At age 72, he looked out cheerfully and said, “Let’s rebuild again!”

That was more like how Japan reacted.

A year on, the region is still devastated, but people are resilient. Life goes on. You want to see how things have happened, see if you can catch this movie, Pray for Japan, which documents what happened in Ishinomaki. That town, by chance, is where one of my college’s students came from, and which my school has focused on helping since then.


August 19th, 2011 3 comments

Less than an hour ago, a 6.5 quake (some reports put it at 6.8, but the USGS has 6.5) struck off of Fukushima, causing a 1.5-foot-tall tsunami in areas. The quake shook us fairly well here in Tokyo; Sachi and I felt it strongly, and it shook the TV as we were watching it. (Ponta didn’t budge, but this one had an epicenter pretty far away, if that makes any difference.) But we took it in stride, waiting to see how big it got and then going on with our business.

Now, normally, a 6.8 is a big deal. The Loma Prieta quake of ’89 was a 6.9, killing over 60 people. The 2003 quake in Bam, Iran, was a 6.6 and killed more than 40,000. There are at least 16 quakes in the past hundred years that killed 2000 or more people.

Today’s quake was one of the largest aftershocks of the 3/11 quake; there have been 71 aftershocks greater than 6.0, and 16 at 6.5 or greater. (This site has the best data.)

Now, I know it was a 9.0–but it’s been five months now. Exactly when do we see these things end?

Getting a Clear Picture

June 24th, 2011 1 comment

It’s pretty difficult to get a completely accurate read on how bad things are after the Fukushima reactor. A great deal of this is due to news stories which focus on sensationalism without actually checking the facts.

Take a recent Al Jazeera story, titled “Fukushima: It’s much worse than you think.” Much of the story may or may not be true, but take this nugget:

In the US, physician Janette Sherman MD and epidemiologist Joseph Mangano published an essay shedding light on a 35 per cent spike in infant mortality in northwest cities that occurred after the Fukushima meltdown, and may well be the result of fallout from the stricken nuclear plant.

The eight cities included in the report are San Jose, Berkeley, San Francisco, Sacramento, Santa Cruz, Portland, Seattle, and Boise, and the time frame of the report included the ten weeks immediately following the disaster.

“There is and should be concern about younger people being exposed, and the Japanese government will be giving out radiation monitors to children,” Dr MV Ramana, a physicist with the Programme on Science and Global Security at Princeton University who specialises in issues of nuclear safety, told Al Jazeera.

Sounds pretty striking. However, when you actually think about it, it also sounds completely bogus. Radiation levels along the west coast of the U.S. barely showed any trace of radioactivity from Japan, and what was found was insignificant in the context of background radiation. For this to result in a 35% spike in infant mortality sounds rather ludicrous, and should not pass anyone’s initial sniff test.

Sure enough, the data was found to be incorrect, if not fraudulent. The essay cherry-picked eight cities which made a writer for Scientific American “pick up a whiff of data fixing,” and the essay used only a four-week period prior to the Fukushima disaster to establish a baseline for infant mortality. Coincidentally, those four weeks showed strikingly low mortality rates, most likely a statistical blip–from the fifth week back, rates were considerably higher on average. When the Scientific American reviewer checked the data, even for just those eight cities, for the entire year, he found that infant mortality rates were actually declining throughout the year, not spiking sharply.

The ten weeks after Fukushima did see a few high numbers, but the four weeks previous were unusually low. The low numbers before Fukushima were not, of course, related to the incident, but were the primary reason a “spike” seemed to appear when only those four weeks were used as a baseline. One could just as easily compare the data for the month before those four weeks and see a similar “spike” occurring two months before Fukushima.

In short, the essay’s claims should never have been published. Sure, the media might not want to wait around for every study to be peer-reviewed, but if you don’t, then you are bound to release, as “news,” completely erroneous data as shown above. This only serves to put all the rest of the claims in the Al Jazeera article in question–what else was not fact-checked? Was the writer going for the sensationalist angle, only choosing to focus on evidence which supported a predetermined conclusion?

This is not to suggest that Fukushima isn’t worse than we think it is–it may well be a lot worse–but it suggests that not all the alarmist information, including that released by “experts,” is as accurate as we believe. That goes for data suggesting that things aren’t so bad as well.

Because the atmosphere regarding nuclear power, even within the halls of science, is so subject to polarized views and infected by bias, added to the fact that there is so much we just don’t know for certain about the subject of radioactivity and health, it is much harder to get a clear picture of how bad things really are.

Before and After

June 11th, 2011 2 comments

Some before-and-after images taken during or just after the tsunami, and in the past week or so, showing the extent of progress made in the post-tsunami clean-up.

The Skilled Veterans Corps

June 1st, 2011 Comments off

Noble, inspiring, logical, and yet sad:

A group of more than 200 Japanese pensioners are volunteering to tackle the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima power station. The Skilled Veterans Corps, as they call themselves, is made up of retired engineers and other professionals, all over the age of 60.

They say they should be facing the dangers of radiation, not the young.

It was while watching the television news that Yasuteru Yamada decided it was time for his generation to stand up. No longer could he be just an observer of the struggle to stabilise the Fukushima nuclear plant.

The retired engineer is reporting back for duty at the age of 72, and he is organising a team of pensioners to go with him. For weeks now Mr Yamada has been getting back in touch with old friends, sending out e-mails and even messages on Twitter.

Volunteering to take the place of younger workers at the power station is not brave, Mr Yamada says, but logical. “I am 72 and on average I probably have 13 to 15 years left to live,” he says. “Even if I were exposed to radiation, cancer could take 20 or 30 years or longer to develop. Therefore us older ones have less chance of getting cancer.”

And quite Japanese.

Another Strong Earthquake

April 12th, 2011 2 comments

Woke up about 15 minutes ago to another strong quake. Not the 7.0 of last night in Fukushima, but to a 6.3 in Chiba, just 80 miles (130 km) to our east.

I’m beginning to wonder… this many strong quakes a month after the primary… is that normal?

Big Quake

April 11th, 2011 Comments off

We are still shaking… just got through a rather strong quake here in Tokyo. Hard to tell, but it felt like it might have been close by… more soon.

Update: they’re reporting it as a “weak 6” in Fukushima. Quake sites are lagging, hard to get info…

Looks like a 6.0 on the Richter scale. It was pretty sizable here in Tokyo, lasting a few minutes and really shaking stuff. Not enough to throw anything, but more than enough to make everything shake and sway…

Another update: a smaller aftershock hit just a few minutes after the first one, but it was barely felt here. There is still a tsunami warning along the Tohoku coast. [Update on tsunami: serious warnings for the Ibaraki coast–tsunami as high as 2 meters, @6 ft., for that area.]

Update: Correction, that first quake was a 7.1. That sounds about right, considering how strong it was here in Tokyo!

The smaller quake after it was a 6.0, with maybe a 5.6 right on its heels.

The timing is not lost on anyone here, this aftershock (about the same strength as the main Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989) comes almost exactly one month after the Big One hit on March 11. Sachi and I were just finishing our hanami when the 2:46 pm 1-month anniversary came, blissfully unaware amongst the blossoms–which seemed fitting. Seems that Mother Nature is reminding us, not so gently, of exactly who’s in charge here.

Update: yet another quake–that’s about 6 or so quakes over 4.7 in the past 40 minutes.

Big Aftershock

April 7th, 2011 1 comment

We just got hit by another big quake. This was a big one. The TV reports say it hit Miyagi, but it was a long and strong quake even here in Tokyo. They’re calling it a “strong 6” in many parts of Tohoku. Like they need that. More in a few moments.

That quake lasted a good minute or more, and really shook the place. I would even say that it was stronger than anything we’ve felt since the day of the quake, or maybe the day after.

TV is reporting a 7.4 magnitude on the Richter scale. Wow.

TEPCO’s Falsely Optimistic Predictions

March 28th, 2011 6 comments

Nice article from two reporters in Tokyo on how TEPCO underestimated the possibility of a quake such as the one that hit two weeks ago. TEPCO engineers only predicted what could happen based on what has been observed in recent history, ignoring archaeological evidence that every thousand years or so Japan is hit by giant tsunamis which sweep miles inland–and the previous one hit only a bit over a thousand years ago. Many American nuclear plant scenarios take into account extreme situations, like a quakes and tsunamis more powerful than ever recorded, at time when storms drive waters even higher. TEPCO, however, lowballed their estimates:

A TEPCO reassessment presented only four months ago concluded that tsunami-driven water would push no higher than 18 feet (5.7 meters) once it hit the shore at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex. The reactors sit up a small bluff, between 14 and 23 feet (4.3 and 6.3 meters) above TEPCO’s projected high-water mark, according to a presentation at a November seismic safety conference in Japan by TEPCO civil engineer Makoto Takao.

“We assessed and confirmed the safety of the nuclear plants,” Takao asserted.

However, the wall of water that thundered ashore two weeks ago reached about 27 feet (8.2 meters) above TEPCO’s prediction. The flooding disabled backup power generators, located in basements or on first floors, imperiling the nuclear reactors and their nearby spent fuel pools.

Scientists in Japan have been aware of this possibility since long before the TEPCO assessments:

As early as 2001, a group of scientists published a paper documenting the Jogan tsunami. They estimated waves of nearly 26 feet (8 meters) at Soma, about 25 miles north of the plant. North of there, they concluded that a surge from the sea swept sand more than 2 1/2 miles (4 kilometers) inland across the Sendai plain. The latest tsunami pushed water at least about 1 1/2 miles (2 kilometers) inland.

The scientists also found two additional layers of sand and concluded that two additional “gigantic tsunamis” had hit the region during the past 3,000 years, both presumably comparable to Jogan. Carbon dating couldn’t pinpoint exactly when the other two hit, but the study’s authors put the range of those layers of sand at between 140 B.C. and A.D. 150, and between 670 B.C. and 910 B.C.

While it may be satisfying to see reports that TEPCO may be held liable for the damage caused by the plant’s crisis, it doesn’t take any engineering reassessment or scientific study to figure out where that money will be coming from.

Sense of the Tsunami

March 27th, 2011 3 comments

A new video has been released of the tsunami hitting the town of Kesennuma in Miyagi prefecture. This video has both good and bad points. The good point is that, more than any other video I have seen, it gives an excellent understanding of how high the tsunami swelled. Most people think of a tsunami as a wave, like surfers might ride–a wall of water–and so are confused when they see images of what looks to be a swift tide that seems shallow. The wave, in fact, appears very flat, a spillage more than a wave, but builds gradually but strongly. Note the building just at the (old) shore with the green roof and how it is eventually swamped. You can tell the person taking the video is on very high ground near the shore, but near the end it feels like the water might reach even them.

The bad point about the video is, as with most amateur videos of this length and scope, you become frustrated with where the person taking the video is pointing the camera, especially when you know the water is swamping a car lot and crushing a row of buildings just to the right, but the person filming stays focused on the area that has already been covered with water. So you miss a good sense of how the more central areas of the town were inundated and what the forces of the incoming water did to more than just the coast–but you do see enough to get an even greater deal of respect for exactly how powerful this wave was, and how deep it got.

Quakey Morning

March 23rd, 2011 7 comments

Screen Shot 2011-03-23 At 7.46.34 AmIt’s like God doesn’t like stability at the Fukushima plant or something–so far there have been four, maybe five sizable quakes all centered in or around Fukushima, just in the past half hour. The strongest seems to have been a 6.0, another 5.8, with others in the range between that and 4.0. And just when it seemed like aftershocks were finally dying out.

On the other hand, radiation seems to be fairly under control. The wind has been blowing pretty much straight from Fukushima down to Tokyo for the past 2 days, and radiation in Tokyo has not even doubled normal background levels. Ibaraki shows about 4x normal. One would think that for that much direct exposure via wind for that long, the levels would be higher if things were bad at the plant. Not that they couldn’t get worse, but so far, not so bad.

Post-Quake Tokyo Update

March 23rd, 2011 Comments off

Gasoline supplies seem to be back. After more than a week of humongous lines at the 5% of gas stations that weren’t closed, today gas stations were back up and lines were short. And while milk was still missing, almost everything else–including toilet paper and bread–was back on the shelves in supermarkets.

This is not to say that everywhere is fully stocked. But it looks like the shortages are no longer a problem.

Power is more stable, but I was wrong when I assumed blackouts were not happening anymore. They are–but my neighborhood remains online, and has not had power go out once yet.


March 21st, 2011 9 comments

From Reuters:

FLASH: Japan nuclear safety agency says does not believe much water from no. 3 and no. 4 reactors is seeping underground

Oh. Not “much.” There’s an excellent example of spin.


March 21st, 2011 2 comments

Here’s a charming news story:

Higher yen could help U.S. companies exposed to Japan

U.S. companies with big sales in Japan like Aflac and Tiffany may see sales pinched in the wake of the country’s massive earthquake, but the yen’s recent sudden strength could offset those losses.

Yes. Never mind the Japanese companies that got literally flattened by the disaster, and how an unnaturally strong yen could devastate an already trashed Japanese economy. No, we have to think about those U.S. companies that might lose a few percent of sales in Japan.

Nice to see that Wall Street still has the right spin on things.

Radiation Map

March 20th, 2011 Comments off

In the meantime, here’s a link to a Google Maps page with links to radiation counters across the country. Oh Google Maps, is there anything that you can’t do? Maybe helping grade my students’ essays. There’s no app for that.

In any case, I have been using the Hino counter, it’s pretty good. This is a constant monitor in Mitaka. Here’s a daily Riken in Wako (they should know about this stuff, they tried to develop nuclear weapons in WWII).

Stability? How Can I Tell?

March 20th, 2011 4 comments

When, exactly, will we be able to tell if the nuclear situation in Fukushima is no longer something to worry about? One article in the British media, which also is repentant about western media coverage, uses the term “stable” in the headline, but that comes from this graf in the story:

The IAEA seems to accept that things are settling down: a senior official at the agency tells Reuters that the situation is now “reasonably stable”.

There’s a huge difference between “stable” and “reasonably stable,” when “meltdown” was everyone’s guess just a few days ago.

So, what, will a siren blow when it’s actually stable? Will the return of toilet paper and open gas stations herald stability? Let’s get our signs straight on this.

Six Ways Fukushima Is Not Chernobyl: Five Are Slightly Reassuring

March 19th, 2011 15 comments

It feels like we’ve gone from “It’s hopefully not going to be bad” to “It’s probably not going to be catastrophic.” Along those lines, this is an article from Talking Points Memo about how Fukushima won’t be like Chernobyl. Note that one of the points denotes a difference which is worse in the Fukushima case. The six points, in bullet list form:

  1. Chernobyl’s reactor had no containment structure. [Not that Fukushima’s is top-flight…]
  2. Chernobyl’s reactors had several design flaws that made the crisis harder to control.
  3. The carbon in Chernobyl’s reactor fueled a fire that spewed radioactive material further into the atmosphere. Fukushima’s reactors do not contain carbon, which means that the contamination from an explosion would remain more localized.
  4. Unlike Chernobyl, however, a meltdown at Daiichi could end up contaminating the water table.
  5. Much of the public health impact of Chernobyl was the result of the Soviet government’s attempt to cover up the crisis, rather than moving quickly to inform and protect the public.
  6. Emergency workers at Chernobyl took few precautions, and may not have been fully informed about the risks they were taking.

Like I mentioned, #4 is less than reassuring, less so than a lot of other news we’re hearing.


March 18th, 2011 22 comments

Not really what I wanted to hear:

Amid widening alarm in the United States and elsewhere about Japan’s nuclear crisis, military fire trucks began spraying cooling water on spent fuel rods at the country’s stricken nuclear power station late Thursday after earlier efforts to cool the rods failed, Japanese officials said.

The United States’ top nuclear official followed up his bleak appraisal of the grave situation at the plant the day before with a caution that it would “take some time, possibly weeks,” to resolve.

That would, of course, be bad on so many levels, especially if it means that the current level of uncertainty, that things could get much worse, continues for that length of time. People here are waiting for some sign that things will be all right, that normalcy has a chance to return. The situation as it is is akin to having a loaded gun pointed at you by an unstable individual. Maintaining that for days has been stressful; for weeks would be, well, not fun.

Personally, also not the best time–we are smack in the middle of a home purchase here in Tokyo, with contractual obligations that demand we commit to a half-million dollar purchase within two weeks–or forfeit about $30,000 in lost deposits and realtor commissions. I’m willing to drop the thirty grand if necessary, of course. It’s the uncertainty that makes it a bit more difficult. I’d love to talk to a legal expert about this sort of thing–are there extenuating circumstances in the face of a nuclear crisis that allows for such things to be put on hold?