Inside Fukushima: Bob Stilger’s Notes from Japan #48

I’m back in Fukushima.  It is always good to be here.  The people — those who are committed to making their future here are amazing in their determination and common sense.  I’m here for three days for the third Fukushima Kaigi — a Citizen’s Community Congress of people for across Fukushima as well as other parts of Japan who come together to talk about what’s going on and what to do next.

We’re in a period where the world’s attention is returning to Fukushima, and appropriately so.  I want to invite you to see ALL of Fukushima.

Let’s do a few statistics first.  Fukushima Province has about 2 Million people and is about 5,300 square miles.  That means it is about a little smaller the Connecticut and about 14% of the size of Washington State, where I live.  Washington has a population of about 7 Million, Connecticut about 3.5 Million.

160,000 people have been evacuated from their homes since the nuclear disaster.  100,000 are in temporary housing inside Fukushima; 60,000 are scattered throughout Japan.  The economy is shredded.  Many of those who still have homes have no jobs.  The entire region is deeply affected.  Many of the available jobs are the dangerous jobs of cleaning up nuclear waste.

Just imagine what an enormous mess this is!  As someone said today this is a social, emotional, economic and ethical issue — and we keep trying to relate to it as a technical and scientific issue.  An incredible number of people’s old lives have been destroyed.  The level of mental stress is staggering.  Sometimes the grief is overwhelming.  AND, people find a way to go on.  To begin to come together to create a new future.

They’re not leaving.  This is home.


We have three things going on.  Two of which people outside Fukushima talk about a lot.  One which people inside Fukushima talk about a lot.

Daiichi 4 is arguably the most dangerous place on the planet right now.  That’s where spent fuel rods are housed in a deteriorating containment structure.  If it fails — which just takes the right earthquake — the disaster is enormous.  Locally in Japan, everything from Tokyo north would have to be evacuated.  Impossible to imaging. What complicates this a step further is that the technology for dealing with this doesn’t exist.  Robots sent in to do repairs are fried.  Tepco — the Tokyo Electrical Power Company — which is responsible for this mess is contemplating some pretty questionable measures, soon.  I don’t completely agree with some of what Harvey Wasserman writes about this –  but I think he is pretty close.  The Avaaz Petition calling for international help is really important.  Please read both of these.

Contaminated Water Release has been going on for 2 and a half years.  No escaping it.  Water to keep the reactors from blowing and to cool the spent fuel rods has to go somewhere — and it is dumped into the ocean.

There’s nothing new about either of these.  They’ve both been true and been known since April, 2011.  They haven’t been talked about much and been kept quiet – in part because there’s not anything to do — and the magnitude has been lied about.  But this has been the story for a long time.

Personally I think Prime Minister Abe missed an incredible opportunity when he was finalizing Tokyo’s bid for the 2020 Olympics.  He could have said come and help now, and come for the Olympics in 2020.  Instead, he minimized the extent of current danger.  Not good.

Contaminated land, buildings, trees, everything is what people in Fukushima talk about. These are the things which are stopping them from getting on with their lives.  This is the radiation they live with every day.  They  clean it up.  They wash and they dig and they scrub and they vacuum — and then they put whatever radiated material is collected in big plastic barrels and try to figure out where to bury them.

No one actually knows what to do with this waste — just ask the many folks who are associated with the agonizingly slow process of cleaning of the nuclear waste at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State where we store the remains of our nuclear warhead production.  188 tanks with tens of millions of gallons or waste on the banks of the Columbia River.  And they are leaking.

Radiation and Health

This is the big one.  Mostly we don’t know.  There have been 60 years of epidemiological studies of radiation in Japan since the US dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  We still don’t know why some people get sick and some don’t. Most of our precautions about nuclear exposure are abstract and high level.  Just about everyone agrees that nuclear radiation is not good.  But there is very little understanding of what that means.  People in Japan are figuring out the details.  It’s important for them and they know this is not the last nuclear disaster that will happen someplace in the world.  They are learning for all of us.

More to come in the next day or two.  I think I need to write two or three blogs about this.  Today is background.  Please look at the Harvey Wasserman article and the  Avaaz Petition.  Both are important in terms of viewing Fukushima from the outside.  Next I want to invite you into more of the equally important inside view — what is happening here on the ground, with ordinary people making up their future is pretty incredible.

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