Tag Archives: earthquakes

Life at a Japanese evacuation center

Japan evacuees

Life in an evacuation center (you can forget privacy)

I just found these reports from a nuclear consultant who lives (well, lived) in Tomioka, a town near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. He and his family were evacuated, and he has reported his experiences in a 3-part series in English.

[Tomioka is about 10 miles north of Hirono, the town I lived in. – Andi]

Tohiro Kitamura reports frustration with the government and the lack of consideration for the evacuees, ranging from insufficient bathrooms (1 toilet for 500 people, in one case) and rations of expired food, to discrimination with ‘optional lodgings’ (if you have the money, then you can stay at a hotel or inn with some government compensation) and unclear directions (‘voluntary evacuation’ and radiation testing with nothing to show for it).

Take a look for yourself:

Kitamura’s evacuation experience – part 1 (PDF)

Kitamura’s evacuation experience – part 2 (PDF)

Kitamura’s evacuation experience – part 3 (PDF)

In his reports, Kitamura mentions people crossing the “No Entry” zones to get to their home, however to do so requires a car and fuel. One man traveled alone in the evacuation zone to take photos of homes for evacuees who couldn’t make the trek themselves:


[Visiting Yonomori Park for the cherry blossoms is one of my fondest memories of living in Japan. The park is filled with cherry trees, and the city would put in lights to shine up through the branches of the cherry trees for the evenings when people would sit under the trees and have picnics with the blossoms falling like snow. -Andi]

Reports provided by JAIF. News by Mainichi Daily News.

Japan update 5/2/2011

Work continues on the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. They are in the process of installing air filters in the No. 1 reactor building, which should reduce the amount of radioactive materials by 95% when operated for 24 hours. Eight workers are set to enter the No.1 reactor building as early as Thursday. They will be the first to do so since a hydrogen explosion occurred one day after the March 11th earthquake and tsunami. Assuming that the air filters work, TEPCO will then install air filters in the No.2 and No. 3 reactor buildings.

And in other news: A group of Tohoku Electric Power Company (not the Tokyo Electric Power Company, which runs Fukushima Daiichi) shareholders will submit a motion calling for the closure of the company’s nuclear plants. 220 individual stockholders decided on the move ahead of the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting at the end of next month. The investors are demanding that the  utility state in its agreement with shareholders that it will close its nuclear power plants and end its investment in a reprocessing plant in Aomori Prefecture and similar projects. The shareholders say the problems at  the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was a warning that accidents at any nuclear plant can lead to dangers that cannot be contained by any one company. They will deliver documents on the demand to the  company on Monday. The subject is expected to be discussed at this year’s shareholders’ meeting.

News courtesy NHK and JAIF 5/2/2011.

Happy news from Japan

Penguin Akari

Penguin Akari

Earthquake penguin chick hatches
A penguin chick has hatched in a zoo from an egg laid one hour before the massive quake hit northeastern Japan on March 11th.

Nasu Animal Kingdom in Tochigi Prefecture says a pair of cape penguins took turns sitting on the egg for more than a month before the chick was born on Tuesday.

The zoo named the baby penguin “Akari” meaning light, as a symbol of hope for the future. The new-born was moved to an incubator on Wednesday.

Zoo keeper Takuya Horie says the parents kept the egg warm through the quake and many aftershocks. He said he wants the baby to grow up healthy.

The chick is expected to make its debut at the zoo early in May.

Kampai! (Cheers!)
In Saitama Prefecture, a group of local hotels and tourist boarding houses have started a new service, hoping to support quake-struck areas.

40 businesses in the prefecture’s Chichibu area now provide their guests with Japanese sake brands made in hardest-hit areas such as Fukushima, Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures.

Some guests immediately ordered the sake.

Flower message to cheer up quake survivors
The husband-and-wife owners of a cafe in Takamatsu City, western Japan, have created flower messages to encourage the country’s recovery from the March 11th disaster.

A garden attached to the cafe, owned by Masayuki Inokuma and his wife Emiko, is carpeted with pink moss flowers. About 250,000 plants are currently in full bloom.

The pair created a 5×35-meter flower arrangement forming the phrase “Gambaro Nippon” or “Let’s hang in there Japan”.

The couple began planting the flower arrangement a week after the disaster to cheer up the survivors of the quake and tsunami in northern Japan.

In another arrangement, moss pinks are planted in the image of a bluebird, a symbol of hope and happiness to the devastated areas.

Admission fees of about 2 dollars per person will be donated to support the victims of the disaster.

News items from NHK 4/21/2011.

Japan update

Japanese volunteers cleaning school

The recovery has started

I just got news that my adopted family in Hirono is safe at an evacuation center, and another friend is safe and staying with family in Koriyama, so I can now breathe a sigh of relief.

A friend in Tokyo tells me that the rolling blackouts are still happening – where she lives that means for four hours every evening her family has no electricity. She also told me that in an effort to conserve power, many malls and convenience stores turn off their lighting during the day.

Still, there is progress. Many towns are starting to rebuild, and I know that the local administrators of Hirono plan to return to Hirono and start rebuilding as well. It’s just going to take time, since many areas still do not have electricity, gas, or water.

Thankfully, many of the government offices are starting to produce English versions of their notices. Here are some links for more information:

  • Fukushima International Association has translated the prefecture’s notices to residents, including the Governor’s message, as well as the results of radiation testing of the environment, drinking water, and raw milk.
  • Japan Atomic Industrial Forum now posts pdf’s in English summarizing the latest news from NHK regarding the status of the nuclear reactors.
  • NHK World provides Japanese news in English.

The Japanese people I’ve spoken to share a desire to persevere and overcome this tragedy, and are prepared to take it step by step, and day by day. While there is concern over the radiation issues, Japan is their home and they are committed to seeing this through.

Thank you to everyone for your support and good wishes. Hopefully the situation will improve in Japan soon.

Before you watch the news, please read this

mass media

Everywhere you look – newspapers, TV, online – the mass media portray the situation in Japan as dire and on the edge of apocalypse.

But there are some problems with the overseas media portrayals of the situation in Japan and the Japanese as a people.

Part of the problem is due to the lag in information delivery. Japan is 16 hours ahead of Oregon, so our primary broadcast times are at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Another part of the problem is translation inaccuracies. Even if the English words used in a translation from the Japanese may be technically correct, the English meaning is not necessarily the same as what the Japanese intended. Without an understanding of Japanese culture and the nuances of words and phrases, the true meaning often gets obscured or misinterpreted.

However, the biggest problem is the misleading information the media outside Japan is providing. For example, the nuclear reactors and concerns over radiation exposure are the media’s focus, but the real problem is the damage caused by the earthquake and tsunami, and the issues with getting supplies to the refugees. Food, water, and fuel are in very short supply, with people currently living in school gymnasiums with minimal heat, and the high temperature for the day is 48 degrees F, the low 34 degrees, and a forecast of snow.

To get accurate information about what is really happening in Japan:

  1. Visit the links I posted in Top Resources for Japan Earthquake News and About the Fukushima Nuclear Reactors.
  2. Visit the MIT Nuclear Information Hub and the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum
  3. Visit some local’s blogs to get eyewitness accounts of what life is like right now over there:

If the news you hear is distressing or confusing, please get more information and educate yourself about what you don’t understand. Search the unfamiliar terms on Google, or read associated articles on Wikipedia. I realize this is a lot to ask, and at times it may seem daunting, but it’s worth it. Knowledge will help see us through this time of uncertainty.


About the Fukushima nuclear reactors

nuclear sign

The nuclear situation is a "sideshow." The real concern is the aftermath of the tsunami.

Update: For more information about radiation see the post for 3/1/2012 here.

Update: See the post for 4/21/2011 here.

Between the mainstream news and questions I’ve been getting from folks, I’ll try to help clarify the status of the Fukushima nuclear power plants, and hopefully relieve some people’s concerns.

Q: What is the current status of the Fukushima nuclear reactors?
A: According to the Nuclear Energy Institute as of 3/17/2011:

The reactors at Fukushima Daiichi are in stable condition and are being cooled with seawater. They are in the process of restoring off-site electricity to provide power to the control rod drive pump, instrumentation, batteries, and the control room.

The reactors at Fukushima Daini are shutdown with normal cooling being maintained using residual heat removal systems.

Q: Could the reactors blow up and have a ‘meltdown’?
A: Technically they could, however it would only affect the local area (30km around the reactors).

According to the Chief Scientist for the U.K.:

Reasonable worst case scendario: If the Japanese fail to keep the reactors cool and fail to keep the pressure in the containment vessels at an appropriate level, you could get the dramatic word “meltdown” where the basic reactor core melts, and as it melts, nuclear material falls through to the floor of the container. There it reacts with concrete and other materials. In this reasonable worst case you get an explosion. You get some radioactive material going up to about 1600 feet into the air. That is serious only for the local area (30km around the plant).

Q: How would a ‘meltdown’ affect Tokyo? Other parts of Japan? The West Coast of the U.S.?
A: Again from the Chief Scientist for the U.K.:

Even if there were an explosion and then the worst possible weather situation (i.e. prevailing weather taking radioactive material in the direction of Greater Tokyo and rainfall bringing the radioactive material down), there would still be absolutely no impact on Tokyo or anywhere outside of the 30km radius surrounding the reactors. [ed. note: That includes the West Coast.]

Q: How would this compare to Chernobyl?
A: With Chernobyl, the top of the reactor blew off and then they had a massive fire at the graphite core which lasted for a long time, causing the heat to push the material up 30,000 feet. It lasted for months, putting nuclear radioactive material up into the upper atmosphere for a very long period of time.

With the Fukushima reactors, there would be a single explosion, not a continued explosion, so the material would be sent up only 1600 feet.

In the case of Chernobyl, they established an exclusion zone of 30 kilometers, just like in Fukushima. Outside of that exclusion zone, there is no evidence whatsoever to indicate people had problems from the radiation. The problems with Chernobyl were people continued to drink the contaminated water and eat contaminated food. That’s not going to be the case here. The Japanese are already testing food for contaminants.

Radiation level chart

Radiation level effects on the human body

Q: What about radiation?
A: According to this chart by the National Institute of Radiological Sciences, the maximum allowable amount of radiation that won’t show any clinical symptoms is 200 millisieverts/year. This translates to a sustained amount of 22.83 microsieverts/hour.

[1 millisievert = 1000 microsieverts]

Please note that this would need to be a SUSTAINED dosage, meaning you should get 22.83 microsieverts/hour continuously for ONE YEAR for it to be cause for concern. Any sudden spike should be okay if it does not last for several hours (or days).

Take a look at the these charts of radiation levels in Ibaraki and Fukushima prefectures.  See the numbers for yourself – there is a spreadsheet of hourly recorded radiation leves in Fukushima.

Q: How can we trust what you’re saying?
A: The Japanese authorities are providing information to the appropriate international agencies, which are watching the situation closely. Besides,
the radiation levels can’t be concealed because they are being monitored throughout the world.

KEEP IN MIND: The news we receive in the U.S. is generally 36-48 hours behind what is currently happening in Japan.

I will post more updates as I can.

Top resouces for Japan earthquake news

Update (4/4/2011): Please see this post for updates. Overall, it’s good news!

Update (3/23/2011): I have learned that one friend is alive in Fukushima and at an evacuation center. Still no word on the others. I have read through the lists of names at the evacuation centers in Fukushima, and am now working on finding the lists for Yamagata prefecture (where many Fukushima residents were sent). My fingers are crossed.

Update (3/21/2011): Learn about the issues behind the mass media portrayals of Japan here.

Update (3/21/2011): I still haven’t heard from my friends in Fukushima. From the information I can find, there are so many evacuation centers and no centralized information resource for tracking the evacuees that locating people is difficult. On top of that, many evacuation centers are sending evacuees outside of the prefecture. I have added my friends’ names to Google Person Finder, and hope to hear something eventually.

Update (3/18/2011): I’ve posted information about the Fukushima nuclear reactors and radiation concerns here.

Japanese villageI spent three years living in Hirono, a small town on the Pacific coast in Fukushima prefecture in northern Japan in the 1990’s. I lived in an apartment on a bluff overlooking Highway 6 (the equivalent of our Highway 101), with views of the ocean from my window.

The nuclear power plant was a few miles away, but I never thought about it. Earthquakes happened, but you got used to them: the ground would start to shake, you would rush to turn off your gas, and then stand in a doorway until the quake was over, which was usually in ten to fifteen seconds. I think there may have been a tsunami warning one time, but it was only a remote possibility.

Now my adopted hometown and the towns I spent time in, had friends in, are all over the news and in ruins. I used to go to Sendai, the Big City, to buy Mexican food supplies because it was the only place north of Tokyo you could find taco shells. I visited Matsushima to see the tiny islands filled with only pine trees. I have been through Ishinomaki to get to Kinkasan Island, where I stayed at the Shinto shrine on the island and had to get up at 5 a.m. with the priests, try to follow along with the hymnal, and hand copy Japanese calligraphic texts (as part of the deal for having a cheap room and board for the weekend).

It’s all so unbelievable. I saw a reference to Hirono in The Wall Street Journal. Mind you, Hirono is a small village of 5,000 people. It just makes no sense to me.

Since people have asked, I thought I would share what information I have.

Personal News
As you probably already know, residents along the Fukushima coast have been evacuated, most to areas further inland. So far I have heard from friends in Tokyo, but nothing yet of my friends in Fukushima.

NHK (the national Japanese broadcaster – link is to English website) and BBC have been reporting the latest information. The Japan Times is the top English language newspaper in Japan and has an earthquake update page.

For live video coverage,  NHK TV news in English is available, as well as NHK TV news in Japanese.

For news and information on the Fukushima nuclear reactors, take a look at the IAEA website and the Nuclear Energy Institute website.

If you haven’t seen it already, Google launched a Person Finder site. Names can be input in English and Japanese.

For an excellent presentation of before-and-after of the earthquake, see the Australian Broadcasting Corporations’s page. Move your mouse over the images from right to left to see the damage the tsunami caused.


If you have any questions or just something to say, feel free to leave a comment.