Things are looking calmer – one hell of a week!

Ishinomaki car

Another update here from the Japan-side of things. I will admit it’s not always as up to date as it may be as I am getting more distracted getting ready to move to Tokyo (yes, I am NOT changing my plans), and always hearing the same news over and over wears you down.

Things aren’t looking up as such, if that’s at all possible, things just seemed to have calmed down. As time wears on, the foreign media has gotten bored hyping up the situation here (and distracted by the continuing war in Libya) it seems, Japanese feel a little less edgy as a result of fewer earthquake ‘warnings’, and the ongoing messages of – there’s no health-damaging radiation risk! – seem to be taking some effect.

Foreigners continue to flee the area, as well as the country, following their embassies’ recommendations, but Yukio Edano, the Chief Cabinet Secretary, has skillfully put it by saying “that Japan is issuing its information and warnings based on scientific data.”
An undertone of criticism i wonder (though he said japan’d probably do the same if the situation were reversed). Either way, the WHO even issued a statement saying that any radiation outside the evacuation zones were in no way threatening to public health! The Dutch embassy has kept its cool a little too well (the Dutch being very reluctant to send aid workers at all!) and reserved 2 KLM flights for those wanting to fly back home (at your own cost of course), but I am reassured by the fact that The Netherlands is sending over preventative iodine tablets, so anyone with a Dutch passport or related to someone who has one is able to pick up a few of these bad boys. I may join in the crowd, just for ease of mind.

The status at the powers plants (as I know it) is that the cooling systems for reactors 2 and 6 have been deemed operable, and 5 is expected to start up soon. The power cables built to reactors 1 and 2 are expected to be done by the end of today but whether these reactors are still safe to use or not may take a while to assess. Power cables to reactors 3 and 4 are expected to be up by the end of tomorrow. They’re still continuing spraying on to reactor 3, which seems to be giving the most trouble. Radiation is still in the 3,000 microsieverts and there is mention of fluctuations in levels but no one seems to be able to give a good answer yet as to whether these are the result of spraying or not.

A real shout-out should go to all those workers trying their best to cool the spent fuel rods and to keep the situation under control. Some of them are just volunteers – engineers, some almost at retirement age, exposing themselves to very harmful levels of radiation battling this monster through desperate measures, as there is no one who has any experience on what to do at this point. Due to the severity of the situation the japanese government has even raised the limit of exposure allowed as most have exposed themselves beyond that per shift anyway (they can only work in short shifts at a time). The current level of the disaster on the 7-step scale of nuclear disasters (with chernobyl being a 7) to a 5, the same as the aforementioned three-mile island. Long-term damage will take a long time to assess.

And as time wears on you hear some amazing stories of people’s determination in the area – the amounts of volunteers and community help and effort, a 4-month-old baby found alone amongst the rubble, dogs sticking together like pals, and just now another one of a young man who had fled after the 1st tsunami only to come back and pass out. Foreigners who are in the area who are trying their best to get basic needs met and to preoccupy the kids.

However, the death toll is now over 7000 with at least another 13000 unaccounted for. About 500 foreign nationals seem to be missing. The stories of the elderly who couldn’t keep up with the younger community members when running from the tsunami, dying from exhaustion, hypothermia or hunger. There’s a hall in Sendai, with 300 coffins full of John Doe corpses, and just imagine having to look at each one with the fear that the next may be your loved one. Just reaching the area your loved one may be is increasingly difficult as entire roads have been destroyed and covered up by rubble. The government is even saying there are probably more missing but there have as of yet been no reports as entire families may have been lost.

I tried to donate some blood yesterday; it turns out I can’t, ever, donate blood as a result of the BSE epidemic in Belgium almost 30 years ago. Thanks a lot.
In a rather off-topic note on blood types – japanese take these very seriously! They think a person’s personality is reflected in their blood type, so it’s no uncommon to be asked after your bloodtype by someone you hardly know. Apparently, a person with O is very flexible and will match anyone, a A person is sincere and pays attention to detail, B’s do what they want, regardless of other people, and AB people are smart but are strange. I’ve seen the same as our horroscopes in news papers but with blood types (apparently an A woman and a B man don’t match).

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