Doug Lerner reports from Tokyo and St. Louis, and points beyond…

Posts tagged ‘tsunami’

One year

It’s already the 10th here. That means tomorrow will be one year since 3/11 – the Great East Japan Earthquake. I will always remember 2:46 pm on that day. doug

Japan’s recovery from the earthquake and tsunami – amazing photos

Take a look at this article. It is filled with amazing before and after photos, from March of last year after the earthquake and tsunami, and how those same places look today. The change is amazing.…


Fukushima: Inside the Exclusion Zone

Very scary, lonely photos of the deserted areas. 

Fukushima: Inside the Exclusion Zone

Brief update from Japan

Some people were asking how things are here.

In brief – they are expecting cold shut-down of the Fukushima reactors, maybe sometime around New Years.

In Tokyo life has pretty much returned to what they call “a new normal.” Things are still very bad up north. But great strides have been made in cleanup. The shinkansen is running all their old routes as of last week I believe.

The fallout evacuation areas, the impact on evacuees and the wide swath of devastated agriculture regions remain major problems.


Six months after earthquake and tsunami, few signs of recovery

Progress held back by debris, lack of jobs and slow planning

OTSUCHI, Iwate Pref. — After the March 11 earthquake and tsunami destroyed everything from houses to street lights, the town of Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, has been so dark and quiet at night it’s unnerving.

Out of the wreckage: A destroyed house sits among debris from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Kesennuma, Iwate Prefecture, on Friday. Below: A family prays for the deceased at a memorial in Natori, Miyagi Prefecture, the same day. KYODO PHOTOS

But the light coming from a convenience store that reopened in late July has become a symbol of hope for the community.

“Unless people start reopening their businesses, the town will never take the first steps toward reconstruction,” said Taiko Tanisawa, the 63-year-old owner of the reopened Marutani store, as she warmly greeted customers.

While Tanisawa and her family survived the catastrophe, her house and the store she ran since 1994 were destroyed by the tsunami and an ensuing fire caused by a propane gas leak.

The March 11 disasters killed 799 of Otsuchi’s 16,000 residents, including the mayor, and a further 608 were still missing as of the end of August. In addition, the tsunami either destroyed or damaged about 70 percent of the town’s homes.

“I felt that we should not remain in Otsuchi,” said Tanisawa, who after March 11 considered leaving the town with her family and making a fresh start somewhere else. But she ultimately changed her mind because her neighbors kept encouraging her to reopen. She hopes the locals will interpret her reopened business as a step toward reconstructing the devastated town, even though the new store is only one-fifth the size of the previous one.

Six months after the 9.0-magnitude quake and subsequent tsunami killed more than 15,700 people and left nearly 4,100 missing in the Tohoku region, survivors are trying to move forward and rebuild their shattered lives and communities.

In the worst-hit coastal regions of Iwate and Miyagi prefectures, various restoration efforts have made progress, such as building temporary accommodations for evacuees who lost their homes and had to live in shelters, restoring crippled infrastructure and clearing debris in commercial and residential areas.

But the massive piles of debris kept in temporary storage sites along the coast are just one indicator that a huge amount of work remains to be done.

Creating new jobs is a priority, as many people who worked for businesses that were wrecked in March remain unemployed. A recent labor ministry survey showed that at least 70,000 people in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures lost their jobs because of the quake-tsunami catastrophe.

The pace of recovery is slowest in Fukushima Prefecture, where the crisis at the crippled No. 1 nuclear station has forced thousands of residents in the government-set 20-km no-go zone around the leaking plant, as well as some living in radioactive hot spots outside the zone, to evacuate their homes. It remains unclear when, or even if, they will be able to return to their hometowns.

The central and local governments have set a 10-year goal to fully restore disaster-hit areas in the devastated northeast, and plans to rebuild ruined communities have finally started to move forward.

But rebuilding Tohoku won’t come cheap.

According to the central government’s basic reconstruction plan released July 29, reconstruction costs will total at least ¥23 trillion over the coming decade, and cash-strapped local governments are asking the state to finance the bulk of those expenditures.

Experts say rebuilding disaster areas is not simply a matter of returning them to their predisaster state. Redesigning towns and cities must take into account the probability that another monster tsunami will someday strike the region, they say. In addition, plans must factor in the aging populations of the disaster-hit communities, which even before March 11 were shrinking as residents aged and the young moved away in search of work.

“What we need to do is design cities (and towns) in which people can live comfortably and safely,” said Arata Endo, an associate professor at Kogakuin University and an expert on urban planning. “We must make them better places to live in than before, as the size of the communities shrinks.”

Since May, Endo has led a committee that includes architects, disaster management experts and local resident representatives to draw up a plan for rebuilding wrecked districts in the city of Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture.

The committee is seeking to produce a blueprint of how Kamaishi should ideally look in 20 years’ time, Endo said.

He stressed that it is crucial to solicit residents’ ideas, even though it may not be possible to include them all in the final plan.

The committee will submit its plan later this month to Kamaishi’s disaster rebuilding committee for approval. Providing it gets the green light, the municipal assembly — which was slated to hold an election Sunday — will hammer out the plan’s details.

Glimmer of hope: Almost six months after the March disasters, no signs of rebuilding can be seen in Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, on Sept. 2. Below: Taiko Tanisawa poses in her Marutani convenience store Sept. 3, which she reopened in Otsuchi in a prefabricated building. TAKAHIRO FUKADA PHOTOS

In the case of Otsuchi, however, recovery and rebuilding efforts have been delayed by the loss of the mayor and dozens of municipal officials in the March disasters. A new mayor wasn’t elected until the end of August.

In the meantime, some residents decided to stand up and take matters into their own hands. In May, Otsuchi native Tomohiro Akazaki and others created a resident council to gather suggestions for rebuilding their ruined town.

“I wanted to be part of rebuilding my hometown. It will be really sad if it disappears,” said Akazaki, 33.

The council held six rounds of discussions with residents and submitted its rebuilding suggestions to Otsuchi’s municipal office in July.

“The town office may ignore the opinion of a single residentbut hopefully they will listen to a group of residents,” Akazaki said.

Of the projected ¥23 trillion reconstruction budget for the next decade, the central government plans to spend ¥19 trillion in the first five years. This includes ¥6 trillion that already has been secured in the first and second extra budgets for fiscal 2011, and Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s new administration is aiming to submit a third supplementary budget to the Diet in October.

To cover the costs, the government is considering hiking taxes, although no decision has been made on which ones to target.

Kogakuin University’s Endo said the central government must decide swiftly on the projects to be financed by the budget, so that local governments can soon start their rebuilding efforts.

Back in Otsuchi, Tanisawa said she is worried about the town’s future as she fears that many young residents who lost their jobs in the disasters will move away, accelerating Otsuchi’s depopulation. In terms of rebuilding the town, Tanisawa called for more streetlights, because the darkness of the blacked-out town frightens her at night.

“If someone tries to attack my store, no one would come to help me,” she said. Due to safety concerns, she closes her new store at 8 p.m. — her previous business stayed opened until 11 p.m.

“My old neighbors, who are now living in temporary housing far away, also hope to return to their original neighborhoods,” she said. “I hope residents will eventually return, and the town will again shine brightly.”

The Japan Times: Sunday, Sep. 11, 2011

There have now been 1,500 earthquakes of magnitude 4 or greater in Japan since 3/11

People in the U.S. east coast are naturally talking about their magnitude 5.8 earthquake today. It was the largest quake in that part of the U.S. for 114 years.

As of this morning, here in Japan, we have had exactly 1,500 earthquakes of magnitude 4.0 or greater since March 11.

Current tallies are:

15,707 known dead
4,642 still missing
5,717 injured

Over 45,000 buildings destroyed
Over 144,000 building damaged
Over 230,000 cars and trucks destroyed

And there are still over 85,000 people living in evacuation centers.


Due to high radioactivity some areas to stay closed well past cold shutdown

Kan to spell out no-go zone reality


Prime Minister Naoto Kan said Monday he intends to visit Fukushima Prefecture as early as Saturday to tell local officials and residents that some areas near Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s radiation-emitting Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant are likely to remain no-go zones for a long time.

Kan is expected to explain that some of the areas with high radiation exposure will have to be declared off-limits — even after the crippled power plant’s reactors are finally coaxed into a cold shutdown.

He is also expected to outline measures to help the evacuees in the future, sources said.

“We cannot deny the possibility that there will be some areas where it will be hard for residents to return to their homes over a long period of time,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said.

Edano said the final decision on assigning no-entry designations will be made after considering the outcome of a detailed radiation monitoring and decontamination plan for areas within 20 km of the plant and after consulting those communities.

He declined to say which areas would remain no-go zones and for how long.

As for a proposal to buy up land in such areas or compensate their owners through a leasing arrangement, Edano said the state has not yet made a decision on the matter and is studying whether decontamination will succeed.

The science ministry released an estimate Friday of annual accumulated radiation exposure in the hot zone. The estimate says an exposure level of over 100 millisieverts is expected at 15 of the 50 points surveyed in the zone, which exceeds the International Commission on Radiological Protection’s guideline of 20 to 100 millisieverts even in emergencies.

The annual radiation exposure limit set by the government is 1 millisievert.

At a spot in the town of Okuma, 3 km from the plant, the ministry expects an accumulative level of 278 millisieverts.

Death in seconds: Radiation pockets found at Fukushima

Pockets of lethal levels of radiation have been detected at Japan’s crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in a reminder of the risks faced by workers battling to contain the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) reported on Monday that radiation exceeding 10 sieverts (10,000 millisieverts) per hour was found at the bottom of a ventilation stack standing between two reactors.
Tepco said Tuesday it found another spot on the ventilation stack itself where radiation exceeded 10 sieverts per hour, a level that could lead to incapacitation or death after just several seconds of exposure.
The company used equipment to measure radiation from a distance and was unable to ascertain the exact level because the device’s maximum reading is 10 sieverts.
While Tepco said the readings would not hinder its goal of stabilizing the Fukushima reactors by January, experts warned that worker safety could be at risk if the operator prioritized hitting the deadline over radiation risks.
“Radiation leakage at the plant may have been contained or slowed but it has not been sealed off completely. The utility is likely to continue finding these spots of high radiation,” said Kenji Sumita, a professor at Osaka University who specializes in nuclear engineering.
“Considering this, recovery work at the plant should not be rushed to meet schedules and goals as that could put workers in harm’s way. We are past the immediate crisis phase and some delays should be permissible.”
Workers at Daiichi are only allowed to be exposed to 250 millisieverts of radiation per year.
Tepco, which provides power to Tokyo and neighboring areas, said it had not detected a sharp rise in overall radiation levels at the compound.
“The high dose was discovered in an area that doesn’t hamper recovery efforts at the plant,” Tepco spokesman Junichi Matsumoto told reporters on Tuesday.
Although it is still investigating the matter, Tepco said the spots of high radiation could stem from debris left behind by emergency venting conducted days after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that crippled the plant.
Currently, 35 of Japan’s 54 reactors are idle, causing electricity shortages amid sweltering heat. The government has ordered safety checks on all reactors.
Meanwhile, more than a dozen regional governments in Japan announced Monday that they would conduct tests to determine whether locally grown rice contains too much radioactive caesium.
Excessive levels of radiation have already been found in beef, vegetables, tea, milk, seafood and water.

Fukushima cattle under shipment ban

Note from Doug: I can’t believe it took the government over 4 months to do this! 

Fukushima cattle under shipment ban

Staff writer

The government banned beef cattle shipments from Fukushima Prefecture on Tuesday, more than a week after meat from the prefecture showed high levels of radioactive cesium, including some already sold and consumed.

Alarm has spread nationwide over the estimated 650 cows from Fukushima, Niigata and Yamagata prefectures that have been shipped throughout Japan after being fed straw contaminated by the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which has been spewing radioactive material since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

The government did not include Niigata or Yamagata in the ban because no cesium had been found in their beef.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said during a news conference Tuesday afternoon that the government was making sure no other contaminated food products get distributed.

“Because (the government) had not firmly grasped the situation, we caused a lot of concern and trouble, including for consumers,” Edano said. The government “is confirming that there are no similar cases, but at the moment, I don’t think there is anything to be worried about.”

Blanket tests will be conducted on cattle from areas around the crippled Fukushima plant where residents have been asked to evacuate or are obliged to prepare for a possible evacuation, he said.

The ban will be lifted if the test results show the level of contamination is below the government limit. Farmers who have been affected by the shipment ban will receive compensation, Edano said.

The problem came to light more than a week ago, but Edano stressed that Fukushima Prefecture had already been voluntarily refraining from shipping its beef.

“No new (contaminated beef) has been circulated,” Edano said. The government’s instructions “came out today, but the shipments have been halted since the problem was brought to light.”

Edano also said the government was carefully checking to make sure other meat, including chickens, have not been fed contaminated feed, but “basically” believed they were safe.

Separately Tuesday, agriculture minister Michihiko Kano said the government will expand its emergency checks of rice straw feed to cover all cattle farmers nationwide, after radioactive cesium at elevated levels was found in straw farther afield than Fukushima and 10 other prefectures currently being probed.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan apologized Tuesday for the spreading fears over beef. “I feel responsible for not being able to prevent this from happening, and I am extremely sorry,” he said.

In the morning news conference, Edano apologized for the government’s failure to ensure that all farmers were informed of an official notice to refrain from using livestock feed that was stored outdoors.

Edano said affected farmers will be compensated for the economic and psychological damage they suffer from the latest developments, and the government will also pay for losses resulting from the fall in beef prices.

The health ministry has said eating beef a few times with levels of radioactive cesium greater than the government-set limit wouldn’t be dangerous.

84 more Fukushima cows found shipped

Cattle fed contaminated hay sent to five prefectures


A further 84 cows shipped from five beef cattle farms in Fukushima Prefecture were fed with hay containing high levels of radioactive cesium, the prefectural government said Saturday.

Hay buffet: Cattle are fed Saturday at a farm in the town of Miharu, Fukushima Prefecture, after checks confirmed the hay was not contaminated with radioactive cesium. KYODO PHOTO

The cows were shipped between March 28 and July 13 to slaughterhouses in five prefectures — Miyagi, Fukushima, Yamagata, Saitama and Tokyo — and the Fukushima Prefectural Government has asked municipalities to check whether that meat has been distributed.

Fifty-three of the cows were sent to Tokyo, 19 to Fukushima Prefecture, eight to Kawaguchi in Saitama Prefecture, two to Yamagata Prefecture and two to Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture.

The latest findings surfaced during a survey of farms the prefecture started July 11, after a farm in Minamisoma was found to have fed cows with hay containing radioactive cesium far above the government’s limit of 500 becquerels per kg.

According to the prefectural government, the 84 cows were raised at five farms in the cities of Koriyama, Kitakata and Soma, and were fed with hay that farmers cut from rice paddies after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami triggered the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant.

Hay remaining at a Koriyama farm was found to be contaminated with a level of cesium measuring 500,000 becquerels per kg.

The farmers involved told Fukushima authorities that they were unaware of the central government’s instruction issued March 19 that farm animals should not eat feed kept outdoors during the nuclear crisis.

An official from the Fukushima Prefectural Government’s farm department said at a news conference that the local municipality failed to properly convey the instructions to farmers. “We will reflect on it,” the official said.

Meanwhile, the survey also found that meat from 42 cows shipped from a farm in Asakawa, Fukushima Prefecture, where hay fed to cows was also found to be contaminated with high levels of radioactive cesium, has been distributed to at least 30 prefectures.

Of the 30, the meat was sold to consumers and likely eaten in 13 prefectures, including Akita, Ibaraki, Nagano, Aichi and Kagawa.

Officials of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said tests conducted by local governments on meat from six of the 42 cows that did not reach the market revealed levels of radioactive cesium below the maximum limit in four of the cows.

However, meat from the other two cows, which had reached wholesalers in Tokyo and Yamagata Prefecture, contained 650 and 694 becquerels per kg, the officials said.

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