Tuesday, March 15, 2011

"Whatever You Do Don't Panic"

Huge queues in the supermarket today, although deliveries seemed to be arriving as usual, so the only outcome there seems to be huge profits for the supermarket.  Unfortunately there are still no supplies of the things you would want in a blackout - batteries, candles etc.  The Japanese seem to be anxious about the oddest things: at the drug store I saw over a hundred people lined up stoically, almost all of whom were buying large packs of...toilet paper.

The big news is of course the continuing problems at the nuclear plant at Fukushima.  At 6 am there was yet another explosion, this time at reactor number 2.  Details are not clear, but it seems as if some fuel rods are still exposed to the air there, and there is a partial meltdown.  It is a serious situation.  Reactors number 1 and 3 had already had explosions and been flooded by workers with seawater.  They seem to be stable.  However at reactor number 4 there was a fire today.  Reactor 4 was not actually being used, it was undergoing maintenance at the time of the quake. The cause is not fully known, and it is this fire that seems to have resulted in serious radiation leakage for the first time.

In response the government imposed has asked everybody within the 20-30 km radius to stay indoors.  This is a serious decision, affecting 130,000 people.  Not only that, but people are expected to seal doors and windows, turn off ventilators and air conditioners and so forth, basically avoid any exposure to the outside.  Nightmare stuff.  For people as generally anxiety-prone as the Japanese, it must constitue a challenge to their very sanity.  I can imagine them huddling in tiny corners behind piled-up furniture and trying to breathe shallowly.

No wonder they're buying up the toilet paper around here.  They're expecting to be told that they can't leave their apartments for the next 3 months.

Today radiation was detected as far south as Tokyo.  Indeed it was measured in Shinjuku as 22 times the normal level.  This is still much much lower than a radiation level that is dangerous to human health, but it is still something to be aware of. 

Some people have been questioning whether the government reports can be entirely trusted, or even suggest  they might be directly lying e.g. about radiation levels.  I doubt this.  There are many many places reporting radiation levels, and the coordination required to pull off such deceit seems to be prohibitive.  The entire world is focused on this, and if the government was not completely honest about the whole thing the backlash would be immeasurable.  My feeling is that they are trying to deal with a very difficult situation as best they can.  The ad hoc nature of the frequent press conferences oddly enough gives me confidence: whatever else this is, they are not putting on a show.

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