Friday, April 01, 2011

Back to normal?

Today for the first time in two weeks the nightly NHK news did not lead with a story from the Fukushima nuclear power plant.  Instead, the first news items were about reconstruction in the tsunami-affected areas: preparing for a new school term, trying to restart industry etc etc.  When the nuclear plant did make an appearance, the focus was on continuing containment, rather than dealing with massive new radiation leaks or explosions.  The main item concerned the water that was being used to cool down the reactors: now contaminated with low levels of radioactivity, authorities are debating what to do with thousands of tonnes of low-level radioactive waste water.  It's a tricky one all right.

One was left with the feeling that, regardless of a lack of official announcement, a crisis had been diverted and all that is left is weeks of difficult and hugely expensive clean up.  Radioactivity levels in water in the sea outside the plant are high but dropping.  A 'synthetic resin' is being sprayed over surfaces to trap radioactive dust.  That's where the emphasis seems to be now: containment and cleaning.

Residents of a town 40 km from the plant got a surprise yesterday when levels of radioactivity, as measured by the International Atomic Energy Agency, were double the agency's criteria for evacuation.  The Japanese government defended their own advice, saying the IAEA's measuring methodology was 'not appropriate'.  There was no mention of the issue on the news tonight, but I'm guessing that there are not many people in that town left to worry, they would all have evacuated.

I probably would too, even though, and it feels weird to suggest this, let alone begin to believe it, that low levels of radiation are good for you.  It is even being used by some as healing medication:

There are small differences in day-to-day living now.  Almost all items have returned to the shops, but the brands for rice, milk and tissues/toiletpaper are all different.  All escalators are turned off and the shops are not well-lit as electricity is conserved.  Spinach is strangely cheap as people just avoid it no matter where it comes from.  You just walk over the cracks in the pavement that weren't there last month.  And things just ...aren't as busy as they used to be.  Fewer people out partying on the weekend.  Life is trying to return to normal but in truth people are starting to realise that it will never be the same again.
28,000 people dead.  220,000 homeless.  That's something that is not easy to get over.

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