Saturday, April 2, 2011

Japan: Sort-of-Good News, the Emperor, and a Dog Story

Instead of posting six micro-reviews - one is more of a rant - about Japan's difficulties - the Lemming decided to drop all 'Japan' material into this one - divided the post into six sections.

Briefly, folks at the Fukushima nuclear power plant seem to have found where the radioactive seawater is leaking out of the facility. That's the good news. The not-so-good news is that they've discovered that pouring concrete in the cracked area doesn't work. So, good news again, they're going to try something else.

Also - a coast guard ship rescued a dog from a floating roof, off Japan's coast. The Lemming's got a photo to go with that story.
"Workers struggle to plug leak at Japan nuclear plant
CNN World (April 2, 2011)

"A first attempt to plug a cracked concrete shaft that is leaking highly radioactive water into the ocean off Japan failed Saturday, so officials are now exploring alternatives, spokesmen for Tokyo Electric Power Co. said.

"Power plant workers had been trying to fill the shaft with fresh concrete, but that did not change the amount of water coming out of the crack, the spokesmen said at a news conference that ran late into the night Saturday.

"Their 'plan B' is to use polymers to stop the leak, the spokesmen said. A Tokyo Electric expert will visit the site Sunday morning and decide what polymer to use before the work begins...."

Looks like Tokyo Electric/TEPCO is keeping folks up-to-date on what's gone wrong, what they've done about it, and what they'll try next. The really good news is that - apparently - folks at Fukushima have found where that broken reactor has been leaking.

Under the circumstances, that's no small feat in itself.

As for what TEPCO could have done, earlier - the Lemming will get back to that.

"Dog three weeks at sea saved"
The Japan Times (April 3, 2011) (International dateline effect)

"The Japan Coast Guard managed to save a small brown dog Friday from a floating rooftop 1.8 km off Miyagi Prefecture, three weeks after a massive tsunami ravaged the northeast coast.

"The canine castaway was spotted by helicopter at around 4 p.m. by a special rescue unit from the 3rd Regional Coast Guard Headquarters, operating out of Yokohama...."

The dog has a black collar - and no identification. The critter seems to have a healthy appetite, and "is behaving itself." It's nice to read good news from Japan: and The Kyodo news photo is appealing.
"Japan's Nuclear Rescuers: 'Inevitable Some of Them May Die Within Weeks' "
Dominic Di-Natale, (March 31, 2011)

"Workers at the disaster-stricken Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan say they expect to die from radiation sickness as a result of their efforts to bring the reactors under control, the mother of one of the men tells Fox News.

"The so-called Fukushima 50, the team of brave plant workers struggling to prevent a meltdown to four reactors critically damaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, are being repeatedly exposed to dangerously high radioactive levels as they attempt to bring vital cooling systems back online.

"Speaking tearfully through an interpreter by phone, the mother of a 32-year-old worker said: 'My son and his colleagues have discussed it at length and they have committed themselves to die if necessary to save the nation.

" 'He told me they have accepted they will all probably die from radiation sickness in the short term or cancer in the long-term.'

"The woman spoke to Fox News on the condition of anonymity because, she said, plant workers had been asked by management not to communicate with the media or share details with family members in order to minimize public panic...."

That phrase, "to minimize public panic," represents, in the Lemming's opinion, an attitude that can be well-intentioned, self-serving, or a little of both. It's also, again in the Lemming's opinion, not a good idea. Certainly not in a country like Japan, or America. Probably not anywhere.

Caution: Old Coot Reminiscing

This could be a sort of urban legend - but it's solid enough to get into a documentary on the history of weather forecasting. For what that's worth.

The United States weather service, several decades back, had newfangled procedures for predicting tornadoes.

Well and good. Knowing that a destructive storm is coming can save lives.

The government agency, using the new procedures, predicted that a tornado was very likely in a particular area - soon. The twits in charge decided not to tell 'the Masses,' because they wanted to "minimize public panic."

The government weather service doesn't do that any more.

My guess is that word got out, eventually - and 'the Masses' let the feds know that, on the whole, they'd rather know about a deadly storm that might be headed their way.

Japan, Melting Reactors, and Telling the Truth

The Lemming is a bit sympathetic with the folks running Tokyo Electric Power Company/TEPCO: From the sounds of it, they've missed inspections, may not have done adequate maintenance on their reactors, and probably can't tell whether the maintenance was done: because of those missed inspections.

All of which has gotten on international news.

On top of that, they've got a few highly toxic piles of scrap where some of their reactors used to be - and a public relations problem that isn't likely to go away any time soon.

The Japanese government somehow missed what was - or, rather, wasn't - happening at Fukushima: and now they've got folks who have pretty good reason for not believing what they're told about how safe it is to get close to the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

The Lemming hopes that workers at the Fukushima plant are overestimating the hazards they're dealing with: and that TEPCO and the Japanese government will take a look at the folks whose "panic" they're worried about.

Japan's adult literacy rate is 99% - same as the United States. The country exports transport equipment, motor vehicles, semiconductors, and electrical machinery.1 And is the home of the only robot snowplow known to the Lemming. (January 1, 2008) Even by Victorian-era European standards, the folks living in Japan are not 'ignorant savages.'

If we can handle tornado warnings here in the upper Midwest, the Lemming thinks the Japanese can handle being told the truth about what's really happening.

Problem is, a reputation seems to have been established by TEPCO - and maybe by the Japanese government - for being excessively optimistic in public statements. That may take a while to live down.

Moving on.
"Emperor and Empress visit shelter in Tokyo, talk with evacuees"
The Mainichi Daily News (March 31, 2011)

"Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko visited victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami who are staying at a shelter in Tokyo on March 30.

"It is the first time the Imperial couple has visited an evacuation shelter for those who have lost their homes in the Great East Japan Earthquake.

"The Emperor and the Empress talked to evacuees for about 40 minutes at the shelter, the Tokyo Budoh-kan hall in Tokyo's Adachi Ward....

"...'Are the children alright? I'm sure they will be delighted to see each other when school restarts (in April),' Emperor Akihito said to Kenji Ukido, 34, a teacher at a school for disabled children in Fukushima Prefecture and one of the evacuees at the shelter...."

The article said there were 289 folks staying at that shelter: which meant that, on average, each individual got around 10 or 15 seconds with the Imperial couple. Which is more time than it may seem: time a short conversation, and you might be surprised at how much gets said in a few seconds.

The Lemming's heard that this is uncharacteristically 'hands on' activity for the Imperial couple. It's likely, in the Lemming's opinion, that Emperor Akihito's personal contact with some disaster survivors means a lot to everyone involved in the earthquake/tsunami March 11 recovery. I'll get back to the Emperor.

America doesn't have royalty - although the Lemming's heard it argued that movie industry 'glitterati' serve a similar social function. Generally without, in the Lemming's opinion, as much class as the Japanese Imperial family shows - and that's another topic.

Here in America, it's not uncommon for a state governor, or the president, to personally visit the site of a disaster that's important on a state or national level.

The Lemming realizes that this is expected - but is of the opinion that state and national administrators could do a lot more good by staying in their offices, administrating: instead of getting in the way of folks trying to get a job done.

Japan's Emperor isn't, the Lemming understands, an active administrator like an American president: there's history and long-standing traditions involved. Briefly, Japan isn't America.

But both countries seem to have some administrators who can't seem to get it through their heads that 'the Masses' have a fair amount of common sense - and that we start drawing our own worst-case conclusions when the folks upstairs keep us in the dark.
"Radiation in Village, Seawater Near Japan Nuke Plant Surge" (March 30, 2011)

"The United Nations nuclear watchdog warned Japan Wednesday that radiation levels recorded at a village near the crippled nuclear power plant are over the recommended limits as seawater outside the plant contained 3,355 times the legal limit for the amount of radioactive iodine.

"It is the highest rate yet and a sign that more contaminated water was making its way into the ocean.

"The amount of iodine-131 found south of the plant does not pose an immediate threat to human health but was a 'concern,' said Hidehiko Nishiyama, a Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency official. He said there was no fishing in the area.

" 'We will nail down the cause, and will do our utmost to prevent it from rising further,' he said...."

No rant this time: the radioactive substance was identified, we've been told how far above "the legal limit" the concentration is - and have an assurance that folks who know what they're doing are finding out where the iodine-131 is coming from.

If the Lemming was living in the late-19th or early-20th century, before "legal limits" for environmental contaminants were set - and set very low - the Lemming might be more concerned.

But this is the early 21st century - and there's a difference between having more than the legal limit of iodine-131 in a volume of seawater, and having the stuff starting to get into the food supply.

Is the contaminated seawater a problem? Yes, in the Lemming's opinion.

Does this mean that Godzilla will attack Tokyo? No, again in the Lemming's opinion.

That's not going to keep a lot of folks from worrying, though.
"Japan's emperor urges nation not to give up"
Associated Press, via (March 16, 2011)

" Japan's Emperor Akihito spoke to the nation Wednesday in the first made-for-TV address of his reign, expressing condolences to victims of the massive earthquake and tsunami and urging the Japanese people not to give up.

"Bowing and then speaking solemnly in a gray suit, he also voiced concern about the crisis at a nuclear power plant damaged by the disasters that has led to radiation leakage.

" 'I am deeply concerned about the nuclear situation because it is unpredictable,' he said. 'With the help of those involved I hope things will not get worse.'

"The historic broadcast underscores the gravity of the situation facing Japan. While Akihito makes annual televised speeches to crowds marking the New Year and end of World War II, he has never directly addressed the country on camera, according to the Imperial Household Agency...."

It's moments like these when the Lemming appreciates positions like "Emperor." We don't have anything quite like it, here in America - and that's another topic.
Related posts:More:
In the news:
1 Sources:
  • "Japan"
    (last updated March 23, 2011)
  • "United States"
    (last updated March 23, 2011)
    CIA World Factbook


Brigid said...

The Lemming's what? "The Lemming's, that this is uncharacteristically 'hands on' activity for the Imperial couple."

'Above,' perhaps: "we've been told how far about 'the legal limit' the concentration is"

Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...


Oops. I knew what I *meant* to say.

Found, and fixed. Thanks!

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