Monday, May 16, 2011

A New Song from Japan

Let’s join Tepco! 

The song:

A quick translation of the lyrics of the song:

Is there anyone among you who wants to join Tepco?

Is there anyone who wants to raise the flag?

Tepco is seeking human resources

Let’s join Tepco! Let's join! Let’s join!

If we join Tepco, this world will be paradise.

The real men of this world join Tepco and scatter with the blossoms!

You thrillseekers

Come to Tepco any time

We have uranium, we have plutonium! Anything you want

We are fine with using sub-contracters

Let’s join Tepco! Let's join! Let’s join!

If we join Tepco, this world will be paradise.

The real men of this world join Tepco and scatter with the blossoms!

All you pro-nuclear folks

Gather at the foot of the reactor

It won’t harm you right away

If you take a shower, you’ll be fine

Let’s join Tepco! Let's join! Let’s join!

If we join Tepco, this world will be paradise.

The real men of this world join Tepco and scatter with the blossoms!

Nuclear power is clean energy

Plutonium is not that scary

Even if it gives off radiation

The half-life is only 24,000 years.

Let’s join Tepco, Let's join! Let’s join!

If we join Tepco, this world will be paradise.

The real men of this world join Tepco and scatter with the blossoms!

To support Japanese energy needs

We have to rely on nuclear power

We’ll always have some exposure

If you take iodine, you’ll be fine

Let’s join Tepco! Let's join! Let’s join!

If we join Tepco, this world will be paradise.

The real men of this world join Tepco and scatter with the blossoms!

If spent nuclear fuel is gathered up and

Put in drums, it’s safe

They’re cooled in Rokkasho pools

It’s just a matter of a patient 300 year wait

Let’s join Tepco! Let's join! Let’s join!

If we join Tepco, this world will be paradise.

The real men of this world join Tepco and scatter with the blossoms!

Water is leaking but don’t get excited

Smoke is coming out but don’t panic

The roof has blown off but everything’s okay

Because we’re cooling it down with saltwater

Let’s join Tepco! Let's join! Let’s join!

If we join Tepco, this world will be paradise.

The real men of this world join Tepco and scatter with the blossoms!

It’s not dangerous right away

But let’s toss the milk and vegetables

The bigwigs in government are saying

We’ll pay compensation with taxes

Let’s join Tepco! Let's join! Let’s join!

If we join Tepco, this world will be paradise.

The real men of this world join Tepco and scatter with the blossoms!

Geiger counters are sold out.

Don’t you all be carrying those things

We’ll tell you the levels of radiation

And those who believe will be saved!

Let’s join Tepco! Let's join! Let’s join!

If we join Tepco, this world will be paradise.

The real men of this world join Tepco and scatter with the blossoms!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Refugees of Modern Technologies

While Tokyo dwellers attempt to show their support for tsunami victims by buying vegetables grown in Fukushima that have been scanned with Geiger counters held by the steady hand of officials, refugees continue to suffer in evacuation centers in Iwate and elsewhere in extremely tight quarters, often with no running water. It has been six weeks since the tsunami and victims still don't have basic necessities.

Being a victim in Japan has historically been rough. Those who experienced the bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were discriminated against and so were their children. Radiation sickness was thought to be hereditary or even contagious, so many victims and their progeny have kept their experience under wraps. Those disfigured by mercury poisoning in Minamata were told by government-employed scientists that it was the result of incest and poverty. It could not be but genetic or self-inflicted. Tanizaki Jun'ichiro's tome Makioka Sisters, described the plight of one of four sisters whose tuberculosis kept her from finding a marriage partner as the disease was incorrectly believed to be hereditary.

This handful of examples shows how refugees of modern technologies and diseases in Japan face the brunt force of a patrilineal system that tends to be callous toward its victims.

Refugees of the tsunami, its victims, are still struggling to live that elusive "normal day." 166 refugees in three centers in Rikuzen Takada on April 17,18,19 (down from approximately 356 people previously in these three centers) discuss what makes everyday living impossible.

1. There is enough food, but there are toilets that don’t have running water. Taking baths is difficult. There are no refrigerators or freezers, so food cannot be stored.

2. We are anxious about where we will go. We are told that we will be evicted in mid-May but we have no idea where we will go. Temporary housing for us is a big concern.

3. We can’t bathe and our cars were ruined so we can’t go anywhere. We can’t do laundry.

4. Primary health problems include nausea, lack of appetite, gastritis, coughing, insomnia, headaches, hay fever.

5. Small children can’t get a balanced diet necessary for a growing child.

6. The stress of communal living is high. Families live in hallways; multiple families live in one small room.

7. We want to work but there are no jobs.

8. There is not appropriate food for the elderly (they would like miso soup).

9. Paraplegics or those who are disabled have trouble getting up and down.

10. We would like spring and summer pants.

Volunteers need:

-Help with large scale debris removal

-Help with handing out donated food

-Help with dealing with stress experienced by refugees and staff who have also experienced the disaster. This would need to be an ongoing long-term help.

-Some way of helping with stress by providing alternative activities for refugees, outlets for dealing with stress.

---Information provided by Takashi Matsuda, chaplain, currently volunteering at various refugee centers in Iwate

Monday, April 11, 2011

Nature Moves beyond the Nation

There is a global effort to force a more international participation in solving the crisis at Fukushima by citizens around the world. This effort is founded in a position that I believe to be true: that it makes no sense to put a single for-profit corporation or a single nation in charge of a crisis that is quickly becoming international in scale. It seems to me that this is a matter of greater national security for the western seaboard of the US than some aspects of the so-called war on terror. Should we send up a color-coded alert system to alert mothers in Spokane where according to CNN iodine-131 has already shown up in milk? Or a warning system for cesium-137 in fish?

Protesters have been posted outside of TEPCO offices almost since day one of the catastrophe. Mostly recently, people held rallies in Tokyo on April 10th against nuclear power plants and the incompetence at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear plant. About 17,500 people gathered Sunday for two rallies held in Tokyo. At Koenji, a place I’ve known for its excellent used bookstores, 15,000 people held a march organized by local shop owners. A petition is being circulated on the web that began in Paris. Signed by environmental historians, professors of economics, philosophers, journalists, and others including the esteemed philosopher of science Isabelle Stengers, this petition expresses concerns over the handling of the crisis at Fukushima by TEPCO and the Japanese government. It especially recognizes the urgent need to treat this incident as a global problem to be solved by global groups: “We believe urgent that TEPCO’s actions are placed under international civic control on behalf of human and environmental rights, concerning in particular the ocean.” And, “The Earth as a whole is our common concern; the general interest should prevail over managerial and State forms of reasoning and power. It is high time that citizens play a role at the international level in the technical evaluations which legitimize installations that compromise our living conditions.” (

To date, international cooperation has already helped to provide some aid to Japan. Countless NGOs sought from the disaster’s earliest days to aid evacuees of Fukushima and environs. The US government prevailed in its urgent request to TEPCO to stop dumping saltwater on its generators and the US Navy provided freshwater to the plant for cooling. But there is so much more to be done.

This incident should help us see, perhaps more than any other in our human history, that Nature moves and cannot be bounded by national interests. It moves around us and through us. As these calls for global participation in the solving of the Fukushima crisis illustrate, there is no “Japan” here, but both a highly localized world of contamination near the Fukushima plant and a highly dispersed one in the sea and ocean currents that lead away from it. For toxins that persist across time and space, we cannot rely on one private company working with one national government to solve it.

We're all in this together.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Profiles of Those Who Have and Have Not Been Evacuated

Evacuated: Residents in the “no-go” zone near Fukushima reactors who can afford to rent a place, who have gasoline to drive, or who have a relative or friend’s home to go to. These people are undergoing voluntarily evacuation as suggested by the Japanese government.

Not evacuated: Residents in the “no-go” zone who don’t have facilities or resources and are forced to stay in local evacuation centers in the danger zone near the Fukushima reactors or live in makeshift housing along the coastal areas.

Evacuated: Domesticates whose owners can find evacuation centers that take pets and those who have been found and rescued.

Not evacuated: Domesticates who couldn't evacuate with their owners. Just as in Katrina many owners were forced to make a choice between staying with animals or giving them up.

Evacuated: Aquarium mammals in damaged tidal wave zone aquariums.

Not evacuated: Fish in damaged tidal wave zones aquariums.

Not evacuated: Various animals and insects belonging to 130 land mammal species, 600 bird species, 73 reptile and amphibian species, 190 kinds of dragonflies, 300 kinds of butterflies, some of whom lived in Fukushima and are examples of movable nature. Any of them can potentially move across arbitrary boundaries, including out of the “no-go” zone. They potentially carry radioactivity.

Not evacuated: Ocean-going mammals and fish in the ocean near the Fukushima plant where TEPCO is dumping or leaking radioactive water. They are examples of movable nature that move through the water. They could be near or far from the reactors now.

Evacuated: Nuclear reactor workers with burns. So far only three workers have been admitted by TEPCO to have been hurt. They were evacuated under cover by large blue tarps carried by fellow reactor workers to the National Radiology Hospital because they have received more than 10,000 times the limit of radiation.

Not evacuated: Nuclear reactor workers with no burns. Takashi Hirose, Author of Nuclear Power Plants for Tokyo and Genpatsu, The Time Bomb spoke on the reactors thusly. “. . . it’s a complete mess inside, and when I think of the 50 remaining operators [now 47], it brings tears to my eyes. I assume they have been exposed to very large amounts of radiation, and that they have accepted that they face death by staying there. And how long can they last? I mean, physically. . . . All of the information media are at fault here I think. They are saying stupid things like, why, we are exposed to radiation all the time in our daily life, we get radiation from outer space. But that’s one millisievert per year. A year has 365 days, a day has 24 hours; multiply 365 by 24, you get 8760. Multiply the 400 millisieverts by that, you get 3,500,000 the normal dose. You call that safe? And what media have reported this? None. They compare it to a CT scan, which is over in an instant; that has nothing to do with it.” (Counterpunch, March 22)

Evacuated: Hundreds of US military families in Japan and their pets.

UPDATE March 27, am:

Evacuated?: Workers at the plant. It appears that workers are being evacuated from reactor 2. Late March 26th (US time), at an on-going press conference, Tepco employees said they detected radioactive Iodine 134 in the water pool in the turbine room that was 10 million times beyond the normal level and they couldn't measure the level of radiation because the instrument they use which can measure up to 1000 msv/h went beyond the limit. This is a level of radiation that can kill a man. According to the World Nuclear Association, 100 mSv a year is the lowest level at which any increase in cancer is clearly evident. Absorption of more than 500 mSv can depress white blood-cell levels, etc. See below:

250 mSv Allowable short-term dose for workers controlling the 2011 Fukushima accident.
350 mSv/lifetime Criterion for relocating people after Chernobyl accident.
1,000 mSv cumulative Would probably cause a fatal cancer many years later in 5 of every 100 persons exposed to it (i.e. if the normal incidence of fatal cancer were 25%, this dose would increase it to 30%).
1,000 mSv single dose Causes (temporary) radiation sickness such as nausea and decreased white blood cell count, but not death. Above this, severity of illness increases with dose.
5,000 mSv single dose Would kill about half those receiving it within a month.
10,000 mSv single dose Fatal within a few weeks.

Moved: US crew members and the US navy's 7th Fleet, stationed 100 miles offshore, has retreated and moved after 17 crew members' bodies were treated for radiation exposure (which essentially means they were cleaned with soap and water and their clothes thrown away).

We’re all in this together.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Young and the Old--An Update

I have a son who can barely stand to touch his dirty toe to bathwater, so for a second I was caught by surprise at seeing on Japanese TV a child so happy to wash his face. But, of course. At the elementary school where he’d been evacuated, he finally had running water. Those in evacuation zones are finally starting to get a clean water supply after living elbow to elbow for nearly two weeks with very little water. Pipes are being fixed and the young and old are happily wiping down their bodies with wet towels and washing their hands and faces.

Many of the evacuation centers are in schools and while thousands now eat, sleep, and wash in them, just a year ago, at this very time, the schools would have bustled with graduation events. The school year in Japan runs from April to March, with March heralding the happy conclusion to elementary school, or junior high, or high school years. But here many children were living in a state of emergency when their ceremonies were to be held, so principals and teachers in various evacuation cities have hobbled together graduation ceremonies. At one school a photo of a schoolmate lost in the tsunami is displayed while the graduating class president bravely struggles through his graduation speech with the wrenching emotion of a survivor strong in his face.

Exchange students who had been living in Japan have been recalled to their home countries. One bus of 150 Chinese girls tearfully left for home. My university recalled more than half of its students in Japan home. One American girl was not so lucky. She never made it home, but her mother spoke on American news of how much her daughter had loved Japan.

When I lived in Sendai, I experienced my first quake and when I ran to my host parents’ bedroom the night it happened and waited impatiently for them to respond to my knocks in the middle of the night, they waved me back to bed. That is how common quakes are in Sendai and the rest of Japan. There was faith in the anti-quake measures the country had taken even then. The next day my homeroom classmates, having heard from my host sister about my fright, spent the rest of the day shaking my chair and shrieking "It’s a quake! It’s a quake!" When the lamp on the ceiling of our classroom swayed that day from aftershocks, the girls giggled when I glanced up at it nervously as it swayed back and forth.

In one devastated town, children have created their own volunteer help boards where they answer questions that other evacuees have deposited in their homemade Q and A boxes. They read the questions, research them and then hang detailed responses complete with maps, prices, hours, phone numbers and so on, on a large bulletin board near their volunteer desk. Questions include things like “when will the local bathhouse be open again?” or “where is the nearest temporary housing available?” There is no question too simple or complicated.

Children who experienced the Kobe earthquake were interviewed and most of them remember their post-quake days as almost giddy days of volunteerism. It is perhaps no different for the children in northeastern Japan now. One volunteer group posted a hand-written sign at their volunteer station “You’ll never walk alone.” They deliver food to old folks. They give them shoulder massages. They deliver water to them, make them tea. They give the old folks hot water foot baths. It makes all the difference.

And the old folks, for their part, with thick blankets wrapped around their vulnerable old bodies, watch on with tears in their eyes as the local children walk through their makeshift graduation ceremonies. Many of these kids don't know where they will go to school next year, but for now they celebrate one hurdle.

In the aftermath of the quake, so many of the elderly lost their prescription medicine and have no idea what they were taking. The medical volunteers are not quite sure how to proceed. Bottled water is now being doled out to those in affected areas, but one must present a ration card to get it. And one must have an infant in the family to get it. The water is given to families with infants for drinking and making formula. (The bottled water in Tokyo has been bought up by those who rushed to the stores the quickest. The coastal towns have no stores).

Some old folks surviving on the coast in makeshift shelters comb the seashore for packaged food that has washed up. And they go back to the old tradition of collecting shellfish. One elderly woman seemed embarrassed to admit that they’d have fresh scallops tonight. ‘It seems luxurious but we found them on the shore’.

It seems to me that the small luxury of the sweet soft flesh of a scallop may be just what these old folks deserve.

We're all in this together.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Radioactive Spinach and Biomagnification

Given recent events, Japan observers might be excused for overlooking important news from March 22. A decades long battle between Chisso Corporation and three groups of Minamata disease victims in Kumamoto and Kagoshima reached an agreement in a class action suit. 2492 people in three groups agreed not to file further damages or apply for official recognition as mercury-poisoned victims of Chisso Corp’s dumping of methyl mercury in the water in exchange for lump sum payments. The disease was first recognized in 1956 and half a century later victims have little time left to fight for the official recognition they deserve. The mercury that poisoned their bodies was carried through fish they ate. The toxins accumulated up the trophic tiers in a process called biomagnification through which a persistent poison concentrates as it moves up the food chain. Organisms at the top get the most poison, and consequently, in Minamata thousands were left with nerve damage.

Meanwhile toxins meander through the veins of a common food source in Japan—spinach. But not just spinach. On March 23rd, the government restricted the consumption of various greens from Fukushima prefecture including kakina, broccoli, cabbage, komatsuna, kukitachina, santona, parsley, shinobu fuyuna, kosaitai, cauliflower, chijirena, aburana, and others. Today Fukushima prefecture is also limited from distributing the same greens and turnips. Ibaragi prefecture may not ship spinach, kakina, or parsley. Tochigi and Gunma prefectures may not ship spinach or kakina. Gunma, Fukushima, Ibaragi and Tochigi prefectures supplied 60 percent of the greens to Tokyo in 2010.

Greens are more susceptible to radiation absorption than other fruits and vegetables and have been found to exceed normal radiation limits since the radiation leaks at the six-reactor Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, though the data varies according to source.

While Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano determines that “there is no immediate harm from temporary consumption,” he also says the long term effects are not clear. Therefore, consumers are asked to limit consumption of these greens and farmers are blocked from selling their vegetables. One farmer who has just seeded a new crop a week prior to the reactor accidents stands to lose 2,000,000 yen on his crops. One farmer of kakina had just missed harvesting by a mere day or two and has consequently lost an entire crop. At distribution centers, greens from Fukushima and Ibaragi are marked with signs saying “return produce.” Shop owners in Tokyo complain that consumers now won’t even buy vegetables from prefectures lying outside the no-distribution zones.

Milk: Fukushima and Ibaragi prefectures are also asked to halt milk shipments.

One farmer draining milk from his cows to the drain lamented that he must “throw away milk like garbage.”

Toxins are stored in fatty tissue of bodies and the biomagnification of toxins up trophic tiers means that milk brings with it a greater accumulation of toxins in our bodies, just as fish did for human Minamata denizens. It should be pointed out, however, that toxic substances can concentrate in higher levels in water than on land because food chains are longer (Sandra Steingraber, Having Faith: An Ecologist’s Journey to Motherhood). This is why Minamata fishing communities suffered the effects of mercury poisoning so radically. It makes it doubly important to watch radiation levels in the ocean off of the coast of the nuclear reactors in Fukushima.

What is a food chain anyway? Who is at the top? We usually think of a “man” at the top of a food chain but Sandra Steingraber illustrates that it is not “man” but a fetus that stands to be most harmed by toxins and following the fetus is a breastfeeding infant. Placenta can magnify levels of toxins. And about the breastfeeding child and biomagnification Steingraber writes “After the tuna sandwiches and glasses of cow’s milk are all consumed, there still remains one more chance for the contaminants they carry to magnify, and that takes place inside the breasts of nursing mothers” who add a trophic tier to the human food chain. Increased toxins from veggies and milk are potentially harmful for mothers breastfeeding since they transfer toxins to infants through the milk that contains chemicals trapped inside milk fat globules, at least 60% of which are from long-lived fat-soluble contaminants from a lifetime burden of contaminants in the female body. These are even transferred to her through the milk of her own mother (Steingraber).

One woman interviewed in Tokyo says she can handle the radioactivity in water and milk but worries about her infant. The fact is that the mother will pass on toxins to her breast-feeding infant in inestimable quantity. And the sadder truth is that nuclear accident-produced contamination may be the least toxic contaminant in the mother’s body. The persistent toxic organic pollutants in human breast milk makes it the most contaminated of all human foods. One reseacher writes in 1996 that “Breast milk, if regulated like infant formula, would commonly violate FDA action levels for poisonous or deleterious substances in food and could not be sold.” Steingraber writes, On average, in industrialized countried, breastfed infants ingest each day fifty times more PCBs per pound of body weight than do their parents. We have DDT, PCBs, flame retardants, fungicides, wood preservatives, termite poisons, toilet deodorizers, cable-insulating materials, gasoline vapors, dry-cleaning fluids, chemical pollutants of garbage incinerations, and other contaminants in breast milk.

With the recent finding of radioactivity in the water supply in Tokyo, we have added yet another contaminant to the water supply. So while Edano says that levels of radioactivity do not pose an immediate threat to health or when researcher Matsumoto Yoshihisa who is a radiation science and molecular biologists says he, his children, and his family will gobble up Fukushima vegetables and milk, one wonders if a breastfeeding mother understanding the process of biomagnification would. Emeritus professor of Waseda University, Professor Ootsuki Yoshihiko, also known as a television “talent,” says “Send me the stopped shipments [of spinach and milk] and I’ll gladly eat them.” Prof. Ootsuki ends his blog on March 21st with the statement “Cars are not safe but necessary. In the same way, nuclear power is not safe but necessary.” I end my blog here asking, “Should we be so sure?”

We’re all in this together.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Aquariums and Holding Tanks

Along with aquaculture, aquariums notoriously lie along beaches. Reports of damage to aquariums has been almost nil in the press, but JAZA, the Japan Association of Zoos and Aquariums, has provided some detail.

The aquarium that has been hit the hardest has been the Fukushima Kaiyo Kagaku-kan or “Aquamarine Fukushima” in Iwaki city. People living in the area reported watching the tsunami waves roll over the building. The most widely reported story (though a mere pebble in the bucket compared with stories about humans) is of two seal lions, 15-year old Ichiro and his one-year old female sidekick Hama, both of whom have been moved by truck to new facilities. Their emergency evacuation was to Numazu city’s aquarium “Izu-Mito Sea Paradise” in Shizuoka prefecture. Photos show Ichiro sitting up pertly (for a 500-kilo giant) in a white iron cage.

Stories of the death of smaller creatures in the aquarium are hard to come by. This is because like the sudden appearance of an ocean-going bearded seal in the freshwater Tama River in Tokyo in 2002 who brought thousands of humans to the river shores, brought long-term hikikomori or “shut-ins” out of their homes and rooms, inspired on-line art and poems dedicated to Tama the seal, and started an environmental awareness campaign in the ward, large ocean mammals are a great source of fascination for humans. The mammals in Aquamarine Fukushima were quickly moved out, but fish and invertebrates won’t survive. Hundreds of fish species will soon or have already died because it has been impossible to maintain the temperatures needed for their survival without electricity. There were emergency generators in place should the electricity go out, but there was no fuel for them after the tsunami and no fuel was later provided. Fish were exposed to colder temperatures and quickly weakened. Refrigerators had no power so the feed in them went bad. In total there were at Aquamarine Fukushima 450 species of fish numbering 44,000; 240 vertebrates numbering 156,000; 500 types of plants numbering 20,000; 18 mammals, 27 birds, and bugs. 220,000 fish, invertebrates, and plants will die. One specialist in the prefecture said that “with gas and oil resources scarce, while it is sad, human life is the most important” (Mainichi Shinbun, March 17). Those to be moved to new environs in Chiba prefecture’s Kamogawa Seaworld and Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo are 3 stellar sea lions, 2 seals, 2 walruses, two pelicans, 5 gulls, and one otter. In Matsushima’s Marinpia park, 2 beavers have died.

Then there were the dolphins about to be shipped to new “sea worlds” from Taichi Japan who have disappeared. Taichi Japan in Wakayama prefecture, known globally for its dolphin harvesting through the Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove, lost 13 dolphins when the quake caused damage to the tanks holding them. Fishermen had planned on selling these dolphins to various sea zoos and will see monetary losses of 14,900,000 yen. Marine entertainment centers, especially in the western world, use language for their facilities that emphasizes how such centers “save” wildlife and “educate” citizenry through their facilities but there is no denying the big money that can be made from the export of live dolphins by fishermen and the global sea world entertainment industry.

Taiji began expanding its business in dolphin export relatively recently. It created tanks for dolphins so that sea world buyers can pick dolphins for sea zoos. Bottlenose dolphins are also held in sea pens at the outer edge of the harbor to be trained and prepared for shipment reportedly to places like US, Holland, Hong Kong and Israel. Other export markets include Korea, China, Mexico, Tahiti, Taiwan, and Thailand. The covert nature of these sales makes them hard to track. Dolphin harvesting in Japan gets falsely touted as national traditional culture or as a fishing practice. In its current form, it is not. The biggest losses to the Taiji fisherman is from selling live, rather than processed, dolphin.

The captivity of dolphins and other mammals is a worldwide billion-dollar industry. Not counting the Russian and American military dolphins, there are over a thousand captive dolphins scattered around the world. They can be found in amusement parks, dolphin-swim programs, zoos, roadside shows, and even shopping centers and discotheques.

And the thousands of fish that will die as a result of no electricity or back-up generators? They're yet more victims of the tsunami. But the cruel irony here is the image of saltwater fishes being killed by a wave of salt water. Such is the unnaturalness of their captivity.

We're all in this together.