March 19, 2011

Japan without the sensationalism… from someone living there

(The following is an email from my friend Scott Bohart, who lives in Tokyo and whose assessment of the situation in Japan post-tsunami and post-nuclear reactor damage provides a counterpoint to everything we’ve been hearing in the media. Published here in its totality and with his consent.)


I want to mail you about the reality of the situation here as opposed to the hype the foreign media is using to increase ratings.

Also, before I tell of my situation, please know that the experience of my friends in Sendai (where I used to live until about 4 years ago) was much more difficult and scary – let alone the experience of those on the coast where the Tsunami hit and did such dreadful damage.

I am only telling my story so that you will hear what the reality is in Tokyo on the street for real people. Please watch this video from a friend of mine who lives in Sendai if you want to hear about what things are like in the city of Sendai itself as opposed to the Tsunami damage which has gotten so much coverage:

She has about 6 videos on Youtube about the situation in Sendai if you are interested. They are very good and by listening to her voice, you can hear that she is still shaken.

For those who have not directly heard from me, I am safe and the worst I’ve had to endure was walking home from work on Friday the 11th (2 1/2 hours – my poor feet!), but I heard of others who had to walk for 8 or more hours. The worst part was that there were also 10 million other people walking home at the same time. Its was not necessarily the distance as much as the inability to walk at a normal pace that was difficult.

Since then, we have had to endure numerous aftershocks. The other night for example, I’m pretty sure we experienced about 10 little quakes – this was unusual, however.

Individually, each one is not that scary if you have lived in Japan for awhile and understand that Japan has quakes regularly. However, in light of the fact that the first big earthquake in Tokyo started off rather small like these tremors but then continued to build and build until everything was shaking very hard, you can understand that when a small one comes I am always wondering how big it will get and if I need to lie in the corner where it is safer or if I can just wait it out as usual.

Also, I find myself “off balance” a lot. My body seems to be “shaken”. This means that I get off balance easily by the slightest shaking – even if a bus drives by on the street and I feel tremors from it.

Also, just by sitting in a chair or standing, if I am not 100% centered, i sometimes begin to feel just slightly unbalanced and then I have to stop and check to see if it is a quake or just me being “ungrounded”. More than anything else, this has been difficult for me. To be honest, if this is the worst I’ve had to endure, then I think I’m doing pretty good, thank you very much.

There have also been train irregularities and grocery shelves are often empty. People in Tokyo are scared and are hoarding food. For example: I went 5 minutes after opening today and was lucky to get the last box of eggs. I attribute this to the news media making things so sensationalistic and dramatic. I’m sure that next week there will be a lot of milk and eggs being thrown out.

These changes have been mostly a nuisance actually. I just have to leave home earlier and make sure I go to the store early too.

Finally, though I’ve not experienced it yet, friends of mine have had had to go through the rolling blackouts and many public places are turning off all but the basic electricity they need to do business i.e.: hall lights, entry lights, electric signs, etc.

All this said, I want to give praise to the Japanese people and this society. In the face of all this, Japanese people have done a really good job of keeping things “normal”.

In spite of the quakes, power plant madness and the Tsunamis, I have yet to hear of one single case of rape, murder, looting or pillaging as a result of these disasters. There might be some jacking of prices and people trying to make money off of others’ fears (suddenly earthquake insurance companies are making a killing!), but when it comes to the kind of chaos one might expect after a huge natural disaster, that is definitely not the case here. For some reason, the Japanese people have kept their dignity and humanity. I hope I am not being premature in my praise.

About the nuclear situation in Fukushima, I’d like you to know that Tokyo is about 250 Km (200 miles) from Tokyo. Please keep that in mind when reading what I have attached below.

It is a summary by a guy who went to the British Government’s teleconference about the nuclear situation earlier this week Please read it and understand that things are under control. Japan will not become a Chernobyl.

Also, as you read it, please ask yourself this question: “If the news media has made this situation seem so much bigger than it is, are they presenting other news to me faithfully or is it just hype to increase viewership or to present a certain message that the people who run the organizations want me to hear?”

Something to think about folks.

Thanks again to all of you for sending me well wishes, love and support. I appreciate hearing that so many people think about me and my situation.

Be safe and stay grounded, Scott

Here’s the information I got from a guy who went to the meeting:

“I have just returned from a conference call held at the British Embassy in Tokyo. The call was concerning the nuclear issue in Japan. The chief spokesman was Sir. John Beddington, Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government, and he was joined by a number of qualified nuclear experts based in the UK.”

Their assessment of the current situation in Japan is as follows:

* In case of a ‘reasonable worst case scenario’ (defined as total meltdown of one reactor with subsequent radioactive explosion) an exclusion zone of 30 miles (50km) would be the maximum required to avoid affecting peoples’ health. Even in a worse situation (loss of two or more reactors) it is unlikely that the damage would be significantly more than that caused by the loss of a single reactor.

* The current 20km exclusion zone is appropriate for the levels of radiation/risk currently experienced, and if the pouring of sea water can be maintained to cool the reactors, the likelihood of a major incident should be avoided. A further large quake with tsunami could lead to the suspension of the current cooling operations, leading to the above scenario.

* The bottom line is that these experts do not see there being a possibility of a health problem for residents in Tokyo. The radiation levels would need to be hundreds of times higher than current to cause the possibility for health issues, and that, in their opinion, is not going to happen (they were talking minimum levels affecting pregnant women and children – for normal adults the levels would need to be much higher still).

* The experts do not consider the wind direction to be material. They say Tokyo is too far away to be materially affected.

* If the pouring of water can be maintained the situation should be much improved after ten days, as the reactors’ cores cool down.

* Information being provided by Japanese authorities is being independently monitored by a number of organizations and is deemed to be accurate, as far as measures of radioactivity levels are concerned.

* This is a very different situation from Chernobyl, where the reactor went into meltdown and the encasement, which exploded, was left to burn for weeks without any control. Even with Chernobyl, an exclusion zone of 30 miles would have been adequate to protect human health. The problem was that most people became sick from eating contaminated food, crops, milk and water in the region for years afterward, as no attempt was made to measure radioactivity levels in the food supply at that time or warn people of the dangers. The secrecy over the Chernobyl explosion is in contrast to the very public coverage of the Fukushima crisis.

* The Head of the British School asked if the school should remain closed. The answer was there is no need to close the school due to fears of radiation. There may well be other reasons – structural damage or possible new quakes – but the radiation fear is not supported by scientific measures, even for children.

* Regarding Iodine supplementation, the experts said this was only necessary for those who had inhaled quantities of radiation (those in the exclusion zone or workers on the site) or through consumption of contaminated food/water supplies. Long term consumption of iodine is, in any case, not healthy.

The discussion was surprisingly frank and to the point. The conclusion of the experts is that the damage caused by the earthquake and tsunami, as well as the subsequent aftershocks, was much more of an issue than the fear of radiation sickness from the nuclear plants.

Last bit: if you are a real junkie, here’s a link to a guy who writes in detail about why there will be no significant trouble from these reactors:


BEWARE: its a loooooong article. That said, it is very, very good.

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