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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Fukushima 福島 – hopefully an island of blessing and good fortune

Fukushima (福島) is a Japanese place name being mentioned every minute in the news these days.  Everyone knows now that it is the location of the nuclear crisis after last Friday's strong earthquake that hit Japan, but few people in the west know that this name written in Japanese characters actually means "an island of blessing and good fortune" (and in this case same meaning in Chinese characters).

For most people, Fukushima is just a name that they have learned recently, but for me it's a familiar name since I was a little child because my uncle lives there.  My uncle is a surgeon and owner of a small private hospital there after he completed his medical education in Japan. One thing I never knew until recently is that Fukushima prefecture houses so many (6!) nuclear reactors near its coastal area.

It is simply difficult to complete my daily task as I pay much attention to the news updates that are feeding the internet, and hoping for some encouraging news to see the nuclear crisis be brought under control.

As far as I know, in my uncle's area they have no gasoline (maybe little is coming through and it runs out quickly?), electricity was just restored the day before yesterday, but there is no running water since the water pipelines were damaged by the earthquake.  Each person that can carry loads goes to the local government office building with containers, there is a very long line-up, 6 liters per person per trip is the limit, my uncle transports water by riding his bicycle.  In order to receive water supply, they actually have to take the risk of exposing themselves to the radiation-contaminated air, if they stay indoors like the government suggested, they will have no water.  So the situation is quite difficult, one has to choose between no water or to go outside and have some degree of radiation exposure.

In some hard-hit coastal town people are hungry and scavenge for food.  In the neighborhood of my uncle’s, they are luckier, neighbors share what they have to survive, they maintain good spirit.  There is no riot, no looting, the Japanese people are the most orderly and disciplined citizens of the world, they never take opportunities to benefit themselves from other people's misfortune, and this is something I respect.  I wonder what if the same situation happens in a city in the west, like the Big Apple, or Athens, would it be the same?  I always feel disgusted when I see a football / baseball / hockey championship celebration in a western city turning into a violent street riot and late night looting of its downtown shops.

Based on a worst scenario contingent plan and to avoid a possible second disaster, I wonder why the Japanese government would not take further precautionary measure to evacuate its citizens living within the 80 km of the nuclear power plant as suggested by the US government's judgment of toxic level.  Instead, they seem to still have much patience and trust towards the Tokyo Electric Power Company's uncertain mission to confine the damage.  We pray for the wisdom of all who are involved in crucial decision making as we understand that those experts have been working around the clock without much rest and the radiation limit for workers involved in emergency operations was raised to 250 millisieverts from 100 millisieverts.  But a larger evacuation contingent plan is always an option.

I never like nuclear power even if it is a cheaper way to produce a lot of energy because the disposal of used rods is a controversial problem, after some treatment they are dumped on earth and no matter how remote the dump sites are, they are on our one and only planet which has already been loaded with other types of waste (another problem!).  I hope clean energy such as solar / wind generated energy sources can be utilized and developed more, but overall, I think we should change our life styles to cut unnecessary energy consumption.  Our kids should go out more to the field to play sports or to hike, and learn more about our mother nature and how to protect the environment while TV viewing and electronic gaming should be kept at a minimum.

Fukushima, I pray, is an "island of blessing and good fortune" at the end and not a second disaster.

Additional reading:

Asahi interview of Tetsuo Takashima, a Japanese novelist and former nuclear scientist about Japan's future nuclear power industry

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