Springing

February 29, 2012

Gathering fukinoto again can only mean that it is just over one year since we moved on to this land. Actions repeated as our rhythms synchronise with the seasons. Seasonal tasks emerge: a winter of pruning to revive long abandoned fruit and nut trees, cutting logs for growing mushrooms, gathering vines from the forest for basketry, thinning the bamboo grove, making miso and, of course, plenty of foraging for winter foods.

Short evenings spent with a pot of hot tea on the hibachi (a large urn in which charcoal is placed on a bed of ash), hands kept warm with the whittling of bamboo utensils, weaving of baskets or binding of grass brooms. Legs warm under the low, quilt covered table, covering also another bed of ash and more glowing charcoal. An arrangement the Japanese call kotatsu. For the inexperienced it will be meaningless to talk of the qualitative difference in the heat that emanates from charcoal. It may lack the look of adequate heat, the brash and violent blaze of a well fuelled wood fire but nevertheless it slowly, quietly projects a heat that penetrates deeply.  A little can go a surprisingly long way, but we are talking quality not quantity. This may be the old secret to the close-knit nature of Japanese family life: there is but one warm place in the house and you must be within inches of it to receive its warmth.

Now spring is returning, so says fukinoto, a proclamation seconded by the flowering willows. The clear days are warm. Birds sing encouragement to the swelling buds in the build up to a full spring crescendo. Encouragement is needed for the spring comes in fits and starts. Warm humid days fool shiitake into a premature flushing. The return to cold dry weather leaving only knobs of stunted and dehydrated would-be mushrooms on the logs. A hapless wasp, likewise fooled into a premature emergence, staggers on the door step, dazed by the cold.

There are good reasons for the long delay since my last post. I prefer to write in the early morning but as winter progressed my warm futon produced increasingly compelling arguments against such a routine. Winter almost done I had a novel idea: I could write with pencil and paper! Imagine that. And no need to get out of bed. Wake up, reach for notebook and pencil and dip in to the flow. Writing when half asleep is an interesting exercise. A revealing exercise. Jotting down whatever comes in to your head as you linger in that sweet space between sleep and wakefulness… But whatever comes into my head, interesting, or revealing as it may be, doesn’t necessarily make for appropriate blog material. Nevertheless, I am quite taken by this pencil and paper thing and will happily spend a lot less time in front of a glowing screen.

It is not that I have not been writing at all though. I have written a piece on miso making for the Permaculture Research Institute website and have another couple of articles in the works for them. There is a wealth of interesting articles posted regularly on the PRI website.  The pieces by Kyle Chamberlain I have found particularly interesting.

I am also working on a book. Ostensibly about wild harvesting though not a field guide. More like a politico-philosophical treatise, or a foragers manifesto, if you will.

It has been a wonderful first year at Shikigami. A difficult thing to say in light  of the traumatic events in Japan. The best news this past year has been the permanent closure of the Hamaoka nuclear power plant, about 80km’s south west of Shikigami. We are very happy indeed with this announcement and look forward to future announcements of the closure of all the remaining nuclear reactors in Japan and throughout the world. From the timing of the announcement (or our awareness of it, at least) it could be tempting to think of it as last years Christmas present but we know that Christmas presents go with the opening of power stations, not their closings.

The closure of Hamaoka is good and necessary, to be sure, but it remains that the options in Japan are largely between nuclear and coal fired power plants. We say, none of the above! And forget about green tech fantasies to keep the economy rolling (bulldozing) along. Our economic system is the driver for the wholesale destruction of environments and the lives woven through them, not to mention the further decimation of communities long stripped from sustaining environments. We put our own energy into showing the desirability and wealth of low energy living. (More workshops to be held in Tokyo in March. Details soon.)

Given the continuing and deepening global economic crisis, playing out most dramatically in Greece at present, the time may have finally come  when significant numbers of people will realize that not only is a change of system desirable but also inevitable. I continue to do work on gift economics, mostly focused on researching anthropological works on traditional gift economies. I am beginning to think that the notion of reciprocity may be overemphasized in contemporary reconstructions of gift economies, something I have done in my own writing. Perhaps the inevitable result of those fully immersed in market ideologies trying to come to terms with the radical difference of gift cultures.

Recently, thanks to the brilliantly titled Art for Housewives blog, I have been introduced to the work of Mark Boyle, a Brit who has lived for over two years without using any money. Boyle has written a book, with the rather dull title, The Moneyless Man (a publishers, not a writers title choice, to be sure), recounting his cash free experiences. He has a second book on the way that addresses many of the questions and criticisms raised by the earlier work. I have not read his book but I have been looking at freeconomy, the community website he founded. Freeconomy is basically a site to find local people to join with in the creation of gift circles. People list skills, tools and other things they can share and if you require something you contact the individual concerned and a connection is established. At first it may sound somewhat like LETS (Local Energy Trading System) but an important difference is that LETS is based on the exchange of time, that is, time is used as a unit of currency. Its essential difference from the regular economy is a difference in the means of exchange. Freeconomy has no accounting, no unit of exchange and is therefore a true gift economy.

I do not mean to suggest some kind of purist gift economics dogma though. Our current economic system will be the dea(r)th of us all and any and all methods of operating outside of that system are needed. Now.

Finally, while on the subject of gift economies, this blog now features a new Gift Circle page. The Shikigami gift circle provides a way for you, should you so wish, to offer gifts that will help in the continuation of our work and the work of others we wish to support. If you enjoy reading this blog, find the information useful, the ideas stimulating  or inspiring, the pictures nice, please take a moment to check it out.

The Inexpressible

August 24, 2011

Sitting on the floor around a low table with friends visiting from Tokyo, eating fresh produce from the garden not ten metres away. Spirits enlivened with a light buzz from the mugwort homebrew.

During the course of the evening the conversation inevitably turns to Fukushima and, like a dark storm cloud filling a summer sky, a heaviness descends on the gathering. Voices are lowered, sentences punctuated with long silences as we each struggle to find the words.

One of our friends is from Fukushima prefecture, her parents still living there. They are a “safe” distance away but not saying it aloud we all know in Fukushima there are no safe distances. There is much that is not said aloud, it doesn’t need to be, our facial expressions and body language show what we are all thinking or trying not to think.

What should we say to the large numbers of people living there? The government’s reassurances are disingenuous at best and often just blatant lies. Arising in Fukushima is a sort of prefectural patriotism where overt concern is scorned, the worried considered hysterical. The reaction of a traumatized population that cannot leave.

Compensation is being offered only to those that were living inside the official evacuation zone, a 30km radius around Fukushima Daiichi. Considered grossly inadequate by all international observers and non-government/industry affiliated experts in Japan, such a small evacuation zone certainly eases the financial burden on TEPCO, the nuclear plants operator, and the government. What this decision means is that hundreds of thousands of residents are unable to leave. Unable to sell their houses and with no hope of assistance from the government or TEPCO they believe they are condemned to remain. Denial their only defence against the invisible threat.

The danger they face is amplified by the shameful response of the government. One of the latest examples of reprehensible (in)action by the Japanese government regards the burning of contaminated rubble. Materials so highly radioactive that in other countries they would be subject to the strict controls of radioactive waste and disposed of in secure underground facilities are being burnt in Fukushima, releasing even more radioactive material into the atmosphere and re-contaminating sites, such as school playgrounds, that have been stripped of their topsoil already in efforts to lower radioactivity. [For more on this see the second half of this video issued by Fairewinds]

To say the unspeakable: Like a human sacrifice offered to the gods of industrial civilization the people of Fukushima and surrounding prefectures are offered up by their government to pay the price of our collective madness.

And the madness runs deep indeed. The young parents of a Fukushima family state in an interview that they are remaining in an area known to be highly contaminated because of their jobs! The “security” of a job trumps the health of their children. Obviously not an isolated case as the school the children attend appears to still have a substantial number of students, masked, in long sleeves and pants during the heat of summer.

Whether one views the modern world as insane or not may even be a criterion of one’s own sanity. – Masanobu Fukuoka

In the local supermarket of our Tokyo friends leafy vegetables from prefectures bordering Fukushima are still being sold. Whilst Japanese scientists are pleading for all food grown in Japan to be tested for radiatioactivity before going to market the most vulnerable types of vegetables grown dangerously close to the site of the multiple nuclear reactor meltdowns are still finding their way onto the shelves of Tokyo stores. There are not enough facilities to expand current testing, apparently, and there are no signs of any action being taken to remedy this situation.

I could go on and on…a screed of words borne of anger and frustration…but, beneath the anger, deeper than the place from where the rage stirs there is a pain for which I cannot find words, an inexpressible sorrow…What have we become? What are we doing?

DIY Kitchen Appliances

June 21, 2011

Living up in the mountains with the nearest road a good ten minutes walk along a steep forest path it is quite extraordinary that we have mains electricity. I imagine that nowhere else but Japan would a utility company go to such lengths to get a house on the grid. Its true this connection allows us some modern comforts – well, three at least: laptop, lights and a refrigerator (whose days are definitely numbered) – but, had we been the original occupants we probably would have opted to stay off the grid. Right from the time we first moved here we have discussed options for generating electricity ourselves, at first in the context of long-term plans but following events at Fukushima these discussions have gained some urgency. Reasons for generating our own electricity are hopefully too obvious to warrant comment but why detach from the grid altogether? Our grid is owned and operated by Tepco (the Devil itself!).

Although the micro-hydro system we would like to have generating the few kilowatts of electricity we need might still be a little way off we have been working on some super low technologies to better align our energy use with our circumstances and needs.

The previous occupant of our house seems to have done most of her cooking by gas. Convenient if you live in a city, or village, or just if there is a road nearby, really. Far less convenient when the gas bottles have to be carried on your back up in to the mountains. Also when you live in the midst of a forest there tends to be an abundance of fuel, everywhere. And, of course, you gotta pay for the gas (and which friendly neighboorhood corporation will be taking your money this time?).

Rice Cooker

To reduce overall fuel consumption the first cooking appliance we built was a heat retention cooker (HRC). These brilliantly simple devices – sometimes referred to as ‘haybox cookers’ due to the insulation material originally used or by us as our ‘rice cooker’ due to what we mostly use it for –  are certainly one of the most effective energy-saving cooking devices around. Using the gas rice cooker that we inherited with the house it took around 35 – 40 minutes of fuel usage to cook one days supply of rice plus another 10 or so minutes each time we wanted to reheat the rice. With the heat retention rice cooker it takes around 10 minutes of fuel usage to generate enough heat to cook the rice and 3 – 5 minutes to reheat it (the HRC will keep the rice warm for the best part of a day but we avoid doing this due to the risks of bacterial growth in a constantly warm environment). Keep in mind the times I have given are for fuel usage not cooking time [see below].

The principle of the HRC is simply that you heat food in a pot then place the pot in the HRC (an insulated container) which traps the heat emitted from the food in the pot and uses this heat to cook the food. Essentially it’s a sort of slow cooker so can be used for anything you might cook in a slow cooker such as grains, beans, stews, casseroles etc., or anything you might  use an insulated box for such as making yoghurt or keeping food warm.

A couple of cardboard boxes, wood ash, a sheet of styrofoam-like material backed with a reflective material (used in Japan for covering bath tubs to keep the water hot), tape, a bag of batting an old blanket.

We used wood-ash as an insulator because we have it but other insulating materials could be corrugated cardboard, old blankets, polystyrene type packaging materials… As most of the heat escapes from the top of the box this must be insulated well hence our two layers of corrugated cardboard covered with the reflective material, the batting inside a plastic bag (preventing it from becoming moist and smelly) and the old blanket over the lid of the cooker (added mainly to hold the lid down but gives one more layer of insulation to the cooker). It is well worth lining the inside of the box with some sort of reflective material as this will reflect the heat emanating from the pot back at the pot.

The model we designed and built might seem a little over engineered but it works so well I would say the little extra effort and materials  really paid off. Before making our HRC we had read that brown rice would require 10 to 15 minutes boiling then 2 hours in the HRC. We boil our brown rice for 5 minutes and after one hour in the HRC it is perfectly cooked (this is only 15 to 20 minutes more than most electric rice cookers!). It’s true that our cooking time is improved because we sprout the rice before cooking but no matter how you cook it brown rice should be soaked for a long time or, better, sprouted.

The Macrowave

Another simple device we have built is a solar box cooker.

Two boxes, a sheet of glass, some aluminium foil, wheat paste, tape and a blackened pot.

We completed the solar cooker just as we entered the rainy season so we haven’t had many opportunities to use it yet. But on the rare sunny days that we have had over the past month it has performed reasonably well. Putting a pot of water on in the morning we have boiling water for morning tea. Nothing but beautiful rays of sunshine…

The dimensions of our solar cooker were determined by the piece of glass we had and it is a little smaller than ideal. Not shown in the photograph is a ‘splash plate’ of aluminium painted flat black that sits under the pot. It’s critical to use blackened pots in solar cookers as they make an immense difference to the cooking time.

For the low down on all things solar cooking including plans: solarcooking.org

The Rocket

Our latest DIY cooking appliance is a little rocket stove. With just a handful of sticks it burns really hot producing very little smoke. Since we introduced the rocket stove to our kitchen set-up we have almost entirely ceased using the gas cooker. [Update, June 2012. Shortly after this post was written we did cease using the gas cooker entirely. It has been in storage for around 10 months and not missed at all.]

An old commercial size soy sauce can, a length of stove-pipe, a stove-pipe elbow bend, a tin can, wood ash.

A rocket stove maximizes combustion and heat transfer efficiency. In a well built stove all the volatile gases released as the wood gets hot will be combusted. This occurs when there is sufficient temperature. To attain the necessary temperatures the stove is insulated with low mass, heat resistant materials (wood ash, again, in our case). The complete combustion of the volatile gases results in virtually no smoke being emitted – a cleaner, more efficient use of wood as cooking fuel.

Rocket stove before the addition of wood-ash insulation

Although our little rocket stove works brilliantly we’re planning a new improved model already: multiple burners with high, medium and low heat, raising it to table top height… At present we use ‘risers’ to elevate our pots above the flame when we need to ‘turn the heat down’ and when we want to turn it right up we have a ‘skirt’ that fits snugly around the pot and directs the heat vertically up the sides of the pot increasing efficiency. [June, 2012. We never did get around to making that fancy new improved model. Instead we learned how to cook well on a single burner. Having the HRC in combination with the rocket stove has worked well as we can keep a dish warm in the HRC as we prepare the next dish on the rocket.]

Video tutorial on making a rocket stove

The Rocket Stove Principle

May 17, 2011

The mountain mists that roll through the valley are near unbearably melancholic today. The fine drizzle falling after a day of sowing that should bring such joy to the heart of a farmer instead  gives rise to a sick feeling in the pit of the stomach.

Three days into our first tea harvest we made the very difficult decision to abandon it. Not only are we great lovers of green tea but we had been aiming to make tea production one of the ways we generate the modest income that we  require. The prefecture where we live is well known as a tea growing region and the forests surrounding us are full of wild tea plants (Camellia sinensis). It is a tea lovers paradise, or was, until cesium began showing up in samples of tea grown in our prefecture. At first it was in tea grown in Kanagawa prefecture (southwest of Tokyo) that high levels of cesium were discovered then later lower but significant levels were found in tea from Shizuoka prefecture where we are based.

In the soil cesium acts like potassium so plants, like Camellias, that are heavy users of potassium will tend to take up more cesium. The cesium moves through the plant and is concentrated in the young shoots and new leaves – precisely the parts of the plant that are utilised in the production of tea.

So, the list of highly suspect foods in Japan (outside of Fukushima prefecture that is) now includes fish, seaweed, shiitake mushrooms (and other fungi grown outdoors) and tea. Add rice and soy to that list and you’d have covered all of the most consumed foods in Japan.

It should be noted that both Kanagawa and Shizuoka prefectures are south of Tokyo while the Fukushima Daiichi disaster site is north of Tokyo. While there is still only a 30km evacuation zone around the stricken power plant highly radioactive isotopes from the plant are showing up in vegetation hundreds of kilometres to the south. And in between is one of the worlds most populated cities.

Japan’s nightmare continues to unfold and all indications are that it may continue to get much worse yet. The situation at Fukushima Daiichi is very unstable. The video Fukushima – One Step Forward and Four Steps Back as Each Unit Challenged by New Problems outlines just how bad it is.

Fukushima: Week Four

April 8, 2011

The sea is radioactive, the drinking water served with a slice of thyroid cancer and vegetables now glow in the dark. Go Nuclear!

Developments at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in the past weeks are too bleak not to joke about. A little gallows humour to ease the trauma.

The official response to the disaster has certainly been laughable. In a tragic and disturbing sort of way. Actually not funny at all but eliciting an exasperated breathless laughter of indignation. The Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) are recklessly placing the people of Fukushima and surrounding prefectures in great danger in order to protect the nuclear industry in Japan and prevent the Japanese public from realizing the true danger posed by the countries nuclear program.

A week after the earthquake and tsunami crippled the Daiichi facility the government raised its nuclear disaster alert from 4 to 5. Non-government and non-industry affiliated scientists were claiming a rating of 6.5 or 7 (the highest alert on the scale) was warranted. Also, from this time the same outside observers were calling, and later pleading, with the government to increase the evacuation zone to 50km’s for children and pregnant women. Other countries have been warning their citizens not to go within 80 km’s of Fukushima Daiichi. Three weeks later the Japanese government announces that it is considering expanding the evacuation zone to 30km’s!

All information released to the public has been very carefully managed in order not to ’cause panic’; a euphemism for not raising awareness.

The Japanese Meteorological Agency has been withholding data regarding the dispersion of radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi plant on the grounds that ‘it feared releasing the data could cause public misunderstanding about radiation threats.’ (Japan Times Online). But, what they actually meant to say was that they have been withholding data because they fear that should it enter the public domain it might result in widespread public understanding of radiation threats.

The handling of all data regarding the Fukushima Daiichi accident has been appalling. Necessary relevant data for outside observers to analyse what is occurring inside the stricken reactors has not been forthcoming. Radiation levels are under reported and the health and environmental threats of radiation are consistently downplayed.

The Japanese public broadcaster NHK has uncritically repeated the official government lines on all matters  relating to Fukushima Daiichi and now the international media are starting to repeat the spin. International media outlets have been reporting that ‘low levels’ of radioactive water have been deliberately leaked into the ocean by TEPCO as part of their disaster management strategy. ‘Low levels’ that are 100 times above the legal allowable limit! The levels are relatively low compared to the radioactive water that is thousands of times above the limit that has been uncontrollably leaking into the Pacific but to simply call them low creates the impression that they are not harmful to human health and the environment – something that government spokesman Yukio Edano has repeatedly claimed – which then begs the question if these levels are not harmful why has the government set the allowable legal level one hundred times lower? (For more on the obfuscating of the true dangers of radiation see Al Jazeera ‘No safe levels’ of radiation in Japan.)

On April 5 the BBC reported that the Japanese government is undertaking a program to test radiation levels in all schools and kindergartens in Fulkushima prefecture. What the BBC reporter omitted from their article was that citizens in Fukushima have been haranguing the government to test schools before the commencement of the school year but due to lack of action by the government began their own testing program. The government, on the other hand, has been pushing for all schools in Fukushima to hold their commencement ceremonies as scheduled even though the citizens groups testing for radiation were asking for commencement to be delayed as they would not be able to test all the necessary sites in time. So, under mounting public pressure and vocal dissatisfaction with the governments handling of the situation the government will now carry out testing of school yards. Given the approach the government has taken to all data related to radiation levels in Fukushima one can’t help but wonder if this belated testing program isn’t , in fact, an attempt to take control of the data away from concerned citizens groups so it can be placed quickly in the spin machine and made confusing and incomprehensible and ‘safe.’ (For more on citizen monitoring of radiation levels in Japan see Fukushima radiation monitoring of schools and Citizen scientists help monitor radiation in Japan)

Business as Usual

From the very beginning of the Fukushima accident the nuclear industry has gone into full damage control mode. Not to control damage to human lives or the environment but to control the damage to their dirty business. This is a play they have rehearsed often as there have been many instances during the history of nuclear power in Japan when it has been necessary to cover up, clean up, pay hush money to the relatives of those killed directly from radiation exposure and undermine the cases of those dying slowly from exposure. (See Nuclear Ginza for more on this).

The nuclear power industry in Japan is one of the most powerful in the world and for the past forty years has waged a, by all measures successful, propaganda campaign to convince the Japanese public that nuclear power is safe and the only option they have. The latter statement is in fact true: nuclear power is the only option the Japanese have because nuclear power companies have a monopoly on the means of distributing power. That is, for each region of Japan a single nuclear power generating company owns the infrastructure for the delivery of electricity.

If it weren’t for the monopolizing of electricity distribution by nuclear power interests the Japanese would have numerous options available to them. It is hard to imagine a topography better suited to the implementation of small scale hydro-generation than that of Japan. There is no shortage of companies in Japan developing clean renewable energy technology (and, to counter an oft cited piece of misinformation, nuclear power is not renewable as it uses uranium, a finite resource and it can hardly be considered clean when it leaves a legacy of deadly toxic waste for 12,000 generations of humans). The renewable energy companies are waiting in line to help meet Japan’s energy needs but are prevented, by the nuclear power companies controlling the means of distribution, from implementing this technology on any kind of meaningful scale. Hence the technology remains a novelty and not a serious contender for meeting Japan’s energy requirements.

Yet a more fundamental question must be raised. Are the energy requirements, with or without nuclear, with or without solar or hydro or wind or whatever, actually realistic. The calculation of the nations future ‘energy requirements’ assumes a continuous increase in the demand for energy, so, no, they are not realistic. Our planet has physical limits. The whole argument for nuclear energy is thus based on a false problem. And we shouldn’t be rushing out to cover our hills in wind turbines either!

Small scale decentralized energy generation is far more realistic, safe and efficient. It has obvious limits and we must learn to live within those limits. In one sense the Japanese are ready for this. Solar hot water heaters are immensely popular in Japan and I see more photovoltaic solar panels in Japanese cities than possibly anywhere else I have been. But, in another sense, the Japanese seem a long way from scaling down their immense usage of electricity. This is also the most gadgetized society I have ever seen.

Turning the Tide

Cracks have appeared in the nuclear industries facade and for once the Japanese are seeing a side of nuclear power that has been carefully hidden from them. It now remains to be seen if an effective anti-nuclear movement can be mobilized to prevent the nuclear industry from patching up these cracks, a movement that can jimmy open these cracks even further and expose all the political manipulation, financial subsidies and misinformation on which nuclear power depends.

With no alternative media, a slavish mainstream media and both major political parties holding staunchly pro-nuclear stances this will, of necessity, be a truly grass roots movement against enormous odds.

The Citizens Nuclear Information Center (CNIC) in Tokyo has been streaming daily analysis of developments at Fukushima Daiichi by Prof. Goto, a former nuclear engineer for Toshiba, the company that built the Fukushima reactors, alongside other former nuclear industry insiders. These daily video streams are by far the most informative commentaries on developments at Fukushima available in Japanese but on average they have a viewership of around one thousand people – in a country of 130 odd million people. How to stimulate and facilitate public discussion is a problem we must urgently address. With all the gadgets here cell phones and social media would seem obvious places to start.

One interesting figure to emerge as an unlikely  campaigner for the anti-nuclear movement is Son Masaiyoshi the founder and CEO of telecommunications giant Softbank and the richest man in Japan. Son has already donated 119 million dollars (10 billion yen) to the earthquake relief efforts and has committed his entire earnings until retirement (he is 54 years old) to support victims of the quake and tsunami. While these acts have made headlines less covered is his anti-nuclear epiphany and subsequent efforts to encourage serious debate about the future of nuclear power in Japan. Son has sponsored panel discussions with Prof. Goto and other distinguished scientists and streamed these over the internet.

Honest and open debate about nuclear power is all that is needed, if, and this is a really big if, after such debate the general public are allowed to choose how their energy is generated. Nuclear is such a bad deal that it doesn’t stand a chance. And this is precisely why such debate is shut down by those banking on nuclear. We must not overlook the connection between nuclear power and an economic system which also ignores the physical limits of our small planet in delusions of unending growth. To go after nuclear power without addressing the long term unsustainability of the economic system is to fail to point out the most fundamental flaw in the pro-nuclear argument.

News from Japan

March 17, 2011

Last week I had just begun a post announcing the founding of our farm in Japan when the earthquake struck. If we needed a reminder that you cannot take off to the hills and escape the worries of the world we have certainly had that. Although the peace and quiet of our mountain farm, the spring blossoms of wild cherry and plum trees, the beautiful birdsong of the hototogisu cuckoo make it hard to comprehend the chaos that ensues to the north east of us we constantly have one eye nervously on the weather reports fearing a change in wind direction that would bring the radiation leaking from Fukushima Daiichi towards us.

To all the friends that have been contacting us concerned about our safety  please rest assured that Asako and I are okay. We are living some 500km’s south west of the areas most effected by the tsunami. In our area there was only minimal flooding from the tsunami. Like all of you we have been watching this disaster unfold in absolute horror. And it continues…

The situation is very bad in Japan. The weather has turned very cold and hundreds of thousands of people are without heat and many are without any drinking water. There are numerous reports of food shortages in the north as well. And there are people still left in remote villages and within the evacuation zone around the Fukushima nuclear power plant that have no emergency supplies at all. There is a shortage of medicine in both Iwate and Miyage prefectures.

The situation at Fukushima continues to worsen. The authorities are drip feeding information in order not to cause panic but it is clear that a partial meltdown has occurred and it is just a question of how many of the reactors and/or waste pools will meltdown. Public remote access to the radiation monitoring stations in Fukushima and Miyage has been blocked possibly due to damaged equipment. The governments evacuation policy is totally absurd. They are evacuating in response to events that have already occurred when they need to be evacuating for worst case scenarios. All children should be immediately evacuated at least 50km’s away from the power plant.

There is growing panic especially in Tokyo. Despite government efforts to keep people calm there have been rushes on food, gasoline and medical supplies. Friends in Tokyo are telling us that the shop shelves are beginning to look worryingly bare. And everyone is nervously watching the weather. So far the winds have been taking any radiation plumes out to sea although on occasion higher than usual radiation levels have been recorded in Tokyo (there are 34 million people in the greater Tokyo area).

The government has continuously downplayed the high radiation levels that have been detected saying they pose no immediate threat to human health. Decoded, that means immediate signs of radiation sickness will not be visible but it says nothing about the cancers and other long term radiation effects that may be experienced by people being exposed.

Yesterday in Shizouka prefecture, where we live, there was a magnitude 6 earthquake. Located in Shizouka, directly on a fault line, is Hamaoka nuclear power plant.

There are 22 nuclear power plants in the United States of almost exactly the same design as Fukushima.

The nuclear industry has already begun its PR campaign in Japan to convince the people of Japan that they have no alternative to nuclear power. Outside “experts” are talking about how Tokyo Electric Power Company has flaunted safety regulations and that Fukushima was poorly designed. That may well be true. But the majority of nuclear power plants are no different and there is no such thing as a safe nuclear power plant!

They say that Fukushima will not result in another Chernobyl because it is a completely different kind of reactor design. Chernobyl was one reactor. At Fukushima we are looking at six reactors with waste pools! Reactors 5 and 6 have hardly figured in the news because they were shut down at the time of the earthquake but both reactors have storage pools that will meltdown if not cooled and they have had no functioning cooling system since the tsunami struck.

Every time there is a nuclear disaster the industry responds that such an accident couldn’t possibly happen again due to design or management improvements already put in place. Yet the disasters, while they are never exactly the same, continue to happen.

People of the world have some unfinished business to take care of… Events in Japan sparked the beginning of the anti-nuclear movement. Can they also spark the end of the nuclear industry?

The information sources we are using:

Fukushima Upadate (English language blog of breaking news and analysis regarding nuclear disaster in Japan.)

Citizens Nuclear Information Center (English/Japanese. Tokyo based NGO. Regular video releases regarding developments at Fukushima. Analysis by non-government and non-industry affiliated scientists).

NHK World (Streaming english language Japanese public television.)

Democracy Now! (Excellent analysis by nuclear industry insiders and anti-nuclear activists.)

Al Jazeera (Streaming english language service.)