Those who have known me a while will know that I just about kept my body shape in control (mainly in Okinawa through sweating generally due to the heat and humidity) or because of walking so much with my car dying. It definitely wasn’t due to exercise though! But after a couple of months of being back in England […]
Posts Tagged ‘okinawa’
It’s been 9 years, 3 months and 19 days since I landed in Tokyo, a little bleary-eyed but eager to see what the Land of the Rising Sun would hold for me. The plan was to stay here a couple of years and then go back to England and start a career in my real passion: IT. As we all know, life rarely goes to plan and it’s taken me almost a decade of amazing experiences and life in Japan before I’ve felt ready to return to the UK. But that’s exactly what I’ll be doing at the start of 2014.
After a difficult year teaching in the Maldives in 2003, things turned around and I was lucky enough to teach at one of the best high schools in Okinawa. I can honestly say, hand on heart, that throughout the 5 years I was working there I never had a bad day at work. Weekends were things that gave me a little chance to dive before going back into school, full of energy the following Monday morning. The principal with a strong idea of where he wanted the school to go, and the staff worked hard to get there. Combined with some of the most diligent and hard-working students you could come across (many of whom are now experiencing success in life and work throughout Japan and beyond), it created a recipe for success.
Since then I’ve taught at a kindergarten and junior high school, worked as a PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer, and a copy editor for an Okinawan website and magazine. But over the past couple of years I’ve been thinking about a return to England, and have been studying a lot to get a foothold in the IT industry. Cisco, CompTIA and Microsoft exams have been taken and certifications obtained, as well as taking work on and watching online webinars throughout the night whenever I could in order to expand my skillset and experience. And then I heard that in early November, following a series of interviews, I’d was offered a dream position working in cybersecurity for a multinational business services company.
But a start early in 2014 means that I’ve now got around 7 weeks to tie up all my loose ends (I didn’t even know any of them were loose a couple of weeks ago!), and get set up for life back in the north of England. There’s a huge amount to do, on both sides of the world, and since I got the news I’ve been running on little sleep; I’m going by the mentality that I can sleep on the plane in late December! Things to sell, things to buy, people to say goodbye to, workplaces to leave etc. It’s a lot to do and a lot to think about. It’s going to be a big change and very challenging, especially in the first couple of months, but I’ve got one chance to make a success of this, and there’s no question that’s what I’m going to do. Whatever it takes.
So Big in Japan is going to relocate somewhat, but the site and name will stay the same and my fondness for the country (despite my constant cynicism about things) will remain. I’ve been here almost a third of my life, and right now Okinawa is almost entirely my life.
I’ll write more if I have time over the next month about the things I’ll miss in Okinawa, and of course some of the things I might not miss so much. For now, thanks as always for reading.
Went to a nice little event this past Sunday here in Okinawa at Kadena Marina. The Black Onyx Pacesetters (Okinawa Chapter) in conjunction with The Kandi Girls were running a charity bike and car wash, with proceeds going to a local Okinawan orphanage. It was a very well run event, with food and refreshments for anyone waiting to get their car washed, and all credit to the people stood outside in the baking sun all day. I was just stood in the shade and I was burning up.
The Black Onyx Pacesetters are a motorcycle club originally from Tennessee, but now with various chapters all over the US, and now in Okinawa. Their goal, as listed on their website, is:
…to be positive role models to the youth and aid in the development of the community. We will strive to represent the Black Onyx Pacesetters M/C with respect, honor and to uphold the By-Laws, as well as the laws of the community. We do fully intend to ride, support and enjoy cycling.
It was with this goal in mind that they decided to hold a car wash, with money raised going to charity. You could go along, get your car washed by members of the Black Onyx Pacesetters and some of the very photogenic ladies from The Kandi Girls (a group of electronic/rave music dancers here in Okinawa), and then head over and donate whatever you can. You then get a ticket which can be handed over at another tent for freshly fried fish, potato salad and soft drinks while you wait. Throw some beautiful weather into the mix and it made for a perfect event, and one I hope was very well supported. There were quite a few cars coming and going in the hour I was there, so fingers crossed that continued throughout the rest of the day.
The Pacesetters have said they have plans to try and hold these types of charity events every month, and I’m sure as word gets round a little more then the numbers and amount raised will increase. Only thing I could think of from a car guy’s point of view is maybe holding it a little later in the day. Something from mid afternoon to early evening would get people coming out as the temperature starts to go down a little, and the chance of a great sunset if it’s at Kadena Marina again, and finally a lot of the car folks might go down there and then stay out for a drive afterwards.
But all in all a very good event, and well worth supporting. I’ll try and post up in advance of the next one, and get the word out to a few more people. As long as people keep coming out, these events will keep being put on and money will keep getting raised for those that need it. A couple more pictures from the event are here, if you’re interested.
At 9:51 this morning a rocket was fired from northwestern DPRK into the skies, heading south. The rocket flew over southern Japan, namely Okinawa and going right over the island of Ishigaki, with the last pieces of debris falling into the ocean near the Philippines, early reports are saying.
Whether this was actually an attempted satellite launch (unknown yet if it was a success or not) as the DPRK are claiming, or a long-range missile test is up for debate, but it seems to have traveled further than previous attempts, and I think I’ve lost on the sweepstake (my money was on a flight time of 2 minutes).
The launch was followed by the phones at work suddenly going crazy with emails from the Prefectural Office warning everyone of impending doom, and just as they were coming through I heard fighters scramble from Kadena US Air Force base here in Okinawa. And with fair reason, if you look below at this image from BBC News.
The planned launch was due to fly right over Ishigaki, and early reports are saying it stuck to its course pretty well. Now I haven’t got my ruler and measuring tape out, but it certainly looks like it’s gone much further than any previous launches, and the DPRK government, you would expect, would be pleased. If it was a satellite launch, whether the satellite has actually reached an orbit will be determined over the coming hours and days.
But once again the theme from the Japanese government has been, “Lots of rhetoric, no action”. Just days ago, we were told that the Japanese military had been told by the government to shoot down the rocket should any part of it threaten to fall on Japanese territory. If the rocket has stuck to its course then it’s gone right over a Japanese island and through the Okinawan prefecture, with the Japanese government stating no attempt was made to bring it down. Now the only explanations are:
- The Defence Ministry had supreme confidence that the launch was successful and was therefore posing no danger to Japanese people.
- They thought seeing as it was going over Okinawa it wasn’t worth the effort.
Now call me a cynic (probably one of the kinder things I’ve been called) but if that launch had gone over Tokyo (where they’d put PAC 3 launchers on the top of the Defence Ministry building) then there’s no doubt it would have been downed.
Anyway, that’s the excitement from Japan right now. I’m expecting some disappointment from the opposition LDP party, who are expected to come back into power at next week’s election. I am fairly confident they were hoping it would come closer to the mainland, so they could shoot it down and strengthen their claims that Japan’s military (sorry, self-defence forces) should be expanded.
Will update if I hear anything more of real interest.
UPDATE: The Japanese government has made a statement regarding the launch. They have described it as… wait for it… “extremely regrettable”. Almost spat out my coffee when I read that! You just knew that word was going to crop up!
UPDATE 2: The US is now reporting that an object has been put into space by the rocket. So it’s looking like this launch was a clear success.
Busy times at work. For the past few weeks the time after after my regular classes has been filled (am now the teacher with the dubious honour of having the most classes in their weekly schedule, and I strongly suspect, the lowest salary!). I’ve been working with a student towards our local area’s English Storytelling contest. Last year in the first year I had been involved in JHS competitions, my student was in the top 5, but just got pipped at being placed. And this year on my desk in plain view to everyone is listed my contest goals for this year, including a top-3 place in this contest.
And actually the pressure was a little higher for me for a couple of other reasons. In the other main English contest (the national All-Japan Inter-Middle School English Oratorical Contest), I had coached a very hard-working student to 2nd place in the local area. This was followed by placing 3rd in the whole of Okinawa and qualifying for the finals in Tokyo. There, she placed 2nd in the Kyushu region semi-final, which got her into the grand final in front of over 1,000 people and pitted her against 26 of the best students in the country. She put in a faultless performance, giving her a 6th placing and I couldn’t have been prouder. We had a very good combination of a gifted student, a well-written and thought out speech, and a little bit of assistance & guidance from your author. But now that has set the benchmark and the pressure is on (mainly from myself) to do the same or better this year, and have similar successes in all of the contests.
And secondly, because of the very healthy rivalry I’ve got going with the other junior high school in the town. We are good friends, but both desperately want our students to be the best. He is one of the hardest working foreign teachers in Okinawa, and has had numerous successes in these contests, including winning the aforementioned Oratorical Contest at the national level. This success doesn’t just happen by chance; it happens because of a very hard working teacher/coach with good methods. So I know that whatever student he is coaching in the contest is going to be very good and up there when the results are read. Which means that I’ve got to work even harder to give him as much competition as I can.
So, for the past 6 weeks I’ve been meeting on an almost daily basis with my chosen student (who was picked after auditioning the 12 students who applied for this contest; record numbers of applications for all English contests this year). An appropriate story was chosen (this year, an edited version of Marsupial Sue’s The Runaway Pancake) and practice began in earnest. We’ve been working on memorization, natural gestures, delivery, pronunciation, and the right mental frame of mind for a contest. To take part in the contest and perform reasonably, you only need the first of those, but I really believe to have the best chance of winning you need the latter.
I try to get the student thinking about the contest and imagining it from the offset. I’ll draw the hall layout on the board, telling them where they and everyone else will be seated; I’ll impersonate the MC calling their name during practices; I’ll have them visualize the hall and everyone looking at them before they start talking (often, a student’s biggest fear). Basically I’ll do everything I can to ensure the student isn’t taken aback when they first enter the hall on contest day. They won’t have the nerves that some might have, because they’ll have a mental image of the hall and what will happen during the event right burnt into their mind. Even very gifted students can have attacks of nerves (it’s only natural) so I try to make sure they stay as relaxed as possible. It might not work for every student, but I am comfortable with that style and the students I coach seem to be too. And it could be the tiny difference between winning and losing.
So my student worked hard and got their speech nailed down, and under the 5 minute limit with 15 seconds to go each time. I thought he might have a chance if he didn’t make any mistakes on the day. Unfortunately, the day before the contest we were told that out of 36 students mine would be placed 30th. While there are good and bad sides to a number like this, I’m really not a fan. It means they’ve got around 2 hours of sitting in one place to do, listening to speech after speech and doing nothing, before they perform. If the student can switch off and go into their own world for a couple of hours then they are fine; if they start to listen to speeches and hear good speech after good speech it can make them very nervous.
And then contest day came around yesterday. And the first thing my student said on arrival at the contest venue was just what I wanted to hear. “It’s not as big as you were saying”. Perfect! It meant that the size and scale of the event and venue was not as big in his imagination, which reduced a potentially huge cause of stress for a student. We got there in plenty of time so nobody is rushing about, and had a relaxed lunch. After that it was time for one practice outside, and one simple practice walking on and of the stage. And then it was time for the contest to start.
My student had a few nerves, but just the usual pre-contest type. I was much worse! Mainly because I knew that if he performed as well as he had in his last couple of practices, he had a good chance of being placed. Speech after speech went by; some good, some not so good. In fact, to be honest the average wasn’t so great. I know some schools don’t have foreign teachers working at all, or if they do they may only have them there once a week. But these contests should be the times when the foreign teachers put in the extra effort, especially the teachers assigned to a single school. Take the English Oratorical Contest in September as a prime example. Practice for my student starts in July and I’ll be coming into school almost every day during the summer holiday, voluntarily and completely unpaid, to practice with my student. The reason I’ll be doing it is because I want my student to be successful, and they want success too. And you can be sure that my friend at the other JHS in my town will be doing the same too, which is why both of us will be very unhappy if our students are among the top when the contest results are read out. It would be very easy, and understandable, to say, “I’m not getting paid for working these hours/these days, so I’m not going to come”, but doing that will always give you the “What if…” questions if you’re not successful.
After over 2 hours of speeches it came to my student’s turn, and as he started I pushed the button and my stopwatch started to tick over. His speech was going pretty well, with no mistakes or hesitation. But then I looked at the stopwatch and at the 2-minute mark he was about a line behind where he should have been. At the 3-minute mark this had doubled and with one minute to go he was almost 3 lines behind where he should have been. In the end his speech was 3 seconds over the 5-minute time limit: an automatic one point deduction depending on how strict the judges and timekeepers are feeling. To say I was gutted was an understatement. There were a few really good quality speeches and he needed every point he could get to stand a chance of winning. The remaining students read their stories and I tried to figure out where I’d gone wrong with my student, and why his story was 20 seconds longer than normal.
After an age waiting for the judges to choose the top 3, they returned and went to the stage for the announcement. 3rd place went to a school in a neighbouring town, who I’d actually thought was the best speaker. 2nd place was read out, and I had to double-take when they announced the name of my student! Couldn’t believe it but even going over his allocated time slightly he still had done enough for 2nd place. And first place went to… my good friend and rival from the other school in my town. So once again 2 of the top 3 prizes available in the are went to our town, and both of our students will be taking part in the Okinawa-wide contest in 2 weeks’ time.
We need to work on the timing, but I do like the attitude of my student. “If I’d been under time, do you think maybe I’d have won?” I told him I didn’t know for sure, but we’ll make sure that he’s not asking the same question next time.
Onwards to hopefully some more success!
In news that is not really going to shock anyone with more than a couple of brain cells to rub together, this morning’s rocket/satellite/missile launch by DPRK has appeared to have ended in abject failure. The Tongchang-dong launched at 7:39 local time and was up for a… well, for a minute. Which makes it marginally more successful than when Richard Hammond & James May attempted to put a Reliant Robin into space and use it as the new space shuttle (see below).
Whether it was a rocket, a satellite launch or a missile test is by the by; the fact is that it was quite an impressive, but understandable failure. You’ve got to admire them sticking to the task, but their people don’t have the skills and technology together to make it successful. It’s like me going out and saying I’m going to build a house. I might be able to put something together that looks like a house, and make people believe that it’s a house, but it’ll all fall apart once the wind blows against it. Compounded by the fact that it was Friday 13th, it was never going to be a success. They should have really left it until Sunday 15th (Kim Il Sung’s birthday) for the launch. Am going to guess the DPRK State Media will report a successful launch, or just give no report at all to its people about it.
The Japanese government and media will probably be some of the most disappointed, as they were really trying to use this to play the victim card and show its people how scary the DPRK is and how we should be in constant fear of them. And they’ve done a good job of that over the past few weeks, culminating in my school (under orders from the city) distributing some flyer of some sort to each student yesterday, warning them to take care, and presumably offering advice on what to do should they find a missile impaling them to the ground. With all the stuff going on in Japan domestically, is this the most important thing to be advising students about?
But it’s passed, so now Japan will continue its inevitable push to a new “Prime Minister for a year” in August or September (Noda’s latest approval ratings have reached a record low, at 25% according to the Daily Yomiuri). Had the test been a success, no doubt it could have been used by the incumbent party as something to try and rally people around (‘Forget about how bad we are… look at the scary North Koreans”). And the Okinawan media will britruipng it’s focus back from projecting North Korea as the enemy to projecting the US military as public enemy number 1. The status quo has been restored.
This little story also gives me the chance to remind you of my travelogue with plenty of pictures and stories from my trip to North Korea in 2005. Take a look here.
If you read my post last Thursday, you’ll know that according to a Okinawa base-wide email that was sent a couple of days previous, the Ministry for the Environment has stated that no radioactive debris will be sent out of the Fukushima area. I stated then that the information being given out was contrary to what a number of sources were saying. And it also appears to be contrary to what Mr. Goshi Hosono is saying. “Who is he?” you may ask. The Minister for the Environment!
According to this article and accompanying video, he was in Kyoto on Saturday trying to drum up support for disposal of (radioactive debris). His trip included meeting with the governor of Kyoto and a plan to give out pamphlets and make an appeal for public support outside Kyoto station. As you can see from the article, it didn’t go to plan as people in Kyoto, like people in Okinawa, don’t really want radioactive waste storing in their backyard. Below is the front page of the pamphlet that was being handed out.
In my last post I did ask you to question everything and make your own decisions, so I will offer a slightly different viewpoint on this. The article and source does concur with the statement made to SOFA members in Okinawa about Iwate and Miyagi being the only prefectures officially accepting debris from Fukushima, but it did not state that their Ministry for the Environment is actively campaigning for more prefectures and cities to accept this waste. Also, my Japanglish isn’t good enough to fully understand those videos, although I get a gist of it. If someone can post a full translation in the comments below, it would be awesome and would help us all understand things a little easier.
Another interesting note about the storage and disposal of waste is that it has already been removed from the vast majority of areas affected by the earthquake and Tsunami from March 11th, 2011. You can see these from the many before/after photos that are being published. So the debris is being stored somewhere right now. Let’s assume for a second that all of this debris has been tested for radiation and is coming back as negative. Would it not just be easier to keep the debris stored in its current location as it awaits incineration or disposal?
The last point worth noting is that if the Minister of the Environment is appealing for non-radioactive debris to be disposed in other prefectures around Japan (which is what Prime Minister Noda is urging, and relaxing laws to make it easier), then you have to wonder what exactly the government is classing as radioactive. Some of you might know of the story from May last year when the government decided to raise the amount of radiation that was safe for children, so that schools in the fallout area could reopen (source). While immense public outrage and international coverage of this story caused a U-turn (I expect the latter being a bigger factor than the former), the initial plan was to raise the safe radioactive level to 20 times what it was previously. So with that in mind, it is very possible that the government will just raise the level required for them to declare something is radioactive. Given what you’ve just read, is it that much beyond the realms of possibility?
Anyway, those are my thoughts for now. Any comments or thoughts are always appreciated. If you disagree or have a different view on it, let me know. I’m more than happy to hear thoughts from all sides. Is anyone in favour of Okinawa taking non-radioactive debris, at all?
What a difference a week makes. Just 9 days ago I published an article based around a story from fukushima-diary.com about how two places in Okinawa (Onna Village and Nago City) had said they would accept radioactive waste from the Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster; a story that not too many were aware of at the time. Today, I am writing this on the way to a meeting in Naha which RBC (local television) will be attending and the problem will be discussed. Indeed, this has gathered pace so much that yesterday an email was sent out to military members Okinawa-wide, stresing that the Ministry for the Environment has stated that no radioactive waste will be stored beyond the Fukushima area. More about that later.
Soon after I posted my original article up, people started sharing it and talking about it. A guy called James Pankiewicz, owner of the Dojo Bar in Naha, decided to take this matter to heart, and created a Facebook group about it, called “A clear and loud “No Way” to radioactive debris on Okinawa“. Yup, no chance of misinterpreting the point of this group! And from then things have spiralled. The group formed their own logo (pictured right), are making online and paper petitions and gathering signatures, in both English and Japanese. The English petition is here; if you haven’t clicked and added your support then please do. Who knows if it will have any effect, but it can do no harm whatsoever.
James has taken this much further than I ever would, and I applaud him and everyone else who have become involved for caring. I’m happy to report these kind of things and the only times I overstate things, I make it very tongue-in-cheek that I’m doing so. But my aim was just to bring people’s attention to it.
And attention certainly has come. 700 signatures to this online petition, people handing out flyers in English and Japanese; RBC and NHK news companies talked to and consulted, and even the US Military newspaper, Stars and Stripes, running an article. And here is where the plot thickens even more. Yesterday morning, Kadena Air Force Base’s Public Affairs office sent this out Okinawa-wide to all military members (or Air Force members, not 100% sure):
There are rumors circulating via social media and email concerning the possibility of radioactive material being shipped to Okinawa from the Fukushima area. Here is the latest information from the American Consulate in Okinawa.
According to the Japan Ministry of the Environment, none of the radioactive debris will be shipped. All radioactive debris will remain in the Fukushima area. The only tsunami debris considered being sent elsewhere is the NON-radioactive tsunami debris from Iwate and Miyagi prefectures. No decision has been made by the Government of Japan where that non-radioactive debris will be shipped to. Any and all debris will be inspected before being shipped, and it will not be shipped if it is contaminated.
BOTTOM LINE: No radioactive debris is being shipped to Okinawa.
18th Wing Public Affairs
Now, while I would like to believe this is the case, this does seem very strange. Firstly, because the final statement goes against what Nago City, Onna Village, Yomitan Village and Naha City are saying. In addition, Okianwan newspaper the Ryukyu Shimpo published stories in Japanese about this a week before I started mentioning it. And finally, it would seem that the Ministry for the Environment is going against with Prime Minister Noda has stated, about all of Japan working together, and local cities helping with the burden of dealing with the radioactive waste. The Japanese government is not renowned for being completely honest and open, especially when it comes to both public safety and Okinawa. So the question is: who do you trust? The governments who are trying to quash any rumours and stop any public unrest about the situation, or the media outlets and personal bloggers? While newspapers and TV companies might have a financial interest in the story (more controversial stories get more readers buying their newspapers or watching their shows), but if this was the case then more would be being made of the story. As it is, it was just a couple of relatively small reports informing people of what is happening and no follow-ups.
And people do seem to be waking up in Japan to the fact that the government isn’t always as open as they should be with them. Okinawans have had this skepticism for a long time, but it appears to be spreading. Both Japanese bloggers and foreigners here in Japan have talked about it to me recently. Now I’m definitely not saying everyone should take to the streets and start rioting (I’d quite like a chance to have my visa renewed and not be labelled a conspirator!), but the past 12 months have changed a lot of things regarding people’s perceptions of the government in Japan. Especially in the past 6 months, people have started asking questions that 3 or 4 years ago I couldn’t imagine people accepting and would assume they would just accept. It will be an interesting thing to watch over the next 12 months and beyond to see if the Japanese people push to get their own voices heard against the government. I’m not talking about Japan being the next Egypt or Libya, but just how people and society will evolve here.
Well, I’m going to make my way down to Naha in a little while for this press conference. If you have the chance, please take a look at the petition. I’m not asking you to sign it, but just to think about it and try to find an answer for yourself. Question what you read and hear, even on here. Discussion and questioning is what helps us progress and evolve. It’s when we just blindly accept & follow that we lose our way.
Slight follow-up from the previous two days’ stories about Okinawan towns (Onna Village, Nago City and Naha City) accepting radioactive debris from the Fukushima area. I should stress it is a slightly older article I’ve come across, back from February 8th, but is still worth reporting to those who have not seen it.
For those of you worrying that there’s a chance some of this radiation from the Fukushima disaster may enter the food chain, then worry no longer. It has. Having read over the last year of numerous occasions where radiation has been reported in bags of rice (which have had their “produced in…” locations changed to sound like they haven’t come from the Fukushima area, it is both interesting and worrying to hear it’s entering via another means now.
At least 4 restaurants in Okinawa, including 3 pizza shops and 1 soba noodle restaurant, have bought firewood from close to the Fukushima reactor (source). The firewood was used to heat the pizza ovens and the ash was reported to have a radiation level from caesium of almost 40,000Bq/Kg. To put this into perspective, according to a UN official, over 50Bq/Kg in the human body will cause irreparable lesions in internal organs. Now people aren’t going out and just digesting kilograms of pizza ash, but it’s surely enough to make you think a little. So those were the levels in one of the pizza shops; in the soba restaurant, levels of up to 8,000Bq/Kg were recorded from the ash, and much more worryingly, 258Bq/Kg in the noodles themselves.
Whether the stores knew exactly what they were buying is unclear, but as it seems that everything from the Fukushima area is being sold at a very low price, I am going to hazard a guess they knew it wasn’t just a regular kind of sale. The distributor has said the firewood was washed using a pressure washer, which is apparently going to make all the difference, according to officials at Motosu City.
It’s possible that these were the only restaurants are the only ones to have purchased irradiated produce from the Fukushima to equip their restaurant or feed their customers. It is also possible that Nago, Onna and Naha are trying to help store/recycle this radioactive debris out of the goodness of their heart and for no profit whatsoever. I’m the eternal skeptic, but I doubt either are likely.
Well, it seems that my article yesterday about two towns in Okinawa (Onna Village and Nago City) accepting radioactive debris from Fukushima was not the whole story. It looks as if the prefectural capital, Naha City, also wants some cash from the Japanese government… err I’m sorry, I meant to help with the burden of radioactive waste disposal following last year’s meltdown at Fukushima. And it also looks as if Naha was at the forefront of this.
According to an article posted on March 15th, 2012, Naha City mayor indicated that the city would accept radioactive debris from the Fukushima reactor and surrounding area. Much more worrying is that he has said the plan will be discussed with the nearby Haebaru Town waste management and incineration facility about what best to do with the waste. I just have this awful image of them throwing these fuel rods into one of their incinerators and hoping for the best. What’s the worst that could happen?!
The key sentence is at the bottom of the article though, which states the possibility of the Naha City mayor asking the Japanese government’s for financial help with this disposal. And therein lies the factor as to what is driving places to accept this debris. As long as money is changing hands and someone is making money from this, people’s livelihoods and health can be put on the backburner. Effects of any radiation leak would only be found long after the next few elections, so why worry about it now?
Now to offer another side to this, it is very possible that radioactive materials will be stored completely safely, and “glowing walls” made from radioactive cement by the private company in Nago accepting it will be kept to a minimum. But given that more cracks are found in mainland Japanese nuclear reactors than on Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras, it does make me feel a little more uneasy about Okinawa.
Just over a year has passed since the devestating earthquake and resulting tsunami that hit northern Japan. While the cities like Sendai have returned to something like normality, people are still living in school gymnasiums, their payments having stopped from the government and the local governments still retaining around 70% of money donated by the Japanese Red Cross (the local governments requested the Red Cross give them the money so they could decide how it should be spent; the Red Cross complied, and frankly that’s more than likely the last we’ll see of the money).
The sea around the Fukushima area is contaminated, having had radiated water dumped into it on regular occasions since last March, and reports of radioactive materials having reached the water table. Farmers in the area are being told from some areas that their crops will be fine as long as they spray them with water, as the water will rinse off the radiation and make them safe again. Frankly, that’s a mentality from over half a century ago, and even then not too many people believed it. But crops are being sprayed and then sold in many places (including Okinawa) with their “produced in…” labels removed or changed to something either very general (e.g. “Japan”) or very specific (a village that nobody will have heard of). The reason for this is that obviously people will not want to buy products from a contaminated area. So of course the answer is to push your goods through deception.
But this article isn’t about the deception of the Japanese public by TEPCO or the government, or about the money waste/laundering going on with funds that people gave to assist the areas (some of which was spent on the last whaling voyage in the southern Pacific). This article is about the radioactive material that is left around the Fukushima area and beyond. A week or so ago the Japanese Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, appeared to adopt a policy of, “If one part of Japan is screwed, then we may as well all be screwed”, and has said that all areas of Japan should accept radioactive materials from the Fukushima area, so they don’t have to handle the burden themselves. As soon as I read this, I knew that places in Okinawa would be some of the first to put their hands out (in exchange for some cash, I’m sure).
Sure enough, a week later Onna Village in central Okinawa and Nago City in northern Okinawa have said they will accept some radioactive waste from the nuclear fallout at Fukushima. The amount of waste they will receive has not been announced, and the amount they have been paid by TEPCO or the Japanese government will probably never be revealed, but there is no way these places would take it for nothing. Okinawa would be attractive for TEPCO and the central government for two reasons; firstly, Okinawa is far away from mainland Japan and what many mainland Japanese see as “real Japan”; and secondly, the price to buy cooperation in Okinawa is likely much lower than in mainland Japan.
I was looking at some figures on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s website, and some of the figures provide sobering reading. Things like, “For example, ten years after removal from a reactor, the surface dose rate for a typical spent fuel assembly exceeds 10,000 rem/hour, whereas a fatal whole-body dose for humans is about 500 rem”, as well as information about radioactive materials’ half lives (the amount of time it takes for a material’s radioactivity to decrease by 50%). Half-lives vary hugely, but the most common radioactive have half lives from 30 to 24,000 years (i.e. not a short time!).
This means this radioactive storage could be a very long term process, going on for generations. And yet Onna and Nago were almost instant in their acceptance of the material. I just hope someone’s pockets here were lined nicely for it. Onna village has said they will accept the radioactive waste and (presumably) store it, but a company in Nago City has plans to recycle it in cement. I can imagine the advert now: “Why waste money on expensive lighting? The walls in our houses glow at night! Powered by Cesium-137, the walls will keep glowing long after the turn your lights out”. OK, possibly a slight exaggeration, but I really wouldn’t put something along the same lines out of the equation completely.
Yet sadly, the acceptance of this waste seems to have escaped the front pages of the Okinawan newspapers or news shows. I have a feeling the question isn’t, “Where will be next to accept waste?” but rather, “Where won’t accept waste?” in Okinawa.
Finally, below is a sneak preview of what’s sure to be Okinawa’s summer fashion hit. Get your SPF 20.000 suncream and let’s hit the beaches!