Mean radiation in southern Saitama on Friday 18th March, measured hourly between 0900 and 1700 at my institute: 0.12 microsieverts/hr. For some idea of comparison, aside from the figures in my previous post, generally 250milliSv is considered the dose required for the onset of radiation sickness. A microSv is a thousandth of a milliSv. The current prevailing winds are north of west and the forecast is for them to back into the south-west tomorrow; it does not bode well for life in the Pacific Ocean, but it is favourable at the moment for the human inhabitants of Japan.
According to NHK, the Fukushima plant crisis has been officially raised to a Level 5 nuclear event. However, there is reason for optimism after today’s operations. Between the military, police, TEPCO and the fire service the plan to spray water onto the reactors from various water cannon-type vehicles came to fruition. Also, new power lines are almost complete to hopefully reconnect and restart the cooling systems of the reactors, although to what extent they have been damaged by the earthquake, tsunami, intense heat and fires remains to be seen. Things could still go either way at the moment, but we must keep our heads and above all, stay sensibly informed.
One thing that struck me over a glass of two-water grog, last night – and this is pure armchair, theoretical expertise – is that the main problem facing attempts to cool the reactors is the radiation, which prevents workers from spending enough time close enough to get water where it is needed. Is there not a case for some kind of ROV – remotely operated vehicle – such as those that are used for bomb disposal and the like, to carry water lines into the affected areas? If the radiation affects electronics, it need not be radio-controlled or possess sophisticated circuitry, but could be powered by petrol and controlled by compressed gas lines or even wire brake cables. In theory we have JAXA (the Japanese space agency), the immense expertise in robotics in places like Tsukuba and Tokyo University, and more than anything, an immensely compelling motive to drop everything and work on it. I do hope someone important has already thought of this and come up with a good reason why it won’t work.
Anyway, today I went into work and life seemed fairly normal out and about, apart from the slight inconvenience of fewer trains running. There were a few couples and families on trains with luggage very obviously on their way out of Tokyo, but the ‘ghost town’ and ‘Tokyo residents fleeing in panic’ headlines in the various media are very wide of the mark. Last night for the first time, I saw sandwiches and onigiri on sale at my local convenience store (these have been generally the first items to sell out). Once darkness fell, it was quite pleasing to see so many neon lights and electric billboards switched off – a conscious effort on the part of companies to cut down on electricity use – yet I have not met anyone who feels this is a bad thing, and makes one wonder if it is really necessary in normal times.
Another piece of news from NHK: the approximate number of refugees currently in evacuation centres is 285,000, which is much less than the figure of 440,000 given two days ago (probably many people have finally managed to get in touch with family/relatives). However, those remaining still need many basic necessities and the bitterly cold weather continues. Problems such as spreading norovirus or influenza infections are exacerbated by the fact many of the refugees are elderly and infirm. Many have died from a want of prescription medicine. If you can, please consider making a donation to help the relief effort.