Archive for the ‘The March 2011 Crisis in Japan’ Category

Hi Everyone,

There was a 7.4 magnitude earthquake here in Japan just recently (11:32 p.m. local time, that’s 11:32 a.m. in Saint John and 12:32 p.m. in Toronto), epicenter at Sendai, almost exactly the same place as on March 11. For us, it felt as strong as the original one, our house shook and lights swayed but according to Japanese news there has been no damage reported yet anywhere and no reported deaths. The tsunamis have already hit and they were from 50 cm to 1 meter high. The Fukushima power plant’s stabilization efforts were suspended because of the quake but the power is still on there and as far as we know, no further damage has occurred there. No fatalities have yet been reported and there is no major damage in Tokyo at least. Some places have power outages but that seems to be the only major effect yet.

That was over 30 minutes ago now and the Japanese news is saying that this is not having the same kind of effect as the main one. Right now it looks like an aftershock with no damage.

I knew that many of you would be worried so I thought I’d better send this message out before going to bed. Tomorrow is the first day of university classes here. Poor students who have just left their families to move here and have an earthquake hit. But like I wrote before, no chance of a tsunami here and very little chance of earthquake damages here. Anyone who is still worried, please look at my blog, there is a map of the plates at the end of the post. We are on Hokkaido, the large island to the north-east, and you can see that we are only on one plate and therefore quite safe here.

Nevertheless, I was quite unnerved by this recent smaller earthquake because when you feel it, you don’t know how big it is. For me, it felt as big as the main one on March 11. So right now, I am feeling relieved to see that there has not been any major damage, at least, none has been reported. And they have just downgraded the magnitude of the earthquake from 7.4 to 7.1. And just now they have lifted the tsunami warning too.

I just wanted you to know that we are safe! Big hugs to you all and let’s hope this is the last big aftershock. I feel so badly for everyone still homeless and traumatized from the first quake, the last thing they need now is to feel another quake.

Take care, I’ll always keep in touch by e-mail and via my blog.


I’d like to focus on something that has become even more clear to me over the past week since the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power plant crisis began on March 11, 2011 – the need to get your information from a wide variety of sources.

Because we live in northern Japan, we (my family and I) need access to accurate information. We got information from dozens of sources, including text, photos, and videos. What became clear is that if you were relying on only one source of news, you’d get a very limited view of the truth. Here are a couple of the contradictions I’ve noticed over the past week:

1. The severity of the situation at the Fukushima power plants

While Japanese officials have rated the situation at Fukushima at level 4 of 7 levels, the French nuclear safety authority has rated it at level 6 according to the “International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale — or INES – which goes from Level 1, which indicates very little danger to the general population, to Level 7, a “major accident” in which there’s been a large release of radioactive material and there will be widespread health and environmental effects”. Chernobyl was level 7. According to this CNN article, experts themselves disagree over how serious the situation is. This gives rise to a wide variety of interpretations in the press from Armageddon to, the Christian Science Monitor’s claims of exaggeration. I am a native speaker of English and thus I have access to reports from countries other than Japan. Many Japanese do not have an English level high enough to read English, so they are dependent on Japanese sources alone. I am trying to find out if outside sources are being translated into Japanese for Japanese websites.

2. TEPCO’s safety record and its past involvement in cover-ups

The Japanese press seems to be just reporting what TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) is telling them. According to Yoichi Shimatsu writing for, “Japanese agencies are no longer releasing independent reports without prior approval from the top. The censorship is being carried out following the imposition of the Article 15 Emergency Law.” Thus Japanese news media are even less free to report than usual.

TEPCO has a vested interest in making themselves look professional and competent, while inside and outside sources say that TEPCO has been involved in a number of cover-ups over the years. According to The Australian, TEPCO falsified inspection records in 1989. According to Rachel Maddow at MSNBC, in 2002, the president of TEPCO and four top officials were forced to resign after it was discovered that TEPCO had been falsifying safety records at its nuclear plants for years, dating back to the 1980’s.” Youichi Shimatsu, former editor of the Japan Times, says that a massive cover-up is now underway in Washington and in Tokyo. Instead of sending representatives of the Department of Energy or from the Nuclear Safety Agency, “they sent members of USAID, which is basically intelligence officials. Already the cover-up is going on at very high levels in Washington and in Tokyo.” (This video made by CCTV News (China Central Television) has been removed from many sites including YouTube but is now back on at YouTube, perhaps temporarily.)

There is more bad news on cover-ups, this time by the government. According to the same Yoichi Shimatsu, this time back at, “Back in 1996, amid a reactor accident in Ibaraki province, the government never admitted that radioactive fallout had drifted over the northeastern suburbs of Tokyo. Our reporters got confirmation from monitoring stations, but the press was under a blanket order not to run any alarming news, the facts be damned.” As well, Rachel Maddow reports that in 1995 government officials tried to cover up how bad the fire was by releasing a doctored video. According to CBS News in an article titled “Scandal-ridden energy company behind Japan’s nuke crisis”, a worker was told to “edit out footage showing cracks in plant steam pipes in video being submitted to regulators.” As well, in addition to other accidents and cover-ups, “In 1999, fuel-reprocessing workers were reported to be using stainless steel buckets to hand-mix uranium in flagrant violation of safety standards at the Tokaimura plant. Two workers later died in what was the deadliest accident in the Japanese industry’s history.” In another case, “at least 37 workers were exposed to low doses of radiation at a 1997 fire and explosion at a nuclear reprocessing plant operated in Tokaimura, northeast of Tokyo. The operator, Donen, later acknowledged it had initially suppressed information about the fire.”

All of this points to an incompetent industry and lax government oversight. How many of the current problems at the Fukushima power plants could have been avoided if the safety checks had been carried out properly? According to Greg Palast at Truthout, “Last night, I heard CNN reporters repeat the official line that the tsunami disabled the pumps needed to cool the reactors, implying that water unexpectedly got into the diesel generators that run the pumps. These safety backup systems are the “EDGs” in nuke-speak: Emergency Diesel Generators. That they didn’t work in an emergency is like a fire department telling us they couldn’t save a building because ‘it was on fire’.” Were these failed EDG’s checked according to industry standards? With the record TEPCO has, we can suspect that they were not. But with the CIA counselling the Japanese government, we will never know.

The point I’d like to make is that it took a lot of searching to gather this information. If I hadn’t done it, I’d probably be thinking, like most of the world, that this critical event at Fukushima is happening because of an unavoidable act of nature. Well, there are many who would say why build a nuclear reactor close to a fault line, and I’d have to agree with them. But without looking thru the “mass of media” I would not have known about the scandals behind the nuclear power industry in Japan, nor of the cover-ups by the government. I’m more inclined now to trust outside sources who say that Fukushima is experiencing a level 6 nuclear disaster out of 7, and I’m less likely to believe any news coming from Japan on this topic.

Since we live in Japan, it’s vital to get reliable information regarding the amount of radiation being released. The problem is that I know that I cannot trust the Japanese media to accurately report on this, and western media does not have enough access to reliable data either. So we are in a bit of a twilight zone, something of a blackout. People’s lives are on the line at the Fukushima power plants, and this is the result of carelessness on the parts of TEPCO and the federal government. With a cover-up going on, we may never get accurate information regarding this “accident”, which could have been prevented if proper safety checks had been carried out.

Some, if not all, of the workers who are presently working under very hazardous conditions at Fukushima will develop radiation sickness, and some will likely lose their lives. While I agree that these workers are heroes, their families have a right to be extremely angry with both TEPCO and the federal government for allowing this to happen. A class-action suit against both TEPCO and the federal government would be the most likely course of legal action, but it will not prevent radiation sickness and loss of life.

Hi Everyone,

Thank you so much for all your messages. We’ve had several close friends and family tell us that they think we should leave, but we are going to stay put unless things change quite a bit. I have decided to start posting here instead of (in addition to?) sending messages to everyone because that is what a blog is for. I started it for a grad course I am taking at the U of Toronto but it has come in handy for one news article I wrote about Egypt (links are on the left) and for updating everyone on our situation here. You can post a comment on the bottom if you like.

A number of family members and friends are very worried about us and are asking us to leave. We have investigated the situation in great detail and here is our report. We are 1000 km. correction: 750 km. from the nuclear plants that are having a problem now. That’s about the same distance from Saint John (where my family lives) to Toronto. I asked a scientist at my university if we could expect to get any radiation here in Kitami, and he said no. If you look at 3-Mile Island and Chernobyl, the dangerous radiation extended for a distance of 12-13 miles, and in both of those cases there was a huge meltdown, which so far has been avoided here. According to the article below, people within an 18-mile radius are being asked to stay indoors, altho the US has recommended that the radius be increased to 50 miles.

Radioactivity disperses over distance, and we usually get winds coming from the north and from the west here, almost never from the south. The chances of any radioactivity showing up here at all are very small. The 75% chance of another earthquake was for the first couple days after the earthquake, so March 12-13. There still is a chance of another big earthquake, but it will not be anywhere near here. We checked the dangerous places on maps (see below for one example) before we moved here. We are on solid ground! No moving plates beneath us here. Also we are far from the sea so no chance at all of a tsunami. We prepared well!

This general article Where Things Stand explains the causes of the problems at the nuclear power plants and how they are dealing with them. I’d like to make the point that even if there were a complete meltdown, we would not be exposed to radiation at our 1000 km. distance from the plants. Now if we were in Tokyo, I would be evacuating now. We didn’t move to Tokyo on purpose because of its location close to three shifting continental plates. Scientists predict that when “the big one”, the massive earthquake that it 30 years overdue now, it will be close to Tokyo. That is one reason why we are living in the Canadian-like wilderness of Hokkaido. We live in a small city surrounded by agricultural fields and woods. We are very happy here and do not want to leave unless there is a clear and present danger. Right now, we have no evidence of danger to us here. So we are staying put, at least for the near future.

Please do not worry about us, life continues in Kitami as if there had not been an earthquake. It’s hard for us to realize that 1000 km. correction: 750 km. away there is a disaster situation, like it is hard for you to realize the same thing in your safe homes far away. If the danger becomes greater, we will surely go. For example, if large amounts of radiation were released into the atmosphere, we would likely leave because of the possibility of food contamination. We are monitoring the situation constantly, from early morning until after midnight.

On a different topic completely, today is Tristan’s birthday! He is 5 years old today, and we’ll have a birthday party with balloons and presents and pizza and a homemade chocolate cake Brandon and I made yesterday.

Bye for now, and big hugs to you all,

Love Jen xoxo

Map of tectonic plates under Japan

Map of tectonic plates under Japan. We are on the northeast of the northern-most island, on one tectonic plate only. Click on the map for a bigger version.

(Updates are posted in italics in local Japan time. I’ll update if there is big news and if I have time.)

Thank you for asking. We are all fine. Many of my family members and friends wrote to us to check on us and express their concern. Here is the answer I am sending them. I thought I should post it here too.

UPDATE (7:50 a.m. Mar. 16): There is a new fire at the Fukushima plant and two workers are missing. We are back on high alert.

We are getting conflicting information but apparently today (March 16 here in Japan) and tomorrow are the key days. If there are no more explosions then it’s likely that only low levels of radiation will leak from the reactors, something similar to 3-Mile Island, where no one died from radiation but food and animals were irradiated. The official story is that no one got cancer from the 3-Mile Island accident, that all cancers that people had after the accident were in fact pre-existing conditions. But you know how skeptical I am of official versions.

So now apparently the radiation has gone down around the Fukushima plant and in Tokyo as well. But another blast and the wind blowing south could mean the irradiation of tens of millions in Tokyo and surrounding areas. The severity cannot be determined now. We are about 600 km to the NNE of Tokyo and any chance of being irradiated is small, as far as I know, but I sent an e-mail to a scientist friend of mine to ask about that just in case.

The situation is not good for the survivors. There is not enough food and water and medical supplies. Many places are without electricity. Almost half a million are homeless and staying in public shelters like gymnasiums and many of those are without heat and electricity. Authorities are taking financial donations only, so we are not collecting blankets, food etc. here in Kitami. We donated thru the YMCA here, and donations are being accepted by the Red Cross and many other agencies.

In Tokyo stores are emptied or emptying of toilet paper, batteries, and rice. Gas stations in damaged areas have no gas or very long lines. Here in Kitami there is very little rice and gas is being rationed to 20 litres per car. We don’t know if people are hoarding rice here, as they are doing in Tokyo, or if it has been sent to survivors, which would be a much better response. Here little has changed except for the rice going missing and the gas rationing. My children are going to school and life is continuing as usual. It’s like a very strange parallel universe here right now with most people unaffected directly (indirectly we are all affected) by the quake and tsunami but others having their lives completely changed. As far as we know, all our friends are safe. But our friend’s brother has been missing for 4 days now. UPDATE: Some of my students are missing but I do not know how many or who they are.

Some countries have advised foreign nationals to leave Tokyo and areas hit by the quake and tsunami. Our friend’s Canadian friends have left already, returning to Canada. We have reservations to Thailand if we need them. If there was a major blast at Fukushima, or some other critical accident, and a major meltdown started, we would probably leave. Children are the most susceptible to radiation sickness and I’ve always been the kind of person who says, “Better safe than sorry”, at least when it comes to my children. Japanese authorities are saying the worst is over, and they say that the accidents at Fukushima rate at level 4 out of 7, according to the “International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale — or INES – which goes from Level 1, which indicates very little danger to the general population, to Level 7, a “major accident” in which there’s been a large release of radioactive material and there will be widespread health and environmental effects”.But the French nuclear authority has assessed damage at level 6, one level below Chernobyl.

So we have conflicting information too, and we are monitoring the situation from early morning to midnight. If we go to Thailand, we’ll let you know. But for now we are just being vigilant in checking the news, and hoping that the situation gets better for the survivors soon. Then there is the financial crisis that all of this has caused…

Thank you again for all your messages and concern. We will write again if anything changes in our situation here.