Monday, March 12, 2012

1 Year after the Quake

As was somewhat reported in the western news media, March 11 was the 1st anniversary of the northeast Japan earthquake and tsunami that wiped out Miyagi and damaged the Fukushima reactors (leading to meltdowns, hydrogen explosions and radioactive release into the air and water). A couple groups organized events to correspond to the anniversary. One was an anti-nuke protest that was to have a parade marching down tram street from the Kagoshima-chuo station to Izuro Dori and back. It also included a small collection of temporary stalls set up next to the main bus terminal, selling organic foods and clothing. One end of the plaza had a stage for a protest demonstration. The turnout was light, maybe about 100 people, in part because very strong winds were whipping up volcano ash from the ground and getting it in people's eyes.

(One of the banners in the protest area. The images on the banners didn't seem to have much of a cohesive theme to them.)

Another group consisted mainly of volunteers trying to collect more money for restoration of Miyagi Prefecture and to help those children orphaned by the disaster. The third was put on by the Amusement Plaza shopping center as "Pass the Genki Baton" (genki = energetic, or cheerful). This last one had a stage show and interactive audience interviews, as well as some performances.

(Some of the nuclear plant protesters.)

Kagoshima is pretty removed from the areas most affected by the tsunami and reactor meltdown, so mostly the reaction is one of distant sadness, and the apprehension that something similar could happen on Kyushu. People have been good about making donations, though.

I didn't stick around to see the protest parade because I was on my way to a cultural event at the San-El building a kilometer away. However, during the conversation at San-El, there was an announcement over the PA that every one in the building should observe a minute of silence at 2:46 PM (the time the quake hit exactly one year earlier). Beyond that, people in the group didn't talk about the disaster at all.

As time goes by, there have slowly been reports released showing just how culpable the government and TEPCO (the company running the plants) are. At neighborhood meetings in previous years, the nuclear agencies had planted employees in the audiences to ask pro-nuke questions to the "experts". TEPCO had repeatedly ignored the need to upgrade facilities or do needed preventative maintenance. People at the plant didn't have sufficient training and ignored instructions given in the Accident Manual (one critical mistake was to leave the loading doors open at reactors undergoing maintenance in order to haul equipment in and out. These doors were supposed to be closed in the event of an earthquake, so when the tsunami hit, the water entered the buildings through the biggest doors and flooded the basements where the DC batteries and generators were stored.) It's pretty clear now that meltdown occurred in Unit 1 three to four hours after the earthquake, and the water level of the reactor dropped enough to expose the fuel rods. Steam reacting with the zirconium in the control rods produced hydrogen, and when the reactor was vented to cool the fuel rods, the hydrogen may have been released to build up in the roof of the building to the point where it self-combusted. Yet, up to a full month later, the government was still claiming that there was no meltdown. As these reports slowly make their way to the news (and the media are afraid of angering the government so are sitting on these reports), the public equally slowly loses its trust with everyone all around. Hence the occasional anti-nuke plant protests.

(Booth for "Pass the Genki Baton".)

(Main Plaza entertainment stage.)

(More pleas for donations.)

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