People queue up for the buses going to Tokyo’s airports, on March 16 2011. Posted on Twitpic by jameswest2010.
Three of our Observers in Japan are reacting in very different ways to news from the stricken nuclear power plant in Fukushima
. One immediately left Tokyo to head for the south of the country, another sees no reason to worry, while the third is furious at authorities for delivering so little aid and information.
The Fukushima Daiichi power plant, on the eastern coast of Japan, suffered serious damage during the March 11 earthquake and ensuing tsunami. Scrambling to prevent a nuclear meltdown, Japanese crews have been dumping water on the Fukushima No.1 power plant, which was hit by a series of explosions after the tsunami knocked out the reactor cooling systems.
Japanese government spokesperson Yukio Edano said on March 16 that the radiation levels in areas beyond a 20 km perimeter around the plant, from which over 200,000 people have been evacuated, did not pose “an immediate health risk”.
Radiation levels in the immediate vicinity of the plant have been bouncing , while in Tokyo, city authorities said radiation levels were higher than normal but pose "no threat to human health".
"I’m heading as far south as possible"
Emilie Pichard is a French exchange student and blogger in Japan. She has fled Tokyo and is heading to the Southern tip of the island of Kyushu.
After the earthquake, I basically spent three days locked inside with my host family, watching the news. What I heard on the situation at the Fukushima power plant didn’t reassure me.
“My fears seem to be a far cry from that of most Japanese”
As a foreigner, I sometimes feel that my fears are a far cry from that of most Japanese. When I tell them I’ve decided to head south as fast as possible, they answer: “Yes, I understand, the aftershocks are still pretty scary, aren’t they…” None of them seem to worry about the potential nuclear risk, at least not yet.
Personally, I’m afraid of the radiation, because I don’t know what impact it may have on my body in the long term. The information we get is very vague: official statements by the Japanese government give only very minimal information on the situation in Fukushima. I get the impression they tend to minimise the risks to avoid spreading panic, and that worries me even more.
Right now I’m in Kyoto, I’m not sure until when. I may go to Nagazaki [the southernmost city in Japan] next week. Depending on how the situation evolves at the power plant, I may then return to Tokyo, or head back to France.”
A temporary radiation test centre in Fukushima. Photo posted on TwitPic by markmackinnon.
“I’m not really scared”
Robin Swezey is a student in Nagoya, a city 350 km south of Tokyo. He has lived in Japan for two years.
People tend to forget how frequent earthquakes are in Japan. I keep reading that the Japanese are impressively calm when the ground shakes.That’s just because they’re used to it!
[On March 15], I went out to do groceries and for the first time since I’ve lived here, I saw huge queues at the supermarket. The store was out of rice, out of bottled water, out of tea (the Japanse drink it nearly as much as water), and out of instant noodles. Basic hygiene and first aid products were also almost gone.
Empty shelves in a supermarket in Nagoya, on March 15.
Supermakets quickly run out of rice and instant noodles. Photos sent by Robin Swezey.
My friends and family abroad often ask me if I’m afraid, because of what happened at the power plant. But it’s too far away for me to worry. I don’t take any special precautions. I don’t feel particularly afraid, and I plan on staying.”
"All that the French embassy could tell us was to stay at home and stock up on water!"
Alexis Borreca is a French expatriate living in Tokyo with his Japanese wife and their 10-year-old daughter.
I’m very worried about the nuclear risk. Fukushima is just 200 km away from Tokyo. It’s a huge power plant, and the latest images showed huge cracks on the walls surrounding the reactors. Radiations are terrifying because they are an invisible threat. As the head of a family, I feel powerless to protect my child.
I’m also very angry. We keep getting contradictory information: at first it was ‘everything is fine don’t panic’, and the next day there are radiation levels ten times higher than normal in Tokyo. They may say it’s not dangerous, but I’m not convinced. And all the French embassy had to say was to stay at home as much possible and fill our bathtubs with water!
Unfortunately, we can’t afford to leave from one day to the next. If we took the next flight back to Paris, we could only bring the minimum belongings with us. We don’t have family members in France, we have no place to stay. Also, my wife works in a major Japanese corporation: she could get fired if she left on such short notice.”
Post written with France 24 journalists Paul Larrouturou and Lorena Galliot,