Entering a Strange Period

Now that I have the things I need over the next few days, it is a strange period here. Suddenly, Japan seems to be as fixated on the dangers posed by the stricken nuclear plants as the rest of the world. Just about everyone I know spent this evening inside, with their place closed up. no, we aren’t in the ’emergency zone’. Just some low-level radiation managed to drift towards the Tokyo Area from a plume of smoke from a fire at the number 4 reactor. The dangers it poses are  apparently (at least with limited exposure) negligible, but on the advice of the French authorities, who are seen as being more cautious and also more candid than the ones here, people didn’t want to take any chances. Despite my scientific scepticism, neither did I. I wonder how much of it is coming from anti-nuclear sentiment and how much is based on facts, but there is a growing fear of what could unfold. At any rate, knowing everyone is inside has led to a strange sense of community- conversations that would otherwise be in a coffee shop are had over a phone, or by computer messages. Perhaps it’s just today, but I foresee much more of this taking place, especially if more places close, because less people try to go to them, because more places are closed… and so on. Whenever ordinary life does return, perhaps as soon as a week or two, perhaps longer, it will inevitably be influenced by this strange period.

Panic buying has made toilet paper and bottled water no longer the cheap items you unthinkingly get, but hot commodities. apparently, on Amazon, alcaline batteries are available for the princely sum of 16,000 yen… quite a hike from their 100 yen price just a few days ago. Under them was a thread of angry comments about the attempt to profiteer, but ultimately it was a shocking example of the law of supply and demand. It meant my cheap batteries I bought just in case I need them are worth more than some of my camera lenses. Quite a change!

in case there’s anyone who doesn’t know, repeated hydrogen explosions and a brief fire have afflicted the seemingly well-designed Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Plant, raising the spectre of a ‘melt-down’. The results of that no-one really knows for sure, though the hope is that it would only be local. Yet locally, even it would seem to be a catastrophe of it’s own. The radiation levels there are sky-rocketing and the advice given to people nearby, many of whom can’t evacuate because of lack of fuel to travel with, is so restrictive that one wonders if it is even possible to follow. Not leaving one’s place means an impossibility of getting fresh supplies, with no-one coming to deliver new ones. I suppose in time the levels could go down, but the question is, can people hold out until then? Just imagining people being stuck out there with no-where to go is terrible to think of, though there seem to be plans to evacuate them as soon as possible. It would be worse than the Tsunami in a certain way, as you wouldn’t be wither saved or dead, you would be somewhere in between, not knowing what would come next.

I can’t help but feel for and admire the people who are probably sacrificing their lives by staying in the reactors, doing whatever they can to prevent them exploding. Many factors led to them being built out there. Ironically, a major one was the anti-nuclear movement galvanising opposition so that only the most poor and remote towns would agree to their construction. no all very understandable, you might think, but when you see that this led to them being built in an area unusually prone to Earthquakes and Tsunami, you have to wonder if a better solution than always caving in to popularism could be found. In the case of Japan (and probably France), nuclear power is a strategic necessity, Japan simply couldn’t afford to meet all it’s energy needs through using oil. Not to mention the memories of the ‘oil shock’ of the Seventies, in which it became less obtainable due to Middle-Eastern boycotts. Anyway, seeing them devote their time and their lives to these last-ditch efforts, which may well not succeed at this point, but should at least mitigate the damage, is moving to consider.

In case anyone is wondering, the levels far away, such as here can’t be and will never be comparable, simply because of the dilution of the radioactive material. I could envision a dangerously toxic plume, I just knew one would develop, but it isn’t comparable with the very light remainder of it that made it to Tokyo. The very fact that the plants powered off means that the potential disaster is nowhere near Chernobyl. Yet in the short term, even a smaller risk is an unacceptable one for many people, so wind patterns and what actually happens at the stricken site will make a difference to their behaviour. I just hope this period is very short term, as I wonder if the local economy could handle people staying in all the time. Here, other issues are more prevalent, such as panic buying, the shortage of petrol or Toyu heating oil and the cuts to train services which keep people from going to work (which in turn reduces their electricity usage).

Of course in all of this, I talk as though I know a lot more about the situation and factors involved than I actually do. From sheer necessity, I did online research to get a perspective that seems to me, at least. to be reasonably realistic. I feel that like so many things in my life, this is a distraction from my ultimate purpose, yet at least, I suppose, it is a different distraction with different lessons to be learnt. I actually think it would be better (if we could),  if we spent more time reflecting on the immense relief effort taking place to rescue Tsunami survivors, or even more so, learning from their experiences. I heard stories of people going unconscious and then feeling something hit them in the back, prompting them to grab onto an antenna or signpost, which turned out to save their live; even better, with the black-out, their body went into an automatic mode. One of Yuko’s neighbours told of their son’s wife, a nurse, stumbling into his house days after it hit, covered in mud yet unable to remember of anything that happened, let alone how she managed to make the long journey home.

These are dramatic stories, with very important messages of just what it means to be a human being on this planet, pulling through by a hair, though seemingly in the grip of a higher power, sometimes one activated through some kind of unconscious trance. They are stories worth looking into. They bring meaning to what would otherwise be a rude invasion of chaos into our ordinary lives.

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