Archive for March, 2011

Evacuation or Paid Vacation? Military Families That Fled Japan Receive Generous Travel Allowances

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    Since the Fukushima nuclear accident, thousands of American military families temporarily left Japan under the U.S. government’s “voluntary departure” program. Some are genuinely afraid of radiation, but others are not. As Stars and Stripes points out, participants in the program are basically receiving paid vacations:

    Each family member who leaves Japan under the voluntary departure program is entitled to lodging, meals, a daily stipend for incidentals and a $25 daily family travel allowance.

    The amount they’re allowed to spend depends on the location the family picked as its so-called “safe haven,” and whether family members are staying with relatives or in a hotel. Children 12 or older are eligible for 100 percent of the local per diem rate, while children under 12 are eligible for 50 percent.

    In a low-cost area, such as Grand Forks, N.D., a military family of three — mom, a teen and a child under 12 — would receive a maximum of $9,795 for the first month. That same family, however, would receive as much as $21,975 for the first month if they picked Honolulu, with its much higher cost of living, as the place they wanted to stay until they were authorized to return to Japan.

    Those figures are based on the maximum allowed for lodging; families will only be reimbursed for the exact cost of their lodging up to that amount. But families also receive the maximum food allowance regardless of how much they actually spend on meals. That allowance would be $3,075 for families staying in North Dakota and $5,375 for those in Honolulu.

    Maj. Corey Gibbs, commander of the 35th Comptroller Squadron at Misawa Air Base, confirmed the rates. He said many of the family members had questions about their entitlements, and his office created hand-outs detailing allowances based on guidance from the Air Force Accounting and Finance Office.

    A spokesman for the Hale Koa Hotel in Waikiki said the hotel has seen an influx of military families from Japan.

    “Just landed in Hawaii with my family,” one commenter wrote on a message board, where tensions over the voluntary departure program have erupted in recent days. “I am not a state resident here, but they offered us the flight with lodging at the Hale Koa. … Thanks for all the brave men and women who have stayed behind for our sakes. We will drink one to you on Friday. Mahalo and stay safe!”

    Wrote another commenter: “This is the best thing I have even seen in my 18 years in the military. I told my family to enjoy Orlando and check out Disney.”

    In a related story, military family members who participated in the safe haven program and have decided they’d like to return to Japan are being told that they will have to wait for the program to be over before coming back. Those who pay for their own tickets on commercial airlines will risk “limiting themselves as far as future entitlements.”

    19 comments - What do you think?  Posted by James - March 31, 2011 at 7:34 am

    Categories: Foreigners in Japan

    Greenpeace: Japanese Government’s Radiation Data is Accurate

    A few days ago, anti-nuclear activists from Greenpeace set up their own radiation monitoring equipment in Fukushima. If they were trying to expose Japanese government lies radiation levels, they were not successful:

    The organization, which has a well-known anti-nuclear stance, had said that it was coming to Japan to provide “an alternative to the often contradictory information released by nuclear regulators.”

    There has been some public mistrust regarding the official data, with fears exacerbated by occasionally contradictory announcements. But Jan van de Putte, a Greenpeace official, said Wednesday that its scientists’ findings largely correlated with the official Japanese data.

    There is no contradiction between Greenpeace data and local data,” he said. “The contradiction is between the data, and action to help people” in the affected areas.

    The organization recommended that the government move more aggressively to evacuate residents near the complex.

    The official Japanese government policy concerning people living 20 to 30 kilometers from the plant is that evacuation is voluntary, but recommended based on the limited availability of basic goods and services in the area. Greenpeace thinks evacuation from that area should be mandatory.

    28 comments - What do you think?  Posted by James - March 30, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    Categories: General Japan

    Still No Need to Panic About Radiation Leaks at Fukushima?

    As time goes by, there hasn’t been much of a decline in the international panic and fear over the situation at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Reports about leaks localized within the buildings or immediate area of the nuclear plant are fueling new wild speculation about the threat to “Japan.”

    Even when there aren’t new developments to report, the English language media manages to invent alarming new stories. Yesterday, the BBC, Associated Press, and other news agencies ran stories saying that Japan’s prime minister had announced the country was in state of “MAXIMUM ALERT” because of the nuclear situation. Kan’s actual words, “最大限の緊張感を持って取り組みたい” ( roughly: “(we are) working with the highest sense of urgency/alert”) was just a bland statement meant to convince people that the government is working hard to resolve the situation. The English translation favored by the BBC and AP misleadingly implied that Japan has a formal alert level system, which had just been increased because of new developments.

    Below are some helpful links I’ve come across in the last several days. Those that are looking for level-headed rational examination of the risks might want to check some of them out. The information contained in the links might be particularly useful to residents of Japan who are struggling to explain the situation to hysterical overseas friends and relatives who are bombarding their e-mail inboxes with messages of nuclear doom.

    Here are a few links that provide interesting data about radiation levels:

    Here are a few articles that don’t fall into the sensationalist mold:

    Fukushima: sounding worse, getting better by Bill Durodié (Nanyang Technological University)

    The closer the situation comes to being resolved at Fukushima, the clearer it will become what actually happened there. Hence it will sound like matters are getting worse just as they are getting better.

    Read the rest.

    Why Fukushima isn’t like Chernobyl by Alexander Sich (Franciscan University)

    At Chernobyl you had a massive, massive release of radioactivity. While we still don’t have the numbers for Fukushima, I would compare it maybe to a matchstick and a stick of dynamite. It’s a crude analogy, but it gives you some insight.

    Read the rest.

    ‘Don’t panic’ over plutonium in soil at Fukushima plant by Zena Iovino

    The two samples in question show elevated levels of plutonium-238. Though these findings grabbed headlines on Monday, experts contacted by New Scientist say that the contamination is not severe.

    “I’m not going to lie awake at night worrying about these levels,” says Dan Strom, staff scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington, who notes that the US Environmental Protection Agency would deem soil with this level of contamination fit for farming.

    “If this site were to be used just for a recreational area – a parking lot or golf course – then you could easily have 100 times this level,” Strom adds.

    Read the rest.

    Turn down the dial on radiation fears by Lawrence Solomon

    Since the scientists who pondered these questions [of radiation dangers] were working in the dark, able to arrive only at reasonable guesstimates, they decided it would be safest to assume that the dose was linearly proportional to the danger -the lower the dose, the lower the danger -with no dose so low as to eliminate danger. The UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation acknowledged its puzzlement in a 1958 report: “There may or may not be a threshold dose,” it wrote, explaining: “Linearity has been assumed primarily for purposes of simplicity.”

    Over time, the committee became less ambiguous and more dogmatic in affirming the linearity theory. The upshot: Almost everyone now accepts the dogma that all radiation poses a health risk, despite all absence of proof.

    Read the rest.

    Viewpoint: We should stop running away from radiation by Wade Allison (University of Oxford)

    More than 10,000 people have died in the Japanese tsunami and the survivors are cold and hungry. But the media concentrate on nuclear radiation from which no-one has died – and is unlikely to.

    Read the rest.

    In Japan, disaster coverage is measured, not breathless by Chico Harlan

    N-H-K anchors do not use certain words that might make a catastrophe feel like a catastrophe. “Massive” is prohibited. Same with “severe.” N-H-K gives its cub reporters an earthquake and tsunami coverage manual — Japan is a country famous for manuals — and here it instructs them in how not to stir panics, and how to properly apologize when calling local officials for updates.

    Indeed, N-H-K, as part of its core mission, aims to keep viewers levelheaded.

    Read the rest.

    [Hat tips to Matt Alt, Gakuranman, Daniel Garcia, and many others on Twitter]

    22 comments - What do you think?  Posted by James - at 12:19 pm

    Categories: General Japan

    Japanese Cartoon Character: Drinking Plutonium is Safe!

    With the Fukushima nuclear accident bringing up all kinds of talk about the risks of radioactive contamination in food and water, it can be hard to get the facts straight. Luckily, somebody is here to tell educate us about plutonium. His name is Pluto-kun, and he wants you to know that plutonium isn’t as scary as most people think. In fact, you can even safely drink water that has been contaminated with plutonium!

    Here’s Pluto-kun’s 10-minute propaganda video, apparently created by a PR firm on behalf of the nuclear industry (sometime in the 1990’s, judging from the picture quality):

    The main points seem to be:

    • Plutonium has been given a bad rap because of that whole Nagasaki a-bomb thing. You really shouldn’t be so afraid of it! It’s great stuff for making electric power.
    • Don’t believe that nonsense about plutonium being turned into nuclear weapons if it falls into the wrong hands. The type of plutonium used at Japanese nuclear power plants cannot be readily used for nuclear weapons. Any wannabe weapons makers would also need a ridiculous amount of technical knowledge and very advanced equipment. But even that shouldn’t matter, because the plutonium at nuclear plants is heavily guarded.
    • Don’t believe all those exaggerations about plutonium being super deadly and giving people cancer. As long as you don’t breath in particles of plutonium or somehow get it into your blood, you should be fine. In fact, if you drank a cup of plutonium-contaminated water, peeing and pooping will cleanse your body of the contaminant before it can do harm.
    • The use of plutonium is so heavily restricted that it is almost unthinkable that it could get leaked or released in a way that would cause harm to humans. But even if it did, say, get dumped into your water supply, there’s no need to worry. Most of it would be too heavy to make its way into drinking water, and even if it did, you’d just get rid of it by going to the toilet.

    Although Pluto-kun says it is safe to drink his water, the people who drew up the Japanese government’s health regulations do not agree. If a significant amount of plutonium is ever found in food or water, its sale and consumption will be banned.

    Just to clarify: no, plutonium has not been found in Japan’s reservoirs. Tests have found it in the soil immediately next to one of the Fukushima reactor buildings, but the contamination was so small that it isn’t even enough to exceed previously-recorded background levels:

    Traces of plutonium are not uncommon in soil because they were deposited worldwide during the atmospheric nuclear testing era. However, the isotopic composition of the plutonium found at Fukushima Daiichi suggests the material came from the reactor site, according to TEPCO officials. Still, the quantity of plutonium found does not exceed background levels tracked by Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology over the past 30 years.

    While the Pluto-kun cartoon may seem absurdly optimistic, it is correct about the fact that plutonium is a very heavy element. It is unlikely that it would carry far in the wind, even in the unlikely event of a really big explosion at the Fukushima plant.

    [hat tip to Mulboyne]

    13 comments - What do you think?  Posted by James - at 1:17 am

    Categories: Odd / Strange

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