Friday, March 18, 2011

An update

Hello everybody,

This blog postl is long overdue, mainly because it's been business-as-usual here in Sapporo, and Nathan and I have been quite busy with our jobs. In fact, I found it quite eerie on Monday how everyone at work was carrying on as usual, but I guess that's best - routine can bring comfort during these trying times.

That's not to say that we haven't been keeping up with all the latest news and updates on what's going on in the Fukushima prefecture. On the contrary, it's all that we actually ever talk about, and Nathan and I are constantly inundated with news not only from Japan, but from around the world (NHK, New York Times, BBC: that's the advantage of having ALT friends from all the Western world, you hear about the news from every viewpoint). I'm also on a mailing list that includes ex-pats living and raising families in Japan, and we are in constant contact with each other about what is going on, especially in the Tokyo area, since many of the families live around there. Everything may be normal around here, but we are VERY aware of what is happening and what can happen. In fact, I've never read so many articles and writings from nuclear scientists and experts in my entire life!

As of today (March 18), Nathan, Ethan, and I have decided that we are not leaving Sapporo. Here's why:

  • Sapporo is over 500 kM from the power plant, and we feel this is more than a safe distance from any serious radiation.
  • We've read the travel warning from the State Dept., and believe that the evacuations are being advised for the Fukushima area and Tokyo, on the main island of Honshu. This would be consistent with the travel warning from the UK, in which they state that they don't believe Hokkaido (the island we live on) is in any danger. You can check that statement out here:
  • News that we've been reading has been positive today, and seems that the reactors are being cooled down.
  • Although we do think that the Japanese Gov't is not being totally forthcoming with the situation at the plant, we do think that foreign media has been sensationalizing some of the situation a bit, and we are trying to take a rational approach and read, "beyond the headlines", by trying to stay informed as much as possible through several means.
However, this doesn't mean that we are completely against the possibility of leaving. If the US Embassy in Tokyo or the State Dept. tell us that ALL U.S. residents need to leave Japan, then of course, we're outta here. But leaving for an extended period of time brings up many other things. How long would be OK to stay out? Since I'm an employee of the City of Sapporo, what means do I take to leave? We've (ALT's of Sapporo) asked these questions to our Supervisor at the Sapporo Board of Education, and are awaiting his answer regarding these procedures.

We know that you are all worrying about us, and I know it can be frustrating to understand all that is going on when Japan is so far away. But I can assure you, we are totally fine: there are no food shortages, no power outages, and no panic. If anything, this has made me realize that we as a family are not really prepared for an emergency situation such as an earthquake. Now I find myself researching what things I should have in an emergency kit. It's good to be prepared!

I'm going to include an e-mail I received from my JET Program Coordinator in Denver. She received this info from the JET Prefectural Advisors in Akita, and as Akita is much closer to the devastation than we are, I found it quite comforting. I hope you will too.

We love you all and hope you understand our decision,
Sarah, Nathan, and Ethan :)

*Please feel free to forward this to other family and friends!!

**attachment below

Good morning everyone,  I know that many of you have expressed concern about the levels of radiation and how it will effect us here in Akita. Although it would be irresponsible to say with absolute certainty that we will not/will never be exposed to danger, I personally believe that the facts point towards Akita being one of the safest places to be right now.  Regular radiation level readings are being taken all across the country and as of yet there has been absolutely no sign of danger from radiation outside the 20km area surrounding the power plant in Fukushima. This includes Akita. These readings can be found here: Just click on: A diagram "Radiation in daily-life" on radiation doses: (March 16th, 2011)  And before anyone starts to talk about the possibility of the Japanese government being less than truthful I think it is important to remember, the sole job of the foreign media is to make things seem worse than they are to sell papers/increase ratings and justify the costs of sending reporters over here.  Danny, one of the Miyagi PAs, just finished a conference call with the British Embassy and decided to share the contents of the call with us.  I have just returned from a conference call held at the British Embassy in Tokyo. The call was concerning the nuclear issue in Japan. The chief spokesman was Sir. John Beddington, Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government, and he was joined by a number of qualified nuclear experts based in the UK. Their assessment of the current situation in Japan is as follows:  * In case of a 'reasonable worst case scenario' (defined as total meltdown of one reactor with subsequent radioactive explosion) an exclusion zone of 30 miles (50km) would be the maximum required to avoid affecting peoples' health. Even in a worse situation (loss of two or more reactors) it is unlikely that the damage would be significantly more than that caused by the loss of a single reactor.  * The current 20km exclusion zone is appropriate for the levels of radiation/risk currently experienced, and if the pouring of sea water can be maintained to cool the reactors, the likelihood of a major incident should be avoided. A further large quake with tsunami could lead to the suspension of the current cooling operations, leading to the above scenario.  * The bottom line is that these experts do not see there being a possibility of a health problem for residents in Tokyo. The radiation levels would need to be hundreds of times higher than current to cause the possibility for health issues, and that, in their opinion, is not going to happen (they were talking minimum levels affecting pregnant women and children - for normal adults the levels would need to be much higher still).  * The experts do not consider the wind direction to be material. They say Tokyo is too far away to be materially affected.  * If the pouring of water can be maintained the situation should be much improved after ten days, as the reactors' cores cool down.  * Information being provided by Japanese authorities is being independently monitored by a number of organizations and is deemed to be accurate, as far as measures of radioactivity levels are concerned.  * This is a very different situation from Chernobyl, where the reactor went into meltdown and the encasement, which exploded, was left to burn for weeks without any control. Even with Chernobyl, an exclusion zone of 30 miles would have been adequate to protect human health. The problem was that most people became sick from eating contaminated food, crops, milk and water in the region for years afterward, as no attempt was made to measure radioactivity levels in the food supply at that time or warn people of the dangers. The secrecy over the Chernobyl explosion is in contrast to the very public coverage of the Fukushima crisis.  *The Head of the British School asked if the school should remain closed. The answer was there is no need to close the school due to fears of radiation. There may well be other reasons - structural damage or possible new quakes - but the radiation fear is not supported by scientific measures, even for children.  * Regarding Iodine supplementation, the experts said this was only necessary for those who had inhaled quantities of radiation (those in the exclusion zone or workers on the site) or through consumption of contaminated food/water supplies. Long term consumption of iodine is, in any case, not healthy.  The discussion was surprisingly frank and to the point. The conclusion of the experts is that the damage caused by the earthquake and tsunami, as well as the subsequent aftershocks, was much more of an issue than the fear of radiation sickness from the nuclear plants.  As you can see right now the most pressing issue for Japan is still that of the damage done by the earthquakes and especially the tsunamis. If you haven't already consider giving blood. Information on donating blood can be found on the wiki at If anyone needs an interpreter to go with them I would be more than happy to come along.  Lastly, I also posted this link on my facebook page, but Dr. Sanjay Gupta, one-time candidate for surgeon general of the United States, says that, "As things stand now though, it is tough to conceive that anyone outside the 20-kilometer evacuation zone would have any long- term health problems." He has evacuated TO AKITA because it is one of the safest areas in eastern Japan.  Of course the situation is changing by the minute, but I just would like everyone to base their decisions on fact rather than sensationalized assumptions by "experts" without credentials.  As always if you need to talk about anything, related to this disaster or not, you can contact the PAs anytime. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The Akita PAs seem to be doing a great job of sharing good and clear information. Glad to share this with you as you all try and sift through all the news/ info that is floating around out there. Stay safe!

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