Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Situation Now in Tokyo

I'm not inclined to make posts about the earthquake, tsunami, or the nuclear situation because I'm not an authority on such matters, but I have been asked about what is really happening and have found that there is a massive amount of misinformation spreading in the West regarding how bad it is. One bit of grim irony is that those of us who are potentially in more immediate danger as we are within a few hundred miles of the reactors are spending more time reassuring people who are across the ocean than they are supporting us.

First of all, Tokyo is relatively safe at this time in regards to radiation exposure. There is more radiation than normal in the atmosphere, but as things currently stand, you would almost certainly receive more radiation from actually getting on a plane and flying home than you would by remaining in Tokyo. Radiation exposure is something that occurs in our lives all of the time but we never question it because it isn't occurring within the framework of a crisis. I've read that radiation levels at one point today in Tokyo were 100x "normal", but that if you go to a hot spring (onsen) and sit in the bath, you're receiving 200x the normal level of radiation from that experience.

So, looking at the information that is being spread isn't enough. You also have to view it in context. We get radiation by flying on planes, getting medical treatment, or scans at the airport. Normal radiation levels are very low so discussing how much greater the levels are without looking at total radiation exposure numbers is misleading and potentially inflammatory. One of the things which is very useful is not to simply read the news, but to access sources which will provide you with context.

One of my major sources, aside from the Japanese news, is to follow TimeOutTokyo on Twitter. There are also several other people on Twitter who are  not alarmist and are providing good contextual information. They include: gakuranman and martynwilliams. There are others who are tweeting good information, but these three are my major sources. They're all working very hard to be level, legible, and to do proper research such that whatever information comes out can be properly understood.

I strongly encourage people not to trust Western news sources like CNN or the Huffington Post. These sources are alarmist, inflammatory, and focusing intensely on only the worst situations and the worst case scenarios. Obviously, there has been devastation in some areas, largely from tsunami, and there is great danger in the area near the reactors in Fukushima, but those areas have been evacuated. The people who are at great risk right now are the 50 TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) employees who are remaining at the reactors trying to get the situation under control. These are the people who are risking their lives and all of the panic being displayed by people who are too far away to be meaningfully affected strikes me as disrespectful to these men (who I greatly fear may die from doing their job in the service of saving others).

If you are an ocean apart, there is virtually no chance you're going to be adversely affected by the crisis in Japan. Snopes has actually put up an article refuting some of the wild rumors about the radiation traveling over the Pacific. People who are on the West Coast of the U.S. who are buying Potassium Iodide tablets or considering evacuating are showing a level of paranoia and panic which is absurd.

All of this being said, I am not an expert on anything regarding these issues, but I have digested information as it has been offered and have been the beneficiary of good efforts on the part of rational people who labor despite the stress we all feel to keep calm and be mature and logical. I can also tell you that I lived in western Pennsylvania during the Three Mile Island crisis in 1979 there and that the distance I lived from there was slightly closer (about 10 miles/16 km.) than the distance I currently am from the Fukushima reactors. Obviously, the circumstances are not exactly the same, but they have similarities. I have suffered no ill effects from whatever exposure occurred at that time and I've had 32 years for something to develop. I think that, unless something catastrophic occurs, there is little chance that those of us far from the reactors will suffer from the limited exposure we're experiencing.

The truth of the matter is that those outside of the most tsunami devastated areas and who are not close to the reactors are currently not in danger of anything besides our own fear and panic consuming us. Right now, that really is "the enemy" (to reference a cliche). That being said, I'm stressed daily because my life is currently far from normal. Though my blog posts continue to go up as usual, that is only because I post from a buffer of posts written at least a week ago on the snack blog and from a two-month buffer on the 1000 Things blog. This is actually the first post I have composed since the quake. The other posts are just going up on schedule from work I did before the crisis.

Frankly, at the moment, we're all dealing with stressful but non-lethal consequences. My husband hasn't worked since the quake and I've lost a week's worth of freelance work. If we don't work, we don't get paid. There have been aftershocks going on, some quite strong, and there have been  other earthquakes with different epicenters (two in the last 16 hours). Under normal circumstances, these would be troubling, but we're all dealing with a sort of post-traumatic stress because the big earthquake started slow and built up over a long time so even small quakes bring back the fear that another very bad experience may be coming. Beyond that, and I plan to post about this on Friday, people are hoarding and panic-buying so there are constant reminders that we're in a state of fear and crisis when one ventures out to any shop. Public transportation is slowly returning to normal service levels, but still disrupted. Every time there is a strong aftershock or a new quake, I worry that normality is being pushed further away. So, I am stressed, but safe.

In no way am I fishing for sympathy about my circumstances as I think compared to people who have really suffered (and there have been many who lost homes, were injured, lost family, and endured far greater trauma), what I'm dealing with is trivial. I mention these things in order to provide context for the following request: I beg my readers not to send me e-mail or comment on other posts trying to "refute" what I say or point out other news sources that offer alternative views. There is too much information out there and much of it is bad and I do not have the energy to deal with all of it. I'm making this post because I've essentially been asked enough times to say something that I've decided that I will. I don't want to get into pointless debates with people about anything I have asserted here because I'm not in a place emotionally to tolerate it. I have to focus all of my energy on dealing with everything that keeps coming my way and hand-holding family and friends who mean well but are constantly being spooked by misinformation broadcast abroad.

I'm closing comments on this post only, but please don't interpret that as a snub of my kind readers who have shown such concern for me. I sincerely appreciate the people who care about my well-being and have expressed such kind sentiments, but right now I have to close the door on possible argumentative and alarmist voices because I have enough to handle.

Update: There are also good posts on the situation on AltJapan. They are under "Should I Stay or Should I Go."