Fukushima and sound early advice by Sir John Beddington helped many
Lee Jay Walker
Modern Tokyo Times
March 11 in Tokyo was a very eventful day because the powerful 9.0-magnitude earthquake violently shook the capital of Japan many times. Having resided in Tokyo for many years then earthquakes are nothing new and usually you just go with the flow and soon it is over. However, this day was very different because the force was enormous and it felt like the ground was going to open up.
The first few hours witnessed aftershock after aftershock and it seemed like it wasn’t going to end. In Yurakcho and Ginza, where I was aimlessly wandering around, the high octane nature of fashion suddenly felt unimportant and the notion of reality was like an illusion.
After several hours of uncertainty people in Tokyo were still unaware about what was happening in distant Miyagi, Iwate, and Fukushima. The news on television was mentioning that a tsunami had followed the original earthquake but information was patchy. Therefore, during this period most people in Tokyo believed that tens of people or a few hundred people may have died but nobody could have imagined the real devastation.
Not only this, but Fukushima was not even on the radar in Tokyo during the early period and most people, me included, just watched the breaking news on wide television screens in buildings where they are available. The train system was in shut-down mode and the aftershocks were many, therefore, it was all about biding your time and trying to contact friends if possible or somehow finding your way home.
The next few days felt extremely strange in Kanagawa, Tokyo and Saitama, where I am based. Also, more details were emerging about Fukushima and the Daiichi nuclear plant and this story was picked on by the global media.
At the same time it was becoming more apparent that thousands of people had perished and by the end of a week or so then clearly this figure was rising to the tens of thousands. Images of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima were being shown daily and the footage was horrendous. This applies to images of the tsunami sweeping away villages and towns and the ongoing nuclear crisis in Fukushima.
Many international news agencies were painting a picture that was genuine with regards to the tsunami but completely over the top when it came to Fukushima. This created a panic and many embassies closed and vast numbers of foreign nationals began to leave.
Of course, at no point was I going to leave because Tokyo is my home and for better or worse it is my shared city along with my beloved Manchester. However, just like in all events you had a voice of reason amidst the scaremongers and this voice of reason belonged to Sir John Beddington.
In my earlier article called British scientific adviser: nothing to fear outside of Fukushima exclusion zone which I wrote on March 17 in Tokyo, I highlight this man of wisdom and deep knowledge. I commented that “The British Embassy in Tokyo on March 15th invited the Government’s Chief Scientific Professor, Sir John Beddington, to answer deep and difficult questions related to the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Sir John Beddington replied and gave detailed information about the most likely outcome and his opinion about events which have been reported in the press.”
Sir John Beddington stated “…what I would really re-emphasise is that this is very problematic for the area and the immediate vicinity and one has to have concerns for the people working there. Beyond the 20 or 30 kilometres, it’s really not an issue for health.”
Therefore, after reading the full transcript of what Sir John Beddington stated I felt re-assured and completely vindicated about telling people to stay in Tokyo. This applies to a few individuals I know who hit the panic button.
Turning back to my article I stated that “at all times, it appears that the British point of view is that Tokyo is very safe and the same applies to all areas outside of the exclusion zone of the Fukushima nuclear plant but 30km was mentioned to be extremely safe, therefore, the exclusion zone may be added if developments become severe and meltdown actually happens.”
Sir John Beddington was a tower of strength in the following days and weeks after March 11. Of course some of his views may have changed given the release of further information but the fundamentals will remain the same.
On the other side you had scaremongers and one writer for the BBC was clearly out of order. Therefore, in another article I commented that “According to Rupert Wingfield-Hayes you would believe that all Tokyoites are panicking and are in a flux because of events since the devastating earthquake. He states in his article called “The eerie quiet of Tokyo hides Japan’s shock and anxiety,” which was published by the BBC, that “The threat to Tokyo’s 30 million people is invisible. Everyone is now asking themselves the same question. When does the crisis unfolding at the Fukushima nuclear plant 150 miles (240km) to the north cross that invisible line when you decide the risk of staying here is too high?”
Sadly you had many Rupert Wingfield-Hayes who were adding fuel to the fire but luckily words of wisdom were being stated by people of deep knowledge like Sir John Beddington.
Therefore, relatives and friends in many lands were hanging on his words and if only the media heeded his sound advice. However, you have many agendas and this applies to environmentalists, anti-nuclear lobby, and many other factors.
Yet for people like myself, I followed the advice of Sir John Beddington and after reading his pearls of wisdom I just knuckled down and got on with life. After all, Tokyoites were very lucky to escape the ravages of the earthquake, tsunami and radiation from Fukushima.
The British Embassy in Tokyo http://ukinjapan.fco.gov.uk/en/