31 March 2011

Should I stay or should I go...

Soooooo, where to begin with my little (selfish) drama?

Approximately 2 months ago I bought a flight ticket to Japan, departure 4th April, return 5th May.
On March 11th there was the biggest earthquake in Japan followed by a tsunami and explosion of the nuclear reactors. Natural disasters and radiation threat set the panic.
Things didn't seem to be going well. More panic as they find traces of radiation on the water and plants in Tokyo.

Me, thinking I'm not going anymore, everyone was leaving Japan anyways, so why should I go? Waited to get a call from my flight company saying the flight would be cancelled. 2 weeks and no news. Begging of this (last week before my flight) I get my lazy ass to call the flight company, finally, confident I would get my money back, or maybe pay a small charge for canceling the flight.

Result: the refund given by the company would be only 1/5 of the amount I spent on the ticket. They still fly to Narita, but if I want they can redirect me to the Kansai airport.
Me: ......
Not what I was expecting at all. Nor did I have any interest in going to Kansai area. No friends there, no place to stay.
So what to do?? Cancel and get small money back, or go to kansai, or risk going to tokyo?

I scanned all my friends in London and in Tokyo. My boyfriend did the same thing. We wanted to get a realistic picture of what the situation was in there, what were the risks.
We got several replies and they all made so more confused.
Couple of friends in Tokyo (boys) said there's no problem, no big danger atm and life got back to normal. Some other friends (girls) said not to come this time, even if it means losing the money. Non Japanese friends in London filled my head with stories of how dangerous it is and that I shouldn't go. They told me all kinds of things, like the government is hiding the truth otherwise Tokyo people would panic and runaway and they need people to get back to work because of the economy. And comparisons to Chernobyl, etc... I was so scared, really. But on the other hand I had been listening all this kind of information from people who I don't even know where they got their sources. So today I decided to do my own research on the matter to see if they knew what they were talking about. I was surprised to finally find an opinion from someone who actually knows what he is talking about.

Kerry O’Brien interviewed a real nuclear scientist and discovered to his evident astonishment, after all those screaming scares, that this man still had a smile on his face - because he knows the reassuring truth:

KERRY O’BRIEN: For 21 years (John Carlson) headed the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation office and chaired the International Atomic Energy Agency’s advisory group on safeguards for five years. He’s now a counsellor with the Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative and a visiting fellow with the Lowy Institute....

John Carlson, what is your worst fear scenario related to civilian run, or nuclear power plants run for civilian purposes?

JOHN CARLSON, AUST. NUCLEAR SAFEGUARDS OFFICE 1989-2010: I think we’ve just about seen it, Kerry. I can’t imagine anything worse happening. People think back to the Chernobyl accident and a number of commentators were predicting that this would be like Chernobyl. The technologies are just so different and the driver for releasing large amounts of radiation simply isn’t there with like water reactors.

So I think, basically, we’ve seen the worst scenario and it’s turned out to be not the nightmare that many people thought it could be. That’s certainly not to be complacent and clearly there’s going to be a lot of work analysing what happened and learning and improving safety systems but I think basically the technology has shown itself to be very robust.

KERRY O’BRIEN: Really? You can say that, robust, given the pictures we’ve seen, the explosions that took place?

JOHN CARLSON: Well, you have to look at in terms of two things - first of all, what was the actual impact on public safety? And secondly, I think in any kind of analysis we do of nuclear energy we have to compare it with other energy sources and the risks and benefits and limitations of other energy sources.

I think if you look at nuclear energy purely in isolation you’d probably conclude maybe it’s best not to use it, but the fact is there’s no perfect way of generating electricity and we have to take an objective look at pros and cons on a comparative basis.


I also read a couple more informed opinions on the subject that compared it with Chernobyl. And in the end the conclusion is that What's happening in Sendai is something very local. Of course the radiation spread and found in Tokyo's tap water, but the amount found isn't harmful and it disappears with time. As lond as it isn't consumed in large amount, nothing wrong it will happen. And even filtered water is not safe. So just be careful with what you drink and where the foods you eat came from, dont get water in eyes while you shower, these are just the precautions we should have. But other than that, except if you are a child, there's no real danger. The radiation atm is a local thing, so Tokyo is basically safe.
I looked more into the Chernobyl case and no matter what I read I didn't find deffenite answers for the long term consequences of the radiation in that country. Yes, the cases of cancer in young people was slightly higher than the average, but there is no proof that this is directly connected with the radiation. Also it is true that there are slightly more cases of children with spine problems, body deformations, but in these cases no one is sure if it is due to the radiation or the high consume of alcohol by the pregnant mothers, which is a problem in that area.
So nothing conclusive that my presence in Tokyo will be in danger.

The biggest danger I could think of would be another earthquake of the same kind and a consequent tsunami... But hoping this won't happen, I don't see why I should lose my holiday staying at home doing nothing, lose my money for nothing. Of course it doesn't feel right while so many people are in need in the north and I will be enjoying myself in Tokyo... But I have a strong feeling that tells me not to waist this opportunity.

Besides, did you know that there's more radiation in Seattle's air and water than in Tokyo?? But people are still living their lives normally in there.

So am I right? Am I wrong? I will find out soon, my flight is this monday.

Wish me luck.


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