Japan Situation Update

America’s quick, powerful response to Japan’s crises has touched many hearts here, and the choice of name is charming: Operation Tomodachi, which means Operation Friend. Excellent touch, just the kind of goodwill everybody here needed. A neighbor woman not known for public displays of emotion hugged me with tears in her eyes, and said she wanted to express to all Americans her appreciation for what they’re doing for Japan. I felt proud of my countrymen.

When the USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group arrived, people jumped for joy. What could inspire more confidence at a time when so many feel helpless and alone? The group flew 29 sorties yesterday, delivering 17 tons of supplies such as food, water, and blankets to the worst-hit of the disaster zone. So far, it’s delivered 25 tons. The American presence is discussed widely, and warmly.

Trouble at the Fukushima nuclear power plant continues. With intense emotion involved, and a tendency toward hyperbole in media, I’ve begun focusing on raw data instead of interpretation. Taking that approach, let’s examine the situation as of noon Wednesday, Japan time.

The following screen capture is from the Tochigi Prefecture radiation monitoring page. All of Japan’s prefectures — divisions akin to counties in California — are now required to report radiation levels every hour. My town of Sano is in Tochigi Prefecture, hence its radiation readout is the one I’m monitoring most closely. Here’s how it looked at noon today:

2011-03-16 12 PM Tochigi radiation

The top bullet summarizes the area closest to me. The first line describes the location. The second shows that, as of March 16, 12 pm, radiation exposure was measured at 0.224 microsieverts per hour. The third line shows in parentheses that a typical X-ray scan exposes a person to 60 microsieverts. The next bullet group shows an area of Tochigi closer to the reactor (but still more than 100 miles away) measuring 1.40 microsieverts per hour.

These are not dangerous levels — not even close. Other data I’ve seen suggest that people will not become ill until radiation levels reach 1.5 million to 2 million microsieverts. We’re nowhere near that, and almost nobody expects to get there. To see current data, check the second group of info at the Tochigi radiation page. Note that it uses military time, so 10 pm will display as 22.

The next consideration is where the wind is blowing. The best-case is a westerly wind that blows emitted radiation over the Pacific; the worst is a northerly that blows it over Tokyo. For wind currents, view the following map:

Japan wind map

The arrows show wind direction and their colors correspond to the meters/second shown at bottom right. You can forecast by pushing the forward arrow at the top where it shows 16 and 12 (March 16, 12 pm). The upper-left pulldown takes you to different region zooms on the map. The image above is static; visit the live, interactive map.

When you do, notice by forecasting with the forward arrow button that the wind’s supposed to keep radiation flowing out over the sea. Great! What’s more, it’s a fairly strong wind.

Thus, with very low levels of radiation and a strong wind out to sea, I find the situation facing Tokyo to be less dire than depicted. It’s possible that it will deteriorate, of course, but it’ll probably get better. US Energy Secretary Steven Chu said yesterday that more than 30 experts from the Energy Department and 17,000 pounds of monitoring equipment for early detection of ground contamination had been deployed to complement Japan’s efforts.

The laudable civility of Japanese citizens is holding strong. Rolling blackouts are scheduled every day, but with people following requests to self-ration their energy consumption, most haven’t been necessary. Nobody complains, they just dial down electricity usage and adjust their lives accordingly. Ditto the response to gasoline shortages and emptying food shelves. An air of camaraderie permeates the tragedy.

These are good people in bad times, but they’re going to get by with a little help from their friends.

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31 Comments

  1. Dee McNabb
    Posted March 18, 2011 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    Jason – Your posting meant so much to our family. My grandson is on the Reagan carrier and we have all been much aware of the dangers to the people of Japan as well as to the seamen on the US fleet that are positioned off shore in order to bring aid to Japan. It is heartening to know that the Japanese people are responding in such a strong and positive way. I hope you will continue to keep us informed. Many thanks from Dee Mcnabb in Nashville, Tennessee

  2. Bill Maris
    Posted March 18, 2011 at 4:13 am | Permalink

    Jason — thanks for clarity in a time of hyperbole. Hopefully all of those close to you are safe and have not suffered more than minimally in the literal wake of this trifecta.
    Japan is in our prayers as well of the prayers of our many friends in Hawaii and Oregon.
    Stay safe.
    Bill and Theresa
    Portland

    • Posted March 18, 2011 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      Thank you, Bill. If ever there was a time to feel the comforting presence of old friends from afar, this is it. We’re all in this together, just over varying distances.

  3. Fred Arnold
    Posted March 17, 2011 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    God bless the people of Japan and all those there for the rescue!

  4. Posted March 17, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    I would like you to keep in contact, if possible with my son. Michael was with the Nuclear people here for sixteen years after leaving the navy as a nuclear chemist aboard a sub.
    He keeps me and my group informed with information received from the Chattanooga TVA Nuclear people which is much faster than the local news.

    His email is mikerault@yahoo.com

    He is an Oracle Guru presently.

    Thanks much, your info plus his gives all of us here a much clearer picture.

  5. Steve O'Neal
    Posted March 17, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    Jason,

    Glad to hear the facts. As Charlie stated earlier, your briefing from the trenches is tough but welcome news. There is a lot of information on the media today and some is quite conflicting and much of it leads the listener to believe the situation is more dire than you report.

    The information you provided helps gain some real time perspective of the situation. I very much respect the attitude and resolve of the Japanese people although I am not surprised. Considering that they have had to endure a major earthquake, a tsunami, plus the nuclear power issues and resulting power losses shows considerable discipline and resourcefulness. My heart goes out to all those affected. I think I speak for many others when I say that I wish we could do more than we’re doing to help.
    Stay safe. I will say a prayer tonight hoping that the people of Japan can soon start rebuilding their country and their lives.

    Best Regards,
    Steve

  6. Tony Paglia
    Posted March 17, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    Jason,
    Thanks for the info. Please let the people of Japan know that the US is thinking a praying for them. I can not even think of what this would do to the US. My Hart goes out to these people, God Bless Japan.
    Tony

  7. Lawrence A. Bennett
    Posted March 17, 2011 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    Thanks Jason,
    God Bless America again for stepping up to the plate when their friends need it.
    We in Canada are trying to do our bet by raising money for Red Cross.
    Wehave many japanize candadians here with realatives there.
    Thank you for your first hand reports.

  8. Terry Utterback
    Posted March 17, 2011 at 4:50 am | Permalink

    Jason:

    I work with Dan David who shared your comments about the situation in Japan. It is very reassuring to learn that the radiation levels are not what the media are broadcasting at this moment in time. Though I have never visited Japan, I have always loved and admired the Japanese people for their stoicism and cultural heritage. I appreciated the image of the lady who came over to thank you — it is so like the Japanese. They are a nation of doers and thinkers not whiners and some of us here need to emulate that attitude I am afraid.

  9. Janice Hitchcock
    Posted March 17, 2011 at 4:42 am | Permalink

    Dear Mr. Kelly,

    Let’s not say “Oh good, if things really do blow, we’re ok because most of it will blow out to sea.” The 7th Fleet is there. That’s where all the humanitarian assistance is coming from – ships that are just off the east coast of Japan. The crews that flew those 29 sorties yesterday? They’re being treated for radiation exposure. Everybody out there is in very grave danger.

    Any way you look at it, this is awful.

  10. Charlie Michaels
    Posted March 17, 2011 at 3:34 am | Permalink

    Jason, thanks for your heartwarming and measured briefing from the trenches. While we remain most concerned regarding your health, and others in Japan, it was “comforting” to read how far we are from dangerous radiation levels at this point. Also, it was really pleasing to read about the warm and positive response given to the arrival of supplies from the USS Ronald Reagan. I agree with Bill Hart, above, who highlighted how the press is likely (hopefully) exaggerating the nuclear situation.

    Given all the press/TV coverage highlighting the tragic events, it is nice to read your piece. Nonetheless, we all are very sad regarding the deaths and hardships that the Tsunami and quake caused, and realize that times are very difficult in Japan today. I very much hope that the situation has a speedy resolution.

    • Posted March 17, 2011 at 9:46 am | Permalink

      Thank you so much, Charlie. Knowing that a successful, rational person of your stature is also looking over the situation with me and providing input is reassuring. I appreciate your care!

  11. kj
    Posted March 17, 2011 at 2:52 am | Permalink

    Thanks. great info. What is the significance of the pointed finger..at a beautiful hillside of homes untouched by the quake….

  12. Scott
    Posted March 17, 2011 at 1:57 am | Permalink

    Thanks for your good analysis, Jason. This is a wonderful example of how easy it is to fall into the media trap. I read a piece that TIME posted yesterday where the expert said that an ‘atomic explosion” was possible. LOL And radioactive clouds of doom were possible, yet, nobody mentioned the positive wind directions out to sea. So thanks for the great lesson that you’ve provided to all of us about how careful we all must be about what we read.

  13. Posted March 17, 2011 at 12:55 am | Permalink

    Hi Jason,

    I was away until yesterday and imagined you might have flown back to America, so I’m glad to at least hear the Japanese media is prone to hyperbole. This is generally the case in every culture. I’m reminded of the SARS outbreak in Toronto (my former home town) and people everywhere believing the city was rife with contagion, an impression very far from the truth. I’m not minimizing Japan’s terrible calamity. This is a far graver situation, but I remain hopeful it will be managed effectively.

  14. Posted March 17, 2011 at 12:52 am | Permalink

    Thank you so much Jason – this is great news. Both your grounded practicality and incredible gut instinct for deciphering truth from untruth and theatrics make you a rare trusted source of news for me. I really appreciate your taking the time to share the information you’re getting, amidst everything else on your plate right now.

    p.s. Got my package of socks and written notes prepared yesterday – mailing today!

    Heather Porter
    Greenwich, CT

  15. Bob Yeager
    Posted March 17, 2011 at 12:27 am | Permalink

    Thank you Jason for your close-up and personal observations from Japan. My prayers are with these strong Japanese people, who have endure this horrific tragedy with great dignity. We get so many hyped-up TV stories of the situation over there that I simply power down the TV or click to another channel. So, I really appreciative your honest and balanced observations and hope that you continue sending them until the current nuclear threat subsides.
    Thanks again,
    Bob Yeager

    Bob Yeager
    Connecticut, USA

  16. Ainslie French
    Posted March 16, 2011 at 11:38 pm | Permalink

    Dear Jason,

    Our thoughts and prayers are with you and everyone in Japan at the moment.

    If anyone considers that setting up a Wiki on http://www.greatjapanesehomepage.com might help communication systems, I am the owner, but I will need a little technical help to install mediawiki on a server and configure accordingly.

    Web experts and translators please get in touch.

    Good Luck

    Ainslie French

  17. Carl
    Posted March 16, 2011 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

    My wife and I sat at our table last night eating our meal and watch the news of Japan. We are heart broken, but amazed by the citizens of Japan. Express to them that they are in our prayers. I also am proud of my country and our citizens who come forth to help a friend in need.

  18. Richard Bicicchi
    Posted March 16, 2011 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

    In time of crisis, how wonderful to have someone like you speaking with calm restrained sanity. Keep it up — the world needs more of this!

  19. anne groden
    Posted March 16, 2011 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

    Jason,

    I forwarded this to CNBC Squawk on the Street. I’m sick of hearing guesses in the wind and hysterical coverage. In Hot Springs Ark, I was a representative for the city to organize a tour for our sister city Japanese guests. I was amazed at the politeness, friendliness and warmth of the Japanese dignitaries. I spend several hours with them and they presented me a small gift for my assistance. I was thrilled to help out and will always treasure the moments. I wrote an article concerning their visit for the local paper.

  20. Simon Yates
    Posted March 16, 2011 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

    Hello Jason,

    Nice to see that there is another foreign resident in Sano — I thought that I was the only one!

    Do you know of any local groups here lending support to the stranded people up north? I’m not sure if I want to go there myself but would like to lend a hand if I can.

    Many Thanks,

    Simon (in Konaka)

    • Posted March 16, 2011 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

      Good to meet you here, Simon! We’re working on our own effort and in that process are coming across other calls for help. I’ve jotted down your email address and will let you know what I hear. Interested in helping us?

      • Simon Yates
        Posted March 16, 2011 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

        Ok I might pop over at the weekend and drop some socks off at your office if you’re in, otherwise I’ll leave them in your letterbox.

        All the Best,

        Simon

  21. Amy Gilbert
    Posted March 16, 2011 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, Jason, for your e-mail this morning. I just spoke with my son yesterday who is studying for his Master’s in Japanese in Colorado. Many of his Japanese friends (who returned home at the onset of this tragedy) are reporting from Japan that they are disappointed with the amount of help that Americans are providing. I was so glad that I could forward this e-mail to him so that he could be proud of his country. Also, I am distributing your website for Socks for Japan and you will be receiving my donations shortly. Be safe.

  22. Jonas Haraldson
    Posted March 16, 2011 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for a doubly encouraging update. The situation sounds promising from a radiation perspective and it’s also very uplifting to hear about the cooperative and dignified efforts in the midst of chaos and danger. More than anything else, I believe that this spirit can make the situation bearable and the chance of improvement better.

  23. Dennis Page
    Posted March 16, 2011 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    Jason,
    Please tell us more about the aide that Japan is receiving from other countries besides the United States of America. News outlets in the U.S. haven’t given the rest of the world fair representation.
    Dennis

    • Posted March 16, 2011 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

      I’ll keep an ear to the ground. It probably appears to people that I focused on American aid because I’m American, but that’s not the reason. It’s just a fact that the arrival of the Reagan and attention from the US have dominated conversations among Japanese people. I’ll provide an update with other assistance as I hear about it.

  24. Dan Harvey
    Posted March 16, 2011 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

    My Thoughts and Prayers are with the people of Japan, I am a ham radio operator can I be put to use?

    • Posted March 16, 2011 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

      I’m afraid I don’t know anything about it, Dan. Thank you for the desire to help, though. Anybody else knowledgeable on this?

  25. Posted March 16, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    Many have emailed this morning’s news reports in America, showing alarm that the Tepco workers needed to evacuate the Fukushima plant due to elevated radiation levels. However, that was about 12 hours ago, lasted only one hour, and you can see in the above article that radiation levels in the Tokyo area didn’t rise during the day. This is a perfect example of why I prefer watching the data.

    Notice at the updated radiation page that Tochigi’s levels have dropped even further since I captured the screen above. At noon, they were 0.224 microsieverts per hour. At 4 pm, they were down to 0.216 at the station nearest my office.

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