Pictures of Staten Island’s Recovery after Hurricane Sandy

November 4, 2012 Comments off

Scenes at Miller Field as the Red Cross, National Guard and FEMA workers began to distribute good to local Staten Island residents on Friday, November 2.





Staten Island Ignored Until Friday

November 3, 2012 Comments off

A large container from a nearby hall washed up on the lawn of a woman a short distance from Miller Field. Water rose 2 metres, destroyed her car and damaged her home.

When residents of Staten Island left their homes to survey the damage after hurricane Sandy, they found they were mostly on their own. Numerous people all across the island complained to journalists about a lack of power, Con Ed repair crews, gasoline, government help and a list of other items.
It was apparent, said many residents, that Staten Island was “forgotten” or “ignored,” which they said was typical of the way NYC treated them. In the New Dorp section lines for petrol stretched from Hylan Boulevard and New Dorp Lane all along Miller Field, with drivers waiting over two hours. Most standing in line seemed in good cheer, though those in vehicles were more likely to be upset. And they had good reason to be. On Friday afternoon, several days after the storm, only a handful of gas stations were open on the island, yet thousands of people were in desperate need to find petrol for a generator – tens of thousands are still without power – or for their cars. With the SI Ferry only being restored as of Friday afternoon, the only way for residents to get to work in other boroughs was to drive; with little or no petrol in other boroughs or NJ, people became very concerned and were willing to stand in the cold wind for as long as it took.

Others were in even worse shape. For those residents just to the side of Miller Field on streets like Weed Avenue, they have been spending most of their time cleaning out what remains of their homes. On street after street in front of house after house residents deposited the former contents of their homes. Couches, sofas, refrigerators, stoves, washing machines, chairs, records, military uniforms – anything and everything one could imagine was awaiting the sanitation. No worries. Since many of the streets remain flooded, it looks like they may have to wait even longer before their rubbish can be collected. And the homeowners are not happy about their situation. Some told stories of swimming in the flood waters of their basements, just able to get out in time before being swept away. They told stories of people they knew personally who did not make it.

A short distance away is Miller Field, where this afternoon the Red Cross, National Guard soldiers, officials from FEMA  are based. Volunteers from as far away as Florida, Indiana and Arkansas drove up to assist; many are sleeping in shelters or factories. They donated their time and energy to help total strangers, and spent the afternoon – along with other volunteers who have been on the scene longer, such as Wheaton Van Lines –  sorting through and trying to pass out clothing, food and other essentials. Just five minutes away on New Dorp Lane local residents complained about the Red Cross’s failure to assist people, seemingly unaware they were operating a stone’s throw away.

Journalists on the scene witnessed more volunteer and emergency workers than Staten Island residents at Miller Field this afternoon, all of which makes one ask what the purpose of the press conference that Janet Napolitano attended was all about.  After all, residents we spoke were eager to have the media cover the problems and show the extent of the damage. Of all the American networks, few bothered to pay any attention to Staten Island until the Guardian of London and even Al Jazeera made them look like they were not doing their jobs. That a TV network based in Qatar can do better coverage than TV stations with permanent offices 12 miles away in Manhattan is just one of many reasons why residents felt they were completely ignored by their own people. Add to this the difficulties: not only are a good portion of the residents without power, some roads are blocked, some streets are flooded, families go without basics; there are those with no petrol for generators or cars, and with no train service 42nd street in Manhattan or connections to Manhattan from downtown Brooklyn, tens of thousands simply have no way of getting to work.
To be sure it is not as bad as Haiti, the Caribbean nation which has lost 51 people in Hurricane Sandy. However, Staten Island has lost 20 people to date, making it the area with the highest casualties in the United States. Having a press conference, taking a few photos and handing out food to a few people when the majority do not even know where to go for relief makes this look like nothing more than a media staged event – at least this is what some local residents said. Staten Islanders did not appear to be fooled, though they were grateful for the sincere efforts by the volunteers and workers. What they were asking was, “Where were they on Tuesday when we needed help?” and “Why does the mayor of NY want to have a marathon in the middle of this disaster?” Needless to say, a lot of people remain in need of real help.
Civis Journal


The Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in NYC

October 31, 2012 1 comment

This is a special presentation by a group of journalists who travelled to the outer reaches of NYC to see how the less developed parts are dealing with the storm on October 30th and 31st. They show a small part of the difficulties facing residents of NYC’s most isolated borough, Staten Island. Many residents are still without electricity, and several of the elderly complained of the difficulties staying warm or the effect the cold could have on their medical conditions.
In some of the photos there is a complete lack of order as cars race through streets without traffic signals or police to direct traffic. In the areas with working signals, traffic is more normalm however.  It is also possible to see downed wires hanging right onto sidewalks, the middle of the street and in the open with no cordons or warnings at all. One street off Hylan Boulevard that has extensive damage was cordoned off (Jefferson), but crews have yet to begin work. A reported saw a Con Ed van pull up, take a look at it and then speed off.

Few people were out walking the roads, though there were a number of residents removing debris from their property and trying to pump out flooded basements. During the day our journalists witnessed no trick or treaters, though there were at least a few in the afternoon.
Motorists had to drive around for miles just to find a gas station with electricity. The few open stations were mobbed with drivers willing to wait a half an hour or more to fill a tank, a reminder of what should be done before a storm arrives. Others went to supermarkets just to find some of the frozen sections cordoned off due to spoilage of food in the areas without electricity.

Whilst there were some rude drivers, there were also a large number of people showing concern for neighbours and total strangers. Most people our journalists spoke to indicated a desire to find relatives, check on their loved ones, get supplies or get to work – a daunting task without the SI Ferry, SI Rail or regular bus service (though some bus service is up and running).

NOTE: Click on pictures to enlarge.

Japan to use Oi nuclear reactors despite overwhelming oppositon and unknown dangers

June 17, 2012 Comments off

Though only a small number of Japanese protest in the streets, opinions polls cited in recent Japanese news reports show a majority of Japanese want a move away from nuclear power.

It’s taken a bit of time but the govt have announced “local approval” for the Oi reactors. About 2/3rds or so of the Japanese people oppose it, but as long as a few politicians say yes the go ahead is given. These are a few reasons why it makes no sense to me:

  1. The investigation into the causes of the March 11 disaster is incomplete, and the role the earthquake/tsunami is not yet fully understood (was it the EQ that knocked all power out first?)
  2. The new safety standards cannot take full lessons from the March 11 disaster because some lessons cannot possibly have been learnt
  3. The “standards” they have chosen will not fully be implemented until about 2016
  4. Oi appears to be sitting directly above a fault which could cause an EQ it is not designed to withstand
  5. Only the Daichi and Daini plants have a completed sea wall (obviously it didn’t work, but there is something there)
  6. The new nuclear agency will at best not be in place until after the summer is over
  7. Bringing the reactors to full capacity will give them time to generate much electricity in time for summer demand
  8. J-media says about 66%-70% of public oppose using the reactors at this time
  9. A minimum of 7.5 million signed a petition Nobel laureate Oe presented to the govt, or 6.25% of the population – significant for Japan

These facts lead me to conclude the govt’s only concern is a) the profits of the power monopolies (buying natural gas costs them more than nuclear energy) and b) ensuring that nuclear energy is not allowed to be proven unnecessary. If it is as necessary as they claim, let the population go without power and have higher rates this summer. If there are significant problems then perhaps nuclear energy is needed for the factories in this economy – a ridiculous premise but ok fine . I suspect they refuse to allow a test because if there are no significant power shortages, and there might not be, opposition to nuclear energy might become more active.

A true independent media would discuss these and other concerns in a clear manner. Instead EX-SKF reports they are ignoring the 15th protest and a lot of what is happening at the PM’s residence in Tokyo. This brief conversation published in EX-SKF illustrates why ignoring the public and focusing on irrelevant things turns so many people against nuclear energy; it isn’t the Fukushima disaster, it is it the government’s and media’s absolute refusal to listen to the people.

Some people who participated in June 15 demonstration reported that they were asked by a reporter from one of the major weekly magazines in Japan about Taro Yamamoto, actor-turned-antinuke activist. He recently got married, and is evacuating to a less contaminated area. According to these people, the reporter asked them:

What do you think of Mr. Yamamoto? Don’t you think he is deserting under enemy fire?

One countered the reporter with a question:

Why don’t you instead report on this protest, as it is happening?

The reporter’s answer, according to this person, was:

I cannot write about it, I am just a reporter.

The person further asked: Isn’t it because writing about it is against the editorial policy of your magazine?
The reporter didn’t answer.” (see original)

No wonder the Economist is praising Noda. All it is concerned about is corporate profit and Noda, the nuclear lackey, just restored millions in profits to the 12 energy monopolies in Japan. 2013 election? The DPJ is going to lose anyway, what do they care? It isn’t like the LDP are against nuclear energy. And those hoping in Hashimoto realised he was just as crooked as any other politician when he “suddenly” supported nuclear energy use when it looked likely Osaka would get the same status as Tokyo. Ah, Japanese politics. The only difference with the American version is the Japanese aren’t as good at propaganda. At least the Americans tell a good story when they force something on their people. The Japanese just do it in your face and smile. About 70% oppose something and the government does it anyway. Now that is democracy!

This is an op-ed piece submitted by Commodus Dio. The views therein do not necessarily coincide with those of the editors or staff.

Categories: Japan, op-ed Tags: , , ,

Japanese govt’s new ideas on Oi nuclear plant defy common sense

May 31, 2012 Comments off

Though only a small number of Japanese protest in the streets, opinions polls cited in recent Japanese news reports show a majority of Japanese want a move away from nuclear power.

And indeed the ideas being floated by Noda’s regime at the moment do resemble the sort of looney ideas one would expect from people committed to making others laugh. Prime Minister Noda excels at nonsense but is empty on substance.

In his government’s latest desperate attempt to force a restart of the Oi nuclear plant, the government have proposed “to have senior vice minister or other senior political officials stationed in Fukui.” What a politician would do in an emergency remains to be seen, though if said individual is like other incompetent Japanese officials in the past then one can be assured he – for women are never appointed in a land that loves to preach human rights to the rest of Asia – will only get in the way or simply be irrelevant. In either case this is just smoke and mirrors.

In fact some of these very same people complained ad nauseum  that former Prime Minister Naoto Kan, far senior to a vice minister, was just another politician who got in the way (it is not known for sure if Kan kept Tepco from abandoning the Fukushima plant and making things worse as he states, and there are many unanswered questions about the events on those days). Is having a politician present on-site sensible? Is it a substitute for nuclear regulatory agency that does not yet exist? The Japanese government say it is, but these are the same people who think all of Japan should eat radioactive food because it is harmless.

It gets better.

“In the event of an emergency, we will link the Oi nuclear power plant, Kansai Electric, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, and prime minister’s office via a videoconference system.”

What the Mainichi newspaper does not say is that the government had a multimillion dollar video conference system in place. They just failed to use it. That is correct. On March 11, 2011 and the days and weeks following the world’s worst nuclear disaster – mislabelled “accident” – the Japanese government did not take advantage of the tools at its disposal. Not only did they fail with the video conferencing system, one could argue it would have made absolutely no difference whatsoever.

This week Kan went to parliament and testified that his personal visit to the Fukushima plant on March 15 and his demand that the Tecpo not withdraw personnel from the plant were necessary because “We could hardly get information” and  “We couldn’t do anything” due to the failure of Tepco to provide the government with timely data. What difference would using the video conferencing system have made? Kan said “he and his key ministers were not adequately briefed about the plant’s situation in the first few days” (here).

Either Kan is misrepresenting what occurred and/or Tepco simply refused to provide information to the government about three full meltdowns some experts say they would have known about at that time.

Noda’s idea to put a politician at the Oi reactor also raises another question: If Oi is so potentially dangerous why not just shut it down? Also, if Oi needs a politician on such high rank, what about all the other reactors? With this logic every reactor in Japan (there are 54) should have a senior vice minister on standby and satellite hookup on call to beam to the prime minister’s office. Really what is the point? These people would not be nuclear engineers or safety personnel. The necessary technicians are already employed at the plant reactors. Japan’s best experts are already on standby. And they too will be powerless to stop another meltdown when a large earthquake or tsunami swamps the walls that do not exist (only the Fukushima plant has completed seawalls and they were 100% ineffective against the tsunami).

Noda is misleading the public by saying he will make a decision in future about the restart of the Oi plant. His decision was made the to support nuclear power the day he assumed office. This is nothing more than the shameless game the Japanese government have been playing for years. The latest cowardly announcement by the Union of Kansai Governments  “We will accept the government’s decision.” It also released a statement saying “On the assumption that the government’s safety judgment is provisional, we call on it to make a definitive judgment.” This rubber stamping of the central government’s dictatorial policy is the opposite of democracy. The opinions of a few governors matters not. It is the majority of the Japanese people who are opposed to the restarts, and the Japanese government does not care what they think.

For those in the anti-nuclear camp or those simply opposed to restarts or nuclear power until a thorough investigation of the Fukushima disaster is completed and new standards and procedures are in place, they are stuck relying on their fake opponent of nuclear power, Toru Hashimoto, mayor of Osaka, who is manipulating them for his own anti-democratic political goals. They are mistaken if they see an ally in him. Hashimoto is not opposed to the restarts. He even floated the idea of supporting temporary restarts to prevent power outages. As soon as his party gets more power it will turn on those voters, which is to be expected.

If Japan and the Japanese people are truly concerned about global warming, developing and harnessing alternative forms of renewable energy, the time to invest in the technology is now before the Germans and Chinese get leap years ahead in the technology. Even the number of businesses would support move in this direction, despite Keidanren’s lobbying, numbers around 75% according to recent Japanese press reports. The future is here and if Japan is going to compete on the energy battlefield it will need a renewable arsenal. Prime Minister Noda’s ideas are sinking Japan’s chances to levels in-line with the unelected dictator’s – he is demanding a restart to nuclear plants with no electoral mandate – approval ratings. So much for democracy in Japan.

This is an op-ed piece submitted to Civis Journal by Commodus Diop. The views expressed therein do not necessarily reflect those of the editors or staff at Civis Journal.

Categories: Japan, op-ed Tags: , , ,

Radiation is not the farmers’ biggest problem

May 30, 2012 Comments off

With a still damaged plant nearby nothing is “safe” in Fukushima. AP/Tepco

At least that is the conclusion a person attributing the government’s decision to allow farmers to consider selling rice from highly contaminated areas would be. The Japan Today describes a “challenge”

producing safe-to-eat rice in contaminated soil.

“Safe” is not yet defined. The equipment the government has is capable of detecting “the tiniest speck of radiation” the Japan Today says. “Safe” includes up to 100 Bq/kg of caesium-137, to say nothing of caesium-134 or the numerous other isotopes that are not screened for or entirely ignored in other foods. If the rice tests follow the same sort of testing there is little chance people will know what is in it. It is little matter, then, which equipment is used. Will there be strontium, plutonium or other harmful substances present? The closer the proximity to the Fukushima Daiichi plant the greater the possibility of greater concentrations of radiation other than caesium.

It appears that all rice this year from the farms “right next to the no-go zone, in Minami-Soma” will be destroyed, but farmers are participating with the government in the hope that they will be allowed sell their rice next year. The government is sowing false hope – to them and the public. It is extremely unlikely anything produced 12 miles away from the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl will be “safe” unless “safe” includes radioactive food. The fact is the government cannot claim radioactive food – even with low levels (say under 100 Bq/kg) is “safe” because there is little scientific data to support it. It might be safe and it might not be. Consistent exposure – especially internal – to radiation below a certain threshold is a sort of grey area. No problem. There are plenty of human guinea pigs in Japan just waiting to gobble up the samples – and farmers all too eager to sell them their fix.

“Fukushima farmers pray for radiation-free rice” Pray? To whom? Maybe the great deities in Tepco or the Japanese parliament will wave a magic wand and make their rice “safe.” In fact, maybe that same deity will go to Chernobyl and make all the radiation there disappear too. Radiation is just going to go away. It is kind of irrelevant if the rice produced has low levels of radiation anyway. Growing rice in radioactive soil is akin to growing food in a sewer, testing it and saying “there is no sewage in it.” It is an unethical, dirty and disgraceful way to bamboozle the public into buying something that people have no business eating period. The same could be said about growing food in radioactive toxic waste zones like those around the Fukushima plant.

“The balance that the government is now trying to strike is between allowing people to stay in the Fukushima area and recover their lives, and keeping the rest of Japan happy about buying food,” said the Japan Times. This illustrates the governments deception: the people in the immediate vicinity of the plant will never “recover their lives” and live the way they used to. What the tsunami and earthquake left, the radiation destroyed. They are lying to the people. “Radiation is expected to decline year by year.” Who expects this? Caesium-137, for example, has a half-life of 30 years. It is not going anywhere for hundreds of years. Plutonium? Thousands. Yes caesium-134 will go more quickly, but the land will hardly be “safe” to grow food in during anyone’s lifetime. Telling people otherwise is sowing false hope and selling food from there is possibly putting people’s lives at risk.

Why? So that some farmers can earn a living off the land? So that Japan does not have to change its unfair trading practices an import foreign foods in greater quantity? The government is not helping the farmers in the Fukushima area by trying to sell their poison. It is hurting them by not admitting the fact their plight is hopeless. It is also forcing these people to live in zones too dangerous for humans. It is joining Tepco by refusing to properly compensate these people, providing a new and safer place to live elsewhere in Japan. The farmers biggest enemy is not Tepco or radiation. It is their own government.

This is an op-ed piece submitted that does not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of the editorial staff.

Japan Today article here.













Categories: Food, Japan, op-ed Tags: , , , , ,

WFP may use radioactive Japanese fish to feed poor

May 26, 2012 Comments off

This cartoon was published by the IHT, under the control of the New York Times. They apologised for and removed this image in an act of self-censorship after the Japanese government complained. Is it wrong to scrutinise or refuse radioactive food? What about the possibility of giving children in poor countries radioactive food?

The Japanese government says it supports farmers and fishermen by promoting disaster area food products. As part of its efforts it is pressuring other nations to lift restrictions on Japanese food banned after concerns over radiation after the March 11, 2011 nuclear disaster

On March 22, 2012 Koichiro Gemba, Japan’s Foreign Minister, met in Tokyo with his Egyptian counterpart, Mohamed Kamel Amr. They discussed easing food import restrictions along with Japanese development aid (here). The Japanese wanted “further relaxation and removal of such restrictions,” which at the times meant providing documents certifying food safety on radiation, according to Kyodo.

The Noda government has taken steps to increase purchases of fish products by selecting it for food aid. Where will the food come from? The areas affected by the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.

Kyoto reported that it is “a way to dispel fears over radioactive contamination” (here). This will consist of fish products from Aomori, Iwate, Ibaraki and Chiba to be fed to children in “school lunches and other purposes,” in places like Cambodia. This will likely include sending food to the WFP (World Food Programme).

The Japanese say “certified-safe food products” will be used. The question is what levels of radiological contamination will be permitted? Japanese food safety law will permit up to 100 becquerels of caesium per kilogram for domestic consumption. What will the government do to ensure that only radiation free food reaches people in Cambodia? If radioactive food is found, even at low levels, it will only serve to undermine confidence in Japanese food, the stated goal of sending aid in the first place. Notice the food aid to the World Food Program is not to help Cambodians per se but to restore confidence in Japanese food. It is a propaganda campaign under the guise of assistance.  Why might it matter if the Japanese use fish from the areas affected by radiation?

“Of the 13 samples shown from the August 2011 test, all had measurable amounts of radiation. The lowest caesium-137 level is 50.7 and the highest is 556. This test, unlike government tests, provides additional data on caesium-134 which, if combined with 137, shows at least 4 samples above the government’s caesium limit of 500 Bq/kg. The highest combined caesium measurement is 1,053 Bq/kg.”

These are the results of a test Greenpeace conducted last August – not the one the government tried to stop. Based on the lab results conducted, they said last August, “Relying on the government’s inadequate monitoring does not guarantee people’s safety if contaminated seafood reaches the market” (lab results here & Greenpeace’s report here). Ibaraki and Iwate are areas fish products would be used to supply food to the WFP.

Things have not necessarily improved since August. A look at the Japanese government’s own tests done on Iwate fish in the winter reveals caesium levels of 0 to 240 Bq/km, in some 68 samples (see report). The standard was improved to a stricter limit of 100 Bq/kg in April. The report indicates that the majority of fish currently being tested in Japan (65% in February), contains measurable levels of ceasium-137, and may contain caesium-134 as well as any number of isotopes, some of which are not being checked.

Of the 13 samples shown from the August 2011 test, all had measurable amounts of radiation. The lowest caesium-137 level is 50.7 and the highest is 556. This test, unlike government tests, provides additional data on caesium-134 which, if combined with 137, shows at least 4 samples above the government’s caesium limit of 500 Bq/kg. The highest combined caesium measurement is 1,053 Bq/kg. Click on image to enlarge.

Greenpeace sounded the alarm last August when it said the government’s testing “is not done in a way to ensure that only safe products will be distributed.” Not only is the sampling methodology “problematic in and of itself,” but the labelling of is “very loosely interpreted.” Greenpeace says “there’s no established way of tracing where the product came from.” Consumers have no way of knowing if their fish is radioactive and, based on the law, there is no way they can be sure the sure certain foods does not come from certain waters they might wish to avoid. Companies have the option of listing a port rather than the exact location a fish was caught in, meaning two boats that catch fish in the same area can take them to different ports and they can both be listed as being caught in different locations.

For processed fish, the system is even worse, they said. Greenpeace recommended the government create tracking system similar to the one it already uses to track every piece of beef sold in Japan. This and proper labelling, Greenpeace argued, would tell people which particular area the fish were caught in, not just the port. They also suggested listing the “exact degree of contamination,” not leaving it up to the consumer to question its safety. Greenpeace’s test results, discussed on August 8th, they measured “8 types of fish…and 5 samples of seaweed.” Of the fish, all had measurable radiation. “4 samples were clearly above the limit set for consumption,” ranging from 749 Bq/km to 1,053Bq/km of total caesium count. Even more would fail the current standard of 100 Bq/kg.

Will fish with measurable levels of radiation be given to the world’s poor? There are questions of ethics involved. The current system in place is a complete failure, critics like Greenpeace argue. What assurances can the Japanese government give that there will not be scandals? The government’s incompetence resulted in beef and a number of radioactive foods ending up consumed all over Japan last year. The government insists radioactive food is safe, but after they covered up the three meltdowns at Fukushima they have no credibility in the eyes of many. If radioactive fish is fed to some poor child in Cambodia, what will that do for confidence in Japan’s products? Concern seems to only be for that and not the ethical questions if one reads the Japanese government’s statements. The Snow White cartoon the Japanese government wanted censored in the International Herald Tribune seems to be saying what many are too scared to say.

Civis Journal

Categories: Food, Japan Tags: , , , , ,