To Flee Or Not To Flee: Tokyo Residents Weigh Radiation, Aftershock Fears. But Most Stay Put

Nuclear accident fallout and the risk of a massive aftershock have left people -- foreigners and the Japanese alike -- wondering whether they should leave.

Tokyo residents after the quake
Tokyo residents after the quake
Philippe Mesmer

TOKYO - Hunker down or flee? Residents and visitors alike are asking themselves whether to leave Tokyo immediately, or even Japan altogether, to escape the threat of a major aftershock - the national meteorological agency says there's a 70 percent chance of one of 7.0 or higher magnitude occurring in the coming days. And the radioactive emissions being released by the damaged nuclear power plants: could they reach the capital?

Many of the 34.5 million people – native Japanese and a substantial expatriate community – who currently live in the Tokyo metropolitan area are asking themselves these questions. Some did not take long to make up their minds. Already on Saturday morning, South Koreans were flocking, not without some confusion, towards Haneda airport in Tokyo, in the hope of catching a flight for Seoul.

The drama unfolding at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, 124 miles north of the capital, has accelerated the exodus. Several foreign embassies have already advised their citizens to leave Tokyo. French authorities have asked all their nationals "who have no special reason to stay in the Kantô region (Tokyo area) to leave for a couple of days." Some families had decided to do so long before the recommendation was made, right after the first blast at the Fukushima power plant. Others made up their mind after the second explosion on Monday. Some parents have decided to send their children to France. A French woman has chosen to take a flight to Canada: "I'm going away for a month", she says.

Radiation fears

The Japanese have more conflicted feelings about the situation: they seem caught between a mix of fear, resignation and lack of information. The only instructions the government has given about the nuclear threat is stay indoors and use cooling systems. "This is not very reassuring", says Yuriko, a 30-year-old woman. "I don't understand their press releases. My guess is that they want to avoid people panicking, but they should tell us more."

Yuriko says she is looking for a way to leave the island nation, others are struggling with the idea of departing. "I don't know yet if I'm ready to leave", says Yoshinori Ako, an engineer. "I just can't make up my mind, but I am definitely very worried about the nuclear problem".

Ayumi, a survivor of the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, does not know what to do either. "Back then, I lived in Nishinomiya, near Kobe. Right after the disaster, we had no water, no electricity and no gas. This time, we do not lack any of these things, so we can't complain. For now."

But there were no risks of a nuclear catastrophe after the earthquake in Kobe. Ayumi notes how poorly Japanese are informed on this subject: "We don't know much about radioactivity levels, about the basic steps that we should be following," he says. "They teach us everything about earthquakes in school from an early age, so we are prepared. But we are definitely not ready for a nuclear crisis. So the only decision I have taken so far is not to do any laundry, so that I do not have to go outside to hang clothes to dry."

Yoko Yoshizawa, 50, who lives in Kamakura, in the southern part of Tokyo, was likewise more concerned about the air than the ground. "The earthquake on Friday proved to me that my house was solid enough," she says. "I don't want to leave my home. But I admit that the situation at the nuclear power plants worries me a lot."

Panic is the worst risk

Tatsushi Mihori, a salesman in a small company located in Akishima-shi, on the western edge of Tokyo, has resigned himself to staying put. "Of course I am scared", he says. "But I cannot stop thinking about all the people who work inside the nuclear plants and the rescue teams. Those people also have families and friends, but they continue to do their best in spite of their fear. So leaving would not be fair." He adds that if mass numbers began to leave, it would create "a lot of panic, which would be the worst thing that could happen."

Yuki Eguchi is also determined to stay: "I have discussed this with my friends, and they agree with me. There is also my work, which I cannot stop doing. The nuclear problem has only just started; we don't have much information for now."

The Japanese have been hostile over the years to a form of energy the dangers of which they understand all too well. School children visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the two cities destroyed by American atomic bombs in 1945. Some nuclear power plant constructors have faced fierce opposition from local residents. A project in Kaminoseki, in central Japan, has been blocked since it was first proposed in 1981.

One could read from these reactions a certain Japanese form of insularity, and acceptance of their island nation's fate. As Suzuko, 80, noted in explaining why she's staying right where she is: "Wherever you go in Japan, there will be earthquakes."

Read the original article in French

Photo - fukapon

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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