“We Saw The Cracks...” A Fukushima Worker Recalls Quake, Ponders Fate

The Japanese nuclear plant, which continues to burn and emit radioactivity, was the lifeblood for people like Yutaka Takano, who was on the afternoon shift when disaster struck.

Richard Werly

SAITAMA - Like his father and brother-in-law before him, Yutaka Takano was hired straight out of high school at the local nuclear plant.

Currently, he resides on two square meters of carpet on the 5th floor of a building in this Tokyo suburb. Called the "Saitama Super Arena," the cavernous structure that usually hosts rock concerts has become the temporary home for some of the thousands like Takano displaced from Futamabashi and Okumabashi, the northern Japanese cities in the shadow of the Fukushima nuclear plant.

The young man's father, Yoichi, 47, and his brother-in-law Kakuo, 22, have built a cardboard wall around the rectangle occupied by the family. After folding his orange blanket, Yutaka, 19, puts his manga comic books into a backpack, laces his sneakers and adjusts the mask he's wearing to hide a slight cough.

The Takano family was evacuated on March 12 from their house in Okumabashi, after the first fire broke out in the nuclear power plant. The day before, Yutaka had arrived at work for the afternoon shift at around 1 p.m. "It was a day like any other," he recalls. "It took me a few minutes to put on my TEPCO (the Tokyo Electric Power Company) overalls. Then I poured myself a cup of coffee." Yutaka proceeded to his usual tasks, which included checking the temperature of the plant's external water pipes.

At 2:45 p.m. the ground started shaking for the first time. Yutaka and his colleagues immediately sensed that the earthquake would be different than anything that had come before. "The sirens went off. We got out of the building and went to a central meeting place."

The young man's recollections of the immediate aftermath are hesitant and fuzzy. But subsequent events were permanently engraved in his memory: the monster earthquake that seemed to throw the entire building towards the sky and, 30 minutes later, the thudding sound of the eight-meter high wave that came crashing near the plant, sweeping everything in its path. And then, darkness, followed by the pale light of flashing emergency neon.

There was a long wait and uncertainty, and then suddenly a hasty departure from the site. "We all saw the cracks in the walls at Fukushima I, and we understood that something very serious was about to happen."

Yukata's testimony is not unusual. He is not one of the engineers in charge of the Fukushima plant, and he has dealt neither with the reactors, nor with the spent fuel pools. He has not set foot on the site since the day of the earthquake. And he does not know any of the employees left behind, the famous "atomic samurais' whose bravery and sense of service have left much of Japan in awe.

And yet, this man's young age, his account of the events, his family background say much about TEPCO's hold over this region, about 250 km north of Tokyo. His father, a former electrician at Fukushima II, had helped the boy find a job after graduation. "As for all my colleagues, neighbors, and friends, Fukushima is part of our life since childhood," he says.

Is Yukata angry now? Of course he is. He is angry with TEPCO, with the way it lied during past safety inspections, with its refusal to even consider the possibility of an earthquake of this magnitude. He is also mad at the government, which first brought Yukata and the other displaced people to a poorly heated school building during sub-freezing days and nights.

But Yukata also knows that things might have been even worse. "We have all been tested for radiation, and we are OK," he says. He does not know if he will ever want to work at Fukushima again. "It is too early to tell."

In the impressive Saitama building now serving as a giant dormitory, there are children running everywhere. Elderly people are sleeping where they can. Men are talking to volunteers wearing green jackets who are part of the "national network of support for disaster" in place since the Kobe earthquake in 1995.

Those displaced by the radiation risks know they will probably be here until the end of the month. There are plans to temporarily house them in schools during upcoming spring school holidays. But when classes resume, where will they go then?

Read the original article in French

Photo - (Daveeza)

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Preparing a COVID-19 vaccine booster in Huzhou, China.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Ciao!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Brazil's senate backs "crimes against humanity" charges against Jair Bolsonaro, the UN has a grim new climate report and Dune gets a sequel. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt explores "Xi Jinping Thought," which is now being made part of Chinese schools' curriculum.



• Senators back Bolsonaro criminal charges: A Brazilian Senate panel has backed a report that supports charging President Jair Bolsonaro with crimes against humanity, for his alleged responsibility in the country's 600,000-plus COVID-19 deaths.

• Gas crisis in Moldova following Russian retaliation: Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has for the first time challenged Russia's Gazprom following a price increase and failed contract negotiations, purchasing instead from Poland. In response, Russia has threatened to halt sales to the Eastern European country, which has previously acquired all of its gas from Gazprom.

• New UN climate report finds planned emission cuts fall short: The Emissions Gap Report 2021 concludes that country pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions aren't large enough to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 °C degrees this century. The UN Environment Program predicts a 2.7 °C increase, with significant environmental impacts, but there is still hope that longer term net-zero goals will curtail some temperature rise.

• COVID update: As part of its long-awaited reopening, Australia will officially allow its citizens to travel abroad without a government waiver for the first time in more than 18 months. Bulgaria, meanwhile, hits record daily high COVID-19 cases as the Eastern European's hotel and restaurant association is planning protests over the implementation of the vaccination "green pass." In the U.S., a panel of government medical advisors backed the use of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for five to 11-year-olds.

• U.S. appeals decision to block Julian Assange extradition: The United States said it was "extremely disappointed" in a UK judge's ruling that Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, would be a suicide risk of he traveled across the Atlantic. In the U.S., he faces 18 charges related to the 2010 release of 500,000 secret files related to U.S. military activity.

• Deposed Sudan prime minister released: Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has been released from custody, though remains under heavy guard after Sudan's military coup. Protests against the coup have continued in the capital Khartoum, as Hamdok has called for the release of other detained governmental officials.

Dune Part 2 confirmed: The world will get to see Timothée Chalamet ride a sandworm: The second installment of the sci-fi epic and global box office hit has officially been greenlit, set to hit the screens in 2023.


Front page of the National Post's October 27 front page

Canadian daily National Post reports on the nomination of Steven Guilbeault, a former Greenpeace activist, as the country's new Environment minister. He had been arrested in 2001 for scaling Toronto's CN Tower to unfurl a banner for Greenpeace, which he left in 2008.


Chinese students now required to learn to think like Xi Jinping

"Xi Jinping Thought" ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university, reports Maximilian Kalkhof in German daily Die Welt.

🇨🇳 It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education. The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader. Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself.

📚 Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

⚠️ But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation? The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

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"I'm a footballer and I'm gay."

— Australian soccer player Josh Cavallo said in a video accompanying a tweet in which he revealed his homosexuality, becoming the first top-flight male professional player in the world to do so. The 21-year-old said he was tired of living "this double life" and hoped his decision to come out would help other "players living in silence."


Why this Sudan coup d'état is different

Three days since the military coup was set in motion in Sudan, the situation on the ground continues to be fluid. Reuters reports this morning that workers at the state petroleum company Sudapet are joining a nationwide civil disobedience movement called by trade unions in response to the generals' overthrow of the government. Doctors have also announced a strike.

Generals in suits At the same time, the military appears firmly in control, with deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok allowed to return home today after being held by the coup leaders. How did we get here? That's the question that David E. Kiwuwa, a professor of international relations at the University of Nottingham, takes on in The Conversation:

"Since the revolution that deposed Omar el-Bashir in 2019, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

Economy as alibi For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council. This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy.

True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse."

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471 million euros

Rome's Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, better known as Villa Aurora, will be put up for auction in January for 471 million euros ($547 million). The over-the-top price tag is thanks to the villa having the only known ceiling painting by Renaissance master Caravaggio.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Who wants to start the bidding on the Caravaggio villa? Otherwise, let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world!!

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