Science, Tech & Environment

Anxiety in Tokyo

By Mary Kay Magistad

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Tokyo train station was full today, of people ready to take their distance from an uncertain situation. One was a Chinese university researcher, named Sun:

Sun: "Most of foreign people feel some kind of dangerous," Sun said. "So – I know many foreign people, maybe they have left, and went back their country."

Mary Kay Magistad: "And you? What will you do?"

A woman: "Because we have job. We want to go to Nagoya, then stay for a couple of days, and see how dangerous here is."

Both the Chinese and French governments are telling their citizens to leave Tokyo. Each is sending in planes for evacuation. The US and UK governments aren't doing that – but they are encouraging their citizens to postpone nonessential travel to Tokyo and northern Japan.

The Austrian embassy in Japan has moved, temporarily, to Osaka — which is further from the Fukushima nuclear complex and considered relatively safe. Even Japan's Emperor Akihito today made a rare television appearance, expressing his concern.

"The accident at nuclear power plant causes deep worry," Akihito said. "And I hope the efforts by staff can avert the situation getting worse."

They're certainly trying. And meanwhile, US Ambassador to Japan John Roos said Wednesday that 45 American personnel – specialists in nuclear energy, radiation and health, have been flown in, with monitoring equipment, to help:

"Because what is most important is that we have the resources here as things develop, to confront the issues here in Japan that are coming up, that have come up, and will come up," Roos said. "And our government is trying to anticipate future contingencies."

With Japan taking the lead, Roos said, on trying to cool its reactors and prevent greater release of radiation.

"The Japanese government has significant expertise, and that's probably an understatement, saying significant," Roos said. "They're one of the most experienced countries in the world with regard to nuclear power and nuclear power plants."

For now, the Japanese government is trying to keep people calm. This morning, just hours after the most recent explosion, government spokesman Yukio Edano said through an interpreter that the amount of radiation reaching Tokyo is nothing to worry about.

"So it's in a range which will not cause any damage to human health," Edano said. "But just in case, people within the 28-kilometer range were ordered to evacuate."

But Tokyo resident Chieko Nishioka isn't persuaded by statements by either government or power company officials.

"I feel frustrated because I feel they are withholding information," Nishioka said. "If they give us enough information, they think we will panic. So they are withholding information. But because we can sense they are not telling us the truth, people are panicking. That is what happened at the supermarkets – people are trying to buy as much as possible."

Just today, Nishioka said, she tried to buy rice.

Nishioka: "Yeah, the store was supposed to open at 10. But I was told people were lining up from 8 a.m. And there was a long line when I got there at 20 past 10. And there were too many people ahead of me — and I didn't get any.

Mary Kay Magistad: "You didn't get any rice. Do you have food at home?"

Chieko: "I have to go there again tomorrow, if I could, but I don't know."

Maybe, she said, she'll go and stay with her elderly parents, near Narita airport, so they can share food and save electricity in a time of rolling black-outs, so they can be together at a time of unnerving uncertainty.

If she didn't have them to worry about, she says, she'd leave town too. Many of her friends already have.