Terrie's Take 606 -- Nuclear Near Miss, e-biz news from Japan
terrie at mailman.japaninc.com
Sun Mar 20 23:30:38 JST 2011
* * * * * * * * * T E R R I E 'S T A K E * * * * * * *
A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd.
General Edition Sunday, March 20, 2011, Issue No. 606
- What's New -- Nuclear Near Miss
- News -- Radioactive contamination of food supplies
- Candidate Roundup/Vacancies
- Upcoming Events -- April Entrepreneur Seminar
- Corrections/Feedback -- Aggregating small farms
- News Credits
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+++ WHAT'S NEW
Well, what a week it has been. Most everyone we know has
had their eyes glued to the Internet news services during
the day and the TV news in the evening, wanting to know
about one thing: radiation and whether it's coming to
Tokyo. We've been served information on a 24x7 basis on
everything you ever wanted to know about nuclear reactors
Now we know:
* What types of radiation to be worried about (Iodine-131
and Cesium-137 isotopes in this instance)
* How much will kill you outright (4-6 Sieverts per hour)
* How it affects people and the environment long-term (here
in Tokyo it's the airborne particulates we have to worry
about not the radiation occurring in Fukushima itself)
* How much is being measured around the crippled Fukushima
Dai-ichi power plant (see below)
* How the weather, as capricious as it is, will either blow
a cloud of radiation down over the 35m people living in
Tokyo -- or won't...
But the fact is that as of today, Sunday, the radiation
levels in Tokyo are still low, well within safe amounts,
and have been all week. So what we're living with here in
the big city is not radiation fall out, but the tangible,
gut-gnawing fear of it. And what fear it has caused...
Over the last 5 days in particular, as we all started
realizing it was the nuclear power plant, not the
Tohoku/Kanto earthquake which would most threaten Tokyo,
the fear levels of people living here have risen
dramatically. At the beginning the focus was on the lack
of information about the plant status, other than it was
dire, and whether we could trust the government and TEPCO
to give us the truth. So here at our sister company
Metropolis, one of the technical staff, Steve Danieletto,
brought in his Geiger counter and started doing daily
readings. You can find the readings here, and what you'll
find is that very little radiation has made its way to
You can see Steve take the readings here:
The following is an excellent map and links to Japanese radiation
monitoring stations all over Honshu:
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So having established that the government is giving
reasonably reliable information, the focus shifted to the
competence and ability of TEPCO and authorities to get the
reactors under control again. Here's where the real problem
started, because they (TEPCO et al) haven't been able to
tell us exactly what is going on -- partly because of the
intense radiation at the actual site, they can't get close
enough to the reactors and so appear to be doing remote
Fear is not about actuals, as any good horror movie
director will tell you, it's about possibilities. And the
foreign media have been doing their best to feed that fear,
since this is what sells. Reading some of the reports
abroad, Japan is already radioactive and Tokyo is doomed.
One locally-based expat got fed up with this, and produced
a media-tracking page called "Journalist Wall of Shame".
You can see it at:
Yes, the situation in Fukushima is volatile, and yes, the
reactors could still yet blow up. But Japan has its best
and bravest up at the power station site, working on
dousing the fuel rods and restoring infrastructure so that
they can bring things under control, and so far they appear
to be making progress.
If you're wondering how much radiation we're talking about,
here's something to put things into perspective:
* One banana: 0.0001 millisieverts (mSv)
* Mammogram: 5 mSv
* CAT Scan: 6 to 18 mSv
* Radiation Sickness: starts at around 500 mSv
Actual readings from this incident:
* Reading March 15th at Fukushima Dai-ichi, right at
No. 2 reactor: 800 mSv/hour (Worst)
* Reading March 16th at Fukushima Dai-ichi plant front
gate: 10 mSv/hour
* Reading March 19th at Fukushima Dai-ichi, right at
No. 2 reactor: 20 mSv/hour (Much reduced)
* Reading March 20th at Fukushima Dai-ichi: around 700
microsieverts/hour (700 uSv) and falling
* Reading March 19th in Tokyo: around 0.17 uSv/hour and
Here's what a UK expert posted on the UK embassy website
says about a worst case scenario. In short he says the
impact on Tokyo will be limited:
Back to the fear factor. Most Japanese living in Tokyo are
sticking close to home and the TV. They have been
stocking up on food -- causing Tokyo's stores to be
bare of bread, milk, eggs, natto, and a bunch of other
things. Those going to work would by our guess be just
30%-50% of normal numbers, based on the paucity of people
on the trains and traffic in the streets. We imagine that
those who could will have already taken the opportunity to
head back to their home towns. (See the news below about
full hotels in Osaka.)
Thursday and Friday were particularly fearful days for
foreigners in Tokyo when the U.S. embassy decided on
Thursday that after all, U.S. citizens who wanted to leave
on a voluntary basis would be assisted to airlift out of
Tokyo. The next day, the same offer was extended to
families of armed forces. Until that time, many
foreigners here rationalized that if the U.S. government
was staying put (and they have as much wherewithal as the
Japanese to monitor the situation), then things must be OK.
But for them to ratchet up the alert levels and start to
ship people out was definitely unnerving for many.
Yet, as the embassy itself said, the evacuation is
voluntary and the embassy remains open for business this
weekend to process documentation for departing Americans
and their immediate families. So they're staying put.
The effect of these fear levels is really hurting life and
commerce here in Tokyo. There have been various estimates
on what the cost of the earthquake will be, between
JPY100trn and JPY200trn -- which could be as much as 3% of
GDP. But these estimates probably don't take into account
the fact that the Fukushima reactor crisis could last for
weeks, not to mention the associated power cuts due to
losing 20% of the nation's electricity supply for possibly
3 months (until fossil fuel power stations come back on
line). As the situation drags on, large companies in the
nation's largest city will be unable to work normal hours,
small companies will go under due to customers staying
home, and we think the economic impact will be much
Here at our own group companies we have had a taste of the
impact on business. Internally, about 30% of our staff,
both foreigners and Japanese, have decided to get out of
Tokyo -- day-by-day a few more make the tough decision. We
can't blame people for leaving, especially those with
families abroad who are pressuring them to get out while
there is still time. We have been told of crying mothers
and relatives on the phone from abroad, who after reading
the foreign press reports are fretting and begging their
sons and daughters to just "come home". It's hard to resist
that kind of pressure. Japanese staff also, with friends
and family outside Tokyo are being urged to leave.
Normally a 30% drop in staff would be disastrous for us,
but the fact is that many of our clients have also either
substantially reduced their operations or in the case of
some companies, have simply sent out email saying that they
will be closed indefinitely. As a result, demand for
services and the need to keep scheduled meetings has
Usually after something bad happens, we try to find a
silver lining, so that the event can be written down to
experience. But for this nuclear near-miss, the only good
thing we can think of is if the authorities either decide
to close down all the old nukes in Japan and impose a much
stricter building code on those remaining, OR, better
still, make a wholesale move to green energy and make it a
Either way, we never again want to experience the fear of a
nuclear reactor melting down just 200km away, and not
knowing whether to run or stay.
For those of you wanting to donate or make contact with
loved ones here in Japan, go to the following website for a
list of links:
...The information janitors/
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- JPY10trn in loans for stressed companies
- Mizuho has major ATM disruption
- Ichiro Suzuki donates JPY100m to earthquake victims
- Osaka hotels fully booked with refugees
- Fukushima food contamination fears
=> JPY10trn in loans for stressed companies
Taking a very pragmatic approach which won't help thousands
of smaller companies, the government is expected to make a
special disaster relief fund of up to JPY10trn available
for medium-size and large businesses that have been
impacted by the Tohoku-Kanto earthquake of last week. The
loans will be delivered primarily by the Development Bank
of Japan (DBJ) and Shoko Chukin Bank, and are expected to
come without a cap. Where will the money come from?
Probably from postal savings and government pension funds.
(Source: TT commentary from e.nikkei.com, Mar 19, 2011)
=> Mizuho has major ATM disruption
You have to wonder about the timing of their troubles, when
Mizuho Bank announced on Tuesday that their ATMs were not
working -- did one of their key programmers flee Tokyo
along with many others? We may never know, but the result
is that by Friday, Mizuho had to reveal that they have
910,000 unprocessed transactions in their system, including
welfare and salary checks. The bank has made a temporary
credit facility of up to JPY100,000 available to customers
to see them through until the system problem is fixed this
long weekend (their target anyway). (Source: TT commentary
from nikkei.com, Mar 18, 2011)
=> Ichiro Suzuki donates JPY100m to earthquake victims
Everyone's favorite Japanese baseball player in the US big
leagues, Ichiro Suzuki, has announced that he will donate
US$1.23m to the Japanese Red Cross to help victims of the
Tohoku-Kanto earthquake. Ichiro's generosity has apparently
spurred on efforts by the Seattle Mariners as a team to
raise more cash for the relief effort. The club has said it
will match dollar for dollar up to a minimum US$100,000 any
donations made by fans for the clean up to come. (Source:
TT commentary from bleacherreport.com, Mar 18, 2011)
=> Osaka hotels fully booked with refugees
Aftershocks and radiation fears by families in Tokyo are
leading to an exodus to Osaka and a corresponding spike in
hotel occupancy there. Hotels at all price ranges are
apparently full. At the top end, the JPY70,000/room St.
Regis Osaka was fully booked this week, largely by families
with kids. Not just individual families, companies are also
making arrangements to create a backup operation in Osaka.
Apparently ERP software company SAP has reserved 520 rooms
in both Osaka and Kobe for employees and their families.
(Source: TT commentary from japantimes.co.jp, Mar 19, 2011)
=> Fukushima food contamination fears
The UN-run International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has
announced that the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare
has ordered a halt to the sales of food harvested in
Fukushima prefecture and certain types of vegetables such
as spinach, from the neighboring prefecture of Ibaraki.
Apparently radioactive iodine is contaminating milk and
vegetables grown in Fukushima and was detected during
shipment scans on Wednesday and Thursday. So far only
iodine has been detected. (Source: TT commentary from
reuters.com, Mar 19, 2011)
NOTE: Broken links
Many online news sources remove their articles after just a
few days of posting them, thus breaking our links -- we
apologize for the inconvenience.
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+++ CANDIDATE ROUND UP/VACANCIES
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+++ UPCOMING EVENTS/ANNOUNCEMENTS
------------- Entrepreneur Seminar in Tokyo ---------------
Start a Company in Japan
Entrepreneur's Handbook Seminar 23rd of April, 2011
If you have been considering setting up your own company,
find out what it takes to make it successful. Terrie Lloyd,
founder of over 13 start-up companies in Japan, will be
giving an English-language seminar and Q and A on starting
up a company in Japan. Over 450 people have taken this
course so far.
This is an ideal opportunity to find out what is involved,
and to ask specific questions that are not normally answered
in business books.
All materials are in English and are Japan-focused.
For more details:
In this section we run comments and corrections submitted
by readers. We encourage you to spot our mistakes and
amplify our points, by email, to editors at terrie.com.
*** In TT604, we discussed the Farm Ministry's efforts to
throw up a smoke screen to stall the government signing
the TPP trade pact with other Asia-Pacific nations later
=> Our reader comments:
- Although Japan has, beyond any doubt, totally mismanaged
its overall agricultural sector horribly, it still might be
premature to dismiss the idea of promoting larger farm
sizes out of hand.
The average farm size in the U.S. is 418 acres, or 169 ha
The average farm size in the EU-15 is 19 ha (an orange).
The average farm size in Japan is 1.27 ha (a raisin).
What Japan is finally coming to grips with the fact that
they don't have farms, they have "micro-farms." There is
nothing wrong with micro-farms as part of a larger
agricultural eco-system. Some of them can be real winners
and they are perfect for some people, such as a rural
couple in their 90's. But it's very hard to see how you can
have any kind of competitive overall agricultural economy
with ONLY micro-farms.
Because (although it is far from perfect) the EU model
seems to be relatively vibrant and sustainable, promoting
more EU-size farms in Japan would seem to make sense. For
obvious geographical reasons, striving for US-sized farms
It would be neither simple nor quick (nor immune to abuse
or bureaucratic incompetence), but turning many of Japan's
tiny farms into larger ones is actually not only rather
plausible, but it may present a last, best chance for
Japan to reverse 60 years of mismanagement.
The key would be NOT to "collectivize" or to "consolidate,"
but rather to perform thousands (or tens of thousands) of
This is actually quite common in the U.S; for example,
when for whatever reason the federal (or state, or a local)
government finds itself with two pieces of property to
manage with a piece of private land separating them.
Because it is many times more easy to manage one piece than
two, for any number of purposes such as fire mitigation,
water management, public access, wood harvesting, etc.,
private owners and government(s) go over the issues and a
map, and simply swap titles: giving the government the
land it needs and giving the private owner one of the two
pieces the government doesn't need. The parcels can be
located anywhere: all you need is willing owners with
legitimate titles who agree to exchange. Where the value of
the two parcels is massively different, the difference is
made up for with cash or some other form of compensation.
And the real beauty of the system is that the ability to
rationalize land use is almost infinite because, while
more complicated, you can do this with multiple owners.
For example, a trail on a mountain in Colorado (the
mountain was in a National Forest) went over some private
property (for reasons having to do with homesteading back
in the 1870's). The individual didn't like hikers walking
over his land every day and asked the Forest Service to
move the trail. There was no good place to move the trail
and the Forest Service didn't have any money to buy off the
individual. The idea of a land swap came up. The U.S.
Forest Service didn't have any land to offer the individual
that was any good (flat, with close access to the
electrical grid and a decent road)... but Rocky Mountain
National Park did -- a few miles away. The individual got a
few acres of beautiful land smack against RMNP, the Forest
Service took total control of the trail, and in exchange
RMNP got compensated for the exact same amount of land it
lost by moving the line on a map in an area where the
National Park and the Forest Service shared a boundary.
Everyone was happy. Not a penny changed hands. (Yes,
bureaucrats are usually stupid, but there are exceptions.)
A micro-farm may make sense for some products or some
farmers, but basically Japan got where it is by default
(elderly couples) rather than by design. A more
sustainable model is a family farm that can produce enough
income to support an entire family without the need for
another job -- in other words, a career (with enough income
to support an attractive lifestyle) good enough to lure
younger people into farming. Almost by definition, this
will require farms with a kind of economic "critical mass"
larger than 1 ha, so I for one think the idea should at
least be tried out on a trial basis. The deal-breaker, I
fear, will be the requirement that government(s) get VERY
flexible about redesignating farmland as non-farmland and
vice-versa to make it all work. But if you don't swing,
you don't hit, and I wish Japan the best.
-- A reader who grew up on family farms in the U.S.
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+++ ABOUT US
Written by: Terrie Lloyd (terrie.lloyd at japaninc.com)
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