By Chris Hogg
BBC News, Tokyo
17 March 2011
In Japanese disaster films they like heroes who sacrifice everything for the greater good - stoic, determined, refusing to back down in the face of adversity or even certain death.
These are the qualities the country admires.
Now the newspapers here have a new band of heroes to lionise - the workers, emergency services personnel and the scientists battling to save the Fukushima nuclear plant, their fellow citizens and themselves.
We know little about them, except for the few whose relatives have spoken to the Japanese media.
One woman told the papers her father, who had worked for an electric company for 40 years, had volunteered to help.
He was due to retire in September.
"The future of the nuclear plant depends on how we resolve this crisis," he was reported to have told his daughter. "I feel it's my mission to help."
The small group of workers who stayed at the site as the conditions worsened were dubbed "The Fukushima 50" - although now it is thought there are maybe twice that many working there.
Rick Hallard, who worked in the British nuclear industry for more than 30 years, says the pressure on them will be immense, but that they will probably not feel it until it is over.
"They'll be focusing on the key risks and threats," he says. "They will have a very clear idea of what their priorities are."
'Life on the line'
On Wednesday the government raised the legal limit of radiation they could be exposed to from 100 to 250 millisieverts.
That is more than 12 times the legal dose for workers dealing with radiation under British law.
But you would need to be exposed to a dose probably twice that maximum before you would expect to see the so-called "early effects" people associate with radiation sickness, like a lowering of white blood cells.
You would need a level of exposure in the region of 1,000 millisieverts before you might feel nauseous or feel ill.
The "late effects" of exposure to radiation may not occur for many years. It can increase the likelihood you will develop cancer, but this is only an increased possibility, not a certainty.
The person in charge of the operation will likely be some distance from the reactors, Mr Hallard says.
"You need to be remote from the event to enable you to think," he says, "so that you don't miss things or react too quickly."
"It's important to take the pressure off the person in charge."
The workers might be faceless heroes for the moment, but their bravery has won them the admiration of many Japanese.
"They are sacrificing themselves for the Japanese people," says Fukuda Kensuke, a white collar worker in Tokyo. "I feel really grateful to those who continue to work there."
"They're putting their life on the line," agrees Maeda Akihiro. "If that place explodes, it's the end for all of us, so all I can do is send them encouragement."
The Japanese Self Defence pilots who have been flying the helicopters used to "water-bomb" the plant on Thursday, to try to help cool the fuel rods, have been restricted to missions lasting less than 40 minutes at a time, to try to restrict their exposure to radiation.
The Japanese Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, has paid tribute to all those involved in the efforts to stabilise conditions at the nuclear plant, describing how they are "making their best effort without even thinking twice about the danger".
When this crisis is over, some of the stories of individual heroism will start to emerge. Several of those battling to cool the fuel rods have been injured.
It must be hardest for their families, who sit and wait at home, not knowing what dangers their loved ones are facing, what damage they might have suffered and what problems might result in the years ahead.
"I didn't want him to go," one man's wife told a Japanese paper. "But he's been working in the nuclear industry since he was 18 and he's confident it's safe."
Sunday, March 06, 2011
This is OCBC third consecutive year organising the nationwide cycling event and my first, which took place this morning. I had signed up for The Super Challenge (60km) but at last hour, the organiser emailed to inform that I am only good for The Nissan Challenge (40km), sigh. No reason was given, I reckon it must be due to lack of my official record being my first time participation this year.
My own cheap Raleigh bike is not meant for speed, it is an out-and-out 21-speed mountain bike and I will be greatly disadvantaged if pitted against the sleek road bikers. I decided to do some upgrading one week before the main event, changed the tyres to road type which will greatly reduce resistance during pedalling and upgraded to 24-speed - I am ready to tear the track.
My event was scheduled at 7.15am. I had arranged to reach George's place who was also taking the same event as me at around 6.30am and we will cycle to the start point at F1 building together. It was a short ride from his place in Crawford. Many riders were seen cycling to the start point.
George and I had different agendas, he preferred to cycle on his own leisure & pace but I was gunning for my personal best so that I can qualify for 60km next year. As I had a red tag, I can start at the mid point while George's orange tag can only start at the back of the row. We parted way from that point.
Due to high turn-out, some 10,000 cyclists in varied categories, the flag-off was to begin in waves starting at 7.15am. At the start-line, I can see mostly, if not all were using the road bikes and everyone looked quite 'pro' to them too. (Sheepishly) Mine is an improved version of mountain bike in bid to match their speed. It took a while for me to finally take-off from the start line.
From onset, it was a quick acceleration and I told myself to focus on maintaining the speed through out, if at all. But not long later, it was chock-a-block when the stretch along Geylang narrowed to one lane. We practically had to push our bikes along, some were heard complaining. Luckily, it was just a short stretch when the road was widened leading all the way to ECP. Everyone was pushing hard, many with sleek road bikes passed me but I did pass some too. I was on 6-gear during cruise control and went into 7-gear when I decided to pass some. When we hit ECP, one section was closed and that stretch was at least 5 km ride on the highway. Everyone was speeding, trying to past one another. I saw a first casualty, likely clashed with another cyclist. This man was sitting on the side of the road aided by the volunteers.
Near to the sailing club, we made an U-turn (20km mark) and heading back to the direction we came from. We had to cycle along the East Coast track, speed was compromised due to the narrower path. Constantly, we had to watch out for the members of the public as the track can be accessed by anyone. I was maintaining my speed, constantly on 6-gear and sometimes, 7-gear. I can feel the strain on my knees but reminded told myself to ignore it and push on.
Almost at every turn, I can see someone grimacing on the ground. Some could have sped too fast at the turn thus colliding with others. However, it is heartening to notice many cyclists having the presence of mind to signal to those at the back warning them to slow down at each turn. When someone shouted "right", immediately the slower one in front would move to the left for that faster cyclist to ride past. The code of ettiqutte by most cyclists is laudable, I must say. I did the same too.
With 5 km left to the finish, I tried to accelerate as fast as I could. But tried I did, my mountain bike just could not match those on road bikes for speed. I was cycling as hard as I could and I was grinning away when I saw the finishing line just ahead. I gave peace sign when I zoomed home, hopefully a photograher could take a good snap of me. There was no timing shown but I reckon I should come in around 1 hour and half, averaging 30km/hour. I hope my official time when released in the next few days can qualify me for entry to 60km. I stayed back, waited for an hour for George to finish before cycling back together. My legs did not ache but my buttock was, it must be the same for many. I should know now what is pain in the butt, ouch!
It was a good cycling experience for me, I truly enjoyed it.