Tuesday, March 15, 2011

TDR : Is the Unthinkable Becoming a Possibility?

Let's put it this way: if i had posted this article only one week ago probably everyone would have thought "Tokyo Disney theme parks in danger of radioactivity? Is he totally insane?". The devastating Japan earthquake and tsunami happened only six days ago and it's a catastrophe of such gigantic proportions that in less than six days what was unthinkable is becoming possible.

The nuclear reactors of Fukushima nuclear plant are almost out of control, the nuclear agency declared yesterday that the accident is now considered to be on "level six" - next level is level seven which indicates a nuclear accident as serious as the one which happened in Tchernobyl - and when you hear a president saying that the situation is "totally dramatic" or a minister who declares after a meeting with his Japanese counterpart that the situation "is extremely serious" you begin to understand that they know something that we don't know. In two words, the gates of hell have just opened at Fukushima nuclear plant and the situation is almost totally out of control. Which means that the risk to reach a situation similar to what happened in Tchernobyl in 1986 - with radioactive elements sent in the air - exist and can't be exclude. And at Fukushima they have problems on four nuclear reactors instead of one...

Above and below new pictures of Fukushima nuclear plant showing the damaged reactors

As you probably all watched these last days on TV this dramatic event i'm not going to play the "Bill Nye the Science guy" to explain what would be the worst scenario, you all know that the risk is to have highly radioactive elements like xénon, krypton, césium-137 and iode-131 being sent in the atmosphere, without a possibility to stop them. To give you an idea how long the effects of a "level 7" nuclear disaster can last, in Tchernobyl, 25 years after the nuclear accident there is still a forbidden zone 30 kilometers all around the site where NO ONE can enter and another zone more than 100 kilometers all around the site in which it is always forbidden to live. And this will last for a looong time... Because the japanese reactors have a different design than the one at Tchernobyl the same kind of explosion that happened 25 years ago might not be possible but unfortunately that's not the problem. The problem is to have radioactivity elements leaked and moving in the atmosphere whether it is by an explosion or gentle winds.

The picture above show the location of towns with more than 500000 inhabitants and distances from Fukushima nuclear plant

Let's come back to Tokyo. I wish with all my heart that we won't reach the worst scenario - we will know that in the next days - but if it happens it will be a tremendous tragedy. Tokyo, one of the biggest city in the world with 13.5 million people, is only at 200km from the Fukushima nuclear plant and chances of contamination by radioactive elements sent in the air are high - yesterday, radiation levels in Tokyo were 10 times higher than normal but this is still an "acceptable" safe level. In case of a radioactive cloud the contamination might touch not only Tokyo but also, depending of the winds, a big part of the country, not to mention foreign countries near Japan. The impact on Japanese economy will be dramatic - just look to what is happening at Tokyo's stock exchange since last Monday - and as Japan is the third economy in the world it will have an effect on other countries economy...

If radioactive elements reach Tokyo what do you think that will happen to Tokyo Disney Resort? I hope you don't think that TDR is living under a bubble which won't be affected by what will happen outside. If there is a radioactive contamination through the air which reaches Tokyo it will also reach TDR, there is little doubt about that. Depending of the level and dangerousness of the radioactivity Oriental Land Co will have to decide if guests can enter the parks or not, right? Do you think they will say "come in the parks, don't pay attention to the césium-137 and iode-131 floating in the air, just enjoy the rides and take a good shower when you'll be back home and everything will be fine"? Probably not. What we will see - although i doubt they will accept anyone to be a witness - is surrealistic scenes with TDR people all around the parks checking the radioactivity level with Geiger counters and then announce that parks are closed "until further notice" if the radioactivity is too high.

I know it looks unbelievable, but what is even more unbelievable is how - in less than six days - what was so unthinkable that it didn't even enter our minds just became a possibility that we can't exclude - even if, once again, i really really hope that it won't happen and that we will never see "Warning! Radio activity!" signs at TDL or TDS.

There is something fascinating when you look at the destiny at work: you understand that we don't control anything, that man is not stronger than nature, that it was just an illusion. An illusion which, when everything goes awry, can have serious dramatic consequences.

EDITED : I will update this article with the latest news of the situation. For those of you who might think that this article is excessively alarmist (it's not my goal but i know that some of you will think it is) here is the latest facts:

But first, you can watch the latest news, live on the site of the japanese NHK TV HERE. It's translated in english. Also, for all donations to help japanese people please go HERE.

- LATEST: Director of Nuclear Security Institute announced today that, so far, the radioactivity released at Fukushima nuclear plant is equal to 10% of what has been released at Tchernobyl in 1986.

- LATEST: Taiwan and South Korean authorities announced thursday March 17 that unusual high radioactivity levels were detected on passengers coming from Japan.

- LATEST: Tadashi Nishimura, an official with the Osaka Ryokan and Hotel Association, said Wednesday that "Due to last Friday's quake, our members have been reporting increased cancellations. But we do need to start thinking about what would happen in the event Osaka suddenly sees large numbers of people from Tokyo looking for rooms," he said.

In Kyoto, where hotels and ryokan over the next couple of weeks were previously almost fully booked for the cherry blossom season, the prefecture said it is starting to consider measures to deal with sudden spikes in mid- and long-term demands for hotel rooms. Kyoto is only about two hours and 20 minutes from Tokyo Station by the fastest trains. "Discussions on a scenario that requires responding to the arrival of refugees from Tokyo are expected to begin soon," said Shinya Iwako, a prefectural official.

In Kyoto and Osaka prefectures, there are more than 500 hotels and ryokan, plus another 340 or so in Hyogo Prefecture. Over the past few days, a number of people from Tokyo have been arriving at Kyoto Station and Kansai and Itami airports with plans to stay in the region for an indefinite period.

- LATEST: UK Foreign Office asked british citizens living in Tokyo and North-East Japan to move away from these regions. The German government suggests to all Germans in the area to leave Tokyo and go south of Japan as soon as possible.

- Japan prime minister Naoto Kan announced this morning that "radioactivity levels have considerably increased in north-east region of Japan and up to Tokyo. At Ibaraki, north of Tokyo, the radioactivity level was 300 times superior to the normal level with 15,8 microsieverts per hour". Nevertheless, Japan authorities consider that this level of radioactivity is not dangerous for human beings. So why is the "normal radioactivity level" has been fixed 300 times lower than the one currently measured at Ibaraki? And this is just five days after it all began. We'll check the radioactivity level in one week, let's hope it go down.

- Yesterday, as the level of radioactivity became too high at Fukushima nuclear plant they decided to send water on the reactors from helicopters. This morning it was announced that it was no longer possible to do it with helicopters because the radioactivity which is released from the reactors is now too high to get close to them even from an helicopter. Hopefully this might change but i wouldn't bet on it.

- It's now almost sure that TDR Parks will not re-open on March 22 and apparently Oriental Land might decide to don't resume parks operations before the end of April. All this situation is smelling so bad that yesterday Oriental Land has announced that "they offer to send any international cast member back home if they want, with the promise that their job would be available when the situation returns to normal".
They have to check everything in the parks to make sure there is no hidden damages, repair the damages caused by the earthquake on the parking lot, and not to mention reduced power supply which makes park operations difficult if not impossible. The hidden truth is that they're probably just like everyone in Tokyo, praying that the unthinkable don't become reality.