crisis

Planted mint on balcony during nuke crisis

切り花としてもらったミントが根をのばして、育ちました。ミントの強い匂いはぼくたちを放射能から守ってくれるでしょうか。

Two weeks after the earthquake-tsunami-nuclear crisis, I looked at the thick roots growing at the base of the mint cuttings, and wondered what to do. I waited several days.

The first week, the Fukushima nuclear plant’s reactors, 220 kilometers to the north, had a series of spectacular hydrogen explosions. The second week the reactors assumed the role of toxic volcanoes, venting and spraying. The third week, we mostly hear about leakage and contamination into the land and sea.

In the second week, fearful of the rain, I harvested all of my snap and snow peas. In retrospect, this seems unduly cautious. Until now there’s been no evidence of dangerous radiation levels in Tokyo, so I finally decided to plant the mint in the balcony garden.

I considered making one giant clump, but then decided it might be more fun and more fragrant to spread it around the length of the garden. Since it’s a small garden, I need to combine ornament, scent and function. Wondering if I should make mint tea, or mojitos when they bush out?

realized that the mint cuttings were getting thick with roots sitting in the glass of water in the kitchen.

Inside a Japanese nuclear power plant

原発についてたくさん勉強になりましたけれども、毎日の生活とエネルギーの本当のコストの問題が残っています。

A fascinating short video from IDG News Service’s @martyn_williams shows the inside of a functioning nuclear power plant in Japan. It’s Kashiwazaki Kariwa, the world’s largest nuclear plant, on the Japan Sea, also known as the East Sea of Korea.

In the past two weeks, we have all learned many details about nuclear power generation: from containment vessels to doughnut-shaped torus, steam venting, cooling pools, basement pumps and generators, and dangers from radioactive iodine and cesium. While the Daichi survived the earthquake, several days without electricity led to pressure build-up, exposed fuel rods, explosions, and radioactive releases.

Most Japanese school children are given tours of nuclear facilities to encourage familiarization and acceptance. Watching the video above, I am struck by the incongruity of these images of rational organization with the recent realization that a lack of power can quickly turn these engineering marvels into a grave threat to human existence.

It is interesting that the video above, and I am certain the hundreds of school tours, fail to mention that the reactors serve a second and equally dangerous function: they are the storage locations for spent nuclear rods. While the active rods have control rods and secured cases, the spent rods seem to be in less protected parts of the reactors.

The explosions at the Daichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima have literally blown the lid off a scary reality that is normally kept far from conscious thinking. Everyone knows that nuclear waste and the long-term dangers it poses are the by-product of this “clean,” low carbon energy. What is less known is that these spent rods remain near population centers and alongside ocean coasts that routinely experience tsunamis and earthquakes. They remain hidden from view within the plants because the rods are difficult to transport safely and few communities would welcome them.

I expect that as the crisis becomes less acute, there will be more attention to the questions of how much energy we need, how to balance what is possible with what is prudent, and how to make visible the true costs of energy production, including the wars used to “secure” petroleum from hostile regions, and the potential contamination of people and land from nuclear power and waste.

In the coming weeks, this blog will focus on recovery from the nuclear crisis, including increased city bicycling, reduced power consumption, and other positive developments. I will also show signs of Tokyo’s spring, and other evidence that the natural world continues in spite of human activity.

Azby Brown reads from Edo book in San Francisco

My friend Azby Brown will be reading from his new book at four events in San Francisco next week. I highly recommend attending his book talk if you can. Azby is a great speaker, and an accomplished architect, writer, and designer based in Japan.

The book is Just Enough: Lessons in Living Green from Traditional Japan, and it portrays how Japan overcame environmental crises with sustainable farms and cities 200 years ago. The book is very informative about what we can learn today from the past, illustrated with hundreds of hand-drawn illustrations, and very engaging. I reviewed the book in the Huffington Post a few months ago.

Here’s the schedule for the book talks:

Monday, June 28, 7 p.m.
The Green Arcade
1680 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94102-5949
(415) 431-6800
http://www.thegreenarcade.com

Tuesday, June 29, 5:30 reception/6 p.m. talk
The Commonwealth Club
The Commonwealth Club (The Gold Room)
595 Market Street
San Francisco
Telephone: (415) 597-6700
http://tickets.commonwealthclub.org

Wednesday, June 30, 6:30 p.m.
University of California, Berkeley
Rm 112, Wurster Hall (southeast corner of the Berkeley campus)
Title: “The Edo Approach to Sustainable Design”
Tel:(415) 317-0533

Thursday July 1, 12:00 noon
SF AIA
130 Sutter Street, Suite 600
San Francisco
(415) 362-7397
http://www.aiasf.org