Smoke indicates apparent setback in Japan nuke efforts

Possible setback in bid to control nuclear reactors; Jewish residents in Tokyo accuse Western media of exaggerating risks of radiation.

Japan smoke from nuclear reactor 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Tokyo Electric Power Co)
Japan smoke from nuclear reactor 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Tokyo Electric Power Co)
TOKYO – After days of progress, Japan suffered an apparent setback in its bid to bring the leaky nuclear power plant at Fukushima under control on Monday, when smoke was detected coming out of one of the reactors damaged by the tsunami last Friday, media reported.
Reuters quoted Japanese news organizations as saying that a grey plume rising from reactor No. 3 caused a team of workers to evacuate the site, bringing repair work to a temporary halt. The smoke ceased several hours later, and radiation levels were said to have remained the same.
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Meanwhile, in Tokyo, located about 190 kilometers south of Fukushima, members of the Jewish community complained that Western media were grossly exaggerating the risks of radiation spreading from Fukushima, causing undue panic and alarm.
Larry Greenberg, a member on the community’s board of directors who has been living in Japan for 24 years, said there was a great disparity between the reality on the ground and how it was being reported and perceived in the world.
“The media feeding frenzy is distorted,” he said. “The news coming from Fukushima has been that it’s stabilized.”
Speaking at the recently built Jewish community center, a lavish modernist building in the central district of Shibuya, Greenberg claimed that over the past week alarming reports by international media outlets had created a selfsustaining cycle of fear.
“One irrational act leads to another, and it mounts,” he said. “Suddenly everyone is talking about getting the kids out, and that’s the worst, feeling that you’re making a bad decision for the family.”
While most of Tokyo’s expats and some locals are taking refuge in the south or abroad until the situation in Fukushima is resolved, the vast majority of the metropolitan area’s 30 million people have stayed put. Most Japanese asked on the street on Monday said they were not worried about any immediate effects of radiation.
At her house a few kilometers south of Shibuya, Efrat Edry – the wife of Rabbi Binyamin Edry, who runs one of two Chabad houses in town – said that her family was determined to stay.
“At a time like this, it’s our duty to remain here and provide support to the people of Japan,” she said in her kitchen, surrounded by her six children aged two to 10. “People come up to me and thank me for staying. There’s no doubt there’s been a gap in how it’s been reported here and around the world.”
Over the past week, the Brooklyn-born Edry has watched over the children while her husband has made several runs to the northern city of Sendai together with two Japanese associates, delivering goods to the victims of the disaster.
Roi Somekh, an Israeli who runs a restaurant in Sendai – one of the places hit hardest by the disaster – said the situation in that part of the country remained precarious but that he had no plans to leave.
“At the moment, it’s still hard to find food,” he said in an interview over the phone. “There are lines for gas stations, no running water, no cooking gas and some homes still don’t have electricity. In Sendai, proper things are relatively okay, but go out to the coast and it’s totally devastated. You’ve never seen anything like it.
Things have improved, but it’s at a snail’s pace.”
Somekh is part of a joint effort sponsored by the Jewish community of Japan and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee – assisted by Rabbi Mendi Sudakevitch, who runs the other Chabad House in Tokyo – to help the needy in Sendai by providing food and shelter.