Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Art of Writing Letters

On the good advice of a friend; the short version:  The spent fuel pool at Fukushima Daiichi's Reactor No. 4 is perhaps days away from buckling; one major earthquake will wreck the pool, the water will drain, and 262 tons of fuel will melt down, and we'll have a nuclear disaster that will end all life on Earth.  No joke.

Email the President and tell him to intervene personally in this matter; it's a matter of national security, as well as a humanitarian and ecological crisis:

And tell the Secretary of State the same:

Note: I've changed my thinking about the direction to take.  If you're Japanese, perhaps the following will give you some ideas. If you're from another country, it's best to contact your own President, Prime Minister, Monarch, et al. and ask them to intervene. In every case, the rules of etiquette should be observed.

Now, the long version; with more ways to act:
We have very little time to act, to ensure that SFP4 stays solid, stays full of water.  We have no one to turn to, we feel; or do we?  We will turn to ourselves.  Many people are petitioning the United States government, asking them to intervene.  I did this also (I got all of 78 signatures. I think worldwide, to date, about 3,500 signatures have been collected).  Assuming we can get through to the President, what can he do?  He can appeal to the Prime Minister of Japan, His Excellency Yoshihiko Noda (I'm going to get tired of typing this, so from now I'll refer to him as Noda).  He can ask Noda to accept help from the U.S. and other countries, and to allow an international team of nuclear engineers in to study the problem and devise a solution -quickly.  And then, we proceed to implement said solution.  A heartwarming scenario, with one roadblock:  Tepco and Noda have so far refused all offers of outside help.

We seem to be far from this option this moment, in fact we are left with few options.  We  are scared (at least I am).  It seems to me though, that the nexus of this problem is Noda and Tepco, specifically their reluctance to accept help.  Help would be given, readily, were they to advertise the need for it.  We can help.  It is our job, as writers, to convince Noda and Tepco and also Goshi Hosono and Yukio Edano (and I will mention others here as I find them) that it is no great disgrace to accept help from outside; it does not denote failure.  We might even allude as to how they will be seen as heroes for making sensible alliances.

In writing to the PM (Prime Minister) or the Chairman of Tepco, or the Minister of the Environment (Mr. Hosono, who's also Nuclear Disaster Minister), or even yet the His Imperial Majesty Emperor Akihito (it's important to learn proper addresses here, your propriety will pass muster with the letter-readers employed by these folks), we must endeavor to understand them, their character and motivations, and at all costs, no matter your upset or your anger or directness of character, we must be polite.

Politeness is the soul of Japanese society; putting the needs of the group before one's own personal needs the backbone.  We have a lot to learn from the Japanese on the subject, as most of us are used to entirely polarized polemic, enjoy controversy, and engage in  heated rhetoric; we want to bludgeon, to be heard raw, uncut, out loud and in the street.  Politess however ensures that your listener actually listens, as opposed to hears.  The gentle approach is the soul of both jiu-jitsu, aikido, judo -and of successful business meetings.  Conclusion: there is nothing inherently weak in being polite; it ensures that others are at ease, enough to let down their guard and consider you a possible friend.  We might meditate at this point on our intentions, which I am sure include good wishes for our readers, the Gov't. and business leaders, whatever we think of their past decisions; we are doing this for everyone and we are sincere in our wishes for their happiness and safety. You could conceive of your interaction as a quiet performance of sorts, weaving a gentle spell that will be appreciated by your reader as a momentary escape from the stresses of everyday life.  Government officials and Tepco bosses are under attack all day, every day.  If we can make them feel that we are on their side, and just happening to be offering some friendly advice, that is all to their benefit, we can be heard.

At this time (or long before perhaps) you will be asking, since when is the PM or MOE or Emperor going to be reading my letter? Fat chance of that!  Of course, you are right -at first. Your letter will be read by an underling hired to make a general assessment of the trend of thought out there, log any threatening messages, look for any opportunity for their boss to look good ie: a chance for a photo op as a result of some citizen's satisfied desire, etc.

Your job is to give these readers pause; to make them read it again; to say to the fellow in the next cubicle, Hey, look at this.  The most you can hope for is that someone will look at your letter twice, and perhaps comment on it, or make a detailed note on it.  Remember you will be competing (not exactly competing, but..) with very many gentlemen and ladies of Japan who also feel that this, SFP4, and the entire nuclear industry there, is a pressing, troubling matter.  And they are well practiced in the art of conversation and etiquette, though they may be emotional on this issue.

If by some chance your letter gets past the first barrier and is read by a higher-up, or even passed to the addressee, great; it happens, occasionally.  But you can be contented to know your letter is part of a collection of letters of the same mind, to be taken seriously.  Occasionally when there are enough such letters, the official in question will ask to see some of them; will read a few for reference.  Make sure your letter is up to the occasion, just in case.
                                             *                             *                             *
Noda is a tough, shrewd, self-made man, with a black belt in Judo. About Hosono, there is very little information; his public "face" seems determinedly remote, though congenial. Yukio Edano, Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry leaves us not much to go on either.  We know he stayed up for weeks dealing with the Fukushima crisis, although he may have been involved in holding back valuable radiation data. The new Chairman of Tepco, Kazuhiko Shimokobe, is a cipher; one can find word only of the high points of his resume. Naomi Hirose, President of Tepco, likewise.  Emperor Akihito is a different story; for a man in such an isolated position, his story is far more accessible.  This quiet yet outgoing man who wants to bridge the gap to the common people is a respected biologist, was tutored by an English librarian and author, and after 311 gave a speech to Japan that was censored by NHK.  His words? These: "As this earthquake and tsunami caused the nuclear power plant accident, those living in areas designated as the danger zone lost their homes and livelihoods and had to leave the places they used to live. In order for them to live there again safely, we have to overcome the problem of radioactive contamination, which is a formidable task."
The Emperor is obviously not beholden to a paranoid nuclear industry.  The others are pragmatic businessmen/politicians whose prime aim in all this is to look good.  So we proceed accordingly.

It's important to maintain the correct tone with the Prime Minister in your correspondance.

I think by now you have an idea what I'm talking about so I'm not going to labor the point.  I will merely offer and example of my own writing as an outline of the concept.  Feel free to copy, revise, ignore or edit and return.  Writing is a game of mental chess, you're trying to see three steps beyond any impression you have of your reader, to foresee any possible objections or sensitivities you may offend, keeping aware that your reader doesn't wish to be manipulated.  Here's my letter to the former Chairman of Tepco, a Mr. Katsumata:

Chairman Katsumata,

I know you are concerned about the possible dangers associated with the status of the spent fuel pool at Reactor No. 4, Fukushima Daiichi. It is a problem that concerns us all. I want to commend the steady effort made by Tepco to address the situation, and the attention given to the condition of the pool at all times. Workers at the plant do their very best to bring the situation to a safe conclusion. There is no question in my mind that Tepco is doing their utmost.

With respect to the predictions of seismologists that Fukushima will be struck by a M.7+ earthquake within the next few years, there is still a need for a cogent, timely solution; given the timetable you are working with, it seems reasonable to explore every avenue of available resources. It is reasonable to think that with the right planning and resources the fuel can be safely removed and stored, even before any such eventuality is slated to occur.

It is with this in mind that I wish to respectfully suggest that you approach Prime Minister Noda to consider a request to other nations and to the international scientific community for assistance with the engineering, construction and nuclear-scientific solutions with regard to the moving and storage of the spent fuel. There are many nations, scientists and engineers ready to help; and sufficient sponsors to provide whatever means or materials
are needed.

I respect Tepco's heroic efforts during and after the tsunami, and I understand the wish to prevail in the current circumstances by relying on one's own strengths to meet one's responsibilities. History shows that heros have traditionally done whatever was necessary for their people, forming alliances at will to ensure their continuous protection; with regard to such achievements it is desirable that your plans also make the widest possible
allowance for a wise council and a satisfactory outcome.

I hope you will take these matters to heart and begin to engage with the international community. Thank you for taking your valuable time to read this.

Sincerely yours,

                                             *                            *                      *

A letter to  Mr. Goshi Hosono:

    Mr. Hosono,

    I want to thank you for your attentions to the Fukushima plant, the concerns of the country and the world. We are assured that you are doing your best, with full concern for the welfare of the people and the environment. However, I still feel fear, an anxiety caused by the knowledge that the timeline for repair of the damage to the reactor and spent fuel pool may be very limited. Even with Tepco's good work, there is still so much to be done to escape danger, before a crippling earthquake, or hurricane, or groundwater explosion destroys the fuel pool, that I think a reassessment may be in order. To properly devise a plan that could ensure safety in the limited amount of time to spend, we could look at enlisting the skills of other experts at nuclear engineer and construction outside Japan. They are willing to help and have the expertise necessary to create a working plan. We may also use the donation of men and materials offered toghether with the plan to ensure a quick and efficient route to safety for all of Japan and all the world.

    This extraoridnary circumstance is beyond anybody's reasoning and expectation. If your best friend encountered an equivalent circumstance in his own life would you not ask to help? Would he be shamed for accepting your help in such overwhelming need? It doesn't need to be said that such concerns would be swept away immediately!

    We know also that you would not consider your friend, struck by such unforeseen and catastrophic circumstance, to be shamed by asking on his own power, for the help. You would thank him for informing you of his distress so that you may be of timely service.

    Every day brings new dangers. The time to act is now. Please ask for help with the damages to spent fuel pool 4 and let us all rest easy with the knowledge that the government is handling the crisis in a mature fashion, utilizing any resources at hand, from any place, sacrificing all other concerns to the one real concern; putting the health and security of the residents on "high ground," well above the reach of the caprices of Nature.

    The task of removing 1,535 fuel assemblies from a battered building within one year is formidable for anybody, I'm sure you'd admit; almost impossible. By the magic of cooperation this is made managable.

    I wish you Godspeed in your efforts to keep the people safe. They are such wonderful people, I have gotten to know some of them. Thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope the summer finds you happy and healthy, and loved ones as well.

                                          *                                *                             *

A letter to Mr. Yukio Edano:

Mr. Edano,

I want to personally thank you for your tireless attention to the Fukushima Daiichi crises; I was very impressed with your stamina and concentration during the first few weeks after the tsunami.

I know of your continued concern for the state of Reactor No. 4 building, the spent fuel pool in particular. It seems to me that Tepco is making a superior effort to address the problems of stability and to remove the fuel befor disaster strikes. The courage and dedication of those workers cannot be overstated. I salute them. I suppose most of us do not consider their 24 hour a day predicament during our usual day.

My only concern is that the seismologists have predicted major, magnitude 7+ earthquakes within the next year or so in Fukushima region. I don't think Tepco, even on their expedited schedule, can complete the work on time. To do so would be a highly technical challenge for even the most highly skilled and experienced engineers and scientists on earth, with access to the greatest resources, both human, technological, and material.

Let us consider a new proposal, that you enquire of the Prime Minister whether he will consider asking assistance of the other countries involved in the nuclear endeavor, the European states and the United States. I am sure once he made initial enqueries, the response would be agreeable and accommodating. I think, with regard to the nuclear question, we are all in this together.

Prime Minister Noda has shown himself to be forthright in his response to the challenge of Fukushima. His well-known views on friendly relations with other nation-states encourage me to believe he will act wisely, and in a timely manner to avoid the unspeakable. There is a heroic streak in him, graced with the pragmatism to surpass even his own reluctance to share such a burden with others. I hope you will share my faith in him to take the one action necessary to secure the safety of the nation, and of our world.

Respectfully yours,

                                   *                                              *                                         *

Akihito is less formal, but inaccessible.

Here are some email addresses for the various people mentioned, where I could find them.  I wish you luck.

Email the Prime Minister of Japan, His Excellency Yoshihiko Noda, and ask him to accept
help from other countries, here:

Write to Goshi Hosono, Nuclear Disaster Minister and also PM Noda's Minister of the Environment :  or, write to The Ministry of the Environment; Minister of the Environment -English Mailing form :    (Special thanks to Uiko Hasegawa for contact info).

Email Yukio Edano at METI:

Email TEPCO at their headquarters and ask them to accept help from other countries,
You can address it to either: Attn: Kazuhiko Shimokobe, Chairman        or, Attn: Naomi Hirose, President.
 I had a hard time getting messages through their email form, I hope you have better luck.

The Emperor is hard to get hold of, the closest I came being the email to the Imperial Household Agency,
who are so unlikely to forward it but I'll post it here:
The proper form of address:  Your Imperial Majesty.
Send a message to your President or Prime Minister or Monarch wherever you are, asking them
to intervene directly, and swiftly, to avoid such a disaster.

Well, you might ask, are you crazy?  I wonder.  What is writing polite letters going to do?  I have looked into all the options and it comes down to this.  If you are in Japan, go to the streets. Stay in the streets until you prevail. For the rest of us, I see no other option. If you have a better idea, tell me too -I want to do it.  Peace

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