22 March 2011

Japan HEO statement about the earthquake-tsunami-nuclear disasters in Japan

This was written one day after the quake (12 March 2011) and sent out to the Dogme ELT group at Yahoo Groups. I am sharing it with Japan HEO readers here. It looks like premonitions about the nuclear reactors are proving unfortunately correct, if understated:

It started with a very long, strong seaquake. It was strong enough in parts of
coastal Japan to cause quake damage. Minutes later the NE coast of Honshu was
hit with huge tsunami waves, which caused flooding. In many places.

Right now I'm watching horrifying images and reading horrifying reports of what
is going on at Fukushima nuclear power plant. They might have serious incidents
at THREE reactors, but one is approaching 'melt down' (a non-technical term for
loss of containment below ground level--they may have already lost containment
above ground). Back up coolant systems failed because diesel generators were
flooded with sea water (design flaw or human execution flaws).

In a way Japan got lucky yesterday because had this quake hit closer to Tokyo,
we would be looking at the collapse of the entire country in terms of it
functioning as a modern, developed political economy.

I wish they had thought more about nuclear reactor design along coasts that have
seaquakes and tsunami, though. That includes where I live, Fukui, which has had
severe quakes and tsunami and has a lot of nuclear power located here, on the

This is the largest disaster in post-war Japan since the Fukui quake in 1948
(where I live!) and the Kobe-Awaji-Hanshin quake (in 1995). Fukui's quake was so
deadly because post-war construction in 1948 was so shoddy. In 1995 the Kobe
quake was powerful and concentrated in very developed urban areas (but with lots
of old-style wooden houses that burned).

The extent of this disaster could well exceed anything in recent memory in
Japan, but much of that is because it is a country that is over-developed,
over-engineered, and highly dependent on the functioning of a national
government located in Tokyo (and Tokyo has been paralyzed because of loss of
electric power, leading to loss of transport and some communications). I doubt
that it will come anywhere near approaching the human tolls we saw in recent
quakes in S. Asia (such as the tsunami disaster there) or the quake in S. China
(hundreds of thousands dead in that quake!) or the floods in Myanmar.
With one proviso: that is, if they can deal with the nuclear disasters that are
unfolding. These could be catastrophic for the entire Pacific region.

So Japan got lucky yesterday, believe it or not. Just hope the luck holds with
the nuclear disasters (and it's looking very scary right now).

Charles Jannuzi
University of Fukui
Fukui, Japan

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