Japanese Earthquake/Tsunami/Nuclear Crisis

You can’t have failed to notice all the media coverage on the Japanese situation over the last few days.

I’ve been constantly tuned to the BBC News channel, catching up with all the updates and seeing how the country is being effected.

It brings back the days of GCSE Geography in 2008/9, when we were studying the Kobe Earthquake of 1995. I don’t think it’ll be long before this one becomes the main one which Geography students end up writing about in their exams.

Tsunami Footage

The main difference between this Earthquake/Tsunami and the Indian Ocean Earthquake/Tsunami of 2004 is that… its not just the tourists who are able to film what’s going on.

Consequently, there’s a large amount of footage all over the Internet, which we didn’t have after the 2004 Earthquake, and it shows just how powerful the sea can be.

The footage which I think is most poweful, is one which was released on Saturday morning, showing the moment the tsunami hit Miyako – ships are dragged away and crushed as they are forced under the bridge; parked cars are picked up as though they were childrens’ toys; and you can see what looks like a cyclist and a couple of cars on the bridge – you can only imagine what they were thinking!

Another bit of footage, which I can’t find at the moment, but I remember seeing it on the news on Friday afternoon, showed a car pointing downwards in the tsunami, and I could see that its lights were on, and the back windscreen wiper was going.

Nuclear Crisis

Since the day of the quake itself, the main news has been about the nuclear crisis… its now Thursday morning here in the UK, and not a day has gone by since Saturday morning when I haven’t woken up to the news of yet more problems with the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant.

This has re-opened the nuclear debate in the UK, Europe and many other countries. Is nuclear power safe? Should we be using it? The usual things you’d expect.

I’m not sure on this one. On one hand, it’s extremely expensive to build and maintain power stations – and then the land is unusable for a long time after they’ve been decommissioned (100 years +?), there’s a problem with storing nuclear waste, and a leakage of nuclear material can harm human health.

On the other hand, as one caller on Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine Show pointed out the other day, over 200000 people have been killed by Tsunamis in the last decade – yet no one has questioned whether we should be living near the sea. In the same period, nuclear power has safely provided power for millions of people, but everyone is scared of it. And the e-mailer finishes by saying “what a silly species we are“!

I’d also add that Nuclear technology has gone a long way since the Chernobyl incident in 1986, and that we in Europe are in an area where we don’t get large Earthquakes, because we’re miles away from any major fault lines.

I think I’m more in favor of other types of nuclear technology – solar power, hydro-electric, wind energy etc… but I’m not sure that we’ve found a way to use these forms of energy effectively yet? Either that, or we’re just too lazy.

Perhaps, to help me decide, I should look at another update on the BBC News website. Attention at around 20:16 last night was on Reactor 4, and this is, apparently, a surprise – because Reactor 4 was switched off at the time of the Earthquake. The fuel rods in cooling pools, 5 meters below the surface of the water, which cools them to a safe temperature within a day.

However, over the last few days it has been reported that the water is boiling, if not it’s all disappeared.

This means the fuel rods are exposed to the air. Without water, they will get much hotter, allowing radioactive material to escape.

More remarkably, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), which owns the power station, has warned: “The possibility of re-criticality is not zero“.

If you are in any doubt as to what this means, it is that in the company’s view, it is possible that enough fissile uranium is present in the cooling pond in enough density to form a critical mass – meaning that a nuclear fission chain reaction could start.

The pool lies outside the containment chamber.

So if it happened, it would lead to the enhanced and sustained release of radioactive materials – though not to a nuclear explosion – with nothing to stop the radioactive particles escaping.

BBC News

Whether this is still the case this morning, I’m not sure. But it would appear that this would be a more serious problem if anything happened hear.

UK Aid to Japan

A large number of countries are sending aid to Japan – money or otherwise – and on the radio on Monday there was a debate about whether the UK should be sending aid to Japan.

Some people said “No” – where’s all the money coming from? Japan is a rich country and can afford to handle its own crisis. Others said “Yes“.

With this topic, I can say that I believe that we should be sending aid to Japan. Although, I stress that this does not necessarily mean money, as some callers to Jeremy Vine’s show thought. Whoever thinks something along the lines of “We shouldn’t be sending aid to Japan, we should be sending people to help“, should note that sending people is a form of aid. That is the definition of “aid“.

In my opinion, it is not for the UK to say that we’re not going to send any aid at all, when Japan has officially asked for help. Money’s good, but I would say that we should send people – the experts – to Japan to help deal with the crisis. This is even better.

I don’t like this idea of “everyone donate to Japan” (or any other country which has a major event) – it gives the impression that, once someone has donated, everything will be OK. Which of course, it might be if enough money is donated. But in the majority of cases, I think real people are better.

Statistics

Finally, on to some statistics.

I have seen various statistics talking about the power of the Magnitude 9,0 Earthquake:

  • Parts of Japan are 75cm higher (in terms of sea level) than before the Earthquake.
  • Japan’s coastline may have shifted by as much as 4m.
  • The quake probably shifted Earth on its axis by about 16.5cm, and caused the planet to rotate somewhat faster, shortening the length of the day by about 1.8 millionths of a second.

Disclaimer:
I am not responsible for generating these statistics, and I don’t know how true they are. They are all from different sources.

This BBC News article analyzes the effect of the Earthquake.

Please let me know your thoughts on this – comments form below, or e-mail admin@fred-hart.co.uk.

Fred Hart

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