Disaster In Japan

Andrew Sullivan with a round-up of live blogs

Naked Capitalism:

When a smaller earthquake struck near Tokyo a couple of days ago, I wondered if worse was on the way soon.

Japan has been overdue for a major earthquake, given their historical frequency. Perversely, there was much more worry about the impact of a major quake on Japan when it was an economic force to be reckoned with (perhaps a subconscious wish to cut the seemingly unbeatable Japanese down to size?). While the horrific death count that resulted from the last great quake in 1923, led the Japanese to impose vastly tougher building codes and continue to improve upon earthquake-related technology, events like this too often have a nasty way of defeating careful planning. But this tremblor, which registered a formidable magnitude 8.8, was off the northern coast, but still has produced serious disruptions in Tokyo. There are no good reports of the damage yet.

Choire Sicha at The Awl:

Livestream news from Hawaii seem to show non-devastating waves and pullbacks as the tsunami spreads out from its source in Japan, but at “fairly significant numbers,” according to the islands’ tsunami guy. Japan is still reporting a shockingly low death toll from such a significant event; but that toll is expected to rise. In Hawaii, people seem nervous but assured: “I’ve cut my feet on this reef a few times but nothing like this,” said the KHNL newscaster a few minutes ago, looking at the exposed Diamondhead reef, which is now getting some water again. So far they’ve seen surge of about six feet; it’s now expected to top out at 8 or 9 feet. In the 1946 tsunami, waves lasted all day; this is not expected to be as severe, but you’ll see “odd behavior” all day around Hawaii. After 7 a.m., foot-size waves are expected to reach California.

Michelle Malkin:

Keep the people of Japan in your prayers. The earthquake and tsunami that hit the northern part of the country has caused devastating loss of life and destruction. Readers in Hawaii e-mail that they have prepared for coastal flooding as well. Be safe, friends.

Ed Morrissey:

I lived most of my life in Southern California, where natives take a blasé attitude towards most quakes, but a few of them are memorable.  My first day running an alarm center in Southern California was the day of the Northridge quake seventeen years ago, which only hit 6.7 on the Richter scale and killed 33 people, destroyed a freeway overpass, and did major damage.  The Richter scale is logarithmic, which means that an 8.8 quake released more than 1000 times the energy of a 6.7.

Jack Spencer at Heritage:

Reports coming from Japan say the quake caused millions of people to evacuate buildings, and the government ordered people near several of the country’s nuclear power plants to leave. Concerns about a radiation leak at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi No. 1 reactor, one of Japan’s 11 nuclear reactors, led to the precautionary evacuation. The biggest concern is that the electricity shortage at the plant is making it difficult for crews to operate the plant’s reactor cooling system quickly.

It is important to remember that the evacuation efforts are cautionary measures rather than indicative of any certain danger posed by the nuclear reactors. Japan’s nuclear power plants, like our own, are built to withstand earthquakes. Plants are engineered to shut down the moment an earthquake hits. Beyond that, each nuclear power plant is fitted with numerous and layered safety mechanisms to ensure the integrity of the facility.

Indeed, even if all of those systems fail, which has not been the case in Japan based on current information, the physics of light water reactors (the type operated in both Japan and the U.S.) make them inherently safe. The same water used to cool the reactor is also necessary to sustain the nuclear reaction. Should the ability to cool the reactor be lost because of an inability to pump coolant to the core, as is the case with the one Japanese reactor, the nuclear reaction will cease. However, it is much too early to even assume that has happened.

Digby:

I was watching the live coverage of the tsunami in Japan last night and could not believe what I was seeing. It was something out of a movie — a movie that I would have thought was somewhat ridiculous until I saw this surge from the birds eye view. Unbelievable.

I’m sitting here now, six blocks from the beach in California, waiting for the wave to hit the west coast. Luckily it doesn’t appear to be dangerous to us at this point.

The good news is that if the Republicans have their way, when one of these things does hit us in this earthquake zone, we won’t have warning:

Thursday night’s massive earthquake in Japan and the resulting tsunami warnings that have alarmed U.S. coasts, seem likely to ignite a debate over a previously little-discussed subsection of the spending bills currently being debated in Congress.

Tucked into the House Republican continuing resolution are provisions cutting the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, including the National Weather Service, as well as humanitarian and foreign aid.

Presented as part of a larger deficit reduction package, each cut could be pitched as tough-choice, belt-tightening on behalf of the GOP. But advocates for protecting those funds pointed to the crisis in Japan as evidence that without the money, disaster preparedness and relief would suffer.

“These are very closely related,” National Weather Service Employees Organization President Dan Sobien told The Huffington Post with respect to the budget cuts and the tsunami. “The National Weather Service has the responsibility of warning about tsunami’s also. It is true that there is no plan to not fund the tsunami buoys. Everyone knows you just can’t do that. Still if those [House] cuts go through there will be furloughs at both of the tsunami warning centers that protect the whole country and, in fact, the whole world.”

The House full-year continuing resolution, which has not passed the Senate, would indeed make steep cuts to several programs and functions that would serve in a response to natural disasters (not just tsunamis) home and abroad. According to Sobien, the bill cuts $126 million from the budget of the NWS. Since, however, the cuts are being enacted over a six-month period (the length of the continuing resolution) as opposed to over the course of a full year, the effect would be roughly double.

I realize that the productive wealthy can’t be taxed but I hope they’re all thinking ahead and employing their own natural disaster experts or they might suffer right along with the rest of us.

Noah Kristula-Green at FrumForum:

I grew up in Japan from Kindergarten through high school, so when I learned about the earthquake that struck the country this morning, I immediately had flashbacks to the many disaster preparedness drills I had gone through growing up. The images on the television of the aftermath of the earthquake are undoubtedly extreme and the level of damage from this natural disaster is more than any that I can remember from my lifetime. In addition to the news on television, a glance at facebook shows that many of my friends from Japan are scared as well. It seems that many phone lines are not working and I am sure the mobile phone networks are over-saturated as well. I’m also learning interesting pieces of news, apparently the roof of an ice skating rink my friends and I used to go to as a kid has collapsed.

However, only Japan could be hit with an 8.9 scale quake and come out of it with only hundreds dead. Similarly large earthquakes in less prepared countries have killed tens of thousands almost instantly. (A 7.5 earthquake in Bangladesh killed 90,000 people within minutes in 2010).

When it comes to earthquake preparedness, Japan does set the gold standard. In addition to strict building codes, a concerted effort is made to train and drill the entire population. Schools regularly practice evacuation routes, classrooms keep enough helmets in stock for all students, and reminders about where the safest place to be during a quake (under tables or in doorways) are constantly reiterated. I have vivid memories of an earthquake simulation truck that would travel around to educate people about what a large quake would feel like. The truck would be cut open to reveal a diorama of a living room. A series of springs would be activated to shake the diorama at levels up to and beyond the scale of quakes that Japan would normally be hit by.

Just as important as the civil preparedness, the security of Japan’s infrastructure is also a high priority. Its nuclear power plants have managed to be controlled despite initial concerns of a cooling problem.

Earthquakes are also excellent times to remember that Japan’s architects and construction companies are some of the best and most thorough in the world. Web video is already circulating of Japanese skyscrapers swaying dramatically.  This video may look shocking to the uninitiated, but it is actually a very good thing: it is much better for a building to move and sway with the earthquake as opposed to resisting it.

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