The Earthquake and the Tsunami
Two deadly combination of natural disasters Japan has to cope with on a regular basis. If you visit Japan, you will notice that beaches are not build-up with posh houses like in the West, but full of eye-sores like wave breakers and tetrapods. They protect the flat-land starved Japan. Sadly, they were not sufficient this time. I am surprisingly affected by this incident. I was there for the aftermath of Kobe Earthquake in 1995 and I know what is ahead. Time for solidarity and action.
I don’t blame the media for their inaccurate reports and sensationalism. They were at it before and they would continue to do so. What I oppose to, is the undue criticism of Nuclear Power. Speaking as a classically trained engineer by one of the most prestigious engineering colleges in the world, I can categorically say that we need Nuclear Power and it is safe. Just take a look at Fukushima plants. They are the testaments to good engineering. The Fukushima Daiichi plants were designed in the late 60s and early 70s (the peak of our engineering innovation, in my opinion), brought online in the 70s and have supplied reliable power to a very very power-hungry economy. Statistically, it is one of the safest and ecologically balanced energy source. As most power plants, especially Nuclear Plants are, built on the water-front and they took the full blunt of the 10m Tsunami. While everything else in the waves’ path got nearly completely destroyed, they survived bar some auxiliary buildings. This kind of quake was anticipated with some probability. It is an engineering triumph. They stood tall but they are very likely to be dismantled after this.
What has failed, from where I can see, is the crisis management. Japan is notoriously bad at it. Recent bad examples include the Kobe earthquake and also Toyota Prius recall. The bureaucratic utility company and the government spent far too long protecting their assets and faces. The minute they saw the Tsunami report and the initial reports from the plants must have alerted them that this was no ordinary earthquake. I am not going to define what they should have done but there are a list of actions they must have prioritised. For far too long, they reserved the judgement on preservation of the power plants and in name of “avoiding panic”, they have withheld information. They should have started pumping in water and boric acid as soon as they have identified that this was an extraordinary event, and started evacuation immediately.
Short to Medium Term
This is something I think a lot about. Learning from my experience in Kobe Earthquake, it is very important to understand what it is that one can do. First, I had to make sure everyone I can contact are safe and have an idea of what to do if the situation deteriorates further. Even if the aftershocks stop, Japanese towns and cities will be exposed to radiation from the crippled power plants for a long time. Even if they manage to cool them down in the near future, the level of radiation measured indicates the fuel rods are exposed to the atmosphere. Making those nuclear fuels safe is a mammoth task, and a dangerous one. In the medium term, the challenges would also include dealing with the survivors. This is where we must rise and contribute. Supporting the survivors and giving them hope and will to go on, is something we can all contribute to.
Reservedly Patriotic Japan
I have read and heard a few comments comparing this earthquake to recent catastrophe such as Hurricane Katrina. I think it is an unfair comparison, but I must say the difference in culture and ethos are clearly highlighted. Immediately after 9/11, NYC saw queues of people wanting to help and most of them were turned back. I was really proud of the Americans then. This is something we don’t see in Japan, yet, but the lack of panic and crime is simply remarkable. The sense of co-existence and resilience over-rides their initial emotions it seems. Hats off to them.
What Can I Do?
I am not very useful to the recovery efforts right now, but like many of us, there will be a time when I can be useful. I would suspect that time to be around early summer, when it is safe for us to enter the area and the survivors continue to struggle. I am very far from Japan to do anything in the immediate future but I shall be planning an extended trip in weeks to come to do my part. I am thankful that I am no longer in a profession to be profiting from market instabilities created by these events.