I've been following the Japan earthquake pretty closely. I'm not the armchair variety news-junkie who latches on to the catastrophe-of-the-day. I’m drawn to Japan because I've got ties there. I've been there many times: more than three months in the 90's working at Navy bases. I've spent time around Tokyo and far to the south, Sasebo. I found a love for sushi, bento boxes and kochakaden (royal milk tea). The people are wonderful. I stay in touch with friends I met there. I think Japan is unique to the world. It's the only country with western standards that makes you feel like you are in a strange and exotic place. I don't know of another country that makes you feel so out of place but comfortable, safe and welcome at the same time. There are other reasons why the Japan situation interests me. I've got two good friends who were in the heart of the disaster when it struck, plus the Diplomat works in the nuclear industry.
Truthfully, I've been displeased with the news coverage of the disaster. Interviews with Japanese Americans Mr. Sulu, Yoko Ono and Masi Oka (Heroes and Hawaii Five-O)? Are you kidding? Three days coverage of the run on Potassium Iodide? Seriously? The media claims the problem is that Japan isn't giving out enough information. Uh, well, it happens to be one of the biggest natural disasters and nuclear disasters the world has ever seen and they are happening at the same time. Maybe their priority is not catering to journalists. Maybe journalists should stop relying on spoon-fed press releases and do journalism. How about getting creative? I've got some ideas for you.
Not one reporter or news story has addressed my biggest question: did you know on March 18th we put a probe in orbit around Mercury. Mercury is 150 million miles away. If we can do shit like that, how come we don't have robots spraying water on the nuclear reactors?
I've got other ideas for news stories. Tell me about Japan's early warning system for tsunamis. People undoubtedly survived because of it. How much warning did it give? Did it work as planned?
There are a million meteorologists out there in newsland pointing at maps of rain. Can just one of these goofballs actually do some meteorology and tell me how rare this earthquake and tsunami were? I really want to know. We hear all this talk now about the danger of nuclear power plants. Like any engineered structure -- be it building, bridge, plane, car, etc –- nuclear plants are designed to withstand a certain level of stress that is based on risk. Cars are generally designed to protect the driver in a head on collision at 40 mph. Someone, somewhere decided that this event is not very likely and if the car protects you in an unlikely event, then it's a-okay. Cars can certainly be built to withstand greater impacts but someone decided that the cost was too high for something that was considered unlikely. Nuclear plants are built the same way. Someone looked at all the possible dangers out there (typhoon, place crash, earthquake, etc.) and built the plant to withstand a very rare event (a much rarer event than a head-on collision because the consequences of a nuclear disaster affects thousands and not just the couple of poor bastards who got squished in the head-on.) I don't know the design conditions for an earthquake or tsunami at the Fukushima Nuclear Plant, but it's my guess that the plant was designed to withstand something that happens about every 1000 years. It might even be able to withstand something less likely. So my question, and the story that should be done, did the Japan earthquake/tsunami exceed the design of the plant? That is: was the event so rare that that the risk of something like this happening was considered acceptable? I'm not criticizing the design here, I'm illustrating that there always comes a point when people decide there is an acceptable level risk. Did this event exceed all the design conditions of the plant or did the structure fail under conditions it was designed for? There is a huge difference.
Well, it's now ten days after the earthquake/tsunami and I've got a bigger problem than the media putting out crappy news of Japan. Now there is no news. According to what I've seen, the media has decided that either Japan is too hard to cover, no fun, or simply yesterday's news. It's all Libya now. Why does the media think we can only handle one news story at a time anyway? Well, I'm not giving up on Japan. Following my blog post, "A Personal Account of the Earthquake from Mito, Japan" and my follow-up post, "Evacuate or Stay: Two Americans Consider Options about Leaving Mito, Japan", I have heard from several people affected by the events: people in Japan dealing with the crisis and those outside Japan seeking information. If you are following the story, my friends George and Barbara (who are in the area affected by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan) have returned to their apartment in Mito after briefly evacuating to Tokyo. They report that not much has changed in Mito but their sentiments are clear: they feel their situation in Mito is safe and their thoughts are on the tens of thousands of people on the harder-hit areas to north.
One person I've met through these posts is Amy (Virden) Yano. Amy is an American living in Hitachi Nakashi (formerly called Nakaminato). As is the case with Mito, Hitachi Nakashi is an area that sustained significant damage, but not on the scale of the areas farther north. Amy's story was particularly interesting to me because at the time of the earthquake seven members of her 8-person family were spread all over the town. She was at her home with her great grandmother when the earthquake hit. There had been tremors all day, but when the big one hit she stood in the doorway to her bedroom for two minutes as the house shook around her. Forty seconds after that, she was trying to reach her husband when a second big quake hit. Every minute after that she said there were additional aftershocks. She was unable to reach her husband or her daughters who were at school. She hurried downstairs to get her great grandmother out of the house when she heard the city warning system announce a 10 foot high tsunami was coming and warning her to escape to higher ground. She finally got word from her husband who was coordinating her entire family to meet at the elementary school where her 8 year old daughter was. Amy and her family all got to higher ground. They spent 4 days at the school shelter, eating rationed food and getting 2 liters of water per family. She was lucky, her house was 800 years from the harbor and the water only went about 500 yards. In spite of the fact that her family was spread all over town, they got through it, partially because of this early warning system. Now, ten days after the event there are still electric and water outages and trash is piling up on the street.
Anyway, I wish all the people of Japan the very best. I'm going to close out this post with my prediction of the next big news story: The Lindsay Lohan Trial. God help us.