Friday, March 18, 2011

A Little Info on the Earthquake

As probably all of you know, a magnitude 9 earthquake took place off the northeastern coast of Japan last Friday, March 11. It was the biggest earthquake in Japan's history and caused massive damage to areas as far as Tokyo, which is about 250 km away from the epicenter. The bigger problem, however, was the enormous tsunami which came as the earthquake's result. It literally leveled the city of Sendai and other northwestern coastal areas, killing many thousands (!) of people. Because the fate of over ten thousand people is still unknown, the Japanese government expects the death toll to rise over ten thousand, or four times the population of Colby College.

The biggest problem, however, is that a nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture got damaged by the earthquake. The emergency cooling system, which turned on right away, got destroyed by the tsunami about an hour later. As a result at least four of the six reactors in the power plant started overheating and there is a danger that large amounts of radioactive material could escape into the environment in the form of a meltdown or an explosion. Some people are talking about a second Chernobyl.

Though I am no nuclear physicist, and have little idea as to how a nuclear power plant works, I am quite certain that what happened in Chernobyl will not happen in Fukushima. The main reason for that is the fact that the Fukushima nuclear plant uses a different technology than the one that the soviets used in Chernobyl. The soviets used graphite as a moderator, which is highly flammable, while the Fukushima generator uses regular water ( = light water). What I believe could happen, though, is a meltdown of the reactor. In other words, the radioactive material could overheat and literally melt through the floor and the walls of its containment, polluting the environment. This is exactly what happened at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania, USA, in the year 1979. This, however, "only" affected the radius of approximately 20 miles away from the plant.

Now that you know what I know (let's hope we are being told the truth), let me tell you about the situation here in Kyoto. First and foremost, those of you who are worrying about my safety, thank you for your concern, but it is so far unnecessary. In Kyoto, the earthquake was barely felt (I didn't feel it at all), and no damage was caused. Because Kyoto is far from the sea, there was also no tsunami; in fact, there was no tsunami in Osaka either. As to the radiation problem, Kyoto lies about 700 km away from the plant in Fukushima, and therefore is not being affected at all. If a meltdown happened, Kyoto would still most likely not be affected. And, in the extremely unlikely situation that the reactor blew up like the one in Chernobyl, there is one good news for Kyoto: the winds blow to the east, and not to the south-west. Therefore the radioactive material would most likely not make its way here.

Now that you know that I am safe for now, let me tell you a little about how the people here are taking it. Here in Kyoto, though it has of course been a big topic of conversation, people are living their lives just the way they did before. The one thing which surprises me, though, is that all TV channels are showing info on the earthquake, and all keep on repeating one commercial for one company. Both of these things have me puzzled. In my opinion, one or two TV channels would seem enough to cover all the news and a larger commercial diversity would not make you feel so brainwashed. Perhaps it is because the government wants the population informed and thus ordered all TV stations to show the same thing? Literally, TV news of the past week make me feel as if the civil war in Lybia and the recent Doshisha University entrance exam cheating incident (yes, my university) never happened.

Before I finish, let me tell you one last interesting thing which you should already know if you have been reading this blog carefully. In 1995, there was a huge earthquake in the city of Kobe, just outside of Osaka and Kyoto. Though all three cities shook severely, Kobe got most of the damage. The earthquake (magnitude 7.2 as opposed to 9.0 last week) leveled the city of Kobe, and killed over 6,400 people. As you can see, destructive earthquakes are on daily (or yearly) order in Japan. To commemorate the horrible Kobe earthquake, the city organizes a light show called Kobe Luminarie, which I have already written about. Here's the link in case you need to refresh your memory:

Finally, next week I will be going to Korea, and the week after that to Okinawa, so stay pumped for some exciting reports!


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