Sunday, March 13, 2011

Grim Days for Japan

Well, the death toll just gets higher and higher.  Now they are talking about 10,000 or more people unaccounted for.  Those people won't all be dead, but many will be.  The television is showing absolutely incredible scenes of destruction and devastation.  With those scenes, I am surprised that any people survived at all in the towns hit by the tsunami.  There is also scene after scene of people telling stories of horror: a mother holding her daughter by the hand until the child was torn away by the waves; a man who rushed into a neighbour's house just to see them swept away; people desperate to find their children.

The Japanese broadcaster NHK put on an hour-plus news conference with the Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano.  I was impressed with this news conference; the mood was sober but confident.  The reporters asked difficult questions and the pollies answered as best they could.  The reporters pressed the hardest - and who could blame them? - on the topic of the nuclear reactors.

Two nuclear power plants in Fukushima are in serious trouble.  The first plant seems to be the most concerning and a 20km radius around it has already been evacuated.  Of the 3 reactors at the plant, the first one already exploded yesterday, destroying the concrete containment shell.  Temperatures are rising at the other two and pumping in sea water seems not to be working.  The first reactor was completely flooded with sea water.  This was reported in the Australian media as 'a desperate measure', but a more measured scientist was reported in New Scientist as saying 'It's textbook practice of what to do with an accident of this type'.  Who knows what will happen with that.  Meanwhile, the second nuclear power plant in Fukushima also has several reactors whose temperatures are rising dangerously.  A 10-km radius has been evacuated around that one.  Rough times.

I'm cautiously optimistic about this.  The Japanese government has been guilty in the past of covering up the severity of nuclear accidents, but the stress of the current situation and the worldwide publicity surrounding this incident allow little room for deception here.  They seem to be doing everthing they can.  Personally, I'm in favour of nuclear power, and you can't blame Japan for wanting to diversify their energy sources.  It's not Japan's fault these plants got hit with a magnitude 8.9 earthquake followed by a 10 meter tsunami.

There's a general atmosphere of seige in Yokohama.  In the shops, batteries are sold out and there has been a run on staples.  Meanwhile, electricity generation has been damaged and rolling blackouts have been announced, starting tomorrow.

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