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Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Look At Japan Post March 11, 2011

So... It's been almost a year-and-a-half since Japan experienced the triple disaster of a 9.0 Magnitude earthquake, ensuing 40-meter (131-foot) high tsunami and the subsequent near meltdown of a few electrical power generating reactors at a nuclear plant. It’s estimated that some 20,000 people died - the majority of whom died because of the tsunami, though the earthquake and radiation poisoning also took its toll.

Here it is August 2012, and while the average Japanese person goes about his and her life the same way you and I do in our respective countries, the effects of that day - March 11, 2011 - and the weeks that followed for the nuclear issue have threatened and continue to affect a large number of people in Japan.

Depending on which results one looks at, the tsunami that walloped the northeast coast of Japan was anywhere between 20-meters (65-feet) and 40-meters high. All true enough numbers, as the sea did rise higher in some place than others. I have watched footage after heart-wrenching footage of tsunami waves hitting different parts of Japan and it is quite obvious that there are differing heights of water smashing in.

The map image above shows the area off shore where the earthquake hit and where the tsunami(s) also crashed ashore. Clicking on it should make it larger.

One of the things that garners the most attention for me, is the fact that most of the coastal towns actually had seawalls in place - tsunami seawalls that were erected long before 2011 that were constructed to halt the worst effects of a tsunami.

One of these walls was 50-feet (15.5-meters)in height (HERE's a great story about one seawall in particular. And, while the highest wave did NOT hit that part of Japan, there is evidence that higher waves did hit other parts of Japan - areas that did not have a sea wall in place as high as that one - or even one at all.... not that it would have made a difference.

How the heck are you supposed to stop a wall of water from crashing down onto your town or city when that wall is 40 meters high and the wave is higher? You can’t. You can build 50-meter high walls all around Japan, but what’s to stop Nature from throwing a 55-meter wave at you the next time an earthquake hits?

 As for coming up with ways to prevent the tsunami disaster from happening again – good luck. All one can really do is have better warnings, and hope like heck that there are ways to help get the sick, infirm and aged, not to mention everyone else to safety in a quick and efficient manner... and where would people be safe? After watching footage of the waters coming in – where do you go? As high up as possible, I suppose... But how do you get people there?

That’s what cities need to work on. Better evacuation plans. That’s the thing with nature... you never know what it’s going to do next.

Which brings us to the near miss nuclear crisis... the part that has nothing to do with nature on the big scale of things... we're talking about man attempting to harness nature and change it to something interesting... like the computer I am using to write this.

As we all know, power to the Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Fukushima-ken generates a lot of electrical power for Japan, and that it was compromised after the tsunami effectively damaged its generators. How about that? An electrical power generation station that had no power... and as a result nearly achieved a thermonuclear meltdown which theoretically could have taken out the northeast seaboard of Japan. Instead, because workers were able to get the runaway reactors back under control after a few weeks there was only some radiation released into the air, water and ground.

Uh... that’s radioactive materials spewed into the air water and ground contaminating a lot of things – what things? No one is really sure.

By the way... there was a large evacuation circle around the plant for months and months - 40,000 residents within 20 kilometers of the plant were evacuated. ... people displaced, and still... after so long... without a place to live... I mean a real place... a home.

There’s also that loss of income, family, feeling of living... all the little things that make a person feel like a person. Gone... because of a nuclear meltdown averted.

There are hundreds of social workers, psychiatrists, therapists, psychologists out there trying to help people cope... I would like to think they are helping, but the pessimist in me sees the Japanese ability to internalize things as a major barrier to relieving their pain and suffering. The optimist in me says, at least one can hope.

The nuclear disaster in Japan has affected many things, including the nuclear policy of the nation.

By June of 2011, a whopping 80 per cent of all Japanese (polled) said they were anti-nuclear and distrusted their own government for proper information on radiation. Owtch. Mega burn.

While radioactive debris from the disaster has been collected and fairly contained, the question of what to do with the contaminated debris remains. A reported 90 percent of debris has not yet been removed, though the government has pledged to complete its clean-up by 2014.

By 2014? Three god damned years after the problem began? It seems like a long time because it is a long time. Perhaps that is the best the government can do. It seems slow. Maybe they should stop wasting money on other things and concentrate on this thing.

There are government plans to incinerate debris – but that has been met with protest from people concerned that this will actually release more radiation into uncontaminated regions. However, the government says that debris would be spread across the Japan to disperse and diffuse the effects, and keep them within safe limits.

Radioactive debris... coming soon to an uncontaminated area near you. You can trust the government to keep you safe. Wink-wink.

There is another option, of course, which would be to contain the affected debris in the contaminated region – create a radioactive free zone... no, not radioactive-free... I’m talking 'free radioactivity' for anyone who goes near it.

Holy smokes – you can film the new Godzilla movie here, in the newly named Kaiju-ken (Monster Prefecture). Yes... sounds like a great freaking plan.

As for Japan's power needs, the country generally has to import about 84 per cent of its energy requirements.

Despite Japan being the only nation to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune by being the first country to be bombed (twice) by an atomic weapon, Japan took to nuclear power like a three-eyed fish to heavy water.

Its first commercial nuclear power reactor began operating in mid-1966, and nuclear energy has been a national strategic priority since 1973.

Since the Dai-ichi crisis, Japan's involvement in nuclear power generation has come under strict review. The country's 50 main reactors have provided some 30 per cent of the country's electricity and this was expected to increase to at least 40 per cent by 2017.

Nuclear power plants in Japan
 An energy white paper, approved by the Japanese Cabinet in October 2011, says "public confidence in safety of nuclear power was greatly damaged" by the Fukushima disaster, and calls for a reduction in the nation’s reliance on nuclear power.

To ensure that the nuclear power plants in Japan were up to snuff, Japan shut down (closed) or had their operation suspended while safety inspectins were carried out.

On May 5, 2012, the Tomari-3 nuclear reactor - the only nuclear reactor in Hokkaido-ken - was taken off-line for maintenance leaving the country without any nuclear-produced electricity for the first time since 1970.

Despite major protests from various governments and the population, on July 1, 2012, Unit 3 at the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui-ken was restarted, with Unit 4 started on July 21, with each producing 1,180 MW of power. Each is a pressurized water reactor, unlike the Dai-ichi reactors in Fukushima which are all boiling water reactors.   

Did you know:A peculiarity of Japan's electricity grids is that on the main island, Honshu, the northeastern half including Tokyo is 50 Hz, served by Tepco (and Tohoku), the southwestern half including Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka is 60 Hz, served by Chubu (with Kansai & Hokuriku), and there is only 1 GWe of frequency converters connecting them. (Japc has plants in both areas, which are separated by the Itoigawa River.) This arises from original equipment coming from Germany and USA respectively.

 However, following the Fukushima accident, in October 2011 the government published a White Paper confirming that “Japan’s dependency on nuclear energy will be reduced as much as possible in the medium-range and long-range future.” It also highlighted weaknesses in the energy system and said that a new energy policy would be developed by mid 2012.

A report is expected in August 2012 (that's now!) around four scenarios: nuclear with 0%, 20%, 25% and 35% of electricity (the first has 50% geothermal contribution).

In the face of anti-nuclear power in Japan after the disaster, the 35% option has apparently been dropped.

Japan - It's A Wonderful Rife will keep you informed of Japan's energy plans... 

Andrew Joseph

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