Japan has been struck by three disasters in the last couple of weeks.
Japan has always been prone to earthquakes, so it was not surprising that it got hit by a massive earthquake. Similarly, the Tsunami was also not a major surprise. What was surprising is that Japan did not prepare itself adequately, though it is the best prepared nation to handle natural disasters in the entire world.
How does one explain the contradiction in the previous statement ?
Japan has known all along that it is lying on the fault lines of earth plates which could rub each other and cause a major earthquake and a tsunami anytime. Japan is always prepared and has been educating its population for a long time on how to handle natural disasters. So the point here is that as a nation, Japan was totally prepared.
But a couple of things went wrong – rather very wrong. One was the scale of the earthquake, measuring 9.1 on the Richter scale. The other was the huge Tsunami as an outcome of the earthquake, which resulted in huge waves of 9 metres high washing away and destructing anything on the way. But the most important thing that went wrong was the early warning system: Japan was still dependent on the ancient cable-based sensor system, and it is only natural that cables get ruptured under the sea when the earthquake moves the earth plates. Japan should have adopted or borrowed from the satellite-based buoy system implemented by the U.S. after the 2004 Tsunami which hit Indonesia and other countries. The advanced warning system would have given some few but crucial hours of warning to the government and to the people likely to be affected, and lives would have been saved.
Initially I thought that there would only be a few lives lost (unlike in India) since Japan was a developed country with advanced warning and protection systems well entrenched in place to save its citizens. When I first heard that only 3 people were dead, then I reassured myself that my call on the potential of destruction was rather correct. But it was not to be, as we all know now. More than 6,500 people are dead and more than 10,000 people are missing as of yesterday.
Apart from these natural disasters, Japan was also hit with a massive nuclear disaster as a result of power cut-off to the nuclear plant’s back-up power generators, which resulted in inadequate cooling for the fuel rods. Apparently, the entire country is in danger, and it is difficult to believe the Japanese Government when it said that people were safe beyond a radius of some 20 miles from the Fukushima Nuclear Plant. Authorities always tend to understate the extent of the damages caused, due to the fact that any actual reporting would cause panic among the people. There were several contradictions between the assessments made by the government officials in Washington and Tokyo. The nuclear regulatory authority, the IAEA, could not actually report much, except to state that the situation is serious.
I am surprised to note that Japan has not deployed robots to handle fuel and control rods and other nuclear plant activities (given the dangerous nature of the work involved) when otherwise the entire country is teeming with robots in manufacturing plants and old-age homes. Now it is forced to use human beings who are getting severely irradiated while struggling to save the plant and avoid its melt down.
This shows that priorities were wrong and decisions were not taken to implement the latest safety systems on time, may be in the hope that the plant itself was going to be retired from service soon. But whatever it is, clearly there has been dereliction of oversight responsibility and I am not surprised to see that Japan is not firing any of its ministers or regulators. That has always been the case in Japan all this while.
Well, we can now only hope that authorities would try to seal off the plant permanently and they will be successful in stopping any further radiation into the atmosphere.
No Cheers !
19th March 2011