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Earthquake, tsunami devastate Japan; nuclear disaster feared

By Wendy Ma
Published: March 2011
On Friday, March 11, an earthquake reportedly measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale hit Japan, triggering a massive tsunami.  Early that morning, 300 were predicted dead, but by the afternoon, the death count had risen into the thousands, and the magnitude of the earthquake was raised to 9.0.  A 0.1 increase on the Richter scale is actually an increase of about 30 percent because the scale is logarithmic.
As of March 19, approximately 7,500 deaths had been confirmed, and 12,000 people are missing. Officials expect both numbers to rise.
Because Japan suffers frequent earthquakes, most buildings are built to withstand earthquakes under 7.5 on the Richter scale. This earthquake, however, was far stronger than anyone could have prepared for, and also triggered a devastating tsunami.
The tsunami hit Japan off the coast of Sendai, creating waves of up to 33 feet—the worst natural disaster in Japan’s recorded history.
Devastation, destruction, depression, cannot even begin to describe the horror of the disaster. Videos of the tragedy depict cars filled with families being swept right off the highway, people trying to outrun the raging tsunami, and countless homes being destroyed. In one video, a little boy wails for the mother whom he will never see again.
“Shocked” was the only word sophomore Hikaru Yonezaki could come up with when she heard the news about the disaster.
“I have family and friends there. My grandparents and relatives who live in the west (around 500 miles away from the area hit) said they felt a shake, but they seem to be doing OK,” Yonezaki said.
Japan is suffering from not only a terrible earthquake, hundreds of aftershocks, and a tsunami that that had washed away thousands of homes, but also from a potential nuclear meltdown from a reactor complex..
Japan possesses few energy sources and generates a quarter of its electricity through nuclear power.
“Nuclear facilities in Japan … were built to withstand earthquakes, but not a 9.0 earthquake,” CNN contributor and research associate James Walsh said.
The cooling systems of Dai-ichi and Dai-ni, two nuclear power plants on the east coast of Japan, have failed, causing explosions that emit radioactive vapor. Although the radiation emitted is not very harmful according to safety officials in Japan, everyone within an 18-mile radius of the power plants has been evacuated as a safety precaution.
Noriyuki Shikata, spokesman for Prime Minister Naoto Kan, asserted that the nuclear situation was “under control.” Since then, a state of emergency has been declared for the two primary nuclear plants.
“The nuclear explosion was completely unexpected. I had believed that the Japanese built those nuclear power plants in safe areas with rigid securities, and I still believe that. Even so, the explosion happened, and it was massive, too!” Yonezaki said.
Despite the current nuclear anxiety, experts do not expect a repeat of the disastrous 1986 Chernobyl meltdown in Ukraine, which is considered the worst nuclear meltdown of all time. Unlike Chernobyl, the Japanese reactors are enclosed by containment vessels to guard against eruption.
Although the magnitude of the nuclear explosions was not as bad as Chernobyl’s, Japan’s fear of nuclear radiation is increasing. The effects of the explosion have yet to be fully determined, but there is no doubt that the nuclear radiation will cause human fatalities in years to come.
The disaster has prompted other nations around the world to reconsider their use of nuclear power. Until now, there was bipartisan agreement in America over nuclear power, but many politicians are not so sure anymore.
“I think it calls on us here in the US, naturally, not to stop building nuclear power plants, but to put the brakes on right now until we understand the ramifications of what’s happened in Japan,” Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, the Independent from Connecticut and one of the Senate’s leading voices on energy, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Massachusetts, which generates 11 percent of its electricity using nuclear power, is host to Pilgrim Nuclear Generation Plant in Plymouth, whose operating license will expire in about a year.
According to Dori Zaleznik, the Newton health commissioner, there is a chance that the radiation could drift from Japan to the US, but it is fairly unlikely. Countries closer to Japan, such as Russia, are much more worried.
In addition to the nuclear-related health concerns, Japan’s economy has been severely harmed by the impending disaster and many companies have halted production.
The Nikkei Stock Average, the index of the Tokyo Stock Exchange, has fallen over 2,500 points since the earthquake hit Japan.
“Everything is happening so fast. In the east, there’s a shortage on food, electronic power, gas, everything. Even things like clothing. They don’t have enough of that—and they’re running out,” Yonezaki said. Her concerns echo those of many Japanese citizens.
There are concerns that the shortage could eventually expand all over Japan as people evacuate to the west, which could further impede economic recovery.

On Friday, March 11, an earthquake reportedly measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale hit Japan, triggering a massive tsunami.  Early that morning, 300 were predicted dead, but by the afternoon, the death count had risen into the thousands, and the magnitude of the earthquake was raised to 9.0.  A 0.1 increase on the Richter scale is actually an increase of about 30 percent because the scale is logarithmic. As of March 19, approximately 7,500 deaths had been confirmed, and 12,000 people are missing. Officials expect both numbers to rise.Because Japan suffers frequent earthquakes, most buildings are built to withstand earthquakes under 7.5 on the Richter scale. This earthquake, however, was far stronger than anyone could have prepared for, and also triggered a devastating tsunami.The tsunami hit Japan off the coast of Sendai, creating waves of up to 33 feet—the worst natural disaster in Japan’s recorded history.  Devastation, destruction, depression, cannot even begin to describe the horror of the disaster. Videos of the tragedy depict cars filled with families being swept right off the highway, people trying to outrun the raging tsunami, and countless homes being destroyed. In one video, a little boy wails for the mother whom he will never see again.“Shocked” was the only word sophomore Hikaru Yonezaki could come up with when she heard the news about the disaster.“I have family and friends there. My grandparents and relatives who live in the west (around 500 miles away from the area hit) said they felt a shake, but they seem to be doing OK,” Yonezaki said.Japan is suffering from not only a terrible earthquake, hundreds of aftershocks, and a tsunami that that had washed away thousands of homes, but also from a potential nuclear meltdown from a reactor complex..Japan possesses few energy sources and generates a quarter of its electricity through nuclear power.“Nuclear facilities in Japan … were built to withstand earthquakes, but not a 9.0 earthquake,” CNN contributor and research associate James Walsh said.The cooling systems of Dai-ichi and Dai-ni, two nuclear power plants on the east coast of Japan, have failed, causing explosions that emit radioactive vapor. Although the radiation emitted is not very harmful according to safety officials in Japan, everyone within an 18-mile radius of the power plants has been evacuated as a safety precaution. Noriyuki Shikata, spokesman for Prime Minister Naoto Kan, asserted that the nuclear situation was “under control.” Since then, a state of emergency has been declared for the two primary nuclear plants. “The nuclear explosion was completely unexpected. I had believed that the Japanese built those nuclear power plants in safe areas with rigid securities, and I still believe that. Even so, the explosion happened, and it was massive, too!” Yonezaki said.Despite the current nuclear anxiety, experts do not expect a repeat of the disastrous 1986 Chernobyl meltdown in Ukraine, which is considered the worst nuclear meltdown of all time. Unlike Chernobyl, the Japanese reactors are enclosed by containment vessels to guard against eruption.Although the magnitude of the nuclear explosions was not as bad as Chernobyl’s, Japan’s fear of nuclear radiation is increasing. The effects of the explosion have yet to be fully determined, but there is no doubt that the nuclear radiation will cause human fatalities in years to come. The disaster has prompted other nations around the world to reconsider their use of nuclear power. Until now, there was bipartisan agreement in America over nuclear power, but many politicians are not so sure anymore. “I think it calls on us here in the US, naturally, not to stop building nuclear power plants, but to put the brakes on right now until we understand the ramifications of what’s happened in Japan,” Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, the Independent from Connecticut and one of the Senate’s leading voices on energy, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”  Massachusetts, which generates 11 percent of its electricity using nuclear power, is host to Pilgrim Nuclear Generation Plant in Plymouth, whose operating license will expire in about a year.According to Dori Zaleznik, the Newton health commissioner, there is a chance that the radiation could drift from Japan to the US, but it is fairly unlikely. Countries closer to Japan, such as Russia, are much more worried.In addition to the nuclear-related health concerns, Japan’s economy has been severely harmed by the impending disaster and many companies have halted production. The Nikkei Stock Average, the index of the Tokyo Stock Exchange, has fallen over 2,500 points since the earthquake hit Japan.“Everything is happening so fast. In the east, there’s a shortage on food, electronic power, gas, everything. Even things like clothing. They don’t have enough of that—and they’re running out,” Yonezaki said. Her concerns echo those of many Japanese citizens. There are concerns that the shortage could eventually expand all over Japan as people evacuate to the west, which could further impede economic recovery.

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