It Could Never Happen Here, Right?

An inquiry by the Japanese parliament has concluded that the Fukushima nuclear disaster was largely man-made.

The parliamentary report, based on more than 900 hours of hearings and interviews with 1,167 people, suggests that reactor No. 1, in particular, may have suffered quake damage — including the possibility that pipes burst from the shaking, leading to a loss of cooling even before the tsunami hit the plant about 30 minutes after the initial quake. It emphasized that a full assessment would require better access to the inner workings of the reactors, which could take years.

“However, it is impossible to limit the direct cause of the accident to the tsunami without substantive evidence. The commission believes that this is an attempt to avoid responsibility by putting all the blame on the unexpected (the tsunami),” the report said, “and not on the more foreseeable quake.”

I can’t help noticing that ‘tsunami’ is a Japanese word.

As in the US, the Japanese people are paying for privatized profit and socialized risk. The unavoidable suffering of the earthquake disaster was multiplied by human folly– hubris, collusion, denial, complacency and greed. These are universals of human nature.

Before the world builds more nuclear power plants, consider the lessons of Japan.

Nuclear Risk in Japan

Japan is on track to re-start two nuclear plants despite warnings…

Seismic modeling by Japan’s nuclear regulator did not properly take into account active fault lines near the Ohi plant, Katsuhiko Ishibashi, a seismologist at Kobe University, told reporters.

“The stress tests and new safety guidelines for restarting nuclear power plants both allow for accidents at plants to occur,” Ishibashi told reporters. “Instead of making standards more strict, they both represent a severe setback in safety standards.”

Experts advising Japan’s nuclear industry had underestimated the seismic threat, Mitsuhisa Watanabe, a tectonic geomorphology professor at Tokyo University, said at the same news conference.

“The expertise and neutrality of experts advising Japan’s Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency are highly questionable,” Watanabe said.

After an earthquake in 2007 caused radiation leaks at reactors north of Tokyo, Ishibashi said Japan was at risk of a nuclear disaster following a large earthquake, a warning that proved prescient after Fukushima.

The neutrality of nuclear industry experts is highly questionable everywhere. The damaged nuclear plants at Fukushima are still hot, and the danger continues. As Germany moves to other energy sources, Japan has a chance to change course. In the best case, the world will move beyond large, centralized polluting power sources and wasteful consumption before the next inevitable tectonic shift.

Random Disaster

Two earthquakes struck southern Spain today, the worst in fifty years.

The earth moves all the time, and sometimes by chance earthquake strikes in a populated area.

Large chunks of stone and brick fell from the facade of a church in Lorca as a reporter for Spanish state TV was broadcasting live from the scene. A large church bell was also among the rubble, which missed striking the reporter, who appeared to be about 30 feet (9 meters) away when it fell. The broadcaster reported that schoolchildren usually gather at that spot around that time, and if it had happened 10 minutes later, a “tragedy” could have occurred.

With eight billion of us living on Earth, and instant communication, bad news travels fast. Prepared or unprepared, life is so random.

Thinking of Japan

It’s been a crazy day, riding around on potholed roads listening to the radio. Reports from Japan of people without shelter in freezing temperatures, without water, food, electricity. Without any idea of what the next day will bring.

Japanese architecture, I’ve always heard, is based on centuries of experience with earthquakes. No doubt the crisis would be far worse if not for countless adaptations to a region where the earth is unstable.

All the technology we depend on wiped out by nature. Some of the technology coming up against the laws of nature and proving unwise.

I’m thinking of the people there, and hoping the worst is soon over.

Reality-Based Explanation

The Asian Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and the Haitian Earthquake were all acts of nature. The extent of the suffering and damage was worsened by human failings. In hindsight, the loss of life could have been far less if warnings had been taken seriously, but you would have to go back decades to unravel the tangle of bad decisions and events that left people unprotected from natural disasters. has some background on the politics and architecture of Haiti. War, corruption and greed play in to all three of these recent disasters. We know what is wrong and how to fix it, but are we able to trade short-term gain for wisdom?