The Japanese Earthquake

Hokusai: The Great Wave off Kanagawa

Hokusai: The Great Wave off Kanagawa

This weekend I have been busy, but my mind has been drawn again and again to Japan. I cannot imagine the depth of loss being felt by those caught up in the tsunami which followed the magnitude 8.9 earthquake. My mind is filled with thoughts about one thing and another, but before I write a word about that, I want to record my overwhelming sense of… humility at having been even a remote witness to such an event.

Thought#1: My first thought is to say that every architect and builder in the region should be congratulated. Because despite the magnitude of the earthquake, most buildings and major civil engineering structures did not collapse. This is a stunning achievement, saving countless lives and easily repaying the 20% extra cost it took to make the structures Earthquake-proof.

Thought#2: The word tsunami means ‘harbour wave’ and it is clear why.  The ocean wave – which was probably only 1 metre high with a wavelength of a kilometre or so – was funnelled in the harbours resulting in this terrifying 10 metre high ‘wave’.

Thought#3: The tides would consititute a disaster around the world if we didn’t know they were going to happen. And even if a terrible tide of this magnitude  happened every day, it would not be a disaster – we would live around it – if we knew it was going to happen. It is the gaps between events that make this dangerous – gaps long enough for an entire generation to die. Hopefully in the same way that Japan found a way to make structures immune to earthquakes, they will find a way to live with the awesome irregularity of tsunami.

Thought#4: I am sure this event will cause countries worldwide to reconsider their nuclear programmes and I will write more on this when I know the outcome of the events at all of Japan’s reactors. Most of Japan’s reactors shutdown safely immediately the Earthquake struck, but so far 6 reactors have been reported to have problems. The reactor most badly affected (Fukushuma#1)was quite old – dating from the 1970’s – and it seems like precautions were simply not good enough. As Japan faces rolling power cuts of 3 hours per day, it will be interesting to see which way the country swings. Does it want  nuclear power stations to be switched on again, or prefer daily power cuts? Most governments are keen that their electorate do not face such a decision, but it is at the heart of the nuclear debate in every country.

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