Monday, March 14, 2011

Fukushima Dai-ichi Are My New Swear Words

A massive earthquake with strong aftershocks, followed by a tsunami bringing widespread coastal flooding, followed by emergencies at several nuclear power plant reactors. The unfolding events in Japan illustrate the first principle of crisis management: just when you finally think things are back under some semblance of control, the really bad news starts to arrive.

At this writing it's clear that a series of last ditch measures are being taken at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. The explosion Saturday was caused by venting steam known to contain highly combustible hydrogen. There was an explosion Sunday at a second reactor at the same facility. Now they've turned to using sea water to cool the reactors, clearly not in the normal operating procedures. Let's pray those measures work.

Barring a horrendous outcome at Fukushima Dai-ichi, the most damage and loss of life was caused by the tsunami. The waves even hit the beaches and harbors of California. The live video Thursday night going into Friday morning of the tsunami hitting the Japanese coast was hard to watch. The leading edge of waves washed over or through everything in their path, pushing ahead huge amounts of debris.

The small town of Minamisanriku is missing 9,000 people, half its population. You can see from a picture of the devastation that the town sat on a narrow delta with the ocean at its front and hills at its back. Many who ran when they heard the tsunami warning made it to high ground. Those who weren't able to evacuate the low-lying areas were crushed or drowned.

But there are some miracles survival stories. One man and his wife swung by their house to gather belongs after the quake. That proved to be a mistake. She is lost, missing is probably the official designation. He was rescued 2 days later clinging to the remains of a roof waving a red cloth 10 miles out to sea. "I thought today was the last day of my life," he told rescuers.

But it's the fear of a more severe nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima that is unsettling the world. I was on the phone for a couple of hours Saturday with a Microsoft support technician in the Philippines, which is just south of Japan. Karen was worried about a nuclear meltdown. Karen also says they don't have the same building codes in the Phillipines as they have in Japan to protect against earthquake damage. She knows she lives in the ring of fire.

Karen was also worried about volcanoes. The news Sunday reported Shinmoedake volcano had erupted on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu. It had been active recently, and only a few hundred people had to be evacuated. It's an upside-down world for Japan when a volcanic eruption is the least of their problems.

Back at Fukushima Dai-ichi, they are using the phrase partial meltdown. If nuclear meltdown freaks you out, I guess partial meltdown should only partially freak you out. Some plant workers have fallen victim to radiation sickness, and some local residents have also been treated. So far the really bad news has not arrived.

Anyway, I've been looking for new swear words and Fukushima Dai-ichi will do nicely. Die itchy is what will happen if you get doused with radiation. Fukushima speaks for itself. They can be used together or separately.

If you want to use my new swear, you are welcome. But please hit the swear jar by making a contribution for disaster relief to the American Red Cross, or one of the other agencies providing relief services in Japan and elsewhere around the world. Japan's resilience has been remarkable, but they will need help.

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