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Three Months since the Great East Japan Earthquake 3.11

Keywords: Nuclear Power, Children, Noboru Kobayashi, Great East Japan Earthquake, Child Science in Disasters

On June 11, it had been three months since the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11. The ceremonies to remember those who had lost their lives in the disaster and other images on TV and in the media have saddened us all. At the same time, during these three months, many events have occurred to make us think about the future.

Among that, the event that undoubtedly made everyone reflect on the situation was the no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Naoto Kan, even though it ended in defeat. Quite honestly, it struck me that politicians had some very strange ideas. This is a time when it would be difficult for anyone to lead the country and Prime Minister Kan is hardly deciding everything on his own, so what do they mean by agreeing to cooperate if the prime minister steps down? Politics should put the people first, and if we think about those in the disaster-stricken areas, there are so many things that need to be done in a short time and other measures that can be taken without resorting to that. Everyone knows that just changing prime ministers takes up the precious time.

Up to now, I had thought of the Fukushima nuclear accident as an unpredictable natural disaster resulting from the earthquake and tsunami. But, I was shocked after reading the May issue of Kagaku (Science), part of a special series entitled "The 2011 Great Earthquake." There appear to be many different opinions on this, but it does seem that the earthquake was predictable to some extent. Measuring 9 in magnitude (M) and 7 in intensity, the recent earthquake was a very powerful one that directly affected half of the Japanese archipelago. In terms of the entire world, however, there have been three earthquakes of a magnitude of 9.0 or greater in the past fifty years since 1960. The 1960 earthquake in Chile was 9.5; the 1964 earthquake in Alaska measured 9.2 and the one in Sumatra in 2004 was 9.0. Considering this, was it possible to entirely discount the possibility of an earthquake in Japan measuring 9.0 or more? If we had seriously confronted these facts, I feel certain that we could have been more prepared.

Earthquakes that are accompanied by high tsunami are called tsunami earthquakes these days, but as everyone knows, this was not the first one in history. Moreover, there have been three such earthquakes in the past 400 years in the ocean near the Japan Trench off the coast of the Sanriku-Hokubu region and Boso peninsula. The most recent of these was the Meiji Sanriku Earthquake in 1896, over one hundred years ago, in which about 22,000 people lost their lives. In the Empo Earthquake of 1677, countless houses from Iwanuma in Miyagi prefecture to the Boso peninsula were washed away. The Keicho Tsunami Earthquake in 1611 struck villages along the coast from Miyako, Iwate prefecture to Soma, Fukushima prefecture, destroying houses and resulting in many drowned victims with damage said to have extended to east of Hokkaido.

Prior to the 1611 Keicho Tsunami Earthquake, an earthquake occurred in 869 with tsunami that inundated nearly the same area as the recent Great East Japan Earthquake. This can be ascertained from the distribution of sand left by the tsunami deposits. This indicates that the Sendai plain has been struck by a massive earthquake and the ensuring tsunami every 800 to 1000 years. In this light, the recent earthquake should hardly have been unexpected.

Seismologists first put forth the possibility of a combined nuclear power plant and earthquake disaster in 1997, but the rush to build nuclear power plants began in the latter half of the 1960s, nearly 40 years ago. Until then, researchers who studied nuclear power did not recognize the danger of building over 50 nuclear power plants along an earthquake-prone coast. Moreover, there seems to be no record that they even gave it adequate consideration. And if that is the case, it goes without saying not only the government, but also Tokyo Electric Power Co. was very careless about building the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Even though the 869 earthquake occurred over 1000 years ago, when we consider that tsunami earthquakes have repeatedly struck the Tohoku region, this recent "nuclear earthquake" could well be called a man-made disaster.

Clearly, safety standards for nuclear power need to be set especially high due to the nature of radioactive material that is handled. What's more, given its short history, nuclear power is hardly a fully developed technology. Moreover, we have had little experience with accidents, so we have had very little chance to learn what happens in such situations and how to deal with them. This should also make us even more careful and prudent about the measures we take.

I believe we could have prevented the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster if the government had been more careful, if scientists and technicians had put more effort into research and surveys, and Tokyo Electric had given a bit more thought to contingencies. And then, Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry Banri Kaieda, would have been able to announce at the meeting of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on June 20 that Japan's science and technology had been able to protect the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant from a M9.0 tsunami earthquake and won praise for the country from the representatives from around the world.

Now, three months later, when I think about what needs to be done, my thoughts turn to child raising, child care and the education of children. How should we raise, care for, and educate children from now on so that they will learn the basics of science and technology that will give them the "ability to do science" and then the capacity to use it properly. Of course, intellect and reason are important for the ability to do science, but the ability to use it correctly requires a sense of responsibility and justice, empathy, and furthermore, a rich spirit, a sense of humanity that supported by morality and emotion.

The original article was posted on the CRN Japanese site in June 2011.

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