Japanese earthquake and tsunamis, March 2011

I’ve experienced two large earthquakes, in Los Angeles and the SF Bay Area, but I have no context for the destruction wrought by the recent 8.9 earthquake in Japan. I add my prayers to those of the rest of the world, and admiration for the education and attention ahead of time, and response since.

These satellite pictures provide a powerful introduction to the scale of the disaster.

after and before
after and before pictures from NY Times

For now, the concern of most people outside Japan seems to have shifted away from direct damage and suffering, and many are focused on the challenge of cooling down nuclear power plants without power for the pumps.

Sources I am using:

World Nuclear Association, updated several times during the day with what is going on at which nuclear power plants, how many have died (one worker known dead at time of posting), etc.

: World Nuclear News now has new posts, including Contamination checks on evacuated residents and Efforts to manage Fukushima Daiichi 3.

American Nuclear Society at their blog provides links to official sources, as well as articles reposted from a number of sources, particularly NY Times and Reuters, and links to other coverage. Keep in mind that headlines may not describe the story accurately. I just linked to Japan tries to avert nuclear meltdown; 10,000 may be killed, about tsunami concerns.

The most recent articles posted include one from Platts, with quotes from Dale Klein, previous chair of US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and one from Reuters, interviewing Robert Engel, a “nuclear German industry expert”.

We will know more soon, and much more in the months ahead, but this is similar to what I have been reading from others who are knowledgeable:


Robert Engel, a structural analyst and senior engineer at Switzerland’s Leibstadt nuclear power plant, said he believed Japanese authorities would be able to manage the situation at the damaged Fukushima facility north of Tokyo.

Engel was an external member of a team sent by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to Japan after a 2007 earthquake that hit the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, until then the largest to affect a nuclear complex.

“I think nobody can say at this time whether there is a small melting of any fuel elements or something like that. You have to inspect it afterwards,” he told Reuters by phone.

But a partial meltdown “is not a disaster” and a complete meltdown is not likely, he said, suggesting he believed Japanese authorities were succeeding in cooling down the reactors even though the systems for doing this failed after the quake hit.

“I only see they are trying to cool the reactor, that is the main task, and they are trying to get cooling water from the sea,” Engel said, stressing he did not have first-hand information about events at the Fukushima facility.

Let us hope that they are right.

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