By The Canadian Press - Friday, May 17, 2013 - 0 Comments
Epicentre near Shawville, Que., says Earthquakes Canada
OTTAWA – Windows rattled, walls swayed and knick-knacks toppled from store shelves near the national capital Friday as Canadians across a wide swath of Ontario and Quebec felt the disconcerting tremors of a 5.2-magnitude earthquake.
In the tiny town of Shawville, Que., about 18 kilometres from where Earthquakes Canada located the temblor’s epicentre, residents described thinking at first there had been an accident or an explosion.
“There was a loud bang and it sounded like a heavy truck had hit the building,” said Katherine Summerfield, who owns and operates Boutique Gwendoline, a women’s apparel shop in town.
“The whole building was shaking and then things started falling off the shelving in the back room. So then we instantly knew it was an earthquake.”
By The Canadian Press - Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 10:53 PM - 0 Comments
VANCOUVER – A magnitude-6.3 earthquake struck off the British Columbia coast Wednesday night, rattling…
VANCOUVER – A magnitude-6.3 earthquake struck off the British Columbia coast Wednesday night, rattling some homes in a remote community but causing no injuries or major damage.
The U.S.-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the earthquake hit just after 6 p.m. local time, about 136 kilometres southwest of Port Alice, a community of about 800 people on northern Vancouver Island.
The agency also said the quake was recorded at a depth of about 43.5 kilometres, and no subsequent tsunami was expected.
Kevin Cameron, the emergency co-ordinator in Port Alice, said he didn’t feel the quake.
But Andrea Vance, a resident of Winter Harbour, B.C., a remote community on the west coast of northern Vancouver Island, said she did and was sitting in a chair in a bedroom when the rattling began.
“I thought it was my dog, sitting beside the chair and scratching or something and then realized that actually the chair was shaking,” said Vance. “It went on for about 15 or 20 seconds or so.”
Vance said less than 20 people live in the village located about 120 kilometres west of Port Alice, and she doesn’t think the earthquake damaged the house or any other local structure.
“Nothing at all. It was just a good little shake for about 15 or 20 seconds and that’s it.”
The West Coast continues to experience aftershocks following a magnitude-7.7 quake that struck Haida Gwaii on Oct. 27.
Nobody was injured in that incident but the shaking managed to turn off the taps of some natural hot springs.
On Sunday, a magnitude-5.2 quake was recorded 90 kilometres southeast of Sandspit, on Haida Gwaii.
By Nicholas Köhler - Monday, February 13, 2012 at 10:49 PM - 0 Comments
A lot has changed but the country is still scarred by the earthquake and tsunami
One year after the earthquake and tsunami that rocked Japan, Maclean’s senior writer Nicholas Kohler is back. He will be visiting communities on Japan’s northeastern coast, talking to survivors and posting on Macleans.ca all week, chronicling the story of a people’s comeback from devastation.
It’s hard to believe how much has changed in 11 months.
My last dispatch from Japan appeared on April 11, exactly a month after an earthquake and subsequent tsunami devastated Japan’s northeastern coast and crippled the Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, January 12, 2012 at 1:01 PM - 0 Comments
Within this story about efforts to deliver foreign aid in Haiti is an intriguing anecdote about Michaelle Jean’s role in the deployment of the Canadian Forces in the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake.
Two years ago, Ms. Jean, then governor-general, was having dinner with U.S. Ambassador David Jacobson at Rideau Hall when the earthquake struck. After working the phones, she managed to convince Canada’s Chief of the Defence Staff, Walter Natynczyk, to send help immediately instead of waiting for an official call from the Haitian authorities.
The Governor General does hold the title of commander-in-chief, but there is probably an interesting discussion to have about the precedents and implications of a Governor General getting involved in overseas deployments.
By macleans.ca - Friday, December 23, 2011 at 12:06 PM - 0 Comments
A 5.8 magnitude earthquake rocked recovering Christchurch days before Christmas
A series of tremors rocked the New Zealand capital of Christchurch on Friday, Reuters reports. A 5.8 magnitude earthquake was followed by a series of rattling aftershocks, the strongest reaching 5.3 on the Richter scale. The upheaval comes just 10 months after a deadly quake killed 182 people and caused extensive damage to infrastructure. The mayor of Christchurch, Bob Parker said of the latest quake: “It’s terrible timing, you can’t underestimate the impact of this on people on the psychological level.” Although there were no casualties or widespread damage reported, the earthquake sent terrified people running into the streets and caused rockfalls in the surrounding area. Many people chose to flee the city, congesting roads just before Christmas. No tsunami warnings have been issued.
By Jane Switzer - Thursday, October 27, 2011 at 8:05 AM - 5 Comments
The Japan Tourism Agency will offer 10,000 free round-trip airfares to foreigners to visit the country next year
Seven months after an earthquake devastated its Pacific coast, Japan plans to boost its ailing tourism industry with a lucrative offer for foreigners: come to Japan for free. The Japan Tourism Agency will offer 10,000 free round-trip airfares to foreigners to visit the country next year to ease international fears of spreading radiation. Tourism in Japan plummeted by 50 per cent in the three months after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that caused a nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Authorities lifted evacuation advisories for five towns just outside the plant’s 12-mile evacuation zone on Sept. 30, although citizens with radiation-monitoring equipment continue to report small radiation hot spots as far away as Tokyo.
The tourism project will cost about $14.6 million, roughly 10 per cent of the tourism agency’s 2012 budget request. Successful applicants selected by the agency must pay for their own accommodation and other expenses, and will be asked to write a report about their trip to be published on the Internet. If the project is approved, the agency will start accepting applications from would-be travellers in April 2012.
By Richard Warnica - Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 12:15 PM - 0 Comments
No one can deny the Chinese have spent billions on rebuilding in Sichuan. But money isn’t everything.
In the centre of the page on A8 of the New York Times on Friday, Sept. 30, nine giant pandas sat in a field of almost impossible green. Some slouched in that fat-baby way pandas have. Others chewed grass. Together, they offered an image of bucolic perfection. The picture was in the centre of a full-page ad paid for by the People’s Government of Sichuan, the Chinese province devastated by a powerful earthquake in 2008. Alongside images of pristine houses, smiling children and new roads, the bears presented an unequivocal message: everything here is awesome now.
The earthquake was a disaster in many ways, including, for the government, public relations. Dozens of schoolhouses collapsed in the quake, which killed about 90,000 people. Questions about shoddy construction, tied to corruption or incompetence, dog officials to this day. The ad was clearly an attempt to show the other side. Captions to the photos boast of 12 million people resettled, 3,000 schools rebuilt and over 3,000 babies born since the disaster occurred.
No one can deny the Chinese have spent billions on rebuilding in Sichuan. But as recent high-speed rail disasters have shown, money isn’t everything in China. Graft and a rush to get the work done have plagued large projects in that country for years. Slick advertising is one thing—buildings that can withstand a significant shake are another. For the people of Sichuan, only the latter will count in the long run.
By Erica Alini - Monday, October 3, 2011 at 10:10 AM - 0 Comments
The yakuza stepped in quickly to provide tsunami relief, and are reaping the benefits
Post-earthquake reconstruction in Japan is providing a much-needed boost to the country’s reeling economy–as well as its crime mobs. Whether it’s about removing tonnes of debris from flattened coastal villages or erecting new homes and office buildings, the yakuza, Japan’s entrenched mafia, is reportedly winning lucrative contracts for all sorts of public projects in the aftermath of the March earthquake and tsunami. The mafioso have even stepped in to clear radioactive rubble near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, a task many private ﬁrms have shied away from, according to the Guardian newspaper.
The reason why crime bosses are reaping such profits, many suspect, has much to do with the way the yakuza provided rapid and efficient relief to quake-stricken communities. Hours after the ﬁrst shock waves, unlabelled trucks loaded with “paper diapers, instant ramen, batteries, ﬂashlights, drinks” and other essentials arrived in the hard-hit Ibaraki and Fukushima prefectures, according to Jake Adelstein, a Japan-based journalist and a leading expert on the country’s criminal underworld. Unloading the vehicles were men wearing long sleeves and gloves to conceal tattoos and missing fingers, the classic trademarks of yakuza members. The Sumiyoshi-kai and Inagawa-kai, Japan’s second- and third-largest crime families, were at the forefront of a rescue operation that delivered an estimated $500,000 worth of food and first aid supplies, according to Adelstein.
The maﬁa syndicates, whose regular business includes drug trafﬁcking, extortion, gambling and prostitution, were careful not to openly advertise their charitable activities, Japan-watchers noted. The mobsters didn’t want to irritate the police, who have long been trying to dull the aura of mystery and even heroism that often surrounds bosses and their strongmen in the eyes of some Japanese. Yet the yakuza’s silent PR efforts did not go to waste. Few quake victims, including local politicians, failed to notice that crime syndicates reached out faster than Tokyo officials. Now, it seems, Japan’s godfathers are getting their payback.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, September 15, 2011 at 2:24 PM - 0 Comments
Believed to be an aftershock of Sept. 9 quake
A magnitude 4.0 earthquake struck the west side of Vancouver Island on Thursday, making it the second time in a week that tremors have rocked the West Coast. The U.S. Geological survey calls the quake relatively mild, and more likely to be an aftershock of the 6.3 magnitude quake that hit B.C.’s coast on Sept. 9 – the most powerful tremor to hit the area since the Nov. 2, 2004, when a magnitude 6.6 quake occurred.
By macleans.ca - Tuesday, August 23, 2011 at 3:12 PM - 1 Comment
Tremors start in Virginia, felt as far north as Quebec City
A 5.9 magnitude earthquake originating in Virginia rocked Washington, D.C. on Tuesday shortly before 2 p.m. EST, and seems to have been felt as far north as Quebec City. Parts of the White House, the Pentagon and the Capitol Building have been evacuated, as well as the control towers at Kennedy International Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport, several sources report. The epicentre of the quake, which the U.S. Geological Survey said was 3.7 miles deep, was in Mineral, Virginia. Tuesday’s quake was the second strong shake to hit the U.S. since Monday night, when many Colorado residents awoke to trembling shelves and furniture due to a 5.3 magnitude tremor, the largest to strike the state in 40 years. No injuries have been reported so far in either quake, although buildings on Tuesday were being evacuated as far up north as Toronto.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, July 28, 2011 at 11:09 AM - 5 Comments
Massive earthquake in B.C. is imminent, researchers say
The fault line where tectonic plates meet under the Olympic Peninsula in the Pacific Northwest is deeper than previously thought, according to a new study. That suggests the region will be hit hard the next time there is a megathrust earthquake. Andrew Calvert, a professor of Earth Sciences at Simon Fraser University, led the study, which was carried out by a team of scientists from Canada and the U.S. Calvert told the Globe and Mail that the fault line is seven kilometres deeper than previously thought, although it’s unclear what that means. He did, however, predict that a massive earthquake—magnitude 9, probably—in the area is imminent. Calvert says a megathrust earthquake happens in the Pacific Northwest every 500 to 600 years. The last one was in 1700.
By macleans.ca - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at 4:35 PM - 1 Comment
Dozens more injured as buildings crumble in southern region
At least 10 people were killed following a 5.3 magnitude earthquake in southern Spain on Wednesday. Local media reports say dozens more are injured. Buildings crumbled and cars were crushed under rubble in the town of Lorca. Spanish TV crews captured dramatic footage of a massive church bell crashing to the ground, landing metres from the cameraman. The quake followed a 4.4 magnitude tremor just two hours earlier.
By Jason Kirby - Thursday, April 14, 2011 at 10:17 AM - 1 Comment
Loyalty programs are making it easy to donate unused points
Spurred by images of devastation in Japan, donations to charities like the Red Cross are soaring. To make it even easier to give, many companies with loyalty programs are now letting members donate their points to relief efforts. Just last week, Shoppers Drug Mart launched a one-month campaign encouraging customers to donate their Optimum points to the Red Cross, which it will match with cash donations up to $150,000. But while charitable giving is certainly a good thing and is to be encouraged, not all points-for-charity programs are the same, and it’s important to read the fine print before deciding if this is the best way to help out.
Canada’s largest loyalty program, Aeroplan, was one of the first to make such an offer available. It set up a special Aeroplan Miles account for the Red Cross, and kicked things off by donating one million “miles.” Since then, members have donated an additional 440,000 miles to the account, according to Isabelle Troitzky, communications director at Groupe Aeroplan. The Red Cross can redeem the miles to pay for flights or buy merchandise like computers through the Aeroplan website.
By Nicholas Köhler - Tuesday, April 5, 2011 at 10:31 AM - 1 Comment
Though still reeling from tragedy, the people of northern Japan remain resilient
On the afternoon of March 25, shortly before the two-week anniversary hour of Japan’s 9-magnitude earthquake, in the fishing town of Otsuchi, Kaoru Kikuchi, 59, catches sight of his cousin, Kouji Abe, 62, in the dirt courtyard of an evacuation shelter at Akahama Elementary School. As the men meet, they grasp each others’ shoulders, embrace, and Kikuchi, who wears light-green work gear, briefly weeps. Because the Japan Self-Defense Forces only recently managed to clear the roads here, this is the first contact that Kikuchi, who lives inland, has made with Abe, a fishing-boat builder with a wild shock of grey hair who wears a sweater and, jewellery-like from his neck, a squid lure. “I love fishing but my boat has been destroyed,” Abe says. “I will mend it.”
That same day, on one of the mountains encircling the coastal town of Onagawa, 100 km south of Otsuchi, soldiers salvage the body of 52-year-old homemaker Henna Kimura. Originally from the South American country of Suriname, Henna arrived in Japan after marrying sailor Satoru Kimura. Her recovery delivers relief. “I feel lighter,” says their son, Hitoshi Kimura, a commercial caterer who fled the March 11 tsunami by climbing a mountain, remaining there all night. “Everybody here has lost somebody,” Hitoshi says, using a sharp gesture of the hand to indicate an auditorium spread wide with unrolled futons and sleeping bodies. “We found our mother.”
By Claire Ward - Thursday, March 31, 2011 at 11:45 AM - 0 Comments
Nick Kohler describes his visit
Shot and edited by Tom Henheffer
Produced by Claire Ward
Photo credit: Q. Sakamaki
By Jason Kirby - Tuesday, March 29, 2011 at 12:01 PM - 2 Comments
Despite heroic efforts to cool its reactors, the real consequences of Fukushima could be felt for decades
They’ve been called the Fukushima 50, as well as Japan’s “nuclear samurai.” We don’t know their names, nor their faces. Yet every minute since the twin disasters of a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and nine-metre tsunami rocked the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, they have stood as the last line of defence against a full-blown catastrophe. A lone dispatch posted by one of the workers online gave a hint of the terror they face: “Everyone at the power plant is battling on, without running away,” the worker, an employee of Tokyo Electric Power Company, wrote on her blog. “There are people working to protect all of you, even in exchange for their own lives.”
But while the world’s attention is focused on the plight of the workers and the immediate threat from the four mangled reactors at Fukushima, only now is the full scale of what’s occurred sinking in. As the fight to cool the reactors and spent fuel pools drags from days into weeks, it’s clear this crisis won’t come to a tidy end. There will be no definitive “mission accomplished” moment.
History can attest to that. After the No. 2 reactor at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island nuclear plant partially melted down in 1979, it took three years before officials could finally peek inside the superheated core with a tiny camera to survey the damage, and another eight years to safely remove and store its contaminated entrails. When the reactor at Chernobyl exploded in 1986 and sent a radioactive plume across much of Eastern Europe, 20 years passed before the World Health Organization was able to give a full reckoning of the human toll. To this day a 30-km exclusion zone surrounds the plant, an area in which people are legally prevented from living, though some original residents have returned.
By Kate Lunau - Friday, March 25, 2011 at 4:09 PM - 12 Comments
As communities line up for a shot at storing Canada’s nuclear waste, the industry’s opponents point to the Fukushima Daiichi plant
Bruce Fidler is the mayor of Creighton, Sask., a town of about 1,500 people on the border with Manitoba. “It’s pretty much a one industry community,” he says. “Mining is the largest employer we’ve got.” If Fidler gets his way, that could one day change: this town could become a nuclear waste dump. Continue…
By Luiza Ch. Savage - Friday, March 25, 2011 at 3:27 PM - 1 Comment
Near-meltdown in Japan re-awakens doubts in U.S. policymakers
Japan’s nuclear crisis came just as the Obama administration was gearing up to jump-start a nuclear renaissance in America. The U.S. has not broken ground on a new nuclear power plant in the thirty years following the partial core meltdown at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island reactor in 1979. Obama’s plan to change all that in the name of climate change is now looking very uncertain.
Nuclear energy has been a key part of Obama’s strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. by 80% by 2035. Not only are nuclear plants a stable source of electricity without a carbon footprint, nuclear is also one area of energy policy where the president sees eye-to-eye with Republicans in Congress. In February, Obama announced a federal loan guarantee worth $8 billion for the construction of two new nuclear plants in Georgia. And in his 2012 budget request to Congress last month, Obama asked for a whopping $36 billion to expand federal government loan guarantees to help encourage the construction of other new nuclear plants. “We’re going to have to build a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in America,” he said last month.
Obama held to this line after the disaster in Japan, declaring on March 17, that nuclear power is “an important part of our own energy future, along with renewable sources like wind and solar, natural gas and clean coal.” Obama emphasized that American nuclear power plants have undergone “exhaustive study” and had been declared “safe for any number of extreme contingencies.” Nonetheless, he asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to do a comprehensive review of the safety of our domestic nuclear plants in light of the natural disaster that unfolded in Japan.
But across the country, the Japanese crisis reawakened old fears. Continue…
By Nicholas Köhler and Nancy Macdonald with Jason Kirby - Friday, March 25, 2011 at 6:01 AM - 8 Comments
‘It might be subtle, but there’s a deep concern the country as a whole has lost its vigour’
It’s the Sunday nine days after a 9-magnitude earthquake that triggered a once-in-a-millennium tsunami: 240 km north of here a nuclear power plant is still spewing smoke, 22,000 people are either dead or missing on the northeast coast, and Ace’s, one of the 280 tiny Lilliputian bars that constitute Tokyo’s Golden Gai district, is packed to capacity with eight people.
Crisscrossed by spidery, shoulder-width alleys, Golden Gai was for years a seamy red-light district, then an artists’ and literary hangout. A ramshackle collection of two-storey wooden shacks tossed like dice into the Kabukicho drinking district east of Shinjuku Station, it is today a powerful reminder of Japan’s supersonic rise as an economic power in the latter half of the 20th century, post-Hiroshima, post-Nagasaki. Surrounded on all sides by the modern glitz of neon Tokyo, it has been preserved as a curio of post-Second World War construction—of the days when Japan had nothing but an appetite for more.
Only Golden Gai’s rickety second-storey bars felt the effects of the massive temblor on March 11, as hundreds of liquor bottles fell from shelves and shattered. The laconic Japanese here make the quake seem like it’s already as old as the neighourhood itself. One young woman at the bar, an office worker, describes spending that night sleeping communally in a school gymnasium after the train lines shuddered to a halt; she shrugs her shoulders like it’s a not especially unpleasant childhood memory and continues sipping her beer.
By Nancy Macdonald with Nicholas Köhler. - Thursday, March 17, 2011 at 3:35 PM - 2 Comments
Devastation, loss, and the aftermath: a shocking catastrophe and a heroic struggle
At exactly 15 minutes to three in the afternoon, on Friday, March 11, 2011, Japanese time, in the moments just preceding the 9-magnitude earthquake that in the space of three minutes would wreak more havoc on Japan than that country has experienced since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, Natsuko Komura was riding a horse along the Paciﬁc coast in the northeastern city of Sendai. Rie Wakabayashi, 36, sat in a bus in Tokyo bound for a business meeting in the high-end Roppongi Hills complex. Chris Nixon, a 35-year-old American employed in the ﬁnancial services sector, was working from his home in Chiba prefecture, next to Tokyo, his new wife, Aya, nearby.
In those same moments, 125 km off Japan’s east coast and 10 km beneath the ocean surface, the Paciﬁc plate abruptly dove under its tectonic neighbour—the North American plate atop which northern Japan sits. That geological event, the consequence of eons’ worth of pent up energy, tore a gap into the Earth’s crust 400 km long and 160 km wide and pushed Honshu, Japan’s long main island, almost three metres. So gargantuan was the shift, scientists later calculated, that it rejigged the position of Earth’s axis by 16 cm and sped the planet’s rotation up by 1.6 microseconds, imperceptibly shortening our days. It was the largest quake in Japan’s history and tied for fourth largest in the world since 1900.
Just as Wakabayashi felt the ground move, then begin to shudder violently for more than two minutes, her transit bus had rolled under a Tokyo overpass; so intense was the quake that she feared it would collapse and crush her. Around 370 km north of her, in Sendai, Komura jumped off her horse, ran to her car and sped away from the coast. “The trafﬁc lights had stopped working and there was massive congestion—rows and rows of cars,” she later told the BBC. In Chiba, Nixon and Aya stepped outside their home and held onto an outer wall.
By Terry Watada - Thursday, March 17, 2011 at 11:27 AM - 16 Comments
In the wake of disaster, playwright Terry Watada remembers his time in Japan
It was startling to wake up to CBC Radio spewing the news. I quickly submerged within the depths of cotton sheets, blankets, pillows and comforter as the details filtered through the haze of my half-sleep. 8.9-magnitude earthquake. 130 km away. Sendai affected. Tsunami warning.
The facts did trigger a dream: the water choking my seven-year-old self as I fell into the river flowing by my mother’s house in Fukui prefecture on Japan’s west coast before the images folded into the modern canals of Otaru, an artists’ village up in the northern island of Hokkaido, with a guitarist playing Fire and Rain. Everything came to a crashing stop and I found myself standing in the Peace Plaza in Hiroshima.
When I was fully awake, I turned on CBC Newsworld and CNN to see the black tsunami sweeping across the landscape like some evil Hayao Miyazaki monster laughing at seawalls, tossing vehicles aside like toys, and stripping buildings, boats and livelihoods to the bare bone. I kept flipping from one channel to the other. The horror was so intense, I felt the water gushing into my living room, grasping at family portraits, swelling saturated books, sliding across the floor in its unrelenting thirst for destruction.
My mind then swirled around to think about those I know in Japan. I have not been in touch with my relatives in Fukui since 1959, when my parents took me. In my mother’s childhood house, my aunts told me the story of their youngest sister, who fell off a low-lying bridge to a death by drowning in the river below. I, of course, wandered to the same bridge and slipped off, falling into the swift-running river leading to the Sea of Japan. If not for the quick actions of my adult cousin, I wouldn’t be alive today. I was severely punished, though I felt my mother’s warm arms around me and her body shaking in fear. Not unlike those on television.
My son was in Uryu, a farming village in the middle of Hokkaido, back in 2006, for a student exchange. At the Chitose airport, my wife and I met the host family, the Kanayamas, and apologized in anticipation of our son’s enormous appetite. The father in his gracious way said that was of no consequence since he has four sons and works a rice farm. We laughed. He then invited us for a visit. We said no since our son was already upset that not only were we in the same country but on the same island. “The other kids came without their parents!” he complained. Mr. Kanayama smiled knowingly and suggested we sneak into town. We laughed again.
Then I saw the explosions at the Fukushima nuclear reactors. Plumes of smoke rose in the air, vaguely reminiscent of the mushroom clouds over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I felt the chill of the past settle in my stomach. My parents took me to the Hiroshima museum during that 1959 trip. I absorbed the photographs of the victims, their charred bodies with melted skin hanging off useless arms and legs. I was too horrified to cry. I was told of my mother’s cousin, my father’s relatives. Did they suffer long with radiation poisoning or did they disintegrate into shadows on concrete like so many others? My wife’s family was saved by a mountain on the outskirts of Hiroshima, except for Aunt Chiemi, who worked in the hospital near ground zero. Remarkably, she survived the initial blast. She dragged herself for miles and hours through devastated, unrecognizable streets until she arrived home and found her two babies alive and well. She then collapsed and died. Could it happen all over again?
By the end of the weekend, with the endless loop of footage of the tsunami’s assault and aftermath burned into my brain, I suddenly envisioned a desolate land with only a hollow feeling left inside me. Will I never again taste the oyako donburi with salmon eggs, crab meat and rice of Sapporo? Will I never get to roam the back alleys of Tokyo’s Shinjuku district with its yakuza bars and disaffected youth squatting on the streets? Will I never tear up in the Hiroshima Peace Museum where my wife’s and my relatives are memorialized?
Irrational thoughts, an overreaction, but the effects of this earthquake and tsunami are more far-reaching than can be anticipated. The black waters, blotting, soiling and ruining everything they touched, jolted the sensibilities; in the aftershock, I realized all those I’ve known and all that I’ve seen in Japan will never be the same.
Terry Watada, 59, is a Toronto playwright, poet and novelist currently finishing a novel about Japanese-Canadian resistance to internment
during the Second World War.
By the editors - Thursday, March 17, 2011 at 11:10 AM - 1 Comment
There are natural disasters. And there are man-made disasters. Never have the two been conjoined as in Japan right now.
Last week vast swaths of the country were devastated by a massive earthquake and tsunami. Now the country faces a nuclear crisis of equal ferocity. A cascading series of failures and explosions at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima following the earthquake and tidal wave has allowed radioactive clouds to drift up from the broken reactors and threaten densely populated areas to the south, including Tokyo. The situation may worsen in the coming days and it is possible the toll from this man-made disaster will eventually exceed that from the natural calamity.
The entire world is in shock at this rapid turn of events.
Nuclear accidents activate a deep-seated sense of panic and helplessness within the public, not unlike the fear of terrorist attacks. And whether rational or not, for the first time in a generation we must all face this fear.
By Jason Kirby - Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 4:07 PM - 13 Comments
Answers to frequently asked questions about the situation in Japan [UPDATED]
1. Have Japan’s Fukushima reactors melted down?
In short, no, though it is believed several reactors have suffered partial meltdowns. There’s a vast difference between those two scenarios.
A partial meltdown occurs when the fuel rods that contain the uranium are damaged or partially break down. When nuclear fission occurs, it produces extreme energy and heat. For that reason the rods are kept submerged in water. When everything is working correctly, the rods heat the water, which produces steam that then powers turbines to create electricity. But in three of the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, water levels have fallen, exposing the fuel rods. If the heat rises to around 1,200 degrees Celsius, the material the rods are made of—zirconium—begins to break down, and some radiation is released. At several points during Japan’s nuclear crisis the rods have been fully exposed, despite the efforts by operators to pump in cold seawater. Given the high radiation levels around the reactors, it’s believed a partial meltdown has most certainly occurred, though it’s not known how badly damaged the rods are at this point. (Also note, as the zirconium degrades it releases hydrogen. It was the hydrogen that ignited and caused at least three explosions at the plant—and not, importantly, a full blown nuclear explosion.)
A full meltdown is far, far worse. For that to happen the rods would have to be exposed for several hours. The zirconium would then melt away and the uranium fuel pellets inside the rods would fall to the floor of the reactor. As the temperature rose higher, they’d then form a molten mass that could melt through the heavy steel and concrete containers surrounding the reactor. Once loose, they would unleash massive amounts of radiation into the environment.
2. What are spent fuel pools, and why is everyone suddenly worried about them?
The spent fuel pools are where fuel rods are stored after they’re removed from the reactors. As with the fuel rods in the reactor, the spent fuel needs to stay submerged in cold water or it will heat up. What’s happened is that, with nearby fires and the heat given off by the spent fuel rods, the water temperature has been rising. If the water boils off, and the rods are exposed, they could meltdown. Unlike the fuel rods in the reactors though, the spent fuel rods don’t have steel and concrete enclosures. If the heat damages the rod casings, they could catch fire and spew radiation into the atmosphere. Experts are warning that the spent fuel pools may pose the biggest radiation threat at Fukushima.
3. What are the Japanese doing to deal with the crisis?
Plant operators have tried several things to cool down the reactors. The first step was to pump fresh water into the reactors, since the cooling system was no longer functioning. Unfortunately there were valve malfunctions, so workers have since been pumping seawater and boric acid into the reactors. The boric acid helps slow nuclear fission.
Unfortunately high radiation levels have made it dangerous for workers to fight several fires that have broken out at the plant. The Japanese government considered using helicopters to fly above the fires to disperse water and boric acid over the plant, but that mission was aborted due to safety concerns. Ground crews now plan to use water canons to spray water onto the fires and reactors.
4. How long could this go on?
Days or even weeks. The good news is the reactors have been shut down. Immediately after the earthquake hit, control rods were automatically inserted into the reactor, which had the effect of disabling the fission process. But unlike a light bulb that gets switched off right away, the reactor core remains extremely hot. At the same time byproducts of the fission process continue to decay, giving off heat. If the normal cooling process had continued to function, within 24 hours the temperature of the core would have cooled dramatically and been well on the way to achieving the necessary “cold shutdown.” But the earthquake knocked out power to the cooling system, while the tsunami right afterwards destroyed the backup diesel generators. Now some experts believe it could take weeks for operators to fully gain control of the reactors.
5. Weren’t the reactors built to withstand major earthquakes? How did this happen?
Japan’s nuclear plants are built to withstand earthquakes of 7.5 magnitude, but the quake that hit last Friday ultimately measured 9.0. Given the quake was far stronger than what the plant was built for, it’s remarkable it held up as well as it did. But the designers had not accounted for a tsunami measuring nine meters high to hit the plant after a quake. As well prepared as Japan was for either a massive quake or massive tsunami, the nuclear plants were not designed to withstand both.
6. How bad is the radiation?
At this point the real danger is limited to the immediate vicinity of the reactors. Radiation levels at the plant hit between 600 and 1000 millisieverts (mSv) at different times before falling. Millisieverts measure the rate at which radiation is absorbed by the body. Anything over 100 mSv in a year can lead to elevated cancer risks, and being hit with 5,000 mSv over just a few hours is fatal.
But again, those readings relate to the area right by the reactors. The further away you are, the exposure levels begin to drop fast. The people most at risk at this point are the 50 workers who have stayed behind to try get the reactors back under control. Meanwhile in Tokyo radiation levels at their highest never reached above 1 microsievert per hour (1 mSv is 1,000 microsieverts), far less exposure than a person receives with a full body CT Scan or x-ray.
7. Are people in North America, particularly along the west coast, at risk?
No. Even if there were a massive burst of radiation from the plant, health experts say it would take roughly a week to cross the Pacific Ocean and by then the radioactive particles would be dispersed in the atmosphere. Despite that, pharmacies in B.C. have been cleaned out of potassium iodide tablets as people have begun stockpiling them. (Iodide pills blocks the body from absorbing radioactive iodine.) As such, Dr. Perry Kendall, B.C. provincial health officer, has recommended that “pharmacies do not dispense or stockpile potassium iodide tablets.”
By Jesse Brown - Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 12:00 PM - 13 Comments
As silver-linings go, it may not be much; but it is remarkable to learn that Japan’s Internet barely skipped a beat after last week’s devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami and aftershocks.
Physical damage did occur to network infrastructure, but within hours the self-correcting architecture of Japan’s Internet routed around it and information flowed freely. Keep in mind that this damage coincided with a massive surge in Internet use, as users around the world suddenly began demanding live video and other data from Japan.
The catastrophe provides a valuable real-world example of how important it is for nations to invest in strong, well-planned digital networks with multiple redundancies. Japan’s Internet has long been the envy of the world.
But so what? Given the human cost, the ongoing suffering, and the very real threat of nuclear disaster, who cares about a resilient Internet? Well, consider this:
- After the quake, as roads closed and mobile phone networks jammed up, the Internet kept the nation connected. It’s how relatives checked in on each other, and it’s helping now with relief efforts.
- It’s also helping to assess the damage in innovative ways, like this crowd-sourced radiation tracking project. It will take some time for authorities to know just how real the threat of radiation poisoning is in every area of Japan, so until then, citizens are taking the matter into their own hands. Folks with Geiger counters are uploading to this Google Map.