For many people in the world, the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster in Northeast Japan fortnight ago may be the incidence of the past. Even in Japan, articles on it occupy less and less space in newspapers day by day. However, I believe the situation is still very serious, or is becoming even more serious. Here are some basic figures of the disaster as of 25th March reported by the Asahi Shimbun: 10,102 dead, 19,752 missing, 245,156 evacuees. Undoubtedly, there are many unreported missing people and evacuees on top of those figures.
Focal issue has been changing. Currently it is the nuclear disaster caused by Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant of Tokyo Electric Company. One-third of the evacuees mentioned above are in fact residents living within a radius of 30 kilometres of the Power Plant. The situation of the Power Plant is still extremely dangerous. It is not fully under control, and it is ejecting radioactive pollutants. The list of potentially polluted agricultural products produced in Fukushima, Ibaraki and Tochigi Prefecture near the Power Plant is growing, and many consumers are reluctant to buy any vegetables or milk produced there, whether or not they are actually polluted. The Government and Tokyo Electric Company do not release important spatial data of pollution etc, and their maps used in the press rooms always show only over-simplistic concentric circles centred at the power plant, occasionally with prefectural boarder lines. Accurate and reliable maps of various kinds, such as those of types and magnitude of pollution and their movement, safer shelters or transportation lines, might reduce unnecessary confusion or damage to local people’s daily lives, agriculture and other industries.
To be fair to electric companies in Japan, may I refer to Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant of Tohoku Electric Company. The town of Onagawa is close to the epicentre, and the town was devastated, leaving the Power Plant standing unharmed. The Plant survived the tsunami of some ten metres high, and it even offers shelter to tens of evacuees from the town. It does have resistant structure against natural hazards including tsunami.
The effect of the disaster is spreading wide, and is becoming more and more visible in every aspect of the society. Several oil refineries on the coast of Northeast Japan and on the Tokyo Bay were damaged seriously, and it affected not only rescue and relief operations, but also people’s daily lives and industrial activities nationwide. It should be noted that all those oil refineries are on the coastal reclaimed land vulnerable to natural hazards. The damage to manufacturing industry is not limited to the disaster-stricken areas either. Manufacturing industry is suffering from lack of fuel and electricity, malfunction of transportation, damages to some car parts factories, etc. Car production in Japan this month is said to be only half of last March, although no major car factory was physically damaged by the disaster.
The extreme danger of high-vulnerability land use system of Japan, which is a product of the belief in short-term benefit and high efficiency, is obvious. I believe Japan should waste no time in examining the existing vulnerability of land use and other things in the society, and take right actions to improve the dangerous situation.
You may wish to hear a good news after hearing all those bad news. Here is one from Kamaishi, a coastal city of 39,000 inhabitants. Almost all of its 3,000 elementary school and junior high school pupils survived the tsunami, thanks to thorough disaster education. See “Tsunami drills paid off for hundreds of children” http://www.asahi.com/english/TKY201103230207.html