The Earthquake Disaster in Tohoku and Kanto Districtand the Subsequent Nuclear Power Plant Accident

18 March 2011

A gigantic earthquake of magnitude 9.0 occurred on 11 March 2011 off the Pacific coast of Sanriku, Northeast Japan, and it generated huge tsunami, killing a large number of people in and near the coastal areas of  Tohoku (Northeast) and Kanto District. We offer our heartfelt condolences to the victims of this unprecedented earthquake and tsunami. Food, drinking water, bedding, medicine, and other emergency relief supplies failed to reach the stricken areas swiftly, and the sufferers are afflicted with cold, hunger, and illness. We wish from the bottom of our hearts that relief reaches them without delay, and that the large number people still missing are found and reunited with their families, soon. We would like to express our sincere thanks to those who are working assiduously for rescue operations with indomitable spirit.  Also, we would like to express our special thanks for the warm words of solidarity and encouragement as well as for prompt rescue operations extended from abroad. The Science Council of Japan is prepared to cooperate with every effort aiming at overcoming this tragic situation, keeping all this kindness and good will in mind.

To that end, in light of this disaster, it is essential to reconsider and re-evaluate the relevance of the socio-economic systems of Japan in countering the shock of hazards, and to rethink calmly how much science can actually contribute to prediction and prevention of disasters. The reevaluation and re-consideration may be a medium to long term issue which requires full-scale challenges, but there are also urgently needed emergency missions needed to address the ongoing crisis effectively.


Rikuzentakata devastation

First, the biggest problem we face now is the emergency of leakage of radioactive materials from the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant of Tokyo Electric Company. Apart from investigating the causes and counter measures of the nuclear power plant accident, preventive measures to minimize the effect of radioactive leakages on the people’s lives and health are of paramount importance. We sincerely hope that nuclear scientists overcome their institutional or other differences, cooperate with each other with their specialist knowledge, and find the best solution from a narrow range of choices.

Second, the sense of insecurity people feel in the face of unprecedented disaster is often attributed to lack of accurate information about the risks and to the inappropriate ways such information is conveyed. Even if the information is serious, or even more so if it is serious, it should be transmitted accurately to the public. We believe that only with such honesty, based on calm recognition of the extreme danger of the situation, will call forth appropriate action by the people. The ongoing incidence of leakages of radioactive materials is the case in point.

Third, we have been struck by the fact that Japan failed to design new socio-economic systems based on the bitter lessons of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake of sixteen years ago, and to use those systems in the face of the present natural disaster, as evident in the fact that emergency relief supplies, which are sufficient in total quantity, failed to make their ways to the stricken areas painfully indicates. Malfunctions of transportation networks can be explained only marginally by physical damages to the transportation network caused by the earthquake and tsunami; the operational aspectsof the systems are found to be no less of the problem.

The Science Council of Japan, which represents every aspect of science, including the humanities and social sciences, intends and is capable of providing advice for these urgent operations.The Science Council of Japan as the unifying body of academics in Japan humbly acknowledges the fragility of the current socio-economic systems of Japan which have become obvious during the current disaster. The Council, seeks measures for improvement seriously, and acts with a sense of responsibility to explain how to use science and technology to build a new society in Japan that canprovide confidence to future generations.

(translated into English by Y. Himiyama)