Friday, March 11, 2011

Lemming Tracks: Japan Magnitude 8.9 Earthquake

There's been a very severe earthquake - 8.9 magnitude - near Japan, several hours ago.

As usual with a disaster of this scale, news services aren't quite sure what happened. Not exactly. No surprises there: folks in Japan are concentrating on putting fires out, literally, and sorting out survivors and victims from wreckage.

Google has launched a 'people finder' for Japan, in Japanese, English, Korean, Chinese (simplified), and Chinese (traditional):

Japan Earthquake, March 11, 2011, News

The Lemming will be back with observations and opinions, after these excerpts.

People Hurt or Killed, Property Damaged or Destroyed

"Hundreds of Bodies Found in Japan After Massive Tsunami Spawned by Earthquake" (March 11, 2011)

"Japanese police say 200 to 300 bodies have been found in a northeastern coastal area where a massive earthquake spawned a ferocious tsunami Friday that swept away boats, cars and homes.

"The magnitude 8.9 offshore quake -- the largest in Japan's history -- unleashed a 23-foot tsunami and was followed by more than 50 aftershocks for hours, many of them of more than magnitude 6.0.

"The bodies found were in Sendai city, the closest major city to the epicenter, Japanese police said. Officials said another 110 were confirmed dead, with 350 people missing. Police also said 544 people were injured. The death toll was likely to continue climbing given the scale of Friday's disaster...."

"Widespread destruction from Japan earthquake, tsunamis"
CNN (March 11, 2011)

"The most powerful earthquake to hit Japan in recorded history struck off the island nation's shore on Friday, collapsing buildings, touching off widespread fires and unleashing walls of water up to 30 feet high.

"The waves swept across rice fields, engulfed towns, dragged houses onto highways, and tossed cars and boats like toys. It reaching as far as about six miles (10 kilometers) inland in Miyagi Prefecture on Japan's east coast.

"Hundreds of people were dead and hundreds more missing, Japanese media reported, citing local and national police. Tens of thousands of people were displaced, according to Japan's Kyodo News agency...."

Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant

"Japan's quake toll set to exceed 1,000, world offers help"
Edwina Gibbs and Chisa Fujioka, Edition: US, Reuters (3:41pm ESTpm EST/20:41 UTC March 11, 2011)

"A devastating tsunami triggered by the biggest earthquake on record in Japan looked set to kill at least 1,000 people along the northeastern coast on Friday after a wall of water swept away everything in its path.

"The government warned there could be a small radiation leak from a nuclear reactor whose cooling system was knocked out by the quake. About 3,000 residents in the area some 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo had been moved out of harm's way.

"Underscoring grave concerns about the Fukushima plant, the U.S. air force delivered coolant to avert a rise in the temperature of its nuclear rods, but officials said a leak was still possible because pressure would have to be released.

"The unfolding disaster in the wake of the 8.9 magnitude earthquake and 10-meter (33-feet) high tsunami prompted offers of search and rescue help from 45 countries...."

"Fukushima reactor pressure may have hit 2.1 times capacity -METI"Edition: US, Reuters (3:30pm EST/20:30 UTC March 11, 2011)

"Pressure inside a reactor at Tokyo Electric Power Co's quake-hit Fukushima Daiichi plant may have risen to 2.1 times its designed capacity, Japan's trade ministry said on Saturday, exceeding the 1.5-times level announced a few hours earlier...."

"Japan warns of small radiation leak from quake-hit plant"Edition: US, Reuters (March 11, 2011)

"Japan warned there could be a small radiation leak from a nuclear reactor whose cooling system was knocked by Friday's massive earthquake, but thousands of residents in the area had been moved out of harm's way.

"Underscoring grave concerns about the Fukushima plant some 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. air force had delivered coolant to avert a rise in the temperature of the facility's nuclear rods.

"Pressure building in the plant was set to be released soon, a move that could result in a radiation leak , officials said. Some 3,000 people who live within a 3 km radius of the plant had been evacuated, Kyodo news agency said...."

"Japan struggling to cool down nuclear reactor, minister says"
CNN (March 11, 2011)

"Japanese authorities rushed Friday to cool down fears as well as radioactive temperatures inside a nuclear power plant rattled by Friday's mammoth earthquake, with the nation's prime minister planning a trip to personally inspect the atomic facility.

"The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor, located about 160 miles north of Tokyo, 'remains at a high temperature' because it 'cannot cool down,' Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters.

"Trade Minister Banri Kaieda said that a small radiation leak could occur at the plant, Japan's Kyodo News Agency reported early Saturday morning.

"These and other issues caused by the 8.9-magnitude tremor prompted authorities to order an evacuation of people within 2 to 3 kilometers (1.2 to 1.8 miles) of the plant, a move Edano called 'precautionary.' Those farther away -- within 3 to 10 kilometers -- were asked to stay in their homes. The Kyodo news agency estimated the evacuation order directly affected about 3,000 people...."

Pacific Tsunami

"Tsunami alert sparks evacuations from Hawaii to Easter Island"
Suzanne Goldenberg, (March 11, 2011)

"Visions of a seven-metre wall of water travelling at jet speeds generated evacuation orders across the vast expanse of the Pacific.

"From the low-lying atolls of Kiribati to Hawaii's Waikiki beach, Chile's Easter Island and even inland areas such as California's Napa Valley, authorities on Friday scrambled to get their citizens out of harm's way.

"Low-lying islands that were the first in the tsunami's path – Kiribati, Tonga, Guam – ordered people to move 30 metres inland and look for refuge well above sea level...."

Meanwhile, in California

"Tsunami warning: Coast residents evacuate; boats, dock destroyed at Santa Cruz harbor"
Mark Gomez, Paul Rogers, Mike Rosenberg, Joshua Melvin and Julia Scott, Bay Area News Group, (March 11, 2011)

"One of the docks and several boats at the Santa Cruz harbor were destroyed today as tsunami waves generated from a powerful earthquake in Japan hit Northern California and prompted the evacuation of hundreds of people from the coast.

"At 11:15 a.m., a large surge came through the Santa Cruz harbor and sent dozens of boats, some as big as 40-feet long, turning onto their sides and slamming into other boats that were tied up at nearby slips. Several boats sank and people in the crowd gasped loudly and yelled as the boats' masts hit the water.

"There were also reports of significant damage in the harbor in Crescent City, located near the California-Oregon border, where 35 boats were crushed...."

Earthquake in the western Pacific: So What?

At the risk of stating the obvious, what happened earlier today is a major disaster. Not just the Lemming's opinion: "Oil sank, helping reverse a slide in global stocks, as Japan’s worst earthquake in at least a century shut refineries. The yen rallied as investors bought the domestic currency as a haven." ("Oil drops, yen gains in wake of Japan's disaster," The Sydney Morning Herald (March 12, 2011) (It's 'tomorrow' there: dateline stuff))

Apart from the economic fallout, which affects 'real people' too, this earthquake killed quite a number of folks - and is forcing others to keep on living under difficult conditions.

It's the Lemming's opinion that a great many folks living in Japan are not having a good day. At all. Probably even worse than the folks in Crescent City, California, who are cleaning up the mess caused by a tsunami rearranging boats at a dock there.

Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant: Fairly Sane News Coverage

Speaking of "fallout," the Lemming has been impressed by coverage of the Fukushima nuclear power plant situation. The news - in the Lemming's experience - has been sane, and apparently factual.

It sounds like pumps for the reactor at Fukushima stopped working - maybe because their power source was damaged. The Lemming's gotten the impression that a fire was involved - but that was a passing reference in televised coverage.

At any rate, Reuters is saying that the folks at Fukushima are setting up a power supply for pumps that will - we hope - get coolant into the reactor. Which should start bringing down the pressure that's been building up.

The facts seem to be that there's been a problem with the Fukushima reactor cooling system, pressure around the reactor is going up rather drastically, and that the folks running the place may have to vent some of the stuff inside to relieve the pressure. Also that, in a display of common sense, folks living within a few kilometers of the facility have been evacuated.

The Lemming was impressed at what wasn't in the news: scary references to Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, possibly implying that the Three Mile Island event was equivalent to that little oopsie at Chernobyl; pictures of mutant frogs; and references to the ozone layer, spotted owls, fur seals, or whatever the fashionable crisis is this season.

Looks like major news services, at least, are getting science reporters who know a little science. At one point, the Lemming got the impression that science reporting might be a sideline for movie critics: who learned their science by watching efforts like "The Swarm" and "Hell Comes to Frogtown". (Links lead to Drifting at the Edge of Time and Space, "Science Fiction in the Movies: 'The Satan Bug' to 'The Matrix'" (January 26, 2010))

So, good news: no 'atomic grasshoppers' news reporting.

Does the Lemming take what's happening at the Fukushima reactor seriously? Yes, indeed. Exposure to steam and stuff that's been inside a nuclear reactor core wouldn't be particularly healthy. From what Reuters has been reporting, it looks like the folks running the Fukushima facility have been doing a pretty good job of making sure that doesn't happen - including moving people away from the plant.

The Lemming also found in a Reuters article a detail that makes the 'radiation leak' make a whole lot more sense: "...officials said a leak was still possible because pressure would have to be released...." (Reuters) Leak? Sort of. More like a controlled release of pressure. Maybe "leak" sounds more dramatic.

Somewhat-related posts:
In the news:
  • "Japan Earthquake Information"
    USGS (United States Geological Service)
    Links to
    • Historic Information
    • Institutions
    • Maps
    • Notable Earthquakes
    • Recent Earthquakes
    • Tectonic Information

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