Two Years Later: Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami

On March 11th, 2011, at 14:46 JST, the Pacific Plate.  When it moved the entire Island of Honshu, Japan moved up and eight feet eastward.  The Earthquake registered 9.0 on the Richter scale and was the fifth largest earthquake recorded since records have been kept, and the most powerful to strike Japan.

The earthquake, while massive and damaging, was far less lethal than the tsunami it spawned.

The Tsunami started coming ashore 26 minutes later.  The swell in open water was as much as 29 feet high, and the run up recorded on shore was as much as 79 feet.  Entire villages were swept away.

The four reactors operated by Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) on the coast near the village of Fukushima, which had survived the earthquake were innundated by the tsunami which exceeded design specifications by a greater factor than the earthquake had.  The tsunami drowned the switching and electrical gear essential to plant cooling, and eventually resulted in partial melt downs of two of the four reactors.

As predicted last year, this year’s anniversary is once again a non-event.

No one has been treated for radiation exposure, let alone died of the the effects.

Japan is still coping with the destruction and loss of life from the twin disasters of earthquake and tsunami.  The greatest human impact from the “Nuclear Disaster” has been a shortage of electricity.


Fukushima Radiation Proves Less Deadly Than Feared

And what of the lasting threat from radiation? Remarkably, outside the immediate area of Fukushima, this is hardly a problem at all. Although the crippled nuclear reactors themselves still pose a danger, no one, including personnel who worked in the buildings, died from radiation exposure. Most experts agree that future health risks from the released radiation, notably radioactive iodine-131 and cesiums-134 and – 137, are extremely small and likely to be undetectable.

Even considering the upper boundary of estimated effects, there is unlikely to be any detectable increase in cancers in Japan, Asia or the world except close to the facility, according to a World Health Organization report. There will almost certainly be no increase in birth defects or genetic abnormalities from radiation.

Even in the most contaminated areas, any increase in cancer risk will be small. For example, a male exposed at age 1 has his lifetime cancer risk increase from 43 percent to 44 percent. Those exposed at 10 or 20 face even smaller increases in risk — similar to what comes from having a whole-body computer tomography scan or living for 12 to 25 years in Denver amid background radiation in the Rocky Mountains. (There is no discernible difference in the cancer rates between people who live in Denver and those in Los Angeles or New York.)
Rather than stand as a warning of the radiation danger posed by nuclear power, in other words, Fukushima has become a reminder that uninformed fears aren’t the same as actual risks.

Why are the anticipated risks from Japan’s nuclear accident so small? Perhaps the most important reason is that about 80 percent of the radiation released was blown into the ocean. Radioactive contamination of the sea sounds dreadful, but because oceans naturally contain large amounts of radioactive materials, the net increase in oceanic radioactivity is minuscule.


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  • GarandFan

    But…but…but..the lemmings have to have something to WORRY about!

  • MartinLandauCalrissian

    Wasn’t Godzilla supposed to rise up out of the sea because of this?

  • Commander_Chico

    Yeah the Japanese overreacted by closing all their nuke plants. I doubt anyone will be moving near that Fukushima nuke plant though, which is a big loss of real estate value.

    • The Germans reacted by closing down seven, and deciding to go to all solar and wind by 2022.

      Gotta watch for those tsunamis, after all. They’re sneaky things, especially far inland…

      • Silly former Axis powers…

        • Commander_Chico

          Right, I was thinking the same thing, they both overreacted in the same way.

  • Unless there was radioactive matter in the form of dust, powder, ash or anything else that could be carried by the wind, there wasn’t much, if any, danger that radioactive matter would travel away from the nuclear power facilities.

    Also, water is a natural barrier to radiation. Twenty-four inches of water is the equivalent to one inch of lead, enough to reduce a radiation level to one-tenth its original level. So, it was a best-case scenario for any wind-carried radioactive matter to be carried out to sea.

    • Depends on the type of radiation.

      Alpha is stopped by the dead layer of skin.

      Beta by a single sheet of paper.

      24″ of water or other hydrogenous material is one tenth thickness (reducing flux to 1/10 the original value) for Neutron radiation. For Gamma, quite a bit more.

      Conversely, for Gamma 2″ of Pb is one tenth thickness.