We go through life always expecting tomorrow to be much like today. Little change expected except for the weather.
Then an incredible disaster like that visited upon Japan this past weekend occurs and one wonders…how could that happen? Here in Louisiana, we know from our own experience in Katrina how suddenly life can change. Despite our experience, it is nearly incomprehensible to witness the destruction of a major, highly developed nation with the world’s third largest economy crippled within moments by a combination of two natural disasters: a magnitude 9.0 earthquake accompanied by a major tsunami, and the potential meltdown of nuclear reactors.
Unlike Haiti, which lacked any preparation for what happened over a year ago, Japan was prepared. Japan constructed its building with strong codes to fortify them against earthquakes. They even constructed protective dikes along the seacoast to secure the region from tsunamis.
They never imagined that an earthquake of this magnitude could occur. Yet, the buildings appeared to have held during the tremors. It was the water that did them in.
Whole communities were destroyed by the incoming waves, families dislocated, and countless people trapped and drowned. The story is still unraveling. Japan will take years to recover from this tragedy.
Now the world must stand witness to the unimaginable. Three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant are on the verge of meltdown! This elevates the problem to world status.
The implications of this for Japan and the entire world are impossible to calculate. Should these containment vessels fail, no one can fully anticipate the outcome. Will portions of Japan become uninhabitable? How many people will be contaminated? Will weather systems spread the radiation around the globe? Will there be long-term problems because of this radiation exposure?
At the same time, every nation is now looking at its own nuclear plants and wondering…what if? Nuclear power accounts for a significant amount of the electricity generated around the globe. Although it is highly unlikely that any would fall victim to such a unique combination of disasters like an earthquake and tsunami, this event does raise security concerns. Could terrorists succeed in cutting off cooling water? Apparently, that is the Achilles heel in these systems. Would it be as simple as that?
Nuclear power is only recently been accepted once again as safe and clean. Even the environmental movement has taken a new look at the process and proclaimed it preferable to coal and fossil fuel generators. Will that now end? Will the Obama Administration declare nuclear power unsafe and refuse to issue permits as they have done with off-shore drilling? In which case, where do we turn for energy? … back to rubbing sticks together?
In addition to all of this, we still have the image of a once powerful Japan on it knees: Millions without housing, food, or water; millions more without power; major industries shut down to conserve what energy exists; infrastructure in shambles; the economy crippled, and what is worse the great unknown… how many perished?
Never before in my lifetime have I witnessed a major nation crippled to such a degree within moments. Furthermore, no one knows what impact this will have on the world’s economy and international relations, especially as Asia is beginning to become a larger player. The Prime Minister of Japan, Naoto Kan, said it best when he reflected that not since World War II had his nation faced such challenges.
The impact of these combined events are impossible to predict. But one thing is for certain…the world has changed!
by Ron Chapman