Category Archives: Earthquakes

The Japanese Nuclear Catastrophe

By now most of you have probably heard of the Japanese nuclear disaster. A huge earthquake, one of the largest of the last 200 years, hit Japan, plus a gigantic tsunami. The tsunami breached 40 foot seawalls and melted them like sandcastles at high tide. The earthquake and tsunami killed ~17,000 people – ~7,000 are officially dead and ~10,000 are missing and probably dead. Almost everyone died from drowning in the tsunami, since Japan has the strictest earthquake standards on Earth. Drowning must be a Hell of a way to go.

The disaster completely creamed a nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan, which is right on the coast. The plant was nailed first by the earthquake and then by the tsunami. The result has been a catastrophe. Several of the reactors are in partial meltdown. Partial meltdown is really a misnomer. A meltdown is a meltdown. There are full meltdowns and partial meltdowns. A full meltdown is when the reactor completely melts down. In a partial meltdown, the reactor only partly melts down. Either way though, the reactor melts down.

This interview with Michio Kaku, a famous US physicist who has a popular radio show and writes popular books, is one of the few sensible things I have seen written on the catastrophe. Right now, the news is full of breathless reports about efforts to cool the melting down reactors off by dumping water on them with helicopters. They are also spraying water on them with fire trucks. From the news, you get the impression that this is actually supposed to work. According to Kaku, it’s pointless. He says it’s like shooting a squirt gun at a forest fire.

Also, all of the talk of a meltdown is somewhat misplaced. Even if the reactors melt down completely, they are still entombed on their concrete and steel shells, so the radiation can’t escape. The problem is that the shells around three of the reactors have already cracked from heat and repeated explosions.

He also points out that there are limits to what the brave workers trying to save the day can do. There are scores of workers working actually inside and around the plant with little protective gear. There is pretty good protective gear that can be worn around hot reactors, but the problem is that the gear really warms you up, and it’s already very hot inside the reactor, so you can’t wear the full outfit.

The radiation being emitted in and near the reactor is the equivalent of 2,000 chest X-rays/24 hours. That’s nearly lethal as it is. I am afraid that some of these heroic workers are going to sicken or die as a result of their effort.

As radiation levels rise, Kaku points out, at some point, it’s just too hot radiation-wise to send workers in. If you sent any workers in at at all, they would have to go in as a suicide, or should I say kamikaze mission. Either that or just abandon ship and pull all the workers out of there.

Five days ago, Kaku suggested that the only remaining option was probably to bury the reactors in 30,000 tons of concrete, boric acid and sand. This was the fate of the reactor at Chernobyl. Wild.

A couple of days before the reactor mess, as gas prices were skyrocketing in the US due to the Libyan civil war, Republicans were all over the airwaves calling for a massive increase in nuclear power in the US as an antidote to rising fuel prices. As you can’t run a vehicle on nuclear power, I don’t understand their grandstanding. Two days later, Fukushima hit, and the Republicans are now eating their words.

Well, they ought to be, but instead they are on counteroffensive about how nuclear power really is safe, safe, safe, safe. Yeah right. We are told that only a couple score died at Chernobyl. Actually, deaths are Chernobyl have ranged from 400,000-1 million and are apparently ongoing. Out of a vast pool of nearly a million workers sent in to clean p the mess, ~12% of them are already dead, killed by radiation.

But we are told that Three Mile Island didn’t kill a soul. That’s probably not true, but no one knows. Afterward, a wave of strange illnesses swept through Central Pennsylvania, including large tumors that grew very rapidly. Many animals, domesticated and wild, died. Whole flocks of birds dropped out of the sky.

In the best case scenario, Fukushima is already worse than TMI. That’s not good.

After all this, maybe you want to know how I feel about nuclear power. How about we in the US quit building these damned things for starters? As far as shutting down existing ones, I am less certain. I will have to see how this Fukushima mess plays out.

Ian Walsh has a very provocative piece noting that he is still pro-nuclear power even if it kills. He figures it’s either that or global warming via fossil fuels and global warming is going to kill a Hell of a lot of humans by itself. An interesting POV, and I have no comment on the matter.


Filed under Asia, Earthquakes, Environmentalism, Eurasia, Global Warming, History, Japan, Modern, Mother Nature, NE Asia, Politics, Regional, Republicans, Russia, Science, Tsunamis, US, US Politics

Video of the Tsunami from Japan

Video is on the video site.

Really frightening video of the tsunami that followed the earthquake in Japan. Notice where the water level is at the beginning of the video and then see where it is at the end of the video. I think maybe you can see a man riding on a piece of flotsam about halfway through the video, but I’m not sure.

They say that 10,000 died in the earthquake/tsunami. Do we know how many were killed by the earthquake itself and how many were drowned in the tsunami?

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Filed under Asia, Earthquakes, Japan, Mother Nature, NE Asia, Regional, Tsunamis

“On The Ground in Haiti,” by Alpha Unit

New Alpha Unit on the Haiti catastrophe. I like Doctors Without Borders. A great organization.

Fractures. Burns. Open wounds. Amputations. These are some of the injuries and surgical necessities being dealt with in Haiti by Doctors Without Borders. They are reporting that they are now treating gunshot wounds. Understandably, violence has been on the increase in the aftermath of the earthquake that struck on January 12.

Not only has Doctors Without Borders set up hospitals in Port-au-Prince, they have paid special attention to western Haiti, location of the quake’s epicenter, where the devastation has resulted in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps. People are sleeping in the streets. So far there is very little help for them.

It’s all over the news that Doctors Without Borders, which already had a presence in Haiti, has had difficulty landing some of their cargo planes carrying surgical equipment and surgical teams. Apparently there is great confusion in giving planes the necessary clearance. According to Benoit Leduc, operations manager for Haiti, there isn’t a “smooth liaison” in decision making between the United States military and the United Nations.

Doctors Without Borders has been in the middle of humanitarian crises like this one since its founding in 1971. A group of French doctors created it after the Nigerian Civil War of 1967 to 1970. The southeastern region of Nigeria had broken off to form the independent nation of Biafra.

France had been the only major country to support Biafra (France wasn’t exactly neutral in all this; it had its own interests in the conflict.) Some French doctors had volunteered with the Red Cross to work in hospitals in the region. But the volunteers found themselves under attack by the Nigerian army, and also saw abuses against civilians.

A principle dear to the Red Cross was neutrality. It did not allow itself to take sides in any hostilities or inject itself into religious, political, or ideological disputes. These doctors wanted to focus solely on the needs of victims, without being beholden to appearances of “not taking sides.”

The group, in fact, does not take sides. But as they learned long ago, unfortunately, humanitarian groups have been attacked if ruling powers perceived them to be doing so.

Of course, Haiti is a different story. The enemy here seems to be the chaos following the devastation of last week’s earthquake. Life-saving endeavors proceed in spite of it.


Filed under Alpha Unit, Caribbean, Death, Earthquakes, Guest Posts, Haiti, Health, Illness, Latin America, Medicine, Mother Nature, Public Health, Regional

Tsunami Kills 134 People in Samoa

An incredibly huge 7.9-8.3 magnitude earthquake hit the South Pacific early on Tuesday.

The tsunami caused some waves that were 5 feet above height, and there were deaths from the tsunami in both American Samoa and Western Samoa, over 100 deaths in Western Samoa and 34 deaths in American Samoa. 1 New Zealander, 3 Koreans and 1 Australian were among the victims. 6 Australians and 1 Koreans were still missing. 5% of the Australians living in Samoa were either killed or missing. Another 145 people were injured and whole villages were wiped out.

Fautasi was one village that was completely obliterated. There were at least 5 dead in the village, and the death toll there could go into the 100’s in that village alone. The village of Salesatele was destroyed, and 37 bodies have been found there.

A reporter saw at least 20 bodies in the southeastern town of Lalomanu. The town and surrounding region were flattened. There were 7-8 dead in Malaela, and many are missing. There were also many dead in Vailoa and Aleipata.

The village of Sau Sau Beach Fale was wiped out. There were also an unknown number of deaths in Talamoa. 40 bodies had been brought to the local hospital in Apia. 20 bodies were seen in a hospital in the city of Upolu. 100 bodies were reported from the southern coast alone and the total was rising all the time.

Tsunamis were recorded at Apia and Pago Pago in American Samoa. Tsunami waves 15-20 feet high struck Tutuila Island, where Pago Pago is, and moved up to 1.6 miles inland. The National Park Service office on the island was completely obliterated. 80% of the park workers are volunteers are missing.

Hawaii was spared by the tsunami, but waves 1-2 feet higher than normal hit the California coast a couple of hours ago.


Filed under American Samoa, Earthquakes, Mother Nature, Pacific, Tsunamis, Western Samoa