Sunday, July 6, 2014
Failure of Earth Quake Preparedness in Japan
Failure of Earth Quake Preparedness in Japan . A magaquake of the magnitude of the one that hit japan in March 2011 was not entirely unexpected. It is known that Japan has been hit by many quakes of this magnitude just not too many in recorded history. The history of these mega-quakes is instead recorded in the land forms of the country. Japan is one of the most earthquake prone locations on the face of the earth. Probably every single day of the year there is some seismic activity on the Islands or in the immediate vicinity of Japan. Major quakes have occurred with a long historic record of death and destruction. Very extreme quakes caused high rises to fall like dominoes back in Tokyo in 1927 and more recently destroyed the port city of Kobe Japan. Many towns and cities in Japan have been repeatedly rebuilt after devastating quakes including Tokyo and Kobe among many others. The Japanese made earthquake preparedness a major concern of their government . Being prepared for earthquakes was an every day life exercise for many. School children in Japan learn what to do in case of an earth quake as part of the educational curriculum. When looking at the photographs of the horrible tsunami that destroyed much of the northern east coast of the main island of Japan in March 2011 people lack some knowledge of what they are looking at to properly interpret the photographs. In a number of photographs and videos of the Tsunamis you see water coming over a wall. Those walls were very expensive tsunami protection walls built to protect the towns you see being destroyed in the photos and videos. Most of the walls in the photos and videos seem to be holding up against the force of the water but not all of them. Unfortunately the walls were not built high enough even if they were strong enough to resist a megathrust earthquake tsunami. Thinking they were prepared because of the existence of the walls was a false sense of security for towns and communities that built up the coastal real estate in low lying areas because 1. the land was valuable as is often the case with water front or near water front property and 2. because it would seem to be protected by such well built massive walls designed to protect against a tsunami what seems over 20 feet high in some of the photographs. Later photographs of some of the tsunami protection walls after the earth quake and tsunami show that they were a complete waste of money and even counter productive because in some cases after being breached by the water wave from the ocean the water was held behind the walls to drown the urban areas that were supposed to be protected. The reporters on the live tv reports were talking about how well built the homes and buildings were in not falling down during the quake. Some were perfectly able to float on the tsunami wave intact as the quality earthquake proof construction that made them nice ridged boxes. The design of the homes may have been correct in how they were built just not necessarily where they were built. Had villages and towns been located to somewhat higher elevations there would have been a lot more surviving homes along the coastal areas. It maybe the tendency we see in our own society for towns to be relocated to their historic areas where the lines of lots and other demarcations on the landscape already exist. Not being mentioned is the fact that not too many homes and buildings caught fire in the quake. One of the reasons for this probably was the homes and buildings tended to be serviced with electric power for heat instead of natural gas lines. A lot of urban areas hit by quakes suffer a lot more fires than seen in this one in Japan. This is one reason that one can still justify the existence of nuclear power that was favored by the people and government to contradict the anti-nuclear critics after the nuclear accidents occurred on the Japanese coast. Had it not been for the close proximity to nuclear power there may have been greater property looses because of fires started when gas lines broke. There were a few fires just not as many as there could have been. It was not the hot and dry season Other systems worked well in Japan. The Shaking was of long endurance in the initial quake and most of the buildings held their ground. Tokyo seemed to come out nearly unscathed. The early warning system caused most trains and subways to stop just before the quake might have caused more damage with the trains being in motion. This quake if it had it's epicenter off the coast of Tokyo might have been much more deadly because Tokyo Bay might have funneled the tsunami into the central low lying districts of Tokyo. It might have flooded subways and inundated the important port and industrial areas. Tokyo looked something like a miracle city after the big quake . It was far enough from the epicenter to receive lower magnitude shaking although it was the same length of time in duration. The way it looks, Tokyo was just lucky and it could have been a whole lot worse if the full strength of the shaking occurred there and if Tokyo Bay captured the Tsunami waters. That quake may still be on its way. It is worrisome because Tokyo bay is it self a sort of earth form stress mark from repeated ancient quakes and active fault lines. Tokyo actually sits atop of three separate moving tectonic plates and the bay has undersea stress marks you can see just off shore on the continental shelf . Unfortunately this latest quake north of Tokyo may have further stressed the other two plates having moved as much as 13 ft in the time span of the earth quake. Either energy was loaded onto the other two plates or some of it was released. If loaded that is very bad news for Tokyo and the more than 30 million people in the metropolitan area.. The problem is that the energy of a mega-thrust quake may help to beget an even larger quake just off shore or even with an epicenter directly under Tokyo or the bay. Even Larger? Yes. That is because the other two plates along the subduction zone off the continental self of Japan's east coast are moving at a similar rate of x number of centimeters per year under the Japanese chain of islands and at Tokyo the stress marks under the ocean surface (you can see on google earth) show that there is also rotation. In one of the last major Tokyo quakes not only did the Tsunami appear and the initial shaking but Mt Fuji to the Southwest came alive with an eruption of ash or lava. There is a cluster of volcanoes just southwest of Tokyo and there is a volcanic chain of islands that follow the the two plates where one overlies the other heading out to sea to the east. It is a very active area which seems to be under at least as much stress or compression as that which was released in the mega thrust quake to the north. Assuming that an even larger quake is possible centered around Tokyo there is no such thing as disaster preparedness. With the radiation threat from the failed nuclear power plant Tokyo evacuation maps have appeared. Evacuating over 30 million people with maybe a minute to spare before shock waves catch up to the speed of the electronic transmission means there is no such thing as preparedness for a full strength mega thrust quake. No place on earth is prepared for another megathrust quake. The recent similar quake in Chile in 2010 also got high praises for preparedness and generally well built structures so there does seem to be some light in both Japan and Chile to suggest that preparedness and building retrofit design are worth while. The energy may now be at a new breaking point just further down the Japanese coast possibly right off shore of Tokyo. it could happen any time or a lot later. Newton's law that an equal and opposite reaction applies plus any pre-existing built up energy on the same fault lines. Systems by themselves can be problematic. It seems that just having a system can cause system failure. The failure at the crippled nuclear power plant that now appears to have become a full nuclear meltdown possibly maybe because of too much planning. Is such a thing possible? Yes because everyone involved at the nuclear plant seemed to want to follow the instruction guide book rules instead of finding some alternative means of dealing with the problems at hand and fast. One would think that a portable generator or power plant of the sort that the US is able to set up in Iraq for an instant military base would have been made available to the Japanese engineers at the disabled nuclear plant. All of the built in system fail safe systems failed at the plant. The chicken of government seemed to be running in circles with no head. It maybe that the plant mechanics and engineers were too proud to ask for help when they could have? It does seem that the objective should have been to cool the reactors in the plant by any means possible as fast as possible. Sure politicians don't understand the complexities of how the nuclear power plants they voted to build actually work. The systems failure may turn out to be the very worst of the longer term consequences of this and future disasters. .