Geog 315: Assignment 2 Literature review
The Tohoku magnitude-9 earthquake occurred on March 11th 2011. Its epicenter was on the undersea floor of the Pacific Ocean, about 45 miles (72 kilometers) east of Tohoku in northeastern Japan, and at a depth of about 20 miles (32 km). The cause was the sudden movement at the junction of two tectonic plates – the Eurasian Plate rising over the Pacific Plate. The tremors lasted about six minutes, and caused a huge and devastating tsunami. Huge waves reached Japan’s coastline less than an hour after the earthquake itself, and in some locations travelled inland as far as six miles (10km). In total, around 217 square miles (561 square km) was flooded, and some 18,000 people died – in most cases they were drowned. The destruction made around 300,000 people homeless. To appreciate the scale of the earthquake’s effects, note that about 250 miles (400km) of Japan’s coastline dropped by about two feet (0.6 metres), and the entire main Japanese island of Honshu shifted to eight feet (2.4 metres) to the east (Oskin, Aug. 2013).
The earthquake was the largest ever recorded in Japan in more than 130 years of record-keeping, and the world’s fourth largest since 1900 (Benz and Ransom, March 2011).
A particularly frightening consequence was that the tsunami struck the Fukushima nuclear power plant, causing a reactor cooling systems failure, in turn resulting in a nuclear meltdown and an explosion which produced a massive release of radioactive materials into the atmosphere Contamination spread over the surrounding areas of Japan affecting the air and soil. At the date of the Oskin article (Aug. 2013), an estimated 300 tons of radioactive water was continuing to leak into the nearby Pacific, causing adverse effects on the marine life. This nuclear disaster had adverse consequences worldwide. For example, the tsunami reached as far as Chile (11,000 miles or 17,000 km away), causing waves as high as almost seven feet (two metres), and reached Alaska and Hawaii (Oskin, Aug. 2013).
The main focus of the research covered in this paper is to illustrate why alternative forms of energy in Japan such as wind, solar, tidal waves, geothermal and hydroelectric energy production should be considered instead of using nuclear energy in Japan, which is a seismic-prone region. In addition to the literature review included here, an important additional method of research would be to use interviews and questionnaires to gather information about energy production in Japan, from government officials and technical experts. That could provide useful insight into the current views of knowledgeable people in the Japanese population at large, some three years after the events of March 2011, perhaps helping the government in formulating future energy strategies, and steering the country towards wider use of non-nuclear and renewable energy sources.
Literature Review (The Research)
Black Swans and Black Elephants
Nuclear energy is clean and efficient energy. However, it uses nuclear materials that require high expertise and technology that requires high levels of careful handling to safeguard public safety. Nuclear materials released and spread after the Fukushima explosion had more serious and widespread consequences than the earlier Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine. It has been called a “black swan” which means a situation characterized by its high impact, unpredictable in nature and without any sort of expectations. One feature of this incident is that engineers and seismologists had previously warned of impacts of natural disasters on the nuclear power plants in the country. However, no action was taken, and the warnings were for the most part disregarded. This has been depicted as the “black elephant” in that the problem was visible, but no action taken (Moller and Wikman-Svahn, 2011).
Women’s breast milk shows traces of radioactive contaminants
The disastrous event (the explosion) had adverse effects on the environment, causing contamination of the air, water and soil. It produced a radioactive plume that spread to great distances in Japan and beyond. Most of those contaminants become absorbed through biological systems. Humans acquire them by eating, drinking and also breathing in the contaminated air. One example of a contaminant is radioactive iodine that has been found in the breast milk of women. These contaminants are extremely harmful and can cause cancer. Furthermore, by using that milk to feed infants, more and more people are affected. Research on contamination through testing breast milk samples showed that contamination through the air was very widespread in Japan (Unno et al., 2012).
Wild Japanese monkeys contaminated
Another item of evidence indicating the extent of the effects of the Fukushima accident is the level of radioactive materials in Japanese wild monkeys. Scientists have measured concentrations of radioactive radio-caesium from their muscle cells. Taken over time, results show increases in the concentrations of these contaminants. They have also done similar tests with concentrations of these contaminants in the soils. Comparing the two sets of results shows that the concentrations in the muscle cells of the monkeys and in the soils were directly proportional and had been increasing since the disastrous event of March 2011. It appears that the monkeys become contaminated through feeding on tree barks in the forests, in which the trees were contaminated by contaminated water and soil (Hayama et al., 2013).
Impact of the disaster on rural organic farming
The Fukushima nuclear plant event had adverse effects on organic farming in Japan especially in the mostly rural north-eastern part of the country considered as its breadbasket. The nuclear disaster affected food availability, mostly because of their mostly organic methods of farming. Organic farming has an effect of intensifying the contamination through accumulation and by exposure of the crops to more radiation. There were differences in the degree of contamination of humans in the affected areas, caused by the different gender roles assigned to men and women in society. Men were more associated with farming the land and were therefore more susceptible to radioactive contamination compared to women. However, conclusions drawn were considered by the researchers to be inappropriate and misleading. They therefore indicated a need for more examination and development of further conclusions, looking at gender issues in society (Kimura and Katano, 2013).
Gender Equality review after the 2011 disaster
“Disaster Prevention and Reconstruction from a Gender Equal Society Perspective: Lessons from the Great East Japan Earthquake” (2012), is a paper published by the government of Japan. It examines how Japan can make progress towards a more gender-equal society, and takes into account lessons learned from problems arising in the Fukushima disaster because gender equality was lacking (in favor of men). Surveys had found that adverse health impacts were greater for women than for men, yet less consideration was given to the needs of women. Towards the end of the paper it states: “The creation of a gender equal society, then, is very much linked to the realization of a society that can withstand the challenges of disaster.”
Measures by the government to counter pollution
The 2011 incident was a major disaster. The radiation plume spread rapidly, contaminating the soil, water and air, causing massive pollution that posed multiple threats to the local people. The Japanese took care of the situation by first evacuating the most affected people and relocating them in safer and less affected locations. The state of pollution in Japan deteriorated and was compared with the 1960s when Japan was considered the worst polluted place on earth. Because of this, people began to protest, calling for more changes and better pollution controls. As a result, the Japanese government tightened its control measures with regard to safeguarding the peoples’ health and to reduce the risk of another meltdown, by using more advanced technologies. In the event of another disaster, these measures would help counter and control the effects of catastrophic events, which could be even more severe than those of 2011. They also had to tighten their policies with regard to handling nuclear energy production in Japan. Furthermore, they had to close the “nuclear blind spot” in Japanese activism through more research. Additionally, they encouraged more scrutiny, by developing special committees and other groups mandated to come up with strategies that provide preventive measures to avoid such a disastrous event happening (Avenell, 2012).
Measures implemented to reduce contamination
Immediate action was necessary in order to bring the situation under control. The government of Japan initiated measures to decontaminate the area by various means. One positive factor is that the clay content of the soil was very significant in controlling pollution. Clay has the property of absorbing the radioactive caesium. After absorption, these contaminants are held by the clay and cannot be absorbed by plants. For that reason, contamination drawn from the soil is very limited. However, not all parts of the soil are covered with clay and also the contaminated clay has to be removed. The government did this by removing the soil in the locations most affected and washing the soil with water to remove the contaminants, for example at schools in Fukushima and other areas (Ishii et al., 2012).
Resettlement of people in the affected areas
After the accident, evacuations took place to reduce the effects of short term health risks to the people such as the possibility of tumors and other malignant growths being caused. After a while, decontamination took place, removing the short term threats. This provided the government with an opportunity to resettle people in their original locations, since now only the comparatively mild long term threats to the people were present. Control measures such as food control as well as regular testing were coupled with this relocation process (Tsubokura, 2013).
Decontamination - a complex and expensive process
Despite efforts by the government to decontaminate the most affected areas, there had been reports of contamination leaks into the water and soil in the Fukushima area with no evidence of how it is happening and why. This was a major big setback after what the country had been going through, including its major efforts to decontaminate those areas. The levels of leaks had been considered high and could cause serious harm. This was reported as still taking place two years after the accident in 2011. It put the country back to the process of more research and application of technologies to find more effective ways to reduce this contamination. This is a very expensive venture, and it has been estimated that the whole process of decontamination cost the Japanese economy fifty billion US dollars, to ensure a thorough clean up. This would have great implications on the economy, the health sector, as well as its political sector (“Fukushima could have been leaking for two years”, 2013).
Recommendations for improved safety
Various technologies have been used by Japan in the past for safeguarding the risks associated with nuclear energy production, with time resulting in advances in the types and methods of technologies used. However, there were shortcomings during the event of the 2011 earthquake whereby there was inadequate technology to hold the reactors firmly and securely in position and failproof cooling systems to prevent a meltdown. Various suggestions after the event include the use of analytical frameworks such as the “normal accident” conceptual tool by Charles Perrow and “technological systems” by Thomas Parke Hughes. These frameworks blend in the aspect of ecological and technological systems which combine technology, nature, as well as politics into the process of safeguarding nuclear energy production in the country (Pritchard, 2012).
The disastrous event at Fukushima in 2011 cause by an earthquake leading to a tsunami was not just a major catastrophe for Japan and other areas. It had a huge impact that was more or less unpredictable and beyond anyone’s control. However, there had been various warnings about probable earthquakes and their effects on the nuclear power plants but they were disregarded, a situation referred to as the “black elephant”. For this reason the impact was even more devastating than it might otherwise have been, with implications affecting major sectors of the country mainly, the health sector, the economic sector and the political sector. The contamination spread throughout the country, including a number of confirmations that the contamination was present in breast milk, indicating the extent of its spread. Also, traces of contaminants were found in the muscle cells of monkeys, which were found to have originated by them feeding on tree barks, which had absorbed the contaminants from the soil.
This review of available literature has shown some of the shortcomings that come with exploiting nuclear energy for production, especially in a seismic-prone country like Japan. Nuclear energy is a clean and efficient form of energy that is widely used throughout the world as an alternative and environmentally friendly energy source, as opposed to fossil fuels which cause major environmental pollution. However, nuclear energy production involves the use of radioactive materials which are themselves major pollutants with adverse effects if they are unintentionally released. Taking into account the fact that Japan is a seismic-prone region, it is difficult to understand why nuclear plants have been established there. With devastating outcomes such as that in March 2011, establishment of alternative forms of energy is crucial. Safer, cleaner and cheaper forms of energy are mandatory. They include geothermal, hydroelectric, solar, wind and tidal energy. These are far safer methods of energy exploitation that are also cleaner and very environmentally friendly and could easily be viable alternatives to nuclear energy production. Using these sources of energy would go a long way towards preventing catastrophic events such as those in Fukushima, following the earthquake and tsunami.
Avenell, S. (2012). “From Fearsome Pollution to Fukushima: Environmental Activism and the Nuclear Blind Spot in Contemporary Japan.” Environmental History 17(2): 244-276.doi: 10.1093/envhis/emr154
Benz, Harley and Ransom, Clarice, Nassif. ( March 2011). “USGS Updates Magnitude of Japan’s 2011 Tohoku Earthquake to 9.0”. U.S. Geological Survey. Retrieved from: http://www.usgs.gov/newsroom/article.asp?ID=2727&from=rss_home#.U4sFQreKC00
“Disaster Prevention and Reconstruction from a Gender Equal Society Perspective: Lessons from the Great East Japan Earthquake.” (2012). Cabinet Office, Government of Japan. Retrieved from: http://www.gender.go.jp/english_contents/about_danjo/whitepaper/pdf/ewp2012.pdf
“Fukushima could have been leaking for two years”. (2013). TCE: The Chemical Engineer, (866), 12.
Hayama, S., Nakiri, S., Nakanishi, S., Ishii, N., Uno, T., Kato, T., & Omi, T. (2013). “Concentration of Radiocaesium in the Wild Japanese Monkey (Macaca fuscata) over the First 15 Months after the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster”. Plos ONE, 8(7), 1-8. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0068530
Ishii, K. K., Terakawa, A. A., Matsuyama, S. S., Hasegawa, A. A., Nagakubo, K. K., Sakurada, T. T., & Satoh, I. I. (2012). “Measures Against Radioactive Contamination Due to Fukushima First Nuclear Power Plant Accidents Part III: Removing and Decontamination of Contaminated Soil”. International Journal of PIXE, 22(1/2), 13-19. doi:10.1142/S0129083512400323
Kimura, A. H. and Katano, Y. (2013). “Farming after the Fukushima accident: A feminist political ecology analysis of organic agriculture”. Journal of Rural Studies 34: 108-116.
Moller, N. and Wikman-Svahn, P. (2011). “Black Elephants and Black Swans of Nuclear Safety”. Ethics, Policy & Environment 14(3): 273-278. doi: 10.1080/21550085.2011.605853
Oskin, Becky. (Aug. 2013).” Japan Earthquake & Tsunami of 2011: Facts and Information.” Live Science. Retrieved from: http://www.livescience.com/39110-japan-2011-earthquake-tsunami-facts.html
Oughton, H. D. and Howard, J. B. (2012). “The Social and Ethical Challenges of Radiation Risk Management”. Ethics, Policy & Environment, 15:1, 71-76, DOI: 10.1080/21550085.2012.672690
Pritchard, S., B. (2012). “An Envirotechnical Disaster: Nature, Technology, and Politics at Fukushima”. Environmental History 17: 219-243. doi:10.1093/envhis/ems021
Tsubokura, M., Kato, S., Nihei, M., Sakuma, Y., Furutani, T., Uehara, K., & Endo, Y. (2013). “Limited Internal Radiation Exposure Associated with Resettlements to a Radiation-Contaminated Homeland after the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster”. Plos ONE, 8(12), 1. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0081909
Unno, N., Minakami, H., Kubo, T., Fujimori, K., Ishiwata, I., Terada, H., & Yoshimura, Y. (2012). “Effect of the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident on radioiodine (131I) content in human breast milk”. Journal Of Obstetrics & Gynaecology Research, 38(5), 772-779. doi:10.1111/j.1447-0756.2011.01810.x