Japan Earthquake

No doubt you've all seen it already, but I just spent most of the night watching the coverage. At somewhere around 10pm PST, a massive earthquake registering 8.9 struck 80 miles off the coast of Japan. The initial quake itself did huge amounts of damage across a wide area and has left some 20 million people without power. There are reports of fires burning out of control all over the country.

However, by far the worst of it has come from the tsunami the quake triggered. Estimates vary widely from as small as 9 feet to as large at 33 feet high. Some of the video that's been shown is just mind boggling and difficult to even put into words. The pic I chose here doesn't even begin to describe it. There's reports of whole towns being completely destroyed.

About an hour ago, the NOAA West Coast & Alaska Tsunami Warning Center issued a tsunami warning for the entire state of Hawaii and the west coast of the United States, from the California-Mexico border all the way up to Alaska. There are other reports that the entire Pacific rim is under a tsunami warning as a result of this quake. From what I was able to gather before turning off the news for the night, Hawaii is reported to be expecting a tsunami front as high as 9 feet. Hawaii has already issued evacuation orders for all low lying areas and ordered people to move to higher ground. Judging by the initial size in Japan, when that tsunami reaches our west coast we could be looking at something as high as 4 feet in some areas. Or, as these things sometimes happen, we may get nothing. Our local media has chosen poorly and isn't even covering the story at all - much less doing their duty and reporting the fact that our own beaches are covered by this warning. Although we appear to have plenty of time as the tsunami front isn't expected in the Los Angeles area until 8am PST and our coastline rises sharply off the water.

For any of you who might be wondering, no, I'm nowhere near the coast and wouldn't be affected. It certainly does give one pause to remember just how insignificant we are when compared to forces of this magnitude.
"It is pointless to resist, my son." -- Darth Vader
"Resistance is futile." -- The Borg
"Mother's coming for me in the dragon ships. I don't like these itchy clothes, but I have to wear them or it frightens the fish." -- Thurindil

Well. I guess that's that then.

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Posted on Mar 11, 2011 4:17 am by Samson in: , | 61 comment(s) [Closed]
Has your local media not covered the story? The new stations I watch went nuts. Well, actually, they played the live television broadcast being sent out in Japan to try and keep people over there informed about what to do, since that's the best that was really around (because otherwise they'd have to do something themselves and it'd be full of speculation and mistakes because no-one really knows exactly how big and bad its been). Which was somewhat boring. Epic videos though of the Tsunami washing over that city with the huge boats all strewn across the waterfront.

These events around the Japan though aren't that unexpected, at lest for seismologists. The island is built on the junction of three tectonic plates and hasn't experience an earthquake in a very long time, leading some seismologists to dub places like Tokyo 'a city waiting to die'. And of course, in reality they're just lucky the quake happened off shore rather than underneath a city. Well maybe 'lucky' might be the wrong word at the moment, but they're certainly not as hard hit as they could've been.

And I hope you guys don't have any trouble with the wave that's coming your way. It sounds like it shouldn't be to bad, but, you never know.

No, last night our local media wasn't even broadcasting news of any sort. They were running the late night talk shows as usual. Nobody picked up the story here until some time this morning and then only talked about what happened in Japan and no mention of tsunamis heading our way. Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC were all glued to the live feeds coming from Japan though.

Hawaii apparently got off light, not much happened there once the tsunami hit. Washed out a road or two but nothing major. Here in California, the harbor in Crescent City up by the border with Oregon was destroyed. Further south in Santa Cruz, the tsunami sank a bunch of boats in some marina. I know that something came ashore closer to where I live but nobody is mentioning exactly what. Nothing serious enough I guess. Wouldn't have affected me though, I'm 50 miles inland and 800 feet up.

Local media was more interested in hearing Obama lie about the budget with some big press conference he held around 10am our time. Nobody even asked about Japan, which I found rather disturbing. Oh, and Charlie Sheen. I guess we can't get enough of him either.

samson said:

Here in California, the harbor in Crescent City up by the border with Oregon was destroyed. Further south in Santa Cruz, the tsunami sank a bunch of boats in some marina.

Not bad for a four foot wave though. :shrug:

I'm 50 miles inland and 800 feet up

Funny, I'm nearly three times as far from the ocean as you are but only half the elevation. And I'm on a high ground by Australian standards.

I don't know about local media, but AP's been going completely nuts over it. Something like 300 dead in Tokyo and nearly 150 more still missing. I thought I also heard that the Tsunami hit Alaska as well as California/Oregon and Hawaii. Also, did you catch the news that about six hours ago a second earthquake hit Tokyo measuring 6.6 on the Richter scale causing buildings to sway? And, apparently, they've declared a state of emergency on a second nuclear power plant as of about an hour ago as well. It sure looks like someone upstairs isn't very happy with Japan right now...

Yeah, Alaska got hit in some remote place with a 5 foot wave. They never did tell us how big the wave was here. Supposedly the one that hit Crescent City was 8 feet.

Japan has had dozens of huge aftershocks in the 6 point range and last night had already seen one at 7.4. They've got 4 commuter trains that have simply vanished, so chances are those are all out at sea now. Some airport near Sendai got swamped by the tsunami and we saw that live on TV.

The nuclear plant thing is rather disturbing, but hardly unexpected. Last I'd heard the major one that lost its cooling system was seriously worried that there might be a meltdown in the core. They already vented radioactive steam into the atmosphere. .... Just checked, apparently both plants that are having issues are in danger of suffering meltdowns.

And unsurprisingly this time yesterday they were assuring everyone that it was the nuclear plants were all fine. Hmm, not a good time to be in Japan (like the friend of the guy who just installed the upgrades to my computer).

Apparently wasn't a good time to be in Crescent City either if you were the one guy who got swept out to sea there.

Well, at least it was just the one photographer who got swept off his feet by his love of risky photography. ;)

(Is even an 8 foot wave still actually qualified as a tsunami? To most surfers that's not even big enough to qualify as a "big wave". (I know, the term tsunami refers to the fact that the wave was caused by an underwater event rather than wind or tide or whatnot... but that's totally not the point. ;))

For the Japanese side of this even though.. between the earthquakes, tsunamis, and meltdowns. I'd say they seriously need a new SimMayor... at the least. :innocent:

Seriously? I'm just REALLY glad that I'm not over there right now, and I can't help but have some concerns for what possible impact might exist for the rest of the world from a total meltdown of two nuclear power plants back to back. That's the aspect of this that has me watching the news.

A tsunami behaves more like a combination of a fast tide and a hurricane surge. Comparing one to normal waves just doesn't work. That's why even a 10 inch tsunami can be considered a huge problem for low lying areas.

I don't think there will be a huge impact on the rest of the world.

Uh... and I guess we're going to find out soon enough what impact it has since one of the reactors just blew itself to pieces on live TV. There's still 4 other reactors that haven't blown up yet but it's not looking good for containing them.

Edited by Samson on Mar 12, 2011 3:13 am

Uh... and I guess we're going to find out soon enough what impact it has since one of the reactors just blew itself to pieces on live TV. There's still 4 other reactors that haven't blown up yet but it's not looking good for containing them.

Not good. Not good at all. Lesson learned here for everyone; Nuclear Power stations are great so long as they aren't placed in a spot that can get hit by a tsunami.

A couple of other not nearly as urgent stats:

CNN reports that the quake moved Japan's main island 8 feet. Didn't say which direction, but damn, the force needed to move a whole island has to be ginormous.

They're also reporting that this quake was large enough to shift the Earth's axis by 4 inches. Much like the quake in Chile did last year. One wonders if the axis got shifted further in the same direction or if the previous movement has now been canceled out.

Or maybe to not put your reactors near shorelines that are adjacent to fault lines, prettyfly?

So, now that the one reactor has melted down and there are four others that likely could next... when a nuclear power plant goes into full meltdown, we know from past experiences that they do some major radiation damage to the local area but do they essentially count as a small nuclear bomb such that two-five of them in close proximity, both location and timing, would cause fallout on a level that the rest of us will ever notice? Even on a scale that requires years to measure?

Well, it was an 8.9, that's pretty major force. But yes, to say that it moved the entire main island of Japan by 8 feet definitely puts it into perspective, especially considering we're not talking about some little sandpile with a few trees and huts that the SS Minnow beached up on, we're talking about the main island of Japan which, as far as I know, dwarfs the main island of Hawaii. It's still smaller than either half of New Zealand, but...

Hmm, I suppose if it went exactly the opposite direction of last year's shift it might cancel it out, but it could very easily have gone in any of 359 degrees worth of other directions and merely compounded the shift. One does have to wonder how many inches (feet/yards/miles?) that axis has to shift for it to make it a serious condition...

When a reactor melts down, what happens depends on whether or not the fuel rods are exposed to the outside. Reports seem to indicate that although the building housing the reactor exploded, the metal encasement that actually contains the reactor itself is still intact. So the fuel rods are not yet directly exposed to the outside. What's most likely in this scenario is that the fuel would heat up to the point of becoming molten and simply fall out the bottom of the chamber and sink into the ground.

If the rods end up exposed to the outside air, you end up with Chernobyl. The reactor itself explodes and scatters material around the site and into the atmosphere. That would be the worst case scenario.

Considering it's been over 24hrs since the reactors lost cooling, I don't think we're going to see another meltdown incident. It sounds like they've managed to get the other 4 under enough control to avert disaster. Of course that could change in the face of continuing aftershocks in the area.

We aren't going to notice the difference in radiation this far away from Japan even if all 5 reactors were to explode. Reactors don't behave the same way bombs do. Besides, we've done a fine job of radiating ourselves since 1945 with all the above ground testing we did after the war.

That makes sense. I guess they really have learned something from 3 Mile Island and Chernobyl and are doing a better job of shielding their fuel rods these days. It's those two that come to mind when you think of a melt down though.

Well, after 24 hours, hopefully they have managed to avert crises, but I suppose it's just as possible they're too busy trying to avert one to be able to get updates to the media too.

I suppose I'll just have to take your word for it that they don't behave the same way that bombs do, but I would think 5 Chernobyl style melt downs would have an atmospheric effect that we'd be able to measure from here none the less. Yeah, well, our own self-inflicted irradiation only adds urgency to the idea that we really don't need any more of it from external sources. :lol:

Well keep this in mind. Chernobyl was run by incompetent boobs who built reactors all over Russia with no containment buildings and improper shielding. So when something went wrong, it didn't take long for it to become a catastrophe. Chernobyl didn't require intervention from a natural disaster either.

Three Mile Island is a much safer design despite it having been built in the 60s/70s. Pressure vessels, containment buildings, redundant cooling systems, automatic shutdown systems, you name it. It was the best tech we had at the time. Yes, the reactor there melted, but it didn't even breech the pressure vessel. The radiation leak was the worst it got, the facility is still intact, although obviously unusable now. Again, keep in mind, no natural disaster took place there.

Japan has 5 reactors in serious trouble. One of which has now lost its outer containment building due to what was apparently a hydrogen gas explosion. Nobody knows how that got there but what's done is done. So far this is the worst that's happened and all it's done is discharge some radioactive vapors into the atmosphere. According to Japanese officials, the core hasn't actually melted down just yet, and they're in the process of filling that reactor with seawater and boric acid. So it sounds like they've got it under control.

Surely the fact that it took an 8.9 earthquake followed by a 30 foot tsunami to get us here speaks to the engineering marvels that are 1970s Japanese reactors. They've got 54 other ones in the country that weren't bothered at all, including several that are along the eastern coastline. If all that happens is one blows its outer containment building off, I'd say that more than proves the safety of this kind of power generation.

From what I've been reading, more modern reactors designed and built in the last 30 years are even safer than these. Although you'd be hard pressed to find any that have been built here in the US since Three Mile Island. Disasters like this only make the enviro-nazi types more vocal about how we're all an inch from being turned into ghouls.

An interesting short description of what I'm getting at: http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/03/11/nuclear-meltdown-race-to-save-reactors-in-japan/#comment-618607

This appears to be a very good source for what's actually going on: http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/RS_Battle_to_stabilise_earthquake_reactors_1203111.html

Edited by Samson on Mar 12, 2011 3:30 pm
I didn't mean to call into question the integrity of the folks who are currently trying to resolve the crises, nor to question the technology of nuclear reactors in general, nor even to imply that the rectors in Japan were shoddy workmanship. If there's anything Japan's truly excelled at over the last century it's copying and advancing technology. I was questioning what would happen if five reactors all went into full meltdown and saying that the term meltdown, in conjunction with nuclear power plants, conjures memories for me of the catastrophes at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. I really wasn't intentionally trying to draw a parallel between them, although, I imagine the parallel might actually exist for Three Mile Island to a lesser extent. I definitely agree that the mere fact that it took an 8.9 earthquake followed by a 30+ foot tsunami followed by aftershocks measuring 6+ to get to this point does indeed speak highly of the structural integrity and sophistication of their existing safety measures.

Three Mile Island wasn't a catastrophe though. There was a small radiation leak to the atmosphere, nothing more. The melt in the reactor never breached the pressure vessel. The media totally overblew the scale of the accident there. There was never any danger even if the fuel had melted through to the outer containment shell. Further reading from the comments in the first linked site show that when they went in in the 1990s to see the damage, the fuel had actually spread out on the floor of the vessel and dissipated all its heat due to the increased surface area.

Chernobyl became the mess it did because the meltdown there DID breach the pressure vessel but since there was no outer containment shell, it caused a thermal explosion and spread that material over a huge area.

Comparing TMI or what's going on in Japan to Chernobyl is how you'll be able to tell which media sources are full of shit and which ones are giving you the straight story.

All of the reactors in Japan have already been SCRAM'd. The control rods are in place. All they're dealing with now is residual decay heat from the radioactivity of the fuel that had already undergone fission. While that does usually take several days to deal with, it's not going to cause a runaway reaction like it would if the reactor were still running and lost coolant.

The reason I'm hammering this point so hard is because like it or not, nuclear power is our only viable answer to the loss of fossil fuel. Wind and solar simply won't cut it. We can't afford to allow the media to hype this up into an end of the world scenario and set us back another 50 years.

samson said:

The reason I'm hammering this point so hard is because like it or not, nuclear power is our only viable answer to the loss of fossil fuel. Wind and solar simply won't cut it. We can't afford to allow the media to hype this up into an end of the world scenario and set us back another 50 years

Well, y'know, there's eastern European countries that are going broke paying for gas because they've been forced to shut down their Nuclear Power Plants by the EU because of fears they could become another Chernobyl (which is not only sad but an enormous double standard; apparently France is allowed to have nuclear power but the poorer European nations aren't).

Nuclear is going to have to be the power of the future, and your right, the media needs to come to terms with the reality of the power source rather than spewing out this fear installing propaganda about the 'evils' of it.

Well, it may have been all about the media over-hyping it, but look at all the movies it spawned by triggering the imagination of Hollywood. ;)

I'm glad to hear that all the reactors over there have already been SCRAM'd, that make a huge difference in itself.

I'm still pretty unclear on why wind/solar won't cut it. We don't have an unlimited supply of nuclear fuel either. In fact, as I understand it, our supply of nuclear material that can be used for power generation (and military purposes) is not enough to last much longer than our fossil fuels. It's not like the sun is likely to die off on us within the lifetimes of our great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandchildren... and we'll most likely still have wind as long as we have atmosphere. Both of those resources can be used entirely "cleanly" and the power generated from them is just as transportable as power generated from any other source. So, what's the problem with them?

On a totally unrelated side note that I thought you might find of mild amusement/interest, I suggest you take a quick peek at MudStandards and see what make of the latest ...differences.

Edited by Conner on Mar 12, 2011 4:56 pm
Why prettyfly, you :ninja: ninja-master... ;)

I do agree that the media should probably just come to terms with nuclear power already because it is very likely to be a prevalent factor for years to come yet and it's not nearly as bad as they'd like to make it out, but as I just said to Samson, I'm rather unclear as to why solar and wind can't work...

I also agree that there's a serious problem with not allowing certain countries nuclear power, be it for fear of weapon usage or of another Chernobyl, but I believe that the rationale behind the decision is valid, it's just the solution that lacks. What should be happening would be to have those making such decisions sending folks who can ensure that the power plants are built correctly and to ensure that the nuclear fuel being used isn't weapons-grade. But that's just my own position.

Wind and solar are unreliable in climates not suited for it. We certainly can't rely on it as a national power grid. Solar requires a great deal of homeowner involvement as well in order to be of much use. Here in CA it would help but not eliminate the need for being on the traditional grid. We also have plenty of spots for wind as well, but nowhere near enough to power an entire state our size on. It just isn't enough.

Nuclear is the only energy source we have that's reliable, clean, safe, and can handle the needs of the nation as a whole. If we combine that with conversion to hydrogen powered cars, we could survive just fine on our own oil reserves to use to make plastics. Besides, if you look into it, you'll find that future reactors based on "GEN IV" technology will use thorium as fuel instead of uranium. Thorium is far more abundant and, ironically, is one byproduct of burning coal. It's found in coal ash.

Also, we have plenty of nuclear missiles with high grade refined material already in use. If we were to dismantle SOME of our arsenal it would extend our viable fuel supply by decades, if not perhaps 200 years or more. Which should be plenty of time to convert from fission power to fusion power.

Clicked link to mudstandards.org - Firefox says it doesn't exist. That's quite a change :P

I'll bet if we don't discard solar and wind completely but instead establish solar and wind farms to supplement our existing grid and continue to add nuclear power plants that are Gen IV we could extend our nuclear supply just as far without dismantling any of our nukes. (Not that dismantling some of them for use in power plants wouldn't be a good thing, once we've determined they really are obsolete because no one else has 'em either anymore...)

Yeah, took me by surprise too. I guess the inactivity for so long finally wore on someone's patience.. surely the domain didn't expire already.

Solar and wind power will undoubtedly have their place, but I doubt that they will be able to provide a baseload that will be able to run society before either
a) Climate Change screws over the modern world
or if you don't believe in that
b) we run out of fossil fuels
So we're really going to be left with nuclear to turn to.

I'm reserved to the possibility that solar could be developed well enough in the future to power the world, but for now that seems to be a long way off.

Take note that I wasn't discounting nuclear at all, though in the long run I do believe it'll be supplanted by either solar/wind or some other source we haven't realized yet at all.

Charlie Sheen [Anon] said:
Comment #25 Mar 12, 2011 10:15 pm
Here we go; a certain politcial party is going to use this event (just like the oil spill) to limit and curtail expanding nuclear power plant expansion/development. Look, I'm all for alternative energy; however, it will not meet our countries going power requirements. Lets get serious, does anyone believe wind farms or solar arrays will power cities like New York or Chicago 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. No way is America going to accept rolling blackouts throughout the country. Its been decades since the last US nuclear power plant was built and our country requires more power to support its progress. Engineers have designed significantly safer reactors, expanded computer monitoring and improved fail safe systems; yet, no new nuclear plants are being created/built. Are there risks with nuclear power, yes; however, this country must not fail to meet its growing power demands. We have to increase domestic power generation and expanding nuclear power must occur. The US simply cannot compete in the modern global environment by utilizing nation wide rolling blackouts or limiting our power consumption while we search for the "holy grail of power sources." We are the greatest country on Earth, we have the skills to build safe nuclear power plants; its time for the US to build and expand our nuclear power generation. Funny thing is, expanding US domestic nuclear power generation will power the testing, development and manufacturing of future power generation platforms.

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