The Tohoku Earthquake
By Kevin Yang
It was the largest earthquake ever recorded to hit the island nation, measuring to be an incredible 8.9 magnitude. When an earthquake does critical damage to Japan, a nation of “earthquake-veterans”, its major news. It is now around the half-year anniversary of this devastating tragedy we now know as the Tohoku Earthquake, yet the impacts are still being felt across Japan, specifically in Japan’s energy sector.
The infamous Fukushima reactor that was disabled and heavily damaged by the Tohoku Earthquake was one of many nuclear reactors in Japan. According to the World Nuclear Association, nuclear energy provides about 30% of Japan’s electricity. Shortly after the earthquake hit, the Tokyo Electric Power Company laid out a plan to bring the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant back to a stable state known as cold shutdown. In total, the plan is expected to take around 9 months. The first part of the plan includes building new cooling systems, which would prevent any further release of radioactive materials. In a press conference, Tokyo Electric’s chairman, Tsunehisa Katsumata, explained the company’s intentions: “The company has been doing its utmost to prevent a worsening of the situation.” Experts are having mixed opinions about this plan, as some believe it is too ambitious, while others think the company can finish the entire process is less time than is outlined in the plan.
In a reaction to the problem of the contaminated water, the company announced that it would build an improvised water-processing unit that would remove radioactive particles from the water. Hidehiko Nishiyama, deputy director general of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency offered some discouraging words on the entire situation: “there is a possibility that normal cooling systems cannot be revived.”
Meanwhile, Japan’s ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry announced that it will spend 20 billion yen on a new energy project, which includes the creation of six 2-mega-watt wind turbines off the Fukushima coast, in an effort to help rebuild the devastated region. These turbines are expected to be completed in March 2016.
The impacts of the earthquake were compounded by the current economic stagnation in Japan. Following the earthquake, the production and sales of automobiles decreased. Furthermore, to make up for the lost energy resulting from the closing of the Fukushima reactor, Japan tripled its oil exports. These all went on to hurt Japan’s economy, which is the last thing the word needs in such tough economic times.
Although one may think that the nuclear disaster would change Japan’s view on nuclear energy, the amount of energy Japan gets from nuclear power is surprisingly expected to increase from 30% to 40% of total electrical power. While the Fukushima nuclear accident did increase awareness and cause Japanese policymakers to look to other forms of renewable energy such as wind and solar power, it did not reverse the upward trend in the usage of nuclear power was clearly evident before the disaster. Although unexpected, these predictions are a symbol of Japan’s resilience and fearlessness. With plans to build new, safer, sources of energy and to rebuild the Fukushima reactor, Japan is on its way to recovery.
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