Thursday, March 17, 2011

Good Fortune Island

Fukushima-ken is a Japanese prefecture located in the Tohoku Region on the island of Honshu, about 250 km north of Tokyo and 80 km south of Sendai. It is divided into three distinct geographical areas.

Aizu, the western third of the prefecture, is a place of mountains, lakes and forests. It was the high ground from which the ruling samurai clans watched over their domain. Flat, temperate Hamadori is the easternmost area with a rich tradition in the fishing and seafood industry. Nakadori, in the middle, is the region's agricultural centre, famous for peaches, apples and persimmons, and is home to the regional capital.

The city is called Fukushima-shi, or Good Fortune Island.

Nakadori has a strong software and electronics industry, while Hamadori has become notable for generating electrical power at its six nuclear plants. The Fukushima Dai-Ichi (Number One), at Okuma, is an old, obsolete facility, which was due to be decommissioned in 2011.

On March 11, 2011, the world hiccupped and it caused an megathrust earthquake off the coast of Japan that registered more than nine points on the Richter scale. The quake generated tsunami waves up to ten meters high, which travelled as much as ten kilometers inland. Tsunami warnings were issued as far away as Alaska and Chile.

The Japanese National Police Agency has confirmed about 5700 deaths, 2400 people injured, and about 9500 missing across seventeen prefectures. The casualty rates will probably end well in the tens of thousands.

When the waves subsided, Fukushima Dai-Ichi was discovered to have suffered major structural damage, leaving nuclear power experts, the population of Japan and the rest of us poor oafs concerned about an environmental calamity on the scale of Chernobyl. People who live within 20 km of Dai-Ichi have been advised to evacuate their homes, and the approximately 100 employees (the Fukushima Fifty?) who have stayed on the job at the plant for the last five days have just been ordered out as well.

It's a small world, and because it is, we're troubled and alarmed by bad things that happen to our neighbours. Some of us want to rush off into the phonebooth, change into our blue tights and red capes, and hurry over to save everyone in peril. Let's not - they have enough trouble already.

Some others are busy stockpiling potassium iodide tablets to protect themselves against the coming cloud of radiation. Please don't. There are people in hospitals who need that stuff now, and there are others who may need it soon. All you're doing is raising the blackmarket price by diminishing the reserves of a compound more urgently needed by others.

There are things we can do. Some of us can contribute to the rescue and aid efforts already taking place - we can all demand that our various levels of government do more than they have. The religious amongst us can give the Japanese people our prayers, and maybe it wouldn't hurt if we agnostics said a few as well.

All things pass, and somehow this will too. Be well - I know that you're generous.