Sunday, March 20, 2011

Quake Short Notes

Short notes:

  • The situation remains desperate for the hundreds of thousands of homeless people in the quake and tsunami-stricken areas. Over a million households lack water, and millions lack electricity and heat. Over one hundred thousand soldiers and other rescue personnel are working there but progress is slow. The problem really is the sheer scale - the area hardest hit by the tsunami is around 700 kilometers long and up to 10 kilometers inland, but there's extensive quake damage outside that zone too. Many roads and rail lines were heavily damaged so it was simply not possible to reach many areas with substantial supplies.

    Some roads and rail lines have been repaired now and help is coming in, but people are still dying in the shelters and hospitals, dying from the cold, dying from lack of medical care, or dying from stress and deprivation. More help is needed, and will be needed for months ahead. If you can help in any way, please do.

  • Japanese police is reportedly investigating Tokyo Electric, Japans largest electricity company and the owner and operator of the nuclear power plant. The company has a sordid history of covering up accidents and falsifying safety reports. They were very slow with information this time around - reportedly, prime minister Kan exploded a couple of days after the quake when the government got progress reports faster from NHK than from the company itself, and that's apparently what led to creating a "joint" task force that in reality is completely controlled by the government.

    BBC stated that Tokyo Electric was unwilling to pump seawater at first, since it would irreparably damage the reactors. That may sound damning, but the devil is in the details. It's not self-evident that using sea water earlier would have improved the course of the accident. The damage may make it more difficult to restart the main pumps - and getting them running again is and remains the only way to permanently shut the reactors down. And of course, TEPCO and the Kanto area needs the power; if there was a feasible way to avoid years of reduced capacity it may well have been a prudent approach.

    What we've seen so far is really questionable judgement calls and bad information handling. It will be very interesting to see what made the police decide a criminal investigation is in order. Whether anything comes of it or not, I'd not want to be a TEPCO shareholder right now.

  • Sweden, like most other European countries, sent chartered passenger aircraft to evacuate citizens. We are around 700-900 or so in Japan1, and they sent not one but two airplanes with 250-seat capacity. One airplane brought 1 (one) person back to Stockholm. The other brought 13 people to Bangkok in Thailand. Meanwhile, regular flights are readily available from and to all major Japanese airports for anybody that needs to leave.

    The Swedish authorities do not seem terribly well informed; many of their recommendations right now seem to have precious little connection to reality. People living here, on the other hand, do have good first-hand information and can make better judgement calls on what to do. In reality, most of Japan is and will remain unaffected by the quake and the nuclear accident. Sweden could have booked rooms for everybody at hotels in Kansai or Kyushu for a fraction of the cost of chartering aircraft to bring people halfway across the world.

    Sending airplanes is of course a political decision as much as a safety one. The government may well realize it's unnecessary, but the public - fed hysterical misinformation for a week or more - does not, and they'd get a storm of criticism if they didn't make the gesture. Of course, with only a handful of people taking them up on the offer they'll be pummelled for sending unneeded aircraft instead. Damned if you do, damned if you don't - but that's what you sign up for when you become a politician.

  • National politics have been mostly absent so far, but has reared its head again. I haven't bothered to follow it but I understand the ruling and opposition parties are already trying to spin things for an upcoming election. Kan offered the opposition seats in a unity cabinet, but they refused. Shrewd move; it'd have made passing budget bills much easier, and would have assign both credit and blame to the opposition as well as the DPJ. By refusing, the opposition looks a little unhelpful, and they've had to bend over backwards to promise to pass any disaster-related bills uncontested, even as they accuse (fairly or not I have no idea) the government of using the disaster to move unrelated legislation through the upper house.

    The average mental age in the diet is still five or so, in other words, and there's no sign that this disaster will improve anything on that front.

I'm probably going to stop comment further on the quake, the tsunami and the nuclear accident unless something important happens. There are many more, and much better, sources of information out there, and I'm neither an expert; nor, thankfully, have we any personal experience of these events to share. Our personal impact has been completely trivial: A few barely noticeable aftershocks; a computer facility I use in Wako-shi northwest of Tokyo is mostly unavailable in order to save energy; and there's a lack of large batteries and other such items in the stores, as they're being sent to people that really need them.

So if you're a friend or relative you have no need at all to worry about us. If you want good, level-headed information there's plenty of sources out there - BBC runs a pretty good stream here. If you want to help, please consider a donation to the Japanese Red Cross directly, or via Google.

#1 The embassy doesn't seem to do a very good job of keeping track of its citizens. I remember I wanted to register at the embassy when I came here - just a phone and address so they could contact me. Instead I got a photocopied multi-page questionnaire with personal and irrelevant questions I was supposed to fill in by hand and send back by post to Tokyo. It went straight in the trash and I forgot all about it. I have no idea if the embassy knows (in the record-keeping and disaster management sense) if I live in Japan or not.


  1. The Dutch embassy isn't much better when it comes to tracking its citizens for disaster relief purposes. They have my e-mail and contact me that way for trivial tings like the Queen's birthday celebration but they were incapable of e-mailing me task my whereabouts after the earthquake. Last week I e-mailed them to see what their opinion is of the safety situation in Japan and was surprised to find the next day in a national dutch newspaper that apparently one of the remaining unaccounted for dutch citizens in the affected area, the same age as I, had contacted the embassy the previous day. I wasn't even aware that my area was included in the zone they consider to be directly affected by the earthquake. Nowhere do they tell you which places are considered part of this zone.

  2. It's so sad..I feel so sorry for all the victims.
    I hope it will ne good again someday..

  3. @Ansgar: Well, they counted you as missing, so at least they knew you were in the country. Looking you up in the phone book seems to be too much effort for the embassy. ^_^

    I think I'm in a similar situation. Swedish authorities count me as living here, and they do know my address (they keep sending me pension statements showing me just how poor I'll be when I retire). But I suspect that the embassy, specifically, does not list me as a local resident; as somebody to contact for emergencies and such things.

  4. Being a Scandinavian semi-living in Osaka myself I cannot reject any feeling of uneasiness, excellent clarifying postings on the subject of the situation "in Japan" - or more accurate in the Tohoku and surrounding prefectures. Also I'm very much in the same mind/opinion


  5. Last Friday at 6am I received an automatic message from a number with country code +47.
    I answered and was informed about the first airplane leaving Japan for Bangkok at 14:30 the same day.
    I called the embassy because I got worried something bad has happened during the night.

    The person at the embassy said he was sorry that the message was missing so much important information. He pointed out the entire thing was handled completely from Stockholm. He basically adviced my family to not go. I later recieved two messages about the flight leaving the day after.

    Everything felt very rushed.
    I was not surprised when I read only 14 people accepted the offer of the one way ticket to Bangkok for, as per the second message, 3-4000 sek per person.

  6. I should also point out that the embassy never contacted me, even though I am registered.
    The only contact I've had are these automatic messages from UD (Ministry for Foreign Affairs)

  7. Nevil, I've never been contacted, though that may be a good thing - they may be sufficiently on top of things to know where Kansai is and that there is zero risk of any effects from the disaster here.

    Of course, if they know western Japan is completely safe, why not offer to help relocate people within Japan instead of dumping them in Bangkok?


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