Where were you three years ago on March 11, 2011?
I know that as the hours passed on that day and the days after. I was glued to television.
I was not alone in being fearfully mesmerized by the pictures of the devastation in Japan.
It was three years ago tomorrow that Japan was hit by what is said to have been the most powerful earthquake ever to hit Japan and, in fact, the fifth largest recorded quake in the world.
It’s called the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.
It began unbelievable devastation and horror for that country – what can only be described as a double-whammy of the huge quake followed by a monstrous tsunami.
The quake was recorded as a magnitude 9.0 – I can’t imagine what that felt like to the survivors.
It was so powerful, the main Japanese island of Honshu was moved eight feet east, and the earth shifted nearly 10 inches on its axis!
I’ve experienced many earthquakes in California over the years, the largest being the San Fernando, which was a 6.6 and the Loma Prieta, which was a 6.9. Fortunately, my homes suffered no damage and my family wasn’t injured, but the experiences left me frightened me to my core.
But there were no tsunamis after those two earthquakes. In Japan, it was different.
The main quake was centered 19 miles beneath the sea, and the massive movement of the earth caused a gigantic tsunami that moved seawater inland some 10 miles, with some waves up to 133 feet high.
The force of Mother Nature was a killer in many ways. The official statistics are stark: 15,884 dead, 6147 injured, 2636 missing, more than 500,000 people displaced and more than a million buildings damaged or destroyed. The total dollar cost of the devastation from the quake and tsunami is more than $309 billion, and it continues to rise.
Anyone watching news coverage of the inundation experienced the sensation that things like that just don’t – couldn’t – happen. But they did, and we saw it happening.
But the damage was, and is, far worse than those statistics, which would have been bad enough. Ultimately, it’s the damage we can’t see that Japan, and indeed most of the world, is just barely beginning to fully acknowledge.
It’s radiation – in the air, water and soil, and it continues to be released and spread. We don’t fully know where and how, but we know the source.
It’s ironic that the one country on which two atomic bombs were dropped and which dealt with the ensuing radiation is now facing almost similar problems. But in this case, the source of the radiation has not been shut down, and there are serious questions whether that might even be possible.
When the quake hit, the nuclear reactors in Fukushima automatically shut down. That was good, but then the tsunami hit and the seawall at the Fukushima Daiichi plant was flooded, which destroyed the diesel back-up systems.
Then there were at least two explosions, meltdowns and radiation began leaking from units 1, 2, and 3 at Fukushima Daiichi. That was just the beginning. Not only was radiation released into the atmosphere in steam, there was continued flooding and spillage of contaminated water.
The government estimates that more than 300 metric tons of contaminated water was released directly into the ocean and it continues to this day, because water is needed as a coolant to help prevent further explosions. Yet that coolant becomes contaminated and is released into the environment.
You don’t see much about this in the news. It’s a news story that’s virtually ignored, aside from a perfunctory report every now and then that purports to update the situation.
It should surprise no one that the bottom line in most of those reports is that any leakage is minor and provides no threat to anyone.
That doesn’t surprise me. I’ve worked in media many years and know from personal experience that there is firm resistance on the part of government, bureaucracies and corporate entities to telling the public the truth about such dangerous possibilities.
That reluctance is shared by media. The bottom line is, we don’t want to frighten people.
At one point years ago, I was reporting about possible nuclear contamination in Santa Monica Bay. My news manager was so concerned about my information, he had me redo my interview with the expert three times, getting, I might add, the same answers each time.
The report finally aired but was edited to the point that it was worthless.
So now we have a situation where we know radiation is leaking into the open ocean. We know that some seafood and even meat in Japan has been contaminated. We know that certain species of seafood are no longer caught in those waters. We know that there are radiation hot spots in Tokyo and that tap water in many Japanese cities is contaminated.
What do we know about radiation moving across the ocean?
Actually, let me rephrase that: What are they telling us about radiation spreading across the ocean?
Not much, despite intermittent reports that higher levels of radiation have been detected in areas of Alaska and along the western coast of the United States, including beaches in California.
Judging by what I’ve seen of news coverage of that in my local media, editors don’t think it’s important.
What about the ocean contamination?
If radiation is in the water, what does that mean for people using the beaches, swimmers, surfers and boaters?
What about sea life in that water? What about birds that eat sea life? What about the fish caught from those waters that end up in our stores, homes and restaurants?
Oh, never mind.
We don’t want to panic people.
Media wishing to interview Barbara Simpson, please contact [email protected].