3.11: The Great East Japan Earthquake . . .
Ten years ago today, a powerful earthquake off Japan’s northeast coast rocked the country, moving the main island of Honshu 2.4 metres east. The 9.0-magnitude quake created massive tsunami waves, some up to 17 meters high, that devastated coastlines throughout the Tohoku region. Flooding from the tsunami caused a meltdown of three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant. While the tsunami was responsible for most of the 15,000 lives lost and the over 2,000 people missing, the triple disaster overall led to the displacement of 470,000 people at its peak. Some 40,000 have yet to return.
Recovery, reconstruction, and healing take time . . .
While Japan has spent C$347 billion to rebuild infrastructure, neighbourhoods, schools, parks, and giant concrete coastal walls, many parts of the region remain in a state of recovery. But that recovery and healing are proving to be more than simply an issue of (re)building infrastructure. There are still significant issues regarding the nuclear power plant, such as what to do with the 1.2 million tons (and rising) of contaminated cooling water, other toxic waste, and the decommissioning of the damaged reactors – a project that could last another 30 years. Meanwhile, Japan is still hotly debating its energy mix and trying to convince itself and the world that the worst is behind us, labelling the upcoming Tokyo Olympic games the ‘Recovery Olympics.’
Lessons for the future . . .
Japan is vulnerable to various natural hazards, so its disaster prevention countermeasures are generally more robust than those of other countries. While earthquakes the size of the Great East Japan Earthquake are rare, two places in Canada are at risk. A 2013 Insurance Bureau of Canada report estimated a 30 per cent chance that a crippling earthquake could hit Canada’s West Coast in the next 50 years, which could cause an estimated C$75 billion in damage. It also suggests there is a 10-to-15 per cent chance of a strong quake occurring in the Ottawa-Montreal-Quebec City corridor in the next 50 years, which could cause C$61 billion in damage. Canada should consider the suggestion by Japan’s Ambassador to Canada, Kawamura Yasuhisa, that we work together to improve our safety measures.