Sunday, March 13, 2011

Report Summary: Japan's Absolute Disaster

I'm sure the majority of you are aware of the abhorrent disaster that took place on March 11th. Japan seemed to be struck numerous times, one after the other, with a calamity of some sort. For those who don't know (which I doubt) or for those who want a detailed summary of the Sendai earthquake and tsunami, I've decided to put together an article revealing all that occurred.

A map detailing the earthquakes to the east of the Japanese islands.
A series of foreshocks, earthquakes that occur before a larger seismic event (the mainshock), started on March 9 40 kilometers from where the major earthquake would occur. They were around 7.2 MW with the final quakes 6.0 MW in magnitude on that same dreadful day. Then, the 9.0 MW earthquake followed. Japan's Earthquake Early Warning system alerted news stations one minute prior to the effects, since the seismic waves took 93.25 seconds (373/4) to reach the Tokyo area. The time was 14:46:23 (2:46:23 PM local time, 12:46 AM EST).

According to Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, the massive quake resulted in the Earth's axis being shifted 25 centimeters, which led to a change of the length of day and the planet's tilt. According to reports, the day has been shortened by 1.6 microseconds. Japan's afflicted island, Honshu, is said to have shifted 2.4 m (7.9 ft) toward the east.

Calculated wave height from the tsunami.
The catastrophe did not end there. A tsunami followed it, with a wave at least 10 m (33 ft) high. Though evacuations were made before this event, not all were lucky. The tsunami was worst than the actual earthquake that preceded the disaster, with entire towns being washed away, such as Kuji and Ofunato. Some towns managed to survive, but Minamisanriku has reported to have around 9,500 people missing.

The eagres resulted in 1353 casualties, 1743 injured, and 1085 missing, according to official confirmations from the National Police Agency; these numbers are expected to increase significantly once many of the bodies from the missing are found.

That same day, Fukushima I and II Nuclear Power Plants had to be shut down due to the current conditions. When the reactors stopped, electrical generation did too. Normally, the plant could use an external power supply, but since the quakes and tsunami had wiped out the power grid, the plant had to use the diesel engines to produce electricity. This worked rather well at first, but the engines abruptly shut down at 15:41, and all AC power was halted.

The flooding damaged the reactors, but the details remain unclear. The reactors needed to remove the decay heat, so cooling was necessary. Batteries were used to replace the engines, but that only lasted eight hours. Other batteries have been sent. Yet, this effort was still not enough. Officials stated that a meltdown at Unit 1 would be possible, but the Japanese government quickly amended that statement. However, Toshihiro Bannai reported that it was still a possibility.

Explosion at Unit 1 on March 12 at 3: 36 PM.
At 15:36 on March 12, an explosion occurred at Unit 1, resulting in four workers being injured; the safety devices apparently failed. Because the building was not designed for explosions, the upper shell was blown away leaving the steel framework. It has been agreed upon that it was a hydrogen explosion. To help cool down the reactors, the government ordered that seawater should be used, with boric acid to act as a neutron absorber.

Reactor Unit 3 runs on MOX fuel (mixed uranium and plutonium oxide), different from the other five units; this makes it more dangerous than the others. The unit started having cooling problem, and the top three meters of MOX were introduced to the air. Despite this, a spokesperson indicated the amount of radiation would not be damaging to human health. That same day, a meltdown at the reactor could have been possible. Like the first unit, seawater was used to cool it down, but the gauge to measure how much seawater was being used to cool it down malfunctioned. Despite all this, reactor 2 had a much better time cooling down and is reported to be stable.

Evacuations around the area were put into place, and three employees have been reported to be exposed to the radiation. They had to be decontaminated, but the employees may also need to be as well.

A dam in Fukushima Prefecture failed, which resulted in the loss of around 1,800 homes, but no casualties have been reported. Water supply has also been diminished as well as electricity in northeastern Japan. A fire at an oil refinery of Cosmo Oil Company started due to the quake. Communications have been virtually disabled.

Obviously, all this caused economic hell for the islands-state. Many businesses have stopped production until a later date, and the Bank of Japan has established a task force to ensure alterations in the Japanese market will be minimal, and that any economic resources will remain the same. However, the global economic impact states otherwise. Japanese stock market fell by 5% immediately. Oil prices fell dramatically: the United States crude oil fell to $99.01 from $100.08 by lunchtime, with Brent Crude falling $2.62 to $112.81.

International response was critical, as forty-five countries offered help to the Japanese, many from the United Nations — even China, the long rival of Japan.

More details as it happens.

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