Tsunami

Wolfram Burner, courtesy Flickr

EarthTalk®
E - The Environmental Magazine

 

Dear EarthTalk: Is there any environmental risk from all that Japanese tsunami debris that is starting to wash up on the U.S. west coast? -- Bailey Thigerson, Seattle, WA

 

A powerful, 8.6-magnitude earthquake and an 8.2-magnitude aftershock off the west coast of Northern Sumatra today led authorities to warn that potentially devastating tsunamis might roar across the Indian Ocean.

But to the relief of millions who were immediately reminded of the devastating tsunami that rolled across that ocean in 2004, the waves generated by today's temblors were minor and the tsunami "watch" was canceled just before 9 a.m. ET.

The other welcome news: Initial reports indicated that damage from the quakes themselves may not have been extensive.

With a fierce yell and a resounding thwack, 13-year-old Japanese student Nanami Usui brings her bamboo sword down on her opponent.

By practicing Kendo, or Japanese swordsmanship, Usui is one of several students in the town of Minamisanriku who are rebuilding their confidence after last year's tsunami washed away their homes and shattered their hometown in the country's northeast.

Usui says she dreams of being a police officer, but she doesn't know yet where she wants to live and work.

The earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on March 11, 2011, lasted for many terrifying minutes. But the multiple nuclear meltdowns that followed created an emergency that lasted for weeks and a legacy that will last for decades.

Here's how the event unfolded. The tsunami knocked out power to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. As a result, the cooling systems failed and three reactors melted down. Steam laced with radioactive material poured into the air. Water contaminated with radiation also flowed into the sea.

Teacher Dave Rowlands is talking to his students in a kindergarten class at Imagine Japan, an English-language school in the Miyagi Prefecture of Sendai City. The school is just a short walk from pre-fabricated homes built for families who lost more than just property in the earthquake and tsunami last year.

"What came after the earthquake, was what?" Rowlands asks. "A tidal wave. In Japanese, what do we say? Or in English, actually, tsunami is now used around the world in many languages. Tsunami. We kind of leave the 't' off of there."

One year ago this Sunday, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake off Japan triggered a tsunami that killed 20,000 people. It also triggered multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station, one of the worst nuclear disasters in history.

But health effects from radiation turn out to be minor compared with the other issues the people of Fukushima prefecture now face.