Fukushima tragedy, 11 years later the fear returns with a 7.4 shock.

The Tohoku Region of Japan is recovering after experiencing a 7.4 earthquake, experts have become worried and are considering a much stronger earthquake or tsunami in the future.

By Enrique Toledo

A derailed shinkansen (bullet train) on the outskirts of Shiroishi city in Miyagi Prefecture.

On March 16, 2022 a 7.4 magnitude earthquake struck Fukushima, Japan causing damage to residential areas, and revived the memories of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear disaster that accompanied it. 

It claimed  the lives of 4 elderly men in the affected areas, and injured over 100 people.  Over 2 million homes in the Tohoku, Kanto region and Tokyo had their electricity cut until 3 a.m. 

Over 2000 buildings are confirmed to be damaged. The structural integrity of many buildings has become fragile to repeated seismic activity and could face even greater damage in the future. Despite the repair efforts and precautions in response to last year’s 6.9 Earthquake, residents and contractors have to clean and make repairs. 

In a state of emergency , Tokyo Electric Power Co., shut off electricity to 2.23 million households in an effort to prevent a large-scale blackout. Major manufacturing plants for companies like Murata Manufacturing Co. Ltd ceased production in the affected areas and slowly began reopening their locations days following the earthquake.  For extra caution prefectural and municipal schools in Miyagi were temporarily closed for the following days and resumed regular activities on March 21st. 

As clean up continues, experts have considered the thought of a more devastating earthquake, triggering memories of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. This catastrophe claimed the lives of over 15,000 people, with over 2,000 people missing and injured, over 7,000. It came in par with one of the most misfortunate nuclear disasters of the 21 first century and the worst Japan has ever experienced in its history.

On March 11, 2011, a 9.0 earthquake occurred off the coast of the Oshika Peninsula, causing a tsunami resulting in the meltdown of 3 reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant.  The following day, a substantial amount of radioactive material was released , measuring at a level 7  on the International event scale and continued being released into the water for the following days.   Critical clean up and containment efforts soon began, with the main concern being the environmental and health impacts on both humans and animals. 

Being the most cataclysmic nuclear disaster second to Chernobyl, the radiation is undergoing decomposition, with previously labeled “ghost towns’ ‘ in the area having their residents return. The adverse effects spiked false news about the response and intentions. The biggest lies at the time revolved around contaminated Japanese exports and the spread of radioactive debris. 

This image allegedly shows radiation leaking from Fukushima, in reality it depicts wave heights of the tsunami (2013)

As natural as it is to have fear during situations like this, threats , as critical as radiation, need accurate and scientific data. In 2021 the Japanese government released an update report on the Daiichi Power Plant and the current state of decomposition that it is occurring in. The  report concluded that 667,000m³ of clean groundwater was released into the ocean, and after further monitoring, the radiation level of the seawater outside the port remained lower than the density limit for drinking water quality. 

 Incidentally, citizens in Miyagi’s capital city, Sendai, became witnesses to a rare phenomenon known as an Earthquake Light. The exact reason for triboluminescence is unknown, but it occurs in areas of high seismic stress, and can happen seconds or days prior to an earthquake. 

The Tohoku expressway is Japan’s biggest highway, it connects both the northern and southern part of Honshu island, over 10 expressways were damaged and closed. NEXCO, the company that operates these expressways, attended quickly to a large crack between the  Kunami and Shiraishi interchange, which was fixed and reopened at 7:00 am after 8 hours of maintenance. 

Due to its location, Japan has taken earthquake precautions very seriously.  High rise buildings use damping technology to resist force by having flexible and sturdy steel or carbon fiber beams that resist any sudden force during seismic activity. Routine earthquake drills have students seeking cover, and evacuation to the gymnasium or auditorium building in their school, where the chances of damage are greatly reduced by seismic isolation devices and steel bases and reinforced through either parallel construction or compression brace tactics. 

Japan’s surveillance on seismic activity, allows time to issue earthquake warnings seconds  before something transpires. Almost immediately news agencies announced tsunami warnings for coastal areas of Fukushima and Miyagi, followed by persistent updates about sea level heights from readings in the pacific ocean. 

 The following day,  Princess Aiko attended her first press conference to discuss her coming of age and future plans pertaining to the improvement of quality of life in Japan. Aiko opened the conference by stating “ Before I begin I am deeply saddened to hear that some of you lost your lives in last night’s earthquake. I would like to express my heartfelt sympathy to the bereaved families and those who have been affected by the earthquake.”

Friday March 18, saw an increase of seismic activity with 5 earthquakes with magnitudes of 3 or higher felt and over 40 earthquakes felt throughout the prefecture.  The Pacific side of the Tohoku region has been going through an increased period of higher magnitude earthquakes following the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011. 

Nations in the ring of fire should prepare for any seismic activity in the following weeks. Japan’s tremor caution should be pressure to reform architecture into serving a defense against earthquakes.

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