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Disaster in Japan and its Aftermath

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March 28, 2011

The Disaster in Japan and its Aftermath

DeWayne Cecil, PhD (Idaho Falls, ID), Western Region Climate Services Director NOAA-NCDC, (Salt Lake City, UT). "Pacific Rim implications of the Japanese disaster."

Dr. Cecil is a frequent Sharon Kleyne Hour guest. He heads the Western Region Climate Services for NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and was formerly with NASA.

Dr. Cecil noted that Japan is slightly smaller than California and has 130 million people versus California's 37 million. Despite the lengthy coastline, there is not a lot of "interior" to the island country, from which to draw fresh water. Sharon had recently visited Japan, noting that it is extremely beautiful, compact, efficient and environmentally aware. She was impressed with the overall cleanliness (no cigarette butts) and the rooftop gardens.

It was noted that nuclear power can be an excellent and safe power source but that the Japan experience should inspire new safeguards against "worst case scenarios." According to Dr. Cecil, the ground water in Japan has been picking up radiation since the event and tap water is not recommended for children under age one. There is also, he notes, radioactive iodine in some US groundwater but the quantity is too small to be a threat. NOAA helped Japan track where the nuclear release might go.

Water is always an issue in a disaster. A primary initial task (after assuring safety), in a relief effort, is to make sure there is clean drinking water available. Food, shelter and sanitation are next in importance. Drinking water was a major failing in the Haitian relief effort.\

Dr. Cecil believes the tsunami will have a long-term effect on Japan and that the cleanup could take decades. He adds that the Japanese are very good a this sort of thing and should never be underestimated.

There was some discussion about tsunami preparation in the US, particularly on the West Coast, which gets hit with frequent minor tsunamis and occasional major ones (1964 and 1974). There is a tsunami warning and evacuation system in place in California.