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Posts Tagged ‘tsunami

On March 11, 2011, East Japan was hit by one of the most devastating tsunamis the world had ever seen,officially named the Great East Japan Tsunami. The world waited in despair as the people of Japan braced themselves for the tsunami triggered by a massive 9.0 earthquake, the most powerful to hit the country. When the wave finally came, cars, houses and whole buildings were instantly swept away. On that day itself, 17,000 people had gone missing, leaving 10,000 dead. But the worst was yet to come. Four nuclear plants in Fukushima Daiichi overheated when the tsunami killed the power lines, causing their coolers to stop working. Explosions soon followed, and then the radiation began to leak.

As far as tsunamis go, the actual size of the tsunami, which was 10 metres, was the not biggest ever, in fact, it was comparatively small. A tsunami in 1958 in Lituya Bay, Alaska, USA, for example, reached 524 metres. However, because it hit a fairly isolated area, very few people died. In contrast, 20,000 people died in the Great East Japan Tsunami at last count, which is again, fairly little compared to the Asian Tsunami of 2004 where 230,000 people died.

What marks the Great East Japan Tsunami as so uniquely tragic is the suffering that not only Japan, but the rest of the world will have to endure. Radiation has already been found in the rainwater that fell on Boston, USA. Seafood may now be radioactive because the amount of radioactive tap water in Japan has become simply too much for the resilient country to contain, and they have been forced to throw the contaminated water into the ocean.

And all because of a tsunami.

Tsunami is a Japanese word which literally translated means “harbour wave”. It is fitting that the Japanese named it because they have unfortunately been afflicted with 195 tsunamis. However, tsunamis have been endangering mankind since approximately 6100 BC, the year when the first tsunami was recorded in the Norwegian Sea.

A tsunami approaching a coast.

Tsunamis are a result of the earth’s continental plates shifting against each other. But it’s not as simple as that.  If the plates just grind against each other as a strike-slip motion, a tsunami is not very likely. They only occur if there is vertical displacement. That is, when one of the crusts acts as a paddle, transferring the energy of the underwater earthquake to the other crust, creating a wave of water. This wave of water, which starts out harmless enough could be, by the end of its journey to the coast of an unfortunate land, up to 260m – like the tsunami in Spirit Lake, Washington, USA in 1980.

The wave of the Asian Tsunami of 2004.

Tsunamis are one of the most dangerous destroyers in the world. Some bright (and somewhat misguided) minds recognised that and picked up on the idea to use a tsunami as a weapon. In 1999, it was discovered that during World War II, in 1944 and 1945, scientists in Auckland were testing a tidal wave bomb. The American government in particular were supportive of the project, for if perfected, it could have been as deadly as a nuclear bomb. However, the project was scrapped when the man made tsunamis never got to a threatening enough size and theoretical flaws were found.

The destinies of nuclear power and tsunamis have long been intertwined. Today, tsunamis can be triggered by using nuclear power to create vertical displacement, though certainly not on the same scale as a natural tsunami. On May 11th 2011, their fates intertwined yet again, in a way that no one could have predicted. In Japan now, the plant workers are, at this moment, working to contain the radiation, with the fate of Fukushima and the rest of the world in their hands.

May 2020


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