Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Where Were You When...?

PHOTO: Reuters/Kyodo
It’s a simple question I like to ask to place people quickly on the continuum of time and space. Nothing fancy, like, where were you three years ago when you heard about the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami? [Japan marks Fukushima disaster anniversary]

I was in Cannon Beach on the Oregon coast and was awakened at 3:30 AM and advised to get to higher ground, which I did. Back in the room after getting tired of waiting in the car listening to radio reports, I alternately watched the TV images of the giant wave sweeping Fukushima away and the real Pacific Ocean before me eerily ebbing and silently surging  to the shore’s vegetation line.

Three years later I’m sad that the people of Fukushima still suffer. I worry about the radiation escaping from the damaged nuclear power plant. And I wonder what effects the radiation will have on the North Pacific’s ecosystem and our Northwest coast.

Anniversaries or memorials as in this case provide an opportunity to assess the progress of recovery, the changes made from lessons learned, and the continued inability to do things any differently than the ways in which they were done before.

Natural disasters like Fukushima, Sandy, Haiti, Katrina return to the news and our consciousness on these anniversaries. It’s the same with despicable actions of terrorism and murder and human error like 911, Sandy Hook, Columbine and Exxon Valdez. For many of us who were not directly affected, we get to think about these things once a year if reminded. For those who were directly affected, the pain and suffering and memories are a daily burden.

Who said you become an old guy when you spent more time looking back than looking ahead?  My 8- and 5-year old grandkids certainly don’t spend much time talking or thinking about last year. On the other hand, some wise guy said that we understand backward and live forward, and another wise guy said that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Maybe the best thing is to split the difference. Learn from the past to change the future— for the better. What’s the lesson to be learned from each “act of God” and “act of Man” disaster and how are those lessons applied? But isn’t that just what we should be doing every day?

The third memorial anniversary for the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami will come and go. Problems, big problems remain. The next memorial anniversary coming up? The 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez disaster. [Exxon Valdez 25th Anniversary: Lessons Learned, Lessons Lost]

Where were you on March 24, 1989? What have we learned and what difference has it made?

--Mike Sato


  1. MIke, you have done a great job in telling this story by helping the reader feel the poignancy of our collective non-learning, helping the reader to savor the expanding pain of our stupidity, but overall your efforts achieve a positive feedback. I would have said it differently and made people uncomfortable, even more uncomfortable, saying something like: "maybe thirty-percent of our species gets it, but seventy-percent haven't a clue and that's a bigger number every day like the number of people who live around Puget Sound (3 million); and by tomorrow that number will be like the all the people living between here and San Jose. Our collective dumbness is swelling like a montrous tumor. Can you imagine where we'll be in just a couple more years?"
    Grant Jones

  2. Helen Engle writes: "Mike:
    I like your posting about anniversaries of tragic events....
    But I can¹t help thinking about the tragic events that crept up slowly.....

    It turns out that the loss of a huge salmon population in all the rivers
    that empty into the North Sea
    (Scandinavia, UK, most of northern countries of Europe) and the loss of the
    salmon populations of the eastern seaboard of North America (are there three
    only live, free Atlantic Salmon?) -- all these losses were due to the same
    Our society destroyed the rivers¹ capacity to provide spawning and other
    habitat needs.
    And now it¹s happening in the Pacific Salmon......
    Like Billy Frank says, ³You can¹t have salmon without healthy rivers.²
    (Best salmon river in the PNW? The Nisqually ‹ and who fought for it? The
    Nisqually Tribe.)
    There¹s no poignant anniversary to remind us about what¹s going on every day
    ‹ death by a thousand cuts.
    Read David Montgomery¹s KING OF FISH. Wonderful book!!!!"

  3. Alan Wilson writes:
    "Thanks for the remembrance of the Fukushima anniversary, Mike. It's
    worthwhile reminding ourselves of the scale of this disaster -- the
    largest industrial accident in the history of the world. And it's not
    over, not in any way contained, still spewing into the air and ocean,
    still falling-out and washing up on our beloved west coast.
    Deliberately minimized by the authorities (although no US agency has
    actually studied it, not DOE, EPA, NOAA, etc.) the radioactivity will
    inevitably amplify here to serious levels due to bio-accumulation.
    But Fukushima was not a "natural disaster", like some of the others
    you mention. Even a Japanese parliamentary commission concluded it
    was "man-made", stating that the operating company Tepco had been
    repeatedly cited for safety violations over many years prior to 2011.
    It was an accident waiting to happen, just as it is at over 400 more
    nuclear plants around the world, 100 in the USA alone and 23 of those
    the same design as at Fukushima. You are right that we need to learn
    from such disasters but even the Aljazeera article you link to brings
    up some of the usual errors, such as that it was the tsunami which
    caused the meltdowns (when we have eyewitness reports of cooling
    pipes breaking from the quake and temperatures raising before to the
    tsunami, thus any plant near a fault zone is at heightened risk),
    that no one died except from stress (when we know that there is a
    latency period to disease after exposure and already many children
    there are showing thyroid and other health issues, plus there are
    estimates of thousands of workers who have perished -- but guess
    what, the company isn't tracking them). And how can they say that
    "fierce anti-nuclear sentiment may have subsided" when at the same
    time the article acknowledges tens of thousands of Japanese
    protestors marching in Tokyo to mark the anniversary! I highly
    recommend that you and your followers check out the news aggregator
    enenews.com to learn more about Fukushima and other dangerous nuclear
    accidents like the one right now in New Mexico. Thanks."


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