Japan’s Natural Disaster Tragedy Hits Close to Home in California

On March 11, Miyagi, Japan  suffered an earthquake with a magnitude of 9.0 followed by a tsunami causing over 6,000 deaths. Due to these devastating events, questions concerning the health of survivors because of damage done to a nuclear power plant have come to the forefront. Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was affected and exposure to the radiation has civilians worried from Japan to the West Coast of the United States. The radiation reached the coast from leakage of chemicals to the sky and expansion of the clouds overseas. Still, experts adamantly claim it doesn’t pose a real threat.

According to UCI professor Charlie Zender, the radiation cloud loses its damaging potency with distance.

“The more [radiation] expands the less damaging the effects are as it dilutes and loses its toxicity,” Zender said.

Japan has been trying to contain the radiation within four damaged nuclear reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi plant. As a result, the area was evacuated 50 miles around the Fukushima reactors — much more than the recommended distance.

Japan continues to face problems with the power plant and possible civilian exposure to radiation. The issue has called for medical resources but there is nothing set in stone at the moment about how much medical attention is needed. Before the accident there was a physician shortage; based on a survey that was done in September 2010 by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, the country needed 24,000 physicians to adequately serve their citizens.

“The recovery phase of the disaster is going to be years and years … the whole health infrastructure has been disrupted,” said Dr. Kriste L. Koenig, director of the center for Disaster Medical Sciences at UCI.

The Japanese Student Association made their own effort to lend a hand in Irvine. They sold origami and food products on Ring Road to help raise funds to help the cause in Japan. Apart from the JSA, a group of students native to Japan — Naoki Oishi, Oriya Ando and Yohei Shimanuki — grouped up and raised funds for the cause overseas. According to Shimanuki, the group raised approximately $8,000 and donated it to the Red Cross. Oishi, an international economics student also from Japan, has graduated after his four years in Irvine and is returning to a different Japan from when he left. He is returning to start his new job, and although he will be busy with his new life, he is willing to help in any way he can to ease stress for the civilians.

“I just thought, this can’t be real,” Shimanuki, an EAP student from Sendai, Japan, thought to himself as soon as he heard of the devastating news from back home.

Earthquakes and other large natural disasters overseas are creating a common question for California: Is this a bleak sign for our state’s seismic future? California is located on the Ring of Fire, where large earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur in the basin of the Pacific Ocean. Specifically, California is in the northeast quadrant, which is the only place that has not been hit by powerful quakes in the last two years.

The other quadrants, northwest (Japan), southwest (New Zealand) and southeast (Chile) have all felt the power of natural power with earthquake magnitudes of 9.0, 6.3 and 8.8 respectively. One region is left to be struck and the question is still when, where and how strong.  According to seismologist Barbara Romanowicz of UC Berkeley, California is in big trouble.

“We are due for not one, but two large potentially destructive earthquakes … one in the San Francisco Bay Area and one in Southern California,” Romanowicz said.

An exact magnitude cannot be pinpointed from past experiences. However, according to experts, Southern California faces a major earthquake every 45 to 145 years of a magnitude close to 8.0.

“The calculated probability of earthquakes in California is quite high and has been known for years,” UCI seismologist Lisa Gran Ludwig said.

There is no telling when the supposed “big one” will occur. Still, in light of the travesties that have befallen our neighbors in the Pacific, it is imperative that we who live on one of the most active plates on earth remain vigilant and ready to help those in need.