Japan earthquake: 17 March

Six days have passed since the fateful earthquake and tsunami of 11 March. I’m still staying in Tokyo, and unlike a lot of the foreigners here, I don’t feel that there is any immediate danger to my person.

Life goes on: Yesterday I had a few drinks with my friend. A lot of places were closed, but some bars are still open. There’s both fewer customers and less electricity to go around at the moment. There was an air of calm bravery and defiance among the customers at the bar.

Some books I had ordered from Amazon arrived this morning. I used the trains as usual to go to the lab, where I worked on my research. This evening, before I left the lab, power saving efforts were intensified, since it’s been getting very cold the past few days, and more electricity is needed for simple heating. Before I left the lab I looked out the lab window. I had never before seen the skyscrapers in Marunouchi, around the Imperial Palace, so dark at night.

The situation is not completely under control yet. The big story today has been about the attempts to cool the reactors with water. Because of intense radiation immediately around the plants, it’s necessary to approach the plants by helicopter and dump water from above. Lately, they have also tried shooting water at the plants from trucks at a distance.

Even though the general concern is rising even among Japanese people, the  “foreign consensus” and the “Japanese consensus” are still strikingly different. Many countries are arranging tickets for people to go out of Japan, and even more of my friends have taken refuge in the Kansai region. This is a completely fair decision and there is no harm in taking precautions. Personally I try to keep a close watch on the radiation levels and the news. Recently many more measuring stations have been added to this geiger counter map. If the levels go up too far, I would definitely consider getting out of the Tokyo area for a while. But I consider myself attached to Tokyo, I live here, and I have projects I want to finish here. Right now, I don’t want to flee without good reason.

Since radiation is something invisible that we cannot see, smell or touch, and since nobody can go near the plants to look carefully at them by now, any understanding of the situation necessarily contains a lot of interpretation. Nobody fully knows what the current state of the plants are or what is going to happen. Clearly there are big risks. But I think it is fair to say that the stories circulated by foreign media do not reflect the situation in most of Japan. Those near Sendai or near the power plants have suffered terribly and are facing great risks. But the vast majority of Japan is experiencing little outside of power shortages. Those who have relatives in Japan should take this into account when they read the news.

My friend Jacob Ehnmark, who used to live in Sendai, is blogging about his escape from Japan and his impressions here.

One thought on “Japan earthquake: 17 March”

  1. great post.

    staying while being informed reminds me of the lecture on the conservation of energy, where the prof stands right next to the wall with a rather heavy ball attached to a pendulum just in front of his head and releases it – a real believer of physics, even though it could affect his health (see video below).
    the current situation is definitely much more uncertain but there are some parallels.


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