Friday, March 11, 2011

Shaking in Japan

There’s two nuclear power plants with a declared state of emergency now and one has released some radioactive gas. We got the tsunami here but it was more a swell, unless you happened to be in one of the coves that concentrate the force of oncoming swells, like the morons were who gathered on the beach to watch the tsumani and got washed out to sea for their trouble. Incidentally, in a meeting this afternoon I was told that some of the security camera footage from one of the stricken nuclear plants was likely courtesy of a product I worked on. Cool. Not so cool is that our hardware doesn’t work so well once melted into a radioactive lump, which seems like far too much a possibility right now .

Earthquakes scare me. You can prepare for a hurricane — you can stock up on supplies, you can tape or plywood your windows, you can head out for the interior where it’ll just be a strong gale. You know a hurricane’s coming. An earthquake, on the other hand… eep! It happens when it happens, and you're never as prepared as you'd like to be. I’m just glad that I’m 80 feet above sea level now, rather than below sea level like I was for the prior six years (protected by a leaky dike built to protect salt evaporation ponds, not people — eek!), because it should at least mean I won’t drown if an earthquake hits here. Though given the fact that my house was built in 1961 and is about as earthquake-proof as an eggshell, as vs. my below-sea-level-apartment which was built to withstand earthquakes, I don’t know how good that should make me feel.

My boss, who is Japanese, is going to try to contact our people in Japan this evening. Immediately after the earthquake and tsunami was of course hopeless and he didn’t even try. Hopefully they’re all okay, just getting around by bicycle at the moment because the trains are stopped and the streets are closed off.

- Badtux the Shaky Penguin


  1. My brother lives in Japan, works in Tokyo, and has a three-hour train ride between work and home. The following is a partial quote from an e-mail he sent me this morning:

    "Anyway, not being sure of the safe course of action, I decided to ride it out and did what many average smucks would do in a crisis situation that they have no control of, reclined in my chair and went to sleep. After a 2 and 1/2 hour siesta, I woke to find I was still in my recliner and the building was still standing. I haven't been outside yet, so don't know what the damage is around here. I'll find out when I go home."

    I'll bet he was surprised as hell to find out the trains had quit running.

  2. Heh! Yeah, the trains are running again now in the Tokyo area, the biggest problem is that the trains are mostly electric and the electricity went out when the power plants auto-scrubbed as a result of their seismic event detectors tripping. The other big problem being that the tracks have to be hand-inspected after a big seismic event to make sure they haven't shifted in a way that'd cause a derailment if used at full speed, and any questionable areas red-flagged (i.e., the trains have to crawl through them at 15mph rather than the usual 65+mph). That takes 4-5 hours here for BART, Caltrain, VTA, and Muni when there's a seismic event, probably the same there.

    So I think things in the areas not directly smashed by the tsunami will be mostly back to normal Monday for most of Japan, but those reactors are definitely worrying. Japan's state-owned power company does *not* have a good safety record...

    - Badtux the Not-Japanese Penguin

  3. Don't worry about Japan. They're the only country to have not one, but two atomic weapons dropped on them by another country -- and they bounced back from that. I think if any people are suited to deal with a possible nuclear meltdown, it's the Japanese.

    And as far as I can tell, they are taking this thing more seriously than a heart attack. They aren't farting around. That makes me want to have a Japanese-American president after Obama's run is over...

  4. This will sound quite sick to say, but if this disaster had to happen; I am relieved it happened in Japan. I don't mean that in a "Yay, not us" way, but in a "I KNOW they are better prepared, and here utter chaos would result." way.

    We are quake prone here, and worry about every Rim of Fire incident waking up two or three volcanoes to make it not only "shake" but "bake" in our locale.

  5. The Japanese are incredible. Having lived there on and off for over forty years my respect and admiration for them only grows.

  6. I'm more ready for an earthquake than most folks and having already been through one big shaker I know what to expect.

    I think my place will take one and I can deal with everything else.

  7. Jim, the Japanese are certainly going to take care of the immediate disaster. But it is easy to overestimate Japan. They are a consensus-based society and their politicians refuse to make hard choices unless forced to do so by events. In the case of disaster response there are no hard choices involved -- everybody agrees what needs to be done. But the state of their nuclear facilities has been scandalous for quite some time, they have had numerous accidents and fatalities at their plants even *without* earthquakes because nobody wants to make the hard decision to take the nuclear power plants away from the cronyism-packed public electricity utility or change the leadership of that utility.

    Which brings up another issue, that of drunken incompetent leadership in many parts of Japanese society, which their society has absolutely no ability to deal with because to demote them would be to admit that you made a mistake by promoting them and would require making one of those hard choices that their society isn't really set up to handle.

    Labrys, down here in the Bay Area we are overdue for the shake, but luckily have no problem with the bake. It still makes me nervous, though. The local disaster response has been gutted over the past 20 years -- half the hospital emergency rooms have been closed, government preparedness funding has plummeted, and even the volunteer organizations like ARES have seen declining relevance because even though we've ringed the Bay Area with solar-powered repeater facilities to allow communications, there's nobody left inside city and county governments who understands how we could be used in the event of the Big One because those people were all fired due to budget cuts. If the Big One hits anytime in the next four or five years, it will make the Katrina disaster in New Orleans look like a kindergarten classroom. Neither governments nor the private enterprises who now own the hospital have the ability to handle disasters anymore, that all got sacrificed on the altar of "austerity".

    MandT, yes, the Japanese are amazing. When they managed to build a consensus to do something, it gets done. The main issue with Japanese society is that they have trouble with making difficult choices where some percentage of the population would *not* be happy. That's why they bring us gaijin in to shake the place up from time to time, because we're just Western barbarians so we can be excused for being rude and telling them "your company is going to be bankrupt unless you sell off your money-losing hard drive division and shift your R&D funding from mainframes to laptop computers." A Japanese manager would never make such a statement, because it would bring shame to the company to admit that the company's priorities were wrong...

  8. I likewise worry about emergency response here in Washington State. Similar budgetary crisis conditions are ruling; even bad rain/snow storms half paralyze the area. I dread to think of major quake/eruption issues.


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