Reconstruction after the disaster

A month has passed since the massive quake and tsunami on March 11 devastated the pacific coastal area of the Tohoku region. Some 13,000 people perished and about 14,500 people are missing. Some 148,000 evacuees remain at temporary shelters. It is unlikely that the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant will end in the foreseeable future.

The Japanese government and citizens need to consider what they should and can do to help and give hope to people who have lost their loved ones, lost jobs, businesses and homes, or have seen their communities destroyed. The hardships of the people who evacuated their communities because of the nuclear accident, or those who have chosen to stay despite the crisis, should not be forgotten, either.

It is understandable that the thought of the hardships suffered by the victims of the disasters is putting a damper on festive activities and keeping everyone in a pensive mood. It is reasonable that given the power shortage caused by the nuclear crisis, people economize on the use of electricity. The latter must be continued. But too much restraint in daily activities that leads to curtailment on consumption will have an undesirable effect on the economy. This would then negatively impact the local economies of the region hit by the quake and tsunami.

People in the affected region would rather see their fellow citizens cheerful and happy, which would help brighten their hearts and restore hope. It’s important that people outside the disaster area lead normal lives (except that they continue curbing power consumption) while continuing to help the victims by giving financial or material support to people or organizations engaged in relief activities in northeastern Japan. If products are identified as coming from the devastated areas, people will buy them, thus helping producers in the region.

The central government and Tepco should wholeheartedly tackle the task of mitigating the crisis at Fukushima No. 1. They should stop pretending that the crisis can be managed easily. They should open their eyes and minds to get the necessary help from a wide range of experts and organizations, whether they are Japanese or non-Japanese.

Providing accurate information about the Fukushima No. 1 crisis to the public is indispensable. The government should give accurate information on the accumulated radiation levels at various points. It also should not hesitate to simulate the spread of radioactive substances and their radiation levels in various critical situations that could develop at the plant and make the simulation results public. People would be better prepared if they are informed about what they should do and what the government will do during each situation.

The Nuclear Safety Commission refuses to carry out simulations, saying that its monitoring posts near Fukushima No. 1 have been destroyed. This sounds like an excuse. If the monitoring posts have been destroyed, why not set up new ones?

The Meteorological Agency should provide information on wind direction and velocity to people both near and far from the plant. If anemometers around Fukushima No. 1 were destroyed, the agency should repair them or install new ones.

The nuclear crisis will force the government and the power industry to drastically review the nation’s nuclear power policy. Pushing further energy conservation, especially electric power, is inevitable. At the very least a thorough examination of Japan’s nuclear power plants should be carried out. The government and the power industry should have the courage to shut down a nuclear power plant that is standing on a vulnerable location where a large quake is expected.

They also should immediately start a project to build enough stations to convert the frequency of electricity from 50 hertz to 60 hertz and vice versa so that power companies in western and eastern Japan can deliver electricity to each other in the case of a major natural disaster like the March 11 quake and tsunami. The current restrictive market structure of the power industry should be reformed so that renewable power sources as well as newcomers to traditional power generation can flourish, thus strengthening Japan’s resilience in a power supply crisis.

The biggest task for the government is to reconstruct the devastated region. Merely restoring communities may not be appropriate because they may be destroyed again by a large tsunami. A completely new approach will be required to build new communities and production bases. Japan should embark on the challenging task of building a new society that can ensure the well-being of people by lessening the reliance on mass production and mass consumption.

The efforts to reconstruct the devastated region should be used as a chance to make all of Japan resilient to disasters. The current trend of concentrating adminstrative and business functions in Tokyo should be changed.