Since the gigantic earthquake and tsunami hit March 11, the Japanese people have shown extraordinary intelligence and spirit, the same intelligence and spirit I saw over the years as Commander of U.S. Army Japan (1985-1988). Despite allegations that some responses might have been faster and that many human needs are still unmet, I believe we should take a moment to appreciate what has been accomplished.
The earthquake was so great that it moved the entire country of Japan nearly three meters and shifted the Earth’s axis. The tsunami that followed may have reached a height of more than 13 meters and surged inland along more than 600 km of Japan’s coastline, carrying off homes and businesses and many thousands of people. The tsunami also created a crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station when backup electricity was lost and cooling systems failed.
Tokyo Electric Power Co., Japan’s nine other electric utilities, government ministries responsible for nuclear energy oversight, the Self-Defense Forces, and other organizations — along with skilled nuclear plant professionals — worked day and night to find and fix the problems at the plant reactors.
When radiation was released into the surrounding community and the sea, and when small amounts of it were found in Tokyo, the public was quickly informed, and measures were taken to protect public health and safety.
Some have wondered why the United States and other countries asked their citizens to evacuate a wider zone surrounding the Fukushima plant than that designated by the Japanese government. The answer is that the risk of moving the small number of foreigners from the wider area was minimal, while the risks associated with moving thousands of Japanese out of their homes and into shelters would have been significant. Expanding the zones would have been unnecessary and imprudent, given the radiation levels measured. The decisions were based on sound science.
Both Tepco and the government have been criticized for lack of transparency. Yet, from Day 1, both provided a constant daily flow of information that reached anyone interested in taking the time to follow. Detailed status reports have been updated at least daily and posted on public websites of Tepco, the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), the Defense Ministry and other organizations.
The media noticed how neighbors helped each other to find shelter and shared food and drink. It was heartwarming to note how the Onagawa nuclear power plant helped the community. This power plant, the closest to the earthquake epicenter, stood strong and served as a refuge for more than 300 local people, some of whom were brought there by bus.
There will be lessons learned for Japan and the world about ways to improve response to emergencies and ways to ensure that vital electricity, food, drink, shelter and clothing are provided to all. There should also be lessons for the world in the way the Japanese people handled such terrible adversity with intelligence, dignity and resolve.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.