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© The Author(s) 2011. This article is published with open access at Springerlink.com www.ijdrs.org www.springer.com/13753
Int. J. Disaster Risk Sci. 2011, 2 (1): 34–42
* Corresponding author. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The 2011 Eastern Japan Great Earthquake Disaster:
Overview and Comments
Okada Norio1, Tao Ye2,*, Yoshio Kajitani1, Peijun Shi2, and Hirokazu Tatano1
1Disaster Prevention Research Institute, Kyoto University, Kyoto 611-011, Japan
2State Key Laboratory of Earth Surface Processes and Resource Ecology, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China
Abstract This article briefly reviews the causes and impacts
of the massive eastern Japan earthquake and tsunami of
11 March 2011, and comments on the response measures
taken by Japan to cope with this devastating disaster. Mass
losses occurred mostly because the intensity of the quake
and the induced tsunami exceeded local coping capacity.
Particularly, the nuclear power plant crisis triggered by the
tsunami significantly increased the short- and long-term
impacts of the disaster. While the coping capacity Japanese
society built after the 1995 Hanshin-Awaji great earthquake
tremendously mitigated the damages, there is room for
improvement despite Japan’s great efforts in this disaster.
Investigating the tsunami preparedness of the coastal nuclear
power plants is an issue of paramount importance. In response
to future large-scale disasters, there is an urgent need for a
highly collaborative framework based on which all available
resources could be mobilized; a mutual assistance and rescue
system against catastrophes among regions and countries
on the basis of international humanitarian aid; and further
in-depth research on the multi-hazard and disaster-chain
phenomenon in large-scale disasters and corresponding
Keywords 2011 Eastern Japan Earthquake, earthquake-
tsunami disaster chain, Fukushima nuclear crisis, impact and
On 11 March 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake occurred in
the international waters of the western Pacific and induced a
huge tsunami. These natural disasters hit the northeastern part
of Japan and caused heavy casualties, enormous property
losses, and a severe nuclear crisis with regional and global
long-term impact. On April 1, the Japanese government
officially named the disaster “The 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake
and Tsunami” (東日本大震災, Higashi Nihon Daishinsai,
literally “Eastern Japan Great Earthquake Disaster”).
2 Characteristics of the 2011 Japan
Earthquake and Tsunami
The main earthquake disaster hit Japan at 14:46 Tokyo time
on 11 March 2011. The epicenter was estimated at 38.322°N
and 142.369°E (Figure 1), merely 77 km (47.9 miles) off
the eastern coast of Japan’s Honshu island, 129 km from
Sendai, 177 km from Fukushima, and 373 km from Tokyo.
The hypocenter was at an underwater depth of 32 km
According to the Japan Meteorological Agency (2011), the
magnitude estimate of this quake was initially 7.9, then
revised to 8.4, 8.8, 8.9, back to 8.8, and finally set at 9.0. The
data released by the United States Geological Survey was 8.8,
but revised to 8.9 the same day. On March 14, it was finally
set at 9.0. This 9.0 magnitude earthquake is the third highest
ever recorded in the world, after the 9.5 magnitude quake that
hit Chile in1960 and the 9.2 magnitude quake that hit Alaska
Figure 1. Epicenter of the 2011 Great Earthquake in Japan
Tokai and the hypocentral regions classified by the Earth-
quake Survey Committee, Japan
Source: Earthquake Survey Committee, Japan 2011.
Norio et al. The 2011 Eastern Japan Great Earthquake Disaster 35
A number of foreshocks and aftershocks occurred before
and after the main quake. Several thousand quakes were
recorded by April 11. Relatively severe foreshocks and
aftershocks included a magnitude 7.2 foreshock on March 9,
and magnitude 7.0, 7.4, and 7.2 aftershocks at 15:06 Japan
Standard Time (JST), 15:15 JST, and 15:26 JST on March 11.
On April 7 and 11, magnitude 7.4 (revised to 7.1) and 7.1
The main quake triggered a massive, destructive tsunami
(Figure 2). It reached the eastern coast of Honshu, Japan
within a couple of minutes after the quake, and spilled into the
interior to a maximum distance of 10 km. It was estimated
that the tsunami wave was up to 38 m high (Kyodo News
2011), while field observation suggested that the record was
24 m, according to the figure released by the Port and Airport
Research Institute (2011) on March 23. Based on the analysis
of the Japan Meteorological Research Institute (JMRI 2011),
the wave source zone of the tsunami covered about 550 km
from north to south and about 200 km from east to west,
setting a record for the most extensive wave source zone
around the Japan Sea.
The tsunami caused by the quake affected almost the whole
Pacific coast, and over 20 countries on both sides of the
Pacific issued tsunami warnings, including Japan, Russia, the
Philippines, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Papua New
Guinea, Fiji, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica,
Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru,
Chile, and the United States.
The quake released surface energy of 1.9 ± 0.5 × 1017J
(USGS Earthquake Hazards Program 2011a), two times that
of the Indonesia tsunami in 2004. The total energy released,
including shaking and the tsunami, amounted to 3.9 × 1022J
(USGS Earthquake Hazards Program 2011b), slightly lower
than that of the Indonesia tsunami, equivalent to 9.32 × 1012 t
of TNT or about 600 million times that of the Hiroshima atom
Analysis of the USGS (USGS Earthquake Hazards
Program 2011b) showed that this earthquake was triggered
as the Pacific Plate slipped beneath Japan, while moving
towards the Eurasian Plate to the west. Before this disaster,
the Pacific Plate moved a few centimeters west away from the
North American Plate every year, which led to this large
earthquake as plate movement released energy.
The March 11 earthquake was induced by at least four dif-
ferent hypocenters slipping in a short period (see Figure 1).
Based on the aftershock records, these hypocenters
include not only Sanriku-Oki and Miyagiken-Oki, the two
hypocenters considered most likely to have slipped, but also
Fukushimaken-Oki and Ibaragiken-Oki. Such large-scale,
interrelated earthquakes had not been envisioned by many
3 Impacts of the 2011 Eastern Japan
Great Earthquake Disaster
3.1 Geophysical Impact
The violent shock resulting from the seismic intensity moved
the Honshu island of Japan about 3.6 m to the east, shifted the
earth’s axis by 25 cm, and accelerated the planet’s rotation
by 1.8 microseconds (Chai 2011; CBS News 2011). A total
of 400 km of Japan’s east coast has subsided about 0.6 m
because of the quake (Chang 2011). Ojika-hantou of
Miyagi-ken, located northwest of the epicenter, has moved
about 5.3 m southeast towards the epicenter, with a simulta-
neous subsidence of about 1.2 m. The World Meteorological
Organization has warned the Japanese government of poten-
tially more severe flood risk in the northeastern part of Japan
in the future (Xinhuanet 2011).
Figure 2. Tsunami caused by the 2011 Eastern Japan Great Earthquake
Source: NOAA 2011.
36 Int. J. Disaster Risk Sci. Vol. 2, No. 1, 2011
3.2 Humanitarian Impact
The influence exerted by the seismic event itself was not so
striking. Only one prefecture was impacted with a seismic
intensity of VII, and eight prefectures were impacted with a
seismic intensity greater than VI (Figure 3). But the losses
incurred by the earthquake and tsunami together were
extremely severe. According to statistical data from the Japan
National Police Agency (Table 1), by April 13, there were in
total 13,392 people dead nationwide and 15,133 missing.
More than 335,000 refugees in northeast Japan are lacking in
food, water, shelters, medical care, and even the necessary
means to conduct funerals for the deceased.i
3.3 Impact on Buildings
Up to April 3, there were 190,000 buildings damaged, among
which 45,700 were totally destroyed. The damaged buildings
in Miyagi, Iwate, and Fukushima were 29,500, 12,500,
and 2400, respectively (NHK World 2011). By April 13, the
number was further verified by the Japan Police Agency
and increased (Table 1). About 250 million tons of rubble and
debris were produced in Japan because of the earthquake and
3.4 Impact on Key Infrastructures
Several nuclear power plants and thermal power plants were
heavily damaged in this disaster and details will be elaborated
later in this article. The power supply of the Tokyo Electric
Power Company (TEPCO) was reduced by 21 GW, causing
outages for 4.4 million families in eastern Japan (Japan
Times 2011; The Nikkei 2011). From March 14 to March 29,
TEPCO implemented rolling blackouts in most areas of
Tokyo. Meanwhile, with the support of Tokyo residents’
power-saving activities and temporary supply from steel
manufacturers’ power plants, rolling blackouts are expected
to be avoided throughout this summer (Japan Ministry of
Economy, Trade and Industry 2011).
The quake severely affected Japan’s transportation system.
After the quake, all ports in Japan were closed for a short
time, and the 15 ports impacted by the disaster were not
fully reopened until March 29 (Nihon Keizai Shimbun 2011).
Because of the quake, the northeastern part of the Tokaido
Shinkansen high-speed rail line was shut down and not
reopened to the public until March 24 (The Guardian 2011).
Sixty-two of the 70 railway lines run by the East Japan
Railway were affected to various degrees, and 23 railway
stations and seven lines were completely destroyed (Nihon
Keizai Shimbun 2011). The Sendai airport incurred massive
losses because it was attacked by the flood caused by the
tsunami one hour after the quake. Both Tokyo’s Narita and
Haneda airports were closed for about 24 hours (The Aviation
3.5 Economic Impact
It is estimated that 23,600 hectares of farmland were ruined
and 3–4 percent of the rice production in Japan was affected
in this great earthquake and tsunami disaster (Martin 2011).
Many large-scale manufacturers of automobiles (for example,
Toyota, Nissan, and Honda), steel (for example, Nippon
Steel), and chemicals (for example, Mitsubishi Kagagu) were
off production (Mainichi Daily News 2011), causing a
decline in global automobile production.
The Japan earthquake led to significant fluctuations in the
global financial markets. On the day of the earthquake, March
11, the Nikkei Stock Average dropped 5 percent (Reuters
2011), and it dropped another 1000 points (10.6 percent)
on March 15, when the seriousness of the nuclear accident
became clear (CNBC 2011). Subject to the earthquake,
Germany’s DAX index and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index
also decreased in varying degrees. But the main American
stocks experienced a slight increase of 0.5 to 0.7 percent. The
world’s largest reinsurers, Munich Re and Swiss Re were
speculated to suffer total reinsurance losses of 10 billion U.S.
dollars (Kucera 2011) even after the losses absorbed by
primary insurers and grants from the Japanese government.
The earthquake brought about the rapid appreciation of the
Japanese yen, and the yen against the U.S. dollar at one point
reached 76.25 yen to 1 U.S. dollar, the highest point since
World War II (BBC 2011). Appreciation of the yen is harmful
to the Japanese economy, which is heavily dependent on
The Industrial Production Index dramatically decreased by
15.5 percent compared to the index in February (Table 2). Not
Figure 3. Estimated seismic intensity from observation
stations right after 14:46 on 11 March 2011
Source: Japan Meteorological Agency 2011.
Norio et al. The 2011 Eastern Japan Great Earthquake Disaster 37
Table 2. March 2011 Japan Industrial Production Index (100 in year 2005)
Item Seasonally Adjusted Index Original Index
Index Changes from February (%) Index Changes from February (%)
Production†82.7 -15.5 88.7 -13.1
Shipping‡85.0 -14.6 95.0 -12.1
Source: Japan Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry 2011 (Confirmed version reported on May 19).
†: Weighted average of the amount of major items (521 items) produced by the industrial sector. Weight of each item is determined by the added value for each
item with respect to the reference year (2005).
‡: Production items shipped from factories, a measurement for actual transaction of goods.
Table 1. Damage from the 2011 Eastern Japan Great Earthquake and Tsunami (as of April 13)
People impacted Buildings damaged Damaged
toll Missing Injured Full
Hokkaido 1 3
Northeast Aomori 3 1 61 272 970 6 2
Iwate 3867 4101 154 18,742 1024 30 4
Miyagi 8190 8025 3055 36,772 3452 1006 23
Akita 12 9
Yamagata 2 29 37 80 21
Fukushima 1272 3003 240 2417 959
Tokyo 7 77 3 6 3 16 1
Kanto Ibaraki 23 1 691 711 3453 307 41
Tochigi 4 135 146 1142 257
Gunma 1 35 1 7
Saitama 42 5 1 1 160
Chiba 18 2 223 706 1636 3 3 321
Kanagava 4 128
Central Gifu 1
Total 13,392 15,133 4896 59,806 12,728 6 7 4 2137 69
Source: Japan National Police Agency 2011 (excerpt from original table).
only the damaged area, but also the non-damaged areas were
suffering from scarcity of materials, and final demand
decreases. Because many industries in the upper streams
of the supply chains were located in Tohoku, the northeast
region of Honshu, and the northeast areas of the Kanto region
around greater Tokyo, their damages caused widely spreading
economic impacts, which were unforeseen by many crisis
According to an early evaluation by analysts, the earth-
quake disaster caused direct economic losses of about 171–
183 billion USD, while the significant cost for recovery might
reach 122 billion USD (Pagano 2011). On June 24, the Prime
Minister’s office crisis management center announced a rough
estimation of over 16 trillion yen for property damages alone
(Cabinet Office, Government of Japan 2011). This estimation
is based on the damage ratio of buildings of the 1995
Hanshin-Awaji earthquake. In the best case scenario (16
trillion yen), the total property damages are 14 trillion yen in
three prefectures in the Tohoku region alone. This amounts to
about 20 percent of the total economic value of property in
these three areas.
4 The Nuclear Power Plant Crisis
The earthquake and tsunami created a serious nuclear crisis.
Affected by the quake, the 11 nuclear power plants in north-
east Japan, including the first and second nuclear power plants
in Fukushima, and the nuclear power plants in Onagawa,
Genshiryoku, and Hatsudensho, automatically stopped oper-
ating their nuclear reactors. However, the cooling system of
the first nuclear power plant in Fukushima also stopped work-
ing because of the impact of the tsunami, causing the reactor
temperature to rise. Although the Japanese government and
38 Int. J. Disaster Risk Sci. Vol. 2, No. 1, 2011
the operator Tokyo Electric Power Company adopted a series
of measures, the nuclear accident gradually became a level 7
nuclear event, which is a major accident and the highest level
on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale
(INES), equivalent to the Chernobyl disaster in April 1986.
The radiation in the vicinity of the reactor rose steeply,
becoming a deadly threat to the local residents, as well as
polluting vegetables, milk, and water. TEPCO also released
tens of thousands of tons of low radiation nuclear pollution
water into the Pacific, resulting in grave concern and criticism
from neighboring countries.
The way that the nuclear incidents were triggered is plant-
specific. However, the most catastrophic consequences have
arisen from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, where three
units were exposed to level 7 accidents and one unit was
exposed to a level 3 incident. The critical issue in the crisis
became the cooling systems failures.
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant mainly uses
reactors to boil water, lets the steam drive steam engines, and
returns the cooled water to the reactors to cool them down. In
the system, water immerses the fuel rods and cycles in the
system with radioactive isotopes. Under normal conditions
this is not a problem because the process occurs in a closed
cycle. None of the water, steam, and radioactive isotopes can
escape from the closed vessel.
The earthquake and subsequent tsunami broke the closed
cycle and delivered a deadly strike against the cooling system
(Figure 4). The cooling system was designed to be supported
with four different power supplies. The offsite power supply
from the power grid and the internal power supply from the
reactor were down because of the earthquake. The on-site fuel
generator started working once the other two power sources
failed, but was damaged by the tsunami wave. Emergency
back-up batteries appeared to be affected by the tsunami as
well, but could at most have lasted for eight hours even if they
had been spared from damage. As a result, the cooling system
stopped working and this triggered the set of extremely
Due to the nature of the nuclear fuel used in the plant, the
core temperature of the reactors dropped only very slowly
after the cooling system was down because there was still
slow decay even after the reactors had gone off-line. The high
temperature turned most of the internal coolant water into
steam, which in turn exposed the fuel rods to air. Without the
provision of a cooling alternative, the high temperature would
have melted down the nuclear fuel rods. Fuel would escape
away from control rods, intensify decay, melt through the
reactor floor, and consequently induce a massive release of
radioactive isotopes, a worst case scenario.
In order to avoid the most catastrophic consequences,
operators of the plant tried to inject coolant water from
external sources (first seawater, later freshwater). The injecte d
external coolant water, however, was then turned into steam
and further increased the vessel pressure, which hampered
water injection. As a result, operators had to bleed-off pres-
sure, which resulted in hydrogen explosions and the release
of radioactive isotopes from the vessel. Radioactive isotopes
released from Fukushima were later detected in North
America and other regions in the world. Coolant water that
did not escape the vessel in the form of steam accumulated in
the bottom of the reactors in highly radioactive form. These
waters either leaked or were released by the operator into
the Pacific Ocean. Widespread radioactive pollution was
created. Worse yet, though countermeasures were adopted,
the fuel rods in units 1, 2, and 3 of the plant were reported to
have experienced major damage and possibly fully melted
(TEPCO 2011a, 2011b; CNN 2011). The long-term impact of
the nuclear crisis to Japan, the Asia-Pacific region, and the
entire world is still not fully revealed.
Figure 4. Illustrative chart of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis
Norio et al. The 2011 Eastern Japan Great Earthquake Disaster 39
5 National and International Response
5.1 Response of Japan
After the earthquake, a countermeasure office was immedi-
ately set up in the Prime Minister’s office crisis management
center. The Japanese government established a special head-
quarters for emergent disasters headed by Prime Minister
Naoto Kan. At the press conference on April 13, the Prime
Minister declared that it was the most serious disaster in
Japan after World War II. The other main response head-
quarters, also lead by the Prime Minister, was set up for the
nuclear crisis. These two headquarters became the main
decision-making bodies on crisis management.
The Japanese government also established a government
emergency response headquarters headed by Foreign
Minister Matsumoto. He said that Tokyo welcomes foreign
countries to provide any assistance to Japan, and Japanese
government would check foreigners in Japan and confirm
security situation of the embassies in Tokyo.
The Japanese government also established a countermea-
sure headquarters against disasters headed by the Defense
Minister, Toshimi Kitazawa. On April 13, the Japanese Prime
Minister Naoto Kan asked the Ministry of Defense to send out
100,000 self-defense officers to participate in rescue work.
The total number of troops mobilized, including those provid-
ing logistics, was 180,000, the largest number dispatched by
the Japan Self-Defense Forces since World War II.
On April 14, the Bank of Japan (the Central Bank) held
a monetary policy meeting, discussing the new monetary
easing policy to be implemented after the Eastern Japan Great
Earthquake Disaster. On March 14, 15, 17, and 22, the Bank
of Japan successively injected capital of up to 4 trillion yen in
cash into the market (Wearden 2011).
5.2 International Involvement
After the quake, Japan specifically requested quake rescue
teams from Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, the United
Kingdom, and the United States (Nebehay 2011). It also
requested satellite images of available types of the quake and
tsunami regions according to the International Charter on
Space and Major Disasters.
By March 30, 134 countries and regions and 39 interna-
tional organizations had expressed their willingness to
provide aid to Japan (Figure 5). Twenty-three countries
and regions sent out rescue teams and experts on nuclear
accidents. The statistical data released by the Narita branch
of Tokyo Customs on March 29 showed that, in total, 190
batches and 1300 tons of relief goods from 29 countries and
regions arrived at Narita Airport between March 12 and 25.
Of these 190 batches, 60 were from China, 40 from the
United States, 30 from Thailand, and 20 from Korea. The
major types of goods included food, blankets, mineral water,
radiation protection suits, and emergency lamps. By April 3
the Japanese Red Cross had received over one billion USD in
donations in response to the disaster, and dispatched more
than 200 emergency relief teams to the disaster zone.
The earthquake-tsunami induced nuclear crisis has been
of grave concern. Many countries started to evacuate their
citizens from the northern part of Japan right after the disaster.
UN agencies were widely involved in the nuclear issue,
including the World Health Organization (WHO), the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the World
Meteorological Organization (WMO), the International
Maritime Organization (IMO), the International Civil Avia-
tion Organization (ICAO), the World Tourism Organization
(UNWTO), and the International Labor Organization (ILO).
The WHO together with the Food and Agriculture Organiza-
tion (FAO) conducts inspections and provides information
on (sea)food safety after the nuclear accident. The IAEA
Briefing on the Fukushima Nuclear Accident is updated on a
daily basis since the quake (IAEA 2011). Tourists and other
visitors to Japan are advised by the IMO, ICAO, UNWTO,
and Japanese government agencies on travel and transport
from and to Japan by air or sea.
Figure 5. Countries and regions expressed willingness to provide aid to Japan after the 2011 Earthquake disaster
Source: Wikipedia 2011.
40 Int. J. Disaster Risk Sci. Vol. 2, No. 1, 2011
6 Comments and Discussion
6.1 Prepared for the Expected
After the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995, the Japanese
government and society profoundly reflected on the precau-
tions that needed to be taken against earthquake disasters.
Many new measures became the solid foundation for Japan to
cope with this most recent earthquake-tsunami catastrophe to
For example, Japan attaches great importance to scientific
research and technological development on disaster preven-
tion and mitigation. The Japan Meteorological Agency oper-
ates the world’s first earthquake early warning system, which
can warn the Japanese people ahead of a quake. It also can
detect seismic waves near the epicenter, and send out early
warnings through national television and radio networks,
even through mobile phones. On the day of the main quake,
alarm was sounded around 80 seconds before the beginning
of shaking in Tokyo area.
In Japan there are various ways for the public to get access
to disaster information—by mass media and cell phone
services, for example. The Japanese media have developed a
rapid and systematic reporting system for disaster situations,
and will promptly disclose all kinds of useful information
whenever a natural disaster occurs. Japan also invests heavily
in public disaster education, making one of the highest disas-
ter risk aware populations in the world. With the help of
disaster preparedness training carried out in communities,
the Japanese people have developed the skills and habits of
The Self-Defense Troops are granted much power by the
government in response to disasters. This is a significant gain
from the experience of the Hanshin-Awaji earthquake. In
response to the Eastern Japan Great Earthquake Disaster,
the Self-Defense Troops played an indispensible role in orga-
nizing emergency response actions and accomplished many
in-field missions. All of these preparations constituted a solid
foundation for the Japanese to raise evacuation rates during
the tsunami disaster and reduce the loss of lives.
Japan is also implementing one of the most stringent con-
struction standards in the world, with intensively reinforced
residential buildings, bridges, and other infrastructures. It is
worth noting that Japan is a leader in earthquake proofing
nuclear plants, although a severe nuclear crisis was induced
by the earthquake-triggered tsunami. All nuclear reactors
automatically stopped operating after the quake. The building
damages and the nuclear plant crisis were induced by the
tsunami rather than the quake per se.
6.2 Prepared Beyond the Expected: Where to Go from
The 2011 earthquake-tsunami was so severe that it went
far beyond the expectation and coping capacity of Japanese
society. The quake was of high magnitude and the energy
released was huge. The tsunami triggered by the earthquake
critically overwhelmed the coping capacity of the stricken
areas. Preparedness is based on expectation and prediction,
which had not taken into account the extreme situation that
actually unfolded. From that standpoint Japan is not prepared
First, the disaster impact easily overwhelmed local coping
capacity. Although local evacuation centers and public build-
ings were available for the local people, there were cases in
which many old people died because they were not able to
evacuate quickly. In the field survey conducted by the
authors, some concrete buildings stood after the tsunami
disaster, which potentially could have become emergent
evacuation shelters if they had been reinforced/upgraded.
Although disaster evacuation drills were held regularly
in many local communities, they were not helpful to all
segments of the population because the evacuation centers
were not easily accessible for many old people and it was dif-
ficult for them to be really involved in these drills. Emergency
evacuation plans and drills require further improvement.
Second, Japan is not prepared for a truly “mega” disaster.
Experiences in other countries have shown that a large-scale
disaster cannot be coped with solely by local capacities and
aid from outside of the stricken region is indispensible. In
this earthquake disaster, the damaged/affected areas were
so extensive that clusters of local governments for cities and
prefectures were paralyzed. Not only the public sectors, but
also many private sectors were unable to provide adequate
services during this disaster due to damaged infrastructures.
These services include providing energy, food and water, and
medical treatment. A typical example of these difficulties is
the power frequency difference between East Japan and West
Japan. In Kansai area the frequency of electricity is 60 Hz,
while in Kanton area it is 50 Hz. Though there are two
stations able to covert frequency, the capacity is limited to
1 GW, far below the drop due to power plant failure.
Third, Japan’s response system is not as efficient as it
could be. A valuable lesson drawn from the Chinese experi-
ence in dealing with the Wenchuan Earthquake in 2008 (Shi
et al. 2009) is the significance of centralized power in coping
with large-scale disasters. In this earthquake-tsunami disaster,
the Japanese government appeared not as powerful as had
been expected in resolving many issues, particularly with
respect to the nuclear crisis. Coordination between the
government (emergency response headquarters), the Tokyo
Electric Power Company, and the nuclear and industrial
safety agency were not sufficiently organized. Information
was not simultaneously shared right after the disaster, which
delayed efficient decision making.
Finally, Japan, as well as probably all nuclear countries in
the world, is not truly prepared for nuclear crises. Although
there were two types of back-up power supply available in the
Fukushima nuclear power plant, they simply failed because
they were as vulnerable as the major power supply systems.
“Backup” did not make sense in this case. Obviously, a major
tsunami was not in the plan of the designer and operator of the
Norio et al. The 2011 Eastern Japan Great Earthquake Disaster 41
plant. This is a serious mistake because these plants are
located exactly in the coastal and earthquake-prone region of
6.3 Prepared for Unexpected Large-Scale Disasters
Several issues regarding the governance of large-scale
disaster risk arise from the experience of the Eastern Japan
Great Earthquake Disaster.
(1) The severity and unexpectedness of large-scale disas-
ters require a global, synergic, and efficient response system.
The response needs to mobilize all available resources, from
public and private sectors, affected and unaffected areas,
domestic and abroad. The response needs to highly coordi-
nate all disaster response entities so that the synergic effect is
achieved. The response must be founded on rational strategies
with orderly and efficient arrangements based on the
emergency plans. In this sense, centralized power in the face
of large-scale disasters is indispensible.
(2) The regionalized and globalized impacts of large-scale
disasters call for a new international platform to cope jointly.
The recent experiences of catastrophes worldwide imply that
the impact of a catastrophe is no longer confined to the
affected areas but spreads around the world in the context of
globalization. The mismanagement of the affected countries
will bring about serious consequences for the surrounding
countries or even the whole world.
The radioactive contamination caused by the nuclear
accident following the earthquake and tsunami is affecting
the rest of the world through atmospheric circulation. The
polluted water released by the Tokyo Electric Power
Company is likely to affect the entire Pacific Ocean in the
coming decades. In the long term, impacts of radiation should
be carefully monitored and assessed based on data derived
from previous nuclear accidents and state-of-the-art medical
knowledge. International frameworks are required to do so.
The Japanese economic instability caused by the quake
affects the yen and Japan’s domestic economy, which draws
attention from the G7 (Group of Seven) that is already plan-
ning to intervene against the yen when necessary. Moreover,
the existing international framework of humanitarian aid
cannot meet the demand of coping with large-scale disasters.
A mutual assistance system that incorporates a higher degree
of international involvement in coping with large-scale
disasters should be established.
(3) The complexity of the catastrophic impact urges us to
conduct further studies on multi-hazard and disaster-chain
issues. Due to the super-energy released in the catastrophe,
many regional physical-geographical factors are likely to
cross critical thresholds of balance and create secondary
hazards, which will transmit and enlarge the disaster in the
form of disaster chains to an extent beyond regional endur-
ance. In the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake in China, for exam-
ple, the quake generated a huge amount of loose soil and
rocks, inducing landslides and debris flow. In the Eastern
Japan Great Earthquake Disaster, what mattered most was not
the quake but the tsunami as well as the nuclear crisis that it
triggered. The chained-triggering phenomenon is similar to
other catastrophes in recent years. It is also a critical reason
that large-scale disasters generally claimed huge losses.
Therefore, it is necessary to study the formation mechanism
of disaster chains and issue region-specific precautions
against potential disaster chains.
(4) Key infrastructures require more robust systems
planning and design. Here key infrastructures refer to those
that can largely facilitate disaster relief efforts, for example,
life-line projects and transportation hubs, or those that create
serious threats, such as nuclear power plants and major water
dams. Failure of a key infrastructure would lead to the failure
of an entire system. In most cases problems only need to
occur in one or several small but critical components. The
power supply for the cooling system is only a subsystem of
the Fukushima power plant, but its failure collapsed the entire
system and was fatal. Event tree analysis, network analysis,
and systems engineering will be necessary for understanding
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Akita- 40, Ibaraki- 12,347, Chiba- 1010, Tochigi- 1696, Gunma- 63,
Saitama- 107, Niigata- 3200, Nagano- 1579.
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