Biggest moments of 2011 #4 A Japanese catastrophe
An earthquake. A tsunami. A nuclear meltdown.
Just one would’ve been devastating. But we’ve seen few catastrophes quite like this troika in human history.
A 9.0 magnitude earthquake. A tsunami that was more than a dozen metres tall in some areas. A huge radiation cloud. More than 15,000 people killed. A first world country crushed.
What happened next
The size of this story was brought home to Australians not by the written word but by pictures. Cameras in phones and cameras on the shoulders of news staff brought home the apocalyptic scale of the disaster.
Remember the footage captured by Japanese officeworkers on their smartphones as their offices collapsed around them. Remember the vision of waves surging relentlessly through the Japanese countryside, consuming and digesting all the farmhouses in its path. Remember the boat on top of the house and the Fukushima plant blowing up.
After mass evacuations around Fukushima and a muddled and dishonest response by the Japanese government and the power company, the power plant was only just stabilised this past week.
Dismantling the power plant will take four decades.
The disaster provoked heated debate over whether nuclear generators are a safe way to produce electricity throughout the world. The German government announced after the disaster that all of the country’s nuclear power plants would be shut down by 2022.
What we learned
Nuclear power is dangerous. If you’re going to have massive thermonuclear plants fuelled by radioactive material in backyards, they need to be tightly regulated, supervised and operated.
Government and corporate spindoctors don’t always have the public interest at heart when disaster strikes. The Japanese, who have a cultural respect for authority, are less likely to trust the mainstream media and the government due to their obfuscation over the disaster.
Our media, new and old, capture every angle of a disaster this size.
How The Punch covered it
We opened our coverage with a piece by Ant Sharwood colourfully headlined “Whackjob barrow-pushers make light of Japan’s tragedy”, in which we noted how people hijacked disaster coverage across the internet to push their personal little agendas. Classy.
The catastrophe then re-energised our nuclear debate here at home. Broadcaster Tracey Spicer kicked it off by questioning whether nuclear power is really worth it.
The image of a child surrendering to be tested for radiation poisoning in Japan is heartbreaking.
Commenters split the atom over the Adelaide Advertiser resources reporter Cameron England’s piece which argued that renewables just aren’t ready to replace nuclear yet.
It is entirely acceptable to revisit the operating and construction parameters within which the technology is used following the Fukushima incident, but to bury plans to continue nuclear developments, when there is no viable, greenhouse-friendly alternative, would be foolish and short-sighted.
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