Japan's 2011 earthquake and tsunami: remembrance, preparedness and rebuilding

By:  Editorial Board
Source: The Seattle Times

JAPAN'S tenacious spirit has been on soulful display for the past 12 months as Fukushima Prefecture and the nation recover from the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

The March 11, 2011, tragedy that took 20,000 lives will be memorialized with events from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday at Seattle Center. The opening ceremony is at the Fisher Pavilion. At 2 p.m. the Kobe Bell, north of the International Fountain, will be rung. There will be a moment of silence at 2:46 p.m. when the 9.0 quake struck the northeast coast of Japan and was followed by a 46-foot wall of water.

The bell was a gift to Seattle from the citizens of Kobe for the 1962 World's Fair. Kobe lost 6,425 residents to an earthquake in 1995. A 1923 quake in Kanto, Japan, claimed 143,000 lives.

This tragic history has dogged recovery of Japan's nuclear-power industry after the meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, and radiation leaks from a fourth. Why, the country is asking, were not appropriate precautions taken to secure the plant and observe higher safety standards?

One of the consequences of the disaster is that all but two of Japan's 54 reactors at 17 sites have been shut down nearly a third of Japan's energy production. Some closures are due to stress tests and safety modifications, but in many areas the local governments are wary of restarting reactors.

The U.S. government has revised travel warnings to a smaller area around the stricken power plant.

Japan's grim lessons are being tracked here on the other edge of the Pacific Ring of Fire. Washington's U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell and state Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark are raising concerns about federal proposals to cut spending on tsunami-warning systems and hazard-mitigation programs.

Cantwell is also telling the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration not to get complacent about the potential danger from tsunami debris headed this direction.

One measure of respect for Japan's traumatic experience is to glean lifesaving and economy-protecting lessons from its tragedy. For Puget Sound and the Pacific Coast, the basic earthquake question is when, not if. Emergency preparedness is basic.