March 14, 2011

This Weekend’s News: After the Quake

The devastating 8.9 earthquake that struck Japan on Friday
and the subsequent tsunami that crippled several of the island nation’s coast
communities – even sweeping across the Pacific Ocean and striking
and coastal
towns on the U.S. West Coast
– captured the headlines this weekend. Videos
and images of the quake and the destructive power of the tsunami have been
astonishing. On Sunday, The New York
published a set
of satellite photos showing coastal communities in northeastern Japan before
and after the tsunami
. The contrast between those images is striking. Japanese officials on Monday said that the death toll could reach 10,000.

To make matters worse, Japanese authorities announced on Sunday
that two nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station could
be suffering partial meltdowns. Despite stringent safety protocols, including earthquake
triggers that shutdown the nuclear reactions at the impacted power stations, a
series of cascading failures threatened the cooling systems for several
reactors while an explosion in one of Fukushima’s reactor buildings prompted
concerns about a possible radiation leak. (The Union for Concerned Scientists All Things Nuclear blog provided a continually
updated post on the crisis at Fukushima over the weekend
.) On Sunday
evening, The New York Times reported
that the nuclear crisis spread to two more reactors:

late Sunday, the government had declared an emergency at only two nuclear
plants, Daiichi and the nearby Fukushima Daini.
Then, the International
Atomic Energy Agency announced that Japan
had added a third to the list because radiation had been detected outside the
plant, which is about 60 miles from Sendai, a city of 1 million people in
Japan’s northeast. The government did not immediately confirm the report from
the I.A.E.A., which said it was not yet clear what caused the release of
radiation. Soon after that announcement, Kyodo News reported that a plant about
75 miles north of Tokyo was having cooling system problems.

Japan’s nuclear crisis has prompted broader
safety concerns
here in the United States about nuclear power. Indeed,
there is likely to be renewed discussion about safety standards and the costs
of building new nuclear facilities, which can cost several billion dollars for
one plant. But despite
the headlines that have popped up over the weekend
, it’s probably too early
to tell what Japan’s nuclear crisis could mean for U.S. policy. Nevertheless,
it is likely a question that the Obama administration will grapple with in the
coming months given the administration’s support of nuclear power as an
alternative energy source that could help combat climate change by reducing the
nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. In February 2010, the Obama administration
announced that the Department of Energy would grant
conditional loan guarantees for the construction of two new nuclear reactors

in Georgia.

In related news, ABC
reported on Saturday that the United States would send military and
humanitarian support to Japan. “Operation Tomodachi, Japanese for ‘friendship,’
is coordinating all humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations,”
the report said. NPR noted on Sunday
that widespread
food and gas shortages
had been reported throughout Japan, while 1.4
million households were without water
since the quake. According to ABC News, “Two
Marine helicopters have already delivered 1,500 pounds of rice and bread to the
hardest hit area, Shioishi City in Miyagi Prefecture.
The food was a
donation from Ebina City, a suburb of Tokyo. Meanwhile, five Air Force
helicopters and crews from rescue squadrons were en route to an air base near
Tokyo to support search and rescue missions.” In addition, the Japanese
government accepted
search and rescue assistance from specialized USAID teams based in Los Angeles
and Fairfax
.  And the USS Ronald
Reagan was also heading to Japan to serve as a refueling station for Japanese
Self-Defense Forces while they conducted search and rescue operations.

Reports from Japan continue to pour in, and we will do our
best to keep the blog updated with the most pressing news. For continual
coverage of what we’re reading, follow us on Twitter: @clparthemore and @wmrogers.

This Week’s Events

At noon
today, head to the Wilson Center for the launch of The
Future Faces of War: Population and National Security

by Jennifer
Dabbs Sciubba. Kathleen Hicks
, the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for
Strategy, Plans, and Forces, will be discussing the book with the author.

Tuesday at 8:00 AM, the Association for International Agriculture and Rural
Development (AIARD) will be holding its annual Capitol Hill Forum,
“Hunger Won’t Wait
Then at 10:30 AM, the Brookings Institution will host Denmark’s Prime Minister
for a discussion on the Global Energy Agenda in the 21st

Wednesday starting at 3:00 PM, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute
will be hosting an event on Capitol Hill, “Natural Gas as a Transportation
Fuel: Prospects and Challenges.”