March 21, 2011

This Weekend’s News: Japan's Recovery

The death toll in Japan reached
more than 8,000 on Sunday, with another 12,000 still missing
since the
devastating 9.0 earthquake and tsunami struck the island nation’s northeastern
communities ten days ago. Power was partially restored to Japan’s Fukushima
nuclear plant, the site of one of the worst nuclear crises since the Chernobyl
nuclear power disaster in 1986. According to The Los Angeles Times, workers
at the plant were able to reconnect two of the reactors to the power grid
offering hope that the facility’s cooling system could be restored to stave off
continued overheating in the damaged reactors. And though progress has been
made, it was not overstated. Indeed, experts cautioned that there was still much
to be done. The Associated Press
reported on Sunday: “Still, serious problems remained at the Fukushima Dai-ichi
nuclear complex. Pressure
unexpectedly rose in a third unit's reactor, meaning plant operators may need
to deliberately release radioactive steam

Just as progress was being made to contain the nuclear
crisis, concerns were raised about nuclear contamination as radiation was
detected in food stocks many miles away. “The government said it had found
higher than normal levels of radioactivity in spinach and milk at farms up to
90 miles away from the plants, the
first confirmation that the unfolding nuclear crisis has affected the nation’s
food supply
,” The New York Times reported
on Sunday. “Minuscule amounts of radioactive iodine were also detected in the
water supply in Tokyo and its five surrounding prefectures. In Tokyo, about 170
miles from the Fukushima Daiichi plant, the level was less than 1 percent of
that considered dangerous by the government. In
Fukushima city, about 50 miles from the power plant, the levels were still
below half of the legal limit.

While government officials said the radiation
levels were too small to pose any immediate health risk
, the concerns nevertheless
raised fears, worrying some that Japan’s long-term recovery could be hampered
by damage to Japan’s brand of signature foods, including world-renowned seafood
(Sushi) and Kobe beef. The New York Times
reported on Sunday that, “no
food exports from Japan have failed quality tests being done by other countries
And the government has not made any mention of contaminated farm animals or
seafood products. Yet others are discussing voluntary testing in order preempt
any fears that animal or seafood products could be tainted:

“If the accident becomes bigger,
like Chernobyl, it will damage all the brands and people won’t buy any of it,
even if it’s safe,” said Hiroshi Uchida, a former professor of agricultural
science, speaking of Kobe, Sendai and other brands of high-priced, top-quality
Japanese beef. “Even
though the government hasn’t mentioned the possibility of contamination of
beef, we should start testing to convince people the beef is safe.”

The last ten days have been trying for Japan. But reports
coming out of there have shown the incredible resolve the Japanese people have
to come together in a time of crisis. I’m hopeful that as we look toward the
next ten days, and then the next ten days, that resolve will payoff.

In the wake of events in Japan, CNAS released two policy
briefs on Friday. As Christine wrote on the blog Saturday, the first policy
brief – Disaster in Japan: Nuclear Energy, the
Economy and the U.S.-Japan Alliance
– explores pressing questions for
American policymakers, including a look at the world’s energy future, written
by Christine. The second policy brief
by our colleagues Patrick Cronin and Brian Burton gleans some lessons from this
crisis to help policymakers think through the kind of planning scenarios the
United States needs for the coming decades. Both are a must read.

This Week’s Events

On Tuesday at 8:30 AM, George Washington University (GWU) will
host a World
Water Day Symposium
. Then at 9:00 AM, head to the Center for Strategic and
International Studies for an event on “High-Impact
Energy Efficiency.”

On Wednesday at 10:00 AM, the Heritage Foundation is holding
a panel discussion to explore if “Rare
Earths Require Congressional Action.”

Thursday starting at 4:00 PM, the Elliot School at GWU will
host a discussion on “Russia’s
Energy Strategy Abroad.”

Finally, Friday at 1:30 PM go to SAIS for an event on “An
Evolving Climate Regime: Cancun and Beyond.”