25,000 dead and counting

The news from Japan continues to be awful, and it will get worse:

THE number of people confirmed dead or listed as missing in Japan surpassed 25,000 yesterday 12 days after a massive earthquake and tsunami struck the country's northeast coast.

There are fears of a much higher toll from the disaster, which flattened entire towns along the Pacific coast of northern Honshu island.

The National Police Agency said 9487 people had been confirmed dead and 15,617 officially listed as missing - a total of 25,104 - as of 9pm (AEDT) yesterday as a result of the March 11 catastrophe.

A total of 2755 people have been injured.

The death toll alone makes other news events (including the Fukushima reactor failure, which has so far not killed anyone) relatively trivial by comparison. I thought I should point that out lest someone get the impression that I consider the protests in Madison or the damaged Fukushima reactor to be more important.

Interestingly, a CBS poll indicates that there has been a drop in support for nuclear power in the United States. Which is understandable. I think most of us can agree that it's a bad idea to build nuclear reactors in earthquake fault zones.

But in light of the carnage, is it wise to have millions of people living where no nuclear reactor ought to be allowed?

posted by Eric on 03.23.11 at 02:20 PM


Life is a lethal endeavor. The result is always death. The best we can do is minimize risks. In reactors or living places, no one will ever be safe. The question is "is the benefit worth the risk." I rather say yes, to both, given informed consent.

Sarah   ·  March 23, 2011 2:35 PM

The unfortunate thing about Japan is, it's so mountainous that there is a relatively small amount of liveable land. Combine that with a fairly large population, and there's not much choice about where people can live.

Overall, though, Sarah is right... human beings will live where they can, and will die where they live. Even here, in Iowa, last night we had a bunch of severe storms and tornadoes that could have killed any number of people. And sometimes we have earthquakes, too (albeit rarely). Point is, nowhere is truly safe, and sometimes $#@& happens.

John S.   ·  March 23, 2011 5:05 PM

I agree with Sarah. And partly with John. I hope the Japanese may soon look again at some of the more mountainous land. At least the non-volcanic ones.

Kathy Kinsley   ·  March 23, 2011 7:09 PM

The reactor accident is not over. And the results will be felt for decades.

And now it is unsafe for babies to drink Tokyo water:


M. Simon   ·  March 23, 2011 8:07 PM

"But in light of the carnage, is it wise to have millions of people living where no nuclear reactor ought to be allowed?"

I have read lots of asinine comments, but that's one of the best. Where are they supposed to live? Japan is a heavily populated ISLAND. In a known earthquake prone part of the world.

They took a risk, and for many years there was no problem. The quake could have happened somewhere else and killed more people.

What about the millions of people in L.A.?
What about the people in Tornado Alley or Florida (Hurricanes)?

EarlW   ·  March 23, 2011 8:51 PM

I agree with Sarah too, but I guess I was too obtuse in my comparison, as people obviously aren't getting it.

My point is, why prohibit only reactors (which have killed comparatively few people) when many thousands of people have been killed by regular buildings?

To give another example, why does it make sense to prohibit nukes, while allowing cities like New Orleans to be built below sea level?

Because nukes kill people?

Being asinine is the purpose of my existence, I guess.

Eric Scheie   ·  March 23, 2011 9:40 PM

I understood your point and I thought I was agreeing with/reinforcing it. I thought you were absolutely right.

Sarah   ·  March 24, 2011 12:38 AM

I've appreciated your posts, Eric, and Sarah's comments also (and as usual).

I find it telling that the two of you are trying to put maintain a big-picture perspective and think rationally, while Simon prefers to compare it a space opera analogy. I think the latter reflects an "everything must be zero risk" attitude.

That an old design for a power plant stressed beyond its design limits (earthquake: design: Richter 8.0, actual: Richter 9.0; tsunami: design: 5.7 m, actual: >10 m) has produced so *little* problem is, rationally, a good testament to the relative safety of nuclear power generation.

Thanks again for you blog: I enjoy reading it, even when I disagree. It is challenging, and that's a good thing.

CBI   ·  March 24, 2011 9:59 AM

I have no disagreement with Simon, as everything he said has been right. Moreover, he knows more about the engineering side than anyone I know. His warnings should be heeded. As a pragmatist, though, I would still allow nukes to be built, and I have nowhere seen him saying they shouldn't be built; only that they need to be improved.

I see him as an eloquent voice of caution, and myself as a somewhat corrupt layperson with pragmatic and lower standards.

Bear in mind that he is working on fusion power and if the project bears fruit, it is going to make present day nuclear power look medieval by comparison.

Eric Scheie   ·  March 24, 2011 3:08 PM

Wait till the first stories about mystery clothes washing up on US beaches hit the airways.

Alan Kellogg   ·  March 24, 2011 9:05 PM

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