Japan: One Year Later

On March 7, join the Pace Community in reflecting on last year’s catastrophic disaster in Japan as a Pace professor delivers a stunning eyewitness report of his recent trip to Fukushima.

Nearly a year ago, following the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant began spewing radioactive contamination into our water, air, and soil.

On March 7, Project Pericles and the Center for Community Action and Research present Japan: One Year Later from 3:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. in W612 in One Pace Plaza on the NYC Campus.

Dyson College professor and author of Ecology and Socialism: Solutions to Capitalist Ecological Crisis Chris Williams, who recently traveled to Fukushima, will discuss the aftermath of Fukushima and share the catastrophic consequences of the largest industrial disaster in human history.

Perspectives: Environmental

Andrew Revkin is a journalist and author who has been writing about the environment for more than 25 years. In addition to being the senior fellow at the Pace Academy for Applied Environmental Studies, he continues to write his “Dot Earth” blog for The New York Times opinion pages.

What are some of the environmental challenges the Japanese will be facing as they begin to rebuild?

Fears of radioactivity (even if levels end up far below background levels) are likely to have a profound effect for a very long time on everything from agriculture to property values in the northeast of Japan. That’s probably the biggest impact.

Will this disaster have global environmental implications?

The damage to the Fukushima nuclear complex has already greatly blunted prospects for expanded nuclear power generation using established reactor designs in developed countries and perhaps even in China, according to recent news reports. That is the main implication, given that nuclear power was increasingly seen by many experts, and more than a few environmental groups, as a necessity if greenhouse gas emissions are to be limited even as energy appetites rise.

How will this impact what you teach Pace students in the future?

It’s affected what I’m teaching them now. Just this week in the communication course I co-teach with Cara Cea for graduate environmental-science students, we spent a half hour exploring the challenges in communicating scientifically based views of health and environmental issues like radiation risk when fear and dramatic circumstances tend to distort how the press and public handle them. The students watched video of a CNN encounter over radiation risk in the United States between Bernie Rayno, a meteorologist, and Nancy Grace, a lawyer in the anchor chair. Then I had Rayno speak with the class via Skype. It was an eye-opening session!

What do you think is the greatest impact on the United States and the world?

The biggest impact should surely be a prompt examination of preparedness for earthquakes and tsunamis in regions facing similar, if not worse, risk—including the Pacific Northwest, as I’ve repeatedly written. I don’t anticipate a lot of concrete action, though. It seems countries need direct experience with such catastrophes to shift practices. I wish that weren’t so, and this is one reason I’m at Pace to work on boosting students’ “environmental understanding.”

What methods of support, aside from financial, can we lend to Japan?

Japan really doesn’t need our help nearly as much as other countries in poor regions afflicted by disasters—or facing impending ones. Padang, a city of half a million in Indonesia, could easily see nearly half its population die in the inevitable tsunami that is coming there, almost certainly in the next few decades. This post on the “seismic divide” around the world includes sobering details on Padang from Brian Tucker. I encourage readers to have a look.

How far reaching are the effects of this disaster and how might this change Japan’s environmental strategies going forward?

As I said before, the two big issues revealed here are: the deep potential vulnerability of some of the aging fleet of nuclear plants around the world (a different issue than the overall issue of supplying energy with nuclear power in years to come) and the reinforced picture of a world that needs to seriously act to limit losses—both human and economic—from inevitable disasters.

The Indian Point Energy Center is located just 38 miles north of New York City. In addition to being close to the Pace campuses, the Ramapo Fault line is a mere mile from the facilities. If a situation similar to Japan’s were to occur here, how might our experience differ from Japan’s?

I’m in the process of finding out, although there’s no geological evidence at all here of the potential for an earthquake anywhere near the size of the 9.0 shock off the coast of Japan. I’ll be visiting Indian Point within a week. The big issue, to my mind, is not one of engineering, but attitudes. Whether in the BP disaster, the loss of two space shuttles, or the failures at the Fukushima complex, it seems we still have a big challenge in sustaining a culture of vigilance and proactive risk reduction. In a recent post, I included a link to my long 1995 article on efforts to shift the culture at Indian Point. I’ll let you know what I find out.

What are your thoughts? We want to hear from you, so be sure to comment in the box below.

Perspectives: Economic

Niso Abuaf, finance professor at Pace University’s Lubin School of Business in New York City, is a former managing director and head of financial strategy for Credit Suisse and Salomon Smith Barney and a former vice president and economist for Chase Manhattan Bank.

What impact will this disaster have on the economies of both Japan and the world?

Given Japan’s diminishing economic influence in the world, particularly as it relates to GDP growth as opposed to the absolute level of GDP, this disaster will have negligible effects on world output and growth. So far, the effects seem to be mainly related to supply chain disturbances, such as various auto, electronic, and high-tech components that are manufactured in the affected areas. I would call these temporary blips that represent short-term headaches but have no long-lasting significance.

What impact will this have on manufacturing in Japan and how will this affect the U.S. market?

Japanese manufacturing in the affected areas will likely go down; Japanese manufacturing in the non-affected areas will likely pick up the slack. Japanese investment in infrastructure will go up, also bolstered by fiscal and monetary stimuli. As stated before, the U.S. will see supply-chain disturbances. This might also boost sales by U.S. auto manufacturers as they start capitalizing on their recently instituted improvements and start exploiting weaknesses of the Japanese auto manufacturers.

 

As import bans on Japanese food products widen, what long-term effects do you predict will erupt because of the disaster?

I understand that, as reported by the New York Times, in the last couple of days, only about 4 percent of the U.S. food supply comes from Japan. Moreover, Japan is categorically not a low-cost food producer. My impression is that Japanese food exports cater to a specialized, non-essential niche market. Japan is neither Australia, nor the United States, nor Argentina. That is the first-order effects should be negligible. On the other hand, if the radiation leaks affect Pacific fishing, that would be a bigger problem. That would be an environmental engineering question that you would need to pursue with such experts.

 

How will this impact what you teach Pace students in the future?

How one can incorporate Black-Swan outcomes in planning and the importance of behavioral economics in decision making. People are short-sighted and have short-memories. So, this disaster will have important consequences for current decisions but will soon be forgotten, just like a lot of people have mostly forgotten the financial crisis of 2008. I have already incorporated the crisis into my teaching of MBA-level econ courses, when I asked students to fully evaluate all the costs and benefits of all energy sources, by asking them to fully price all the externalities of each energy alternative.

 

What do you think is the greatest impact on the United States and the world?

Short-term loss of confidence and fear that will soon be forgotten. Somewhat of an increase in the cost of nuclear energy as the world will realize that they can’t do without it, but that they have to make it somewhat safer, with the full understanding that no technology is 100 percent safe. I bet you many more people die from the pollution from coal-powered power plants than they do from the radiation of nuclear power plants. In fact, if I recall correctly, the effects of coal pollution is in the hundreds of thousands. [Editor’s Note: A recent study done by the World Health Organization supports this statement.]

 

How far reaching are the effects of this disaster and how might this change Japan’s economic strategies going forward?

Japan has dealt with earthquakes and other natural disasters for centuries. They are an ancient, mature, stoic society steeped in their religious traditions. Other than minor technical adjustments around the edges (such as increasing the safety of nuclear power plants, which will ultimately increase costs), their fundamental life philosophy will not change.

 

The Indian Point Energy Center is located just 38 miles north of New York City. In addition to being close to the Pace campuses, the Ramapo Fault line is a mere mile from the facilities. If a situation similar to Japan’s were to occur here, how might our experience differ from Japan’s?

Our experience would be much worse. Our societal norms are diametrically opposed to Japan’s. They are stoic; we are not. They are long-term focused; we are short-term focused. They are much better at sacrificing for the greater good; we are totally individualistic and egotistical. Our current political mess and our performance in international educational rankings is proof of what I am saying. Another example: a few years ago due to an energy crisis, the Japanese government decreed that thermostats in the summer should be set higher, so even in five-star hotels like the Imperial in Tokyo, people were uncomfortable with the ambient temperature. Can you imagine doing that in the United States? There would be a gazillion law suits.

For more information regarding the financial impact of the crisis in Japan, see the Pace University press release featuring Professor Abuaf.


What are your thoughts? We want to hear from you, so be sure to comment in the box below.

Perspectives: Mental Health

Kayoko Hayashi is native of Nagoya, Japan which is situated about two hundred miles southeast of Tokyo. She is also a psychology intern at the Counseling Center under the direction of Richard Shadick, PhD. She lends her own perspective to the disaster in Japan.

How are the people of Japan coping with yet another nuclear disaster?

The sense that I get from Japanese media is that people in Japan are currently “faced with” the nuclear crisis while not knowing how to “cope with” it and not knowing how things will unfold. The majority of my friends and family who live in Tokyo, seem to be calm about it. One of my friend’s family [members] said, “We have family, house, and job here. When things happen, things happen. We will deal with it then, and we will do our best to prepare for the crisis, yet also to avoid the crisis.” Besides people who have been evacuated from their hometown, I am getting the sense from people I know in Japan that a lot of people are staying where they are and trying to continue their life because they have work and everything else there. The tone of Japanese media and government appears to be more reluctant to address the severity of crisis, so their communication might have impacted the people’s response to the nuclear accident. Japanese society [has] never experienced such a big nuclear accident, so [the] government, experts, and lay-people are continuously trying to assess the severity of situation and to learn how they should all deal with this crisis regarding people’s physical safety and its economical impact.

What are some of the short- and long-term mental health implications?

The Japanese newspapers that I have access to via the Internet do not really talk about mental health issues. The government and media appear to focus more on economical, infrastructural, and medical issues in response to this series of crisis in Japan. However, a lot of people must have experienced Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and many other symptoms in reaction to this disaster that is beyond our imagination.

How will this impact what you teach Pace students in the future?

The concept that we can never take our safety for granted. Anything in our lives can be shaken up in any moment.

What do you think is the greatest impact on the United States and the world?

I think that one of the great impacts of this incident in Japan on the U.S. and the world has been the safety issue. As we saw through media, all the buildings, cars, and ships were crushed by earthquakes and washed away by tsunami. After the nuclear plant explosion, the situation worsened, and some regions had to ban the consumption of local water and agricultural products due to the high load of radiation. This series of incidents teach us how safety can be taken away in one second. Things like water, air, milk, agricultural products, electricity, and other things that we take it for granted everyday are not there anymore. Scary facts about the nuclear plant

What methods of support, aside from financial, can we lend to Japan?

Helping spirits for those affected by the crisis in Japan—many celebrities and professionals are gathering to fundraise or to collect useful information about dealing with crisis. This spirit will be heard and appreciated in Japan. Sharing experiences, tips, and findings from how crisis has been dealt with in the United States (for example, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and the fire in San Francisco) in different areas, including mental health, politics, economy, infrastructure, agriculture, will also be helpful.

What are your thoughts? We want to hear from you, so be sure to comment in the box below.

Perspectives: Crisis Management

Joseph Ryan, PhD, Pace professor and chair of the criminal justice and sociology department, is a national expert on community policing and police management related issues. Ryan is also a 25-year veteran of the New York City Police Department.

Since the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, and of course, more recently the tsunami that devastated Japan, how well would you say the Tsunami Warning System functioned?

My simple response to that is: as good as any warning system can be. The Tsunami Warning went off three minutes after the earth quake and that gave people only about 20 minutes to get away. That’s not a lot of time. One thing that was interesting is that I saw film footage of this and it’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon, it’s a clear day, and then the alarm goes off and we’d look around and say “What’s going on?” It worked as well as it could, but obviously time is of the essence.

There are some sources that criticize an incomplete crisis management plan at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Drawing on your own expertise and media reports, would be inclined to agree or disagree?

It’s unfair to criticize a preparedness plan. My biggest pitch is that all of us should be involved in preparedness. When I speak to an audience, I ask the audience how many of them have a week’s supply of food as an emergency response; 99 percent of people say they’re not ready. The whole idea of an “incomplete crisis management program” is something I focus on with our master’s program. This isn’t something we can talk about once in a while; we have to talk about it every day. We have FEMA, waiting for something to happen, and if nothing happens, the federal government will cut their funding. The moment we cut funding, we forget about it. We must constantly be prepared. I think we take it for granted and we assume the government is going to step in.

What is the key learning for the United States in terms of protecting our own country from natural disasters and/or nuclear meltdowns?

If you look at Japan now, a few weeks after, there is still destruction everywhere. There is no government agency in the United States or in Japan that is responsible for rebuilding. There was one picture, of a woman surrounded by rubble—this was her home, all of her belongings—where do you go after that? This is a lesson plan. We’ve never really had this except for Chernobyl, which is just a giant sealed sarcophagus. It will be generations before people can go back to that area. These snowstorms we’ve been having the last few winters are examples of the limitations our government has. We need more lessons learned, on a purely Don Quixote level, I tell the students in my masters program that they are the generation that needs to begin to answer these questions.

What do you think is the greatest impact on the United States and the world?

Their emergency response is to pump the ocean water to cool the reactors… where is the water going? Back into the ocean. They thought about putting the water on ships, but then where do you send the ships to get rid of the water?

What methods of support, aside from financial, can we lend to Japan?

What can we do? Do we go over with heavy equipment and start rebuilding Japan? There was a photo in the newspaper yesterday. It was a major ship that was just on the ground. I mean, what do you do? I can’t imagine how many cranes you would need to get that ship back into the water… Just look at the pictures, they need a lot of support.

How far reaching are the effects of this disaster and how does this change their crises strategy going forward?

The things we’re looking for are lessons learned. Reassessments of all nuclear facilities—do we have good plans?

The Indian Point Energy Center is located just 38 miles north of New York City. In addition to being close to the Pace campuses, the Ramapo Fault line is a mere mile from the facilities. If a situation similar to Japan’s were to occur here, how might our experience differ from Japan’s?

This is a hot topic. What would happen if an earthquake happened near NYC and disaster was on the same level? I couldn’t even think about where to begin. These students are learning what triage would actually mean in an emergency situation. These are the types of things that we are ill-prepared for. Think back to September 11—there were so many people willing to help, but no one knew how to coordinate it. Drills work, and practice exercises, but I say to my students, could you right now push a stretcher with ten bodies down a city block, turn around and push another one? Are you in that good of physical shape? No one really thinks about that. I believe that everyone needs to be prepared.

What are your thoughts? We want to hear from you, so be sure to comment in the box below.