Could it happen to us?

We call her Mother Earth.  But sometimes she is Medea, murdering her children in cold fury.

One of the things that is so shocking about the earthquake and tsunamis that hit Japan last weekend is that Japan was prepared.  Japan is not littered with sub-standard buildings and slums clinging to mountain sides.  It is a modern society that has taken the risks of earthquakes and tsunamis seriously.  Its buildings are constructed to withstand earthquakes.  It has sea-walls built along the entire coast to defend against tsunamis.

And yet tens of thousands– and possibly even a hundred thousand – people are dead.  Entire villages have been swept away by the raging waters,  entire trains are gone, boats have disappeared in the whirlpools, millions are living in shelters, many of whom will never be able to return to homes that are no longer there.

Now it is snowing, many roads are impassable, and there are shortages of food, water, and medical supplies beginning to be felt in the shelters.

Four nuclear reactors along the coast are threatening to spew forth deadly radiation and workers are risking their  lives in – so far – futile attempts to cool the reactors down.  The terrifying thing is that not only could it have been worse.   It could still get worse with after-shocks that are powerful enough to trigger more tsunamis and collapse more buildings.  The potential risks from the nuclear reactors alone are catastrophic.  Electricity is in short supply, and the economy currently crippled.

Could something this destructive happen some place else in the developed world?  Germany is closing its nuclear plans to examine this very question.  China has just made a similar announcement.  Could it happen in the United States?  Yes.  The west coast is particularly vulnerable to earthquakes and subsequent tsunamis, but there are the fault lines of tectonic plates on both the east and west coasts.

There are times when Mother Earth makes the destructiveness of her human children look like mere play.


About Terry Sissons

Terry Sissons is the author of The Big Bang to Now: All of Time in Six Chunks, and this blog is a dialogue about the universe and what’s happened in the last 13 billions years.
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