Accident and Design

It is weird how people focus on the nuclear angle. One Irish news programme even got a radiological official on to assure us that we wouldn’t be in any danger here. We really have no sense of proportion about radiation – and I speak as someone who is not in favour of nuclear electricity generation. This is against a background of perhaps 10,000 actual deaths caused by the natural disaster. So far it’s only been reported that 160 people may have even been exposed to some level of radiation.

For sure, questions do need to be asked about why such an earthquake-prone country is so dependent on this energy source. And it is also true that the nuclear threat is a human element in the story, a preventable disaster.

But we shouldn’t overlook the preventable disaster that was prevented. An earthquake and a tsunami of unprecedented size struck one of the most densely populated places on the Earth. There might easily have been millions dead.

In a place where almost all habitable land is coastal there is little one can do to stave off a tsunami, short of abandoning the country altogether. But buildings can be designed to withstand tremors. They were, and they did so brilliantly. Compare this to Christchurch where they were not anticipating an earthquake and so hadn’t built for it. Amid this tragedy, Japan can take some comfort in the fact that tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives were saved.