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Update on the Japan Crisis

Nearly five months after a magnitude 9 earthquake unleashed a massive tsunami, caused northeastern Japan to spring 13 feet to the east and utterly crippled the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, details about the extent of the damage and the amount of radiation that’s still spewing from the troubled reactors is only now coming to light. The Japanese government, in collusion with the nuclear regulatory agency and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) tried to hide critical information from the public concerning radiation levels in the Tohoku region not only to ostensibly curb panic, but to avoid having to pay damages to those who make their living in the region and/or shoulder the expense of relocating even more evacuees. Continue reading

Anti-Nuclear Protests in Japan; Quakebook Paperback Edition On Sale

On the three-month anniversary of the March 11 earthquake in Japan, protesters around the country took to the streets to protest nuclear power after the true scale of the nuclear disaster and details of gross mismanagement of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant by the Japanese government and TEPCO came to light. Rally organizers in Tokyo say about 20,000 people participated in the demonstration. Continue reading

Buy A Book, Help Japan – Quakebook

In just over a week, a group of professional and citizen journalists collaborated via Twitter to source, edit and publish a book of first-person accounts of the March 11th earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The goal: to sell the book and donate all monies to the Japanese Red Cross earthquake and tsunami relief efforts.

A former British journalist residing in Japan who blogs under the pseudonym Our Man in Abiko (check it out – he’s a very funny fellow) wanted to do something for the hundreds of thousands of people that have been affected by this event, from those directly in the earthquake zone, the path of the tsunami, in the evacuation area around the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, to those in many other areas of Japan, whose lives have been disrupted by rolling power blackouts, poor road conditions, food and water supply difficulties, and more. Our Man thought up 2:46: Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake, and spread word on Twitter via the hashtag #quakebook. He gathered stories from around the country about people’s experiences of people in the thick of the disaster and its aftermath.

Contributions to the bookessays, artwork and photographspoured in from writers, artists, and photographers all over Japan, as well as elsewhere in Asia and North America and Europe. In addition to narratives by the journalists and people who braved the disaster, the book contains writing created specifically for 2:46 by authors William Gibson, Barry Eisler, Jake Adelstein and artist/musician Yoko Ono.

The primary goal,” Our Man in Abiko says, “is to raise awareness, and in doing so raise money to donate to the Japanese Red Cross Society to help the thousands of homeless, hungry and cold survivors of the earthquake and tsunami.” The collection reflects the fear and confusion caused by Japan’s unprecedented disaster. “But #quakebook isn’t all gloom and doom. By the time you finish reading it, you’ll have a sense of hope, and even optimism.”

2:46 is now available as a Kindle ebook here. (The Kindle app is free for use on your computer, iPhone, Droid.) Amazon has graciously agreed to waive their standard ebook fees, so 100% of the $9.99 purchase price of 2:46 will go directly to the JRC. Digital versions for other ebook readers and hardbound editions are currently in the works. The book is currently being translated into Japanese, Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, German and French-language versions.

Please support the Japan Red Cross and buy a copy today. For updates and press coverage of the book, please visit the Quakebook blog, the official Twitter account, or join the Facebook group.

In the Aftermath of Tragedy
Japan Faces Leadership Questions

(via Flickr)

As Japan races against time to get its Fukushima nuclear reactor under control, questions are being raised about quality of leadership in this time of crisis. As of this writing, the alert level of the reactor has been raised to 5 point (out of 7, on par with the Three-Mile Island incident), there are about 15,000 people dead or missing and another 440,000 people in evacuation centers. From the regions north to those surrounding Tokyo, residents are trying to go about their lives while worrying about their relatives, fearing dire radiation poisoning, trying to find non-existent food in stores, hastily planned rolling blackouts that have been implemented by the government to save energy, limited train service, limited bank service, no fuel for heat and transport, and an ever-present fear of aftershocks. Cities located further out like Osaka, Kobe, and beyond are trying to deal with a sudden influx of people trying to escape the areas deemed affected by the radiation

Prime Minister Naoto Kan

Clearly, this is a time when people are looking to strong leadership to help them find strength and hope. Prime Minister Naoto Kan doesn’t seem to be that person. Up until this earthquake, popular opinion of Kan was in the 20-percentile range and it looked likely that he was going to resign despite statements to the contrary. Kan came into power by a historical defeat in 2009 of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) by the Democratic Party (DPJ) to take the leadership. There were high expectations and the defeat was in answer to the recent economic crash. Up until then, the LDP had controlled the government for 54 years with the exception of a short time in 1993. The defeat was momentous.

When the earthquake struck, Kan quickly sent troops into the worst affected areas and shut down reactors that posed a risk. However throughout this crisis, the general public sentiment, and indeed, that of the world has been that Nagata-chou has not been forthcoming with critical information regarding nuclear safety. For starters, there has been a striking lack of frequent, direct communications from the Prime Minister, allowing the Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano to be the face of the government. He has been the link for people who are grieving and has grown so popular (and thus reinforcing the unpopularity of Kan) that there has been concern on the part of the public that he has been “too much” the face of the crisis. Twitter channels have popped up with hashtags such as #Edano_nero (Edano, go to sleep) and #Kan_okiro (Kan_wake up). Part of the reason for the huge connection he has stirred within people is because he has not been the standard politician, favoring instead to speak directly and not with a script. Kan has yet to go to the affected area, saying that he is considering going next week, almost two weeks after the tragedy.

But despite that, are they giving enough information? One of the main reasons being considered is that there is a possibility that the government has been withholding information because it has not wanted to induce mass panic. The average Japanese in Tokyo has now been required to go back to work and is trying to resume life as usual. However, countries like the US, France, Hong Kong, and Germany have been sending in charter flights for people wishing to go to Osaka or leave the country entirely. When the head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commissions, Gregory Jaczko commented on the danger level due to the lack of water in the cooling pools of the number 3 and 4 reactors, Edano, avoided comment. According to the New York Times on March 17th,

Japanese officials did not flatly deny Mr. Jaczko’s comments but hedged. Asked about the level of water in the No. 4 reactor, Yoshitaka Nagayama, a spokesman for Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, said: “Because we have been unable to go to the scene, we cannot confirm whether there is water left or not in the spent fuel pool at Reactor No. 4.

The technical nature of the issue perhaps compounded the Japanese news media’s tendency to shield the government. Reporters who cover agencies and ministries are organized in press clubs that have cozy ties with officials and decide what to report — and what not to. The lack of attention received by Mr. Jaczko’s comments was consistent in the news media.

The position of the government is that they’ve been honestly conveying information despite an admission that they might’ve gotten it out more effectively earlier on. Kan had blown up at Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO), the plant’s operator for not providing sufficient information.

In all, the government reaction has been seen as a crisis in lack of forethought and mismanagement. While, the double hit of earthquake and tsunami might have seemed impossible, it is baffling that no one had the forethought to make a causal connection and make plans accordingly. Hopefully, the government will use this as a wakeup call and step up to become one that the people want so desperately to believe in.

Is Earthquake Insurance Worth It?

The recent tragedy in Japan has many people in earthquake prone areas of the US wondering if they should purchase earthquake insurance.  Let’s look at the likelihoods, costs and benefits.  We’ll look at California because data is readily available and Cthulhu’s wrath has been predicted to be focused on the San Francisco Bay Area.

How Likely Is an Earthquake?

“Probabilistic seismic hazard maps… are typically expressed in terms of probability of exceeding a certain ground motion. For example, the 10% probability of exceedance in 50 years maps depict an annual probability of 1 in 475 of being exceeded each year. The maps for 10% probability of exceedance in 50 years show ground motions that we do not think will be exceeded in the next 50 years. In fact, there is a 90% chance that these ground motions will NOT be exceeded.”

But, a smaller amount of ground movement is more likely and is almost certain to happen at some point in the next 30 years.

The red ares of this map are the highest level of ground movement and line up with large population areas.  The conclusion is that shaking will occur, we don’t know when and we don’t know how bad it will be.

That gives rise to the need to mitigate the risk of property loss when an earthquake does happen.  But what exactly does earthquake insurance cover and how much does it cost?  Those factors are driven by coverage levels, structure replacement value and location.

What  Does Earthquake Insurance Cover?
  • Repair, or in the event of a total loss, replacement cost, of an insured home when damage exceeds the policy’s deductible, up to the policy limit.
  • If you cannot live in your home after an earthquake, you may be eligible for additional living expenses up to your policy limit.
    After the deductible has been met by covered damage to your home, the policy will replace personal property such as furniture and household items, up to your policy limit.
  • Your policy will pay up to $10,000 (as part of the dwelling limit of insurance), including engineering costs, to replace, stabilize or restore the land that supports your home.
What Does Earthquake Insurance Not Cover?
  • Detached garages and most other structures that are not part of the dwelling itself
  • Land damage, other than $10,000 in coverage for land stabilization
  • Swimming pools and spas
  • Awnings and patio coverings
  • Fences
  • Certain decorative or artistic items such as mirrors, chandeliers, stained glass, or mosaics
  • Landscaping and irrigation systems
  • Antennas and satellite dishes
  • Patios, decks, walkways, and driveways not needed for pedestrian or disabled access to your home
  • Plaster, to the extent that the repair cost exceeds the value of drywall
  • Exterior masonry veneer (with the exception of stucco, which is covered)
  • Damage caused in whole or in part by causes other than earthquakes, such as fire during or following an earthquake (in most cases, fire damage is covered by your homeowners insurance policy); water damage resulting from floods or surface water; power failures; explosions; or non-seismic land sliding
  • Certain categories of personal property, including glassware, crystal, porcelain, artwork, motor vehicles, boats, and trailers
How Much Does Earthquake Insurance Cost?

The cost depends on many factors but a rough estimate is that it is going to be in the same annual premium range as the existing homeowner’s policy.

For example, using nice round numbers, if a home is completely destroyed and costs $200,000 to replace the structure then the out of pocket expenses would be $30,000 plus the cost of all the items that the earthquake insurance does not cover.

If an earthquake strikes 10 years from now and a homeowner pays $1,500 per year then they’ve put in $15,000 in premiums, $30,000 in deductibles and several thousand more for uncovered items.  The 10 year cost is close to $50,000 in this scenario with total property destruction.  If your property damage is less than $30,000 then the policy pays nothing.

All of this does not apply if your home is destroyed by a tsunami resulting from and earthquake.  For that you’re going to need flood insurance, but that’s a different article.

What If You Don’t Have Coverage?

Then you’re out of luck.  You now own a pile of rubble with a mortgage.  In some cases the government will provided federal disaster grants but those are usually less than $15,000.  At this point you should just turn the useless keys over to the mortgage holder and rent an apartment.

Obviously if you’re lucky enough not to own a home then you can ignore this whole thing and just get renter’s insurance which is far less expensive.

Important Note: Crasstalk is not an insurance professional and should not be used as a replacement for one.

Coverage information source: CEA.

8.9 Magnitude Earthquake Hits Northern Japan- UPDATED 1:30pm EST SAT

An 8.9 magnitude earthquake hit  373 kilometers off the coast of Northern Japan at 2:46pm today. Quake triggered a 13 ft. tsunami, sweeping massive amounts of debri inland. As of 5:50am EST 32 are dead in Japan.

This quake was the fifth largest earthquake ever recorded. The strongest ever in Japan. Quake has been followed so far by 19 aftershocks, all at least a 6.0 magnitude.

Authorities in 20 countries haves issued a tsunami watch, including Hawaii and the entire west coast of North America, including Washington, Oregon, California and Mexico. Residents who live in coastal areas of these states should be alert and prepared to evacuate. For Alaska the watch has been downgraded to a warning.

The USGS has instructed residents of all coastal areas on the west coast of the United States to stay out of the ocean and away from the beaches. Residents of Hawaii are urged to seek higher ground for the entire duration tsunami, which will come in several waves.

Officials in the Philippines, where the tsunami is expected to hit first, have ordered evacuation of 19 coastal provinces.

This quake was the latest in a systemically active week in the region. Wednesday a 7.2 quake struck off the course of Honshu followed by a 6.3 quake Thursday in roughly the same area.

According to Japanese authorities, as of 6:00am EST, Japan’s nuclear power plants remain undamaged.

UPDATE 10:00am EST:

Death toll has been raised to between 200-300 bodies in and around Sendai, the epicenter of the quake.

Japanese authorities have ordered the precautionary evacuation of residents who live around the nuclear plant effected by the quake as technicians are having trouble cooling the reactor. Despite this the U.N. nuclear oversight agency has said that all plants have shut successfully shut down.

Thousands remain stranded in cities, especially Tokyo, as all trains have shut down. Tokyo has remained largely unscathed.

30 aftershocks have followed since the main quake, the strongest measuring 7.1.

Japan has reached out to the U.S. for assistance. The U.S. Navy is already positioning ships in the area to be of assistance to the Japanese people.

There are no reports of mass panic or lawlessness in the wake of the disaster. Way to be Japan.

UPDATE 2:30pm EST:

There has been no official update about the death toll. But the tsunami is probably responsible for more deaths and injuries than the quake itself. There are reportedly more than 500 injured and over 351 missing. Rescue workers are currently searching for 80 dock workers that were swept out sea.

An oil refinery that exploded continues to burn in Fukushima Prefecture. Also in Fukushima Prefecture, a small leak could occur in a nuclear plant and a dam failed and washed away about 1,800 homes.

U.S. Air Craft Carrier group Ronald Reagan is moving into position to provide aid and help with reconnaissance missions that are already underway to help the Japanese government map the disaster zone. The U.S. has also sent two search and rescue teams from the Agency on International Development to provide aid. Link

A nuclear emergency has been issued for the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant as it is not currently cooling.  The US is flying in additional coolant. CNN.

“A second nuclear power plant may be overheating.” CNN

California counties Del Norte, Humboldt, San Mateo and Santa Cruz are under a state of emergency.  CNN Damage was reportedin Santa Cruz county earlier today.  NBC Bay Area

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa ordered the evacuation of the Galapagos Islands and of cities along the country’s coast Friday.” CNN

Update March 12:

From Kyodo News:

“Four people have been injured in an explosion that occurred at the No. 1 reactor of the quake-hit Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Saturday.

The explosion was heard at 3:36 p.m. following large tremors and white smoke was seen at the facility in Fukushima Prefecture, the company said.

The four workers were working to deal with problems caused by a powerful earthquake that hit northeastern Japan on Friday.”

Update Saturday 1:30 PM EST

CNN is reporting that 900 people have been confirmed dead thus far, but that the number is expected to rise into the thousands. Over 9500 hundred people are unaccounted for in the town of Minamisanriku alone. Rescuers have pulled more that 3000 from the rubble since the quake.

The New York Times is reporting that evacuations continue in the communities affected by radiation releases from two malfunctioning nuclear power plants. In a chilling development, officials are distributing iodine (which is used to minimize thyroid damage in the event of radiation exposure) to people in the surrounding areas. The management of the evacuation is also severely overtaxing resources already needed for search and rescue efforts.

Source and Photo Credit: NPR