Is it safe to travel to okinawa? (after Mar 11 Sendai Tsunami & earth quake)

March 17, 2011
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(17 March 2011) Japan was hit by one of the worst earth quake on Mar 11 2011 when a 9.0 megathrust earthquake struck off the eastern coast of Japan, about 130 kilometers from Sendai. It triggered off a 23 foot tsunami that devastated the north eastern part of japan, leaving thousands dead and missing.

We at sugoiokinawa.org are not nuclear specialist nor physist.However we do understand that there are many people who are concerned about travelling to Japan, including okinawa. Hence what we did is to summarise all the facts and news which we gathered, hoping to give a balanced view on what is happening in Japan and its impact on Okinawa. We will try to update all the information as soon as we can. Do correct us if any of the information we provided below is erraneous so we can correct it.

Radiation Concerns

Q: Why did the Fukushima Nuclear power plant radiation leak accident happened?

A: The nuclear power plant in Fukushima is a 40 years old plant build before 1980. The earthquake that hit Japan was several times more powerful than the worst earthquake the nuclear power plant was built for.

When the Sendai earthquake struck, the external power supply of the nuclear reactor was destroyed.Moreover since the power plant had been shut down ( the nuclear reactors automatically shut down when the earth quake hit) it cannot produce any electricity by itself.

For the first hour, the first set of multiple emergency diesel power generators started and provided the electricity that was needed. However, when the tsunami arrived (a very rare and larger than anticipated tsunami) it flooded the diesel generators, causing them to fail.

When the diesel generators failed after the tsunami, the reactor operators switched to emergency battery power. The batteries were designed as one of the backup systems to provide power for cooling the core for 8 hours.

However after 8 hours, the batteries ran out, and the residual heat could not be carried away any more.  At this point the plant operators begin to follow emergency procedures that are in place for a “loss of cooling event.” This means that there is the possibility of core meltdown because if cooling cannot be restored, the core will eventually melt (after several days), and will likely be contained in the containment.

Because cooling the core is a priority, the reactor has a number of independent and diverse cooling systems (the reactor water cleanup system, the decay heat removal, the reactor core isolating cooling, the standby liquid cooling system, and others that make up the emergency core cooling system).

Since the operators lost most of their cooling capabilities due to the loss of power, they had to use whatever cooling system capacity they had to get rid of as much heat as possible. But as long as the heat production exceeds the heat removal capacity, the pressure starts increasing as more water boils into steam.

In order to maintain the pressure of the system at a manageable level, steam (and other gases present in the reactor) have to be released from time to time.  Some of these gases are radioactive fission products, but they exist in small quantities. Therefore, when the operators started venting the system, some radioactiveto cool down the reactor is pouring into the containment and thus contamination of the sea water surrounding Fukushima is unlikely. gases were released to the environment in a controlled manner (ie in small quantities through filters and scrubbers).

REF: http://mitnse.com/
There is a cartoon made to explain to japanese kids on why fukushima radiation leak happens. I think it is good to check that out.

Q: Will the radiation leakage affect Okinawa?
A: Okinawa is situated at the southern tip of Japan and is over 1000 miles from the radiation leak.  Hence it is very unlikely that the radiation leakage will affect Okinawa. The sea water that is used to cool down the reactor is pouring into the containment and thus contamination of the sea surrounding Fukushima is minimal. However there was an updated report on the radioactive substances found in sea water surrounding fukushima nuclear plant. (see http://www3.nhk.or.jp/daily/english/ ). The high level of radioactive substance found could be due to the condensation of the steam released from the nuclear plant in an effort to cool the nuclear reactor. It was reported that the radioactive substance found in the sea water surrounding Fukushima nuclear plant is 1150 times higher than regulated standard. Nevertheless, the relevant authorities are carrying out monitoring efforts on the impact on marine life as radioactive cesium is known to build up in fish tissues and takes about 30 years to breakdown. The updated reports is that they have managed to stop the spillage of the radioactive water from the nuclear plant into the sea.

The wind direction is anticipated to be blowing west ward, thus further reducing the risk of radiation going to the south which is where okinawa is located. Latest update from TEPCO (the people who are in charge of the nuclear plant company) is that the radiation level near the reactor is coming down http://www3.nhk.or.jp).However, as the radiation situation is changing every hour, it is advisable to understand the latest information on this.
If you want to be very sure, you can always purchase a Radiation Detector and bring it along to detect the radiation level.

Ref: http://travel67.wordpress.com/

Q: If i am now in okinawa or going to travel to okinawa in the next few months, what are the things i should look out and beware of?
A: Basically there is nothing in particular relating to radiation leak that you should worry about if you are travelling to Okinawa. It is good to be constantly updated on the situation in fukushima and main land japan for you to access the latest information. However, as okinawa is an island surrounded by the sea and sits in earthquake zone, it is good to be aware of tsuanami, earth quake or typhoon. You can always keep yourself updated with the weather situation in okinawa via the following websites: http://www.jma.go.jp
or http://www.jma.go.jp/en/tsunami/

However, if you are flying to okinawa via tokyo haneda airport, do take note of the current situation in tokyo where flights and transportation maybe less frequent.Amenities like power supply and food may be insufficient as most shops might be close. Entertainment and activities like karoake, clubbing, concert and events might be cancelled or closed. Hence it is advisable to be aware of slower train or bus travelling hours. For more information please visit http://www.google.com/crisisresponse/japanquake2011.html to check for the train or bus schedule.

If you are worried about possible radiation exposure while you are transiting at tokyo for your flight to okinawa, we should say you shouldn’t be alarmed on that. Radiation exposure should be very minimal and for very slight exposure, wearing thick clothes that covered up or washing up after it would remove most of the possible radioactive substances, if there are any.

However as there were recent reports that radiation level on foods found in areas closed to fukushima and nothen japan is higher than allowed standards, it is good to be aware of the source of the food to avoid unnecessary alarm.

Q: Are there anti-radiation pills that i can take to prevent radiation?
A: Potassium Iodide Pills are one of the remedy for patients who are exposed to radiation. The main function is to reduce thyroid cancer that is brought about by radiation exposure. In areas where radioactivity is low, heavy doses of Potassium Iodide Tablets
to fend off radiation impact may trigger health hazards like allergy and problems with thyriod gland. Hence it is strongly not advisable to consume the pills without appropriate doctor’s advice.

Earth quake/Tsunami

Q: Will Okinawa be affected by possible earth quake or tsunami after the Sendai Tsunami & Earth quake on Mar 11?
A: Okinawa sits in the earth quake zone and is an island surrounded by sea. Hence there are possible incidents of tunami and earth quake. However, these possible earth quakes or tsunami are most likely independent of the Sendai Tsunami and earth quake where after tremors are frequent as okinawa is very far away from mainland Japan. For information on earth quake or tsunami, you can visit http://www.jma.go.jp/en/quake/ or http://www.jma.go.jp/en/tsunami/

You can read more about radiation by checking out the following books:
1)Understanding Radiation Science: Basic Nuclear and Health Physics
2)Radiation Protection and Dosimetry: An Introduction to Health Physics
3)Understanding Radiation

We at sugoiokinawa.org felt that despite the heavy media coverage on the Sendai Tsunami/earth quake and Fukushima radiation leakage, it is good to be aware that Okinawa is actually very far from mainland japan and thus is still very safe to travel to although it is part of japan.

Japan is currently facing one of the biggest since world war 2 and we think the biggest support one can give besides donations and prayers are economical support in terms of leisure travelling. If you are cancelling your japan travel trip, perhaps you would want to consider other places in the southern part of japan. We sincerly hope that the situation in Japan would improve soon and fears on travelling or staying in japan would be completely alleviated.

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  2. Is it easier to travel around okinawa in bus, taxi or car?
  3. How to travel to Okinawa?

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4 Responses to Is it safe to travel to okinawa? (after Mar 11 Sendai Tsunami & earth quake)

  1. Deanna McAlister Hosea on March 22, 2011 at 3:36 am

    Some of us on Okinawa felt the earthquake even this far away. I have felt numerous aftershocks. The tremors are so slight they’re almost undetectable. How I can tell is I get very dizzy followed by immediate nausea. If I look back on the USGS website I can track it.

    We were evacuated Friday afternoon due to tsunami warning but were given the all clear later that night. No one here is worried about radiation. We are too far away from what is happening.

    I am attached to the hospital here and know we were prepared to receive 7,500 evacuees from the mainland. We haven’t had to at this point. If it weren’t safe here they wouldn’t be relocating people here.

  2. John Davis on March 31, 2011 at 6:33 am

    I wonder what would happen to the nuclear fuel and armaments on US bases in Okinawa if there were a major earthquake in this area.

    Do they realize that an earthquake is possible here too?

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