Dr. Shishikura lives in Japan, where he has studied geology since he was a child collecting fossils around Tokyo. He came to understand early on that geology can tell us about the past, and that, as a matter of pattern, the past can then tell us about the future. In the rich fields around Sendai, which was so hard-hit by the recent tsunami, Dr. Shishikura had found deposits of small stones, of sand and pebbles actually. Where could they be from? Such material is often brought from afar by streams, but streams have identifiable beds; these deposits were almost broadcast, sandwiched between layers of soil in the wide fields. They were not from streams.
His conclusion was that there must have been tsunamis that reached several kilometers inland, and, in fact, he could date these inundations well enough to say that there were such tsunamis every 500 years or so reaching several kilometers into the Miyagi and Fukushima Prefectures. After a few research publications warning of the danger, and after many rebuffs, he was scheduled to give a presentation to officials in Fukushima on March 23 of this year.
On March 11, the disaster he would have warned of took place.
The kinds of changes now being proposed to safeguard against future disasters could have been initiated before so many lives were lost and before the unfolding of the radiation poisoning which is ongoing because Fukushima had nuclear reactors that were vulnerable to the combined earthquake-tsunami assault.
The release of radiation from the Japanese reactors has everyone so spooked about nuclear power that some would like to go back to coal, or wind and sun. Coal is dirty and limited. Japan does not have enough wind. South Dakota, where I live, has plenty of wind (usually) but it can be so fierce that installing wind power also involves protecting the wind vanes from the wind. This is expensive, and it means you need battery power to store the good wind both for windless days and for super-windy days. Wind and sun sound innocent enough, but they are not easy solutions, and even if there were no other difficulties, batteries are not made of wind. Thus, even wind power is highly technical and involves sophisticated materials; so does solar power.
Nuclear power is cheap and plentiful, and even Japan still wants it. What is necessary is a culture of truth in which a timely warning of danger can find its way to the right people. The information was there, but the vision to act on it lagged too far behind.
Even in the coastal towns, many people could have been saved from the tsunami had they understood their danger. They changed their clothes; they made phone calls that cost them their lives. Dr. Shishikura was prepared to explain the potential dangers to them, but…
Those who rebuild will know, but the threat will be distant for them. On the other hand, Dr. Shishikura says that the island of Shikoku is also at risk. Can they take time now to prepare?
More importantly, and for all of us, how do you build a culture of truth?