By Katherine Pullen
As Japan works to rescue survivors and rebuild after the devastating earthquake and tsunami, another disaster is brewing in several nuclear power plants in the Northeast region of the island.
Since the March 11 earthquake, several nuclear plants have experienced failures in crucial cooling systems, reported CNET. Concerns about the Fukushima nuclear power plant continue more than 10 days after the disaster as the Japanese struggle to regain control of the situation and stop radiation leakage.
CNN.com reported March 18 that low levels of radiation had begun to reach the West Coast of the United States, raising concerns of U.S. citizens.
Even if Japan manages to avoid nuclear meltdown, some say economic issues related to the disaster will dominate the future of the island nation.
“The Japanese economy has been sliding for years, and the national government, like many governments in the West, has built up significant debt,” said Greg Ryan, visiting assistant professor of political science. “Major disaster-relief spending could provoke more concerns about Japan’s ability to cover its debt.”
Ryan served in the Navy in Japan and has lived and traveled extensively in East Asia. He is currently teaching an Asian politics class at Union.
“Because of Japan’s other (economic) problems and the rise of China, this (disaster) could potentially be one of those events that marks the definite re-emergence of China as the leader of Asia,” Ryan said. “If Japan is unable to quickly and coherently organize and clean up, it will be a sign to other countries in the region that Chinese dominance and Japanese decline are even more certain trends.”
John Netland, chair of the Department of English and professor of English, said, “I’m not sure anyone can predict at the moment how long it will take Japan to recover from this disaster.”
Netland grew up in Japan and has friends who were living in Sendai, the area most affected by the earthquake and tsunami.
“The Japanese people have the infrastructure, knowledge and a strong history of responding to disasters,” Netland said. “With the outpouring of international relief efforts, they will be able to rebuild eventually.”
Kathleen Lokey graduated from Union with a degree in social work in 2006. She is currently studying to get her master’s in social work at Baylor University and traveled to Tokyo to visit friends during her spring break two weeks ago.
She said she was impressed by the way the Japanese responded when the earthquake hit and how many people were eager to help her and her traveling companion.
“I saw how they reacted to the earthquake and I was just really impressed with how calm they were,” Lokey said. “But there is a lot of uneasiness because some people don’t know where their relatives and family members are.
“There’s a lot of destruction (in northern Japan), so at this point (the people are) just holding out hope, praying that they can rebuild.”
Netland added that “in the past six years, we’ve seen devastating natural disasters, such as the Indonesian tsunami and deadly earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, China, Pakistan and New Zealand. It’s easy to become numb to the images of suffering, but as Christians we need to keep responding with broken and generous hearts.
“I hope that the church will be among the first responders to the suffering in Japan and will be able to demonstrate the love of Christ to those who have lost everything.”