I leave Japan today for the Netherlands, exactly seven months after the Great Tohoku Earthquake, Tsunami and Nuclear Cataclysm. In a previous adventure, I flew into Narita on March 12, the day after that fatal 9.0 earthquake. There was only a sporadic and minor train system that left the airport that day, and getting myself and bags into Tokyo was a nightmare. During my several weeks stay then, much of my Tokyo Westin Hotel was dark, with most restaurants closed. The city lights were dimmed and moving walkways were stopped to conserve energy. People wanted to leave the country, as urged by some governments like France, not come, as was my case. Japan was not unlike a third world nation. Prime Minister Naoto Kan kept repeating that this was the worst disaster the country had faced since World War II.
Amazingly enough, Japan today is almost back to normal. They weathered the hot summer, and have another seven months to focus on what to do about the summer of 2012. The people are worried, but there is that overwhelming sense that they will overcome.
Fukushima has become as infamous as Chernobyl, and while their radioactive exclusionary zone is only 4% that of the latter, keep in mind this is the size of Switzerland. It will be many decades before many residents will be allowed to return. The six nuclear reactors will likely never become operational again. The whole area will become a monument to atomic power gone bad. The long-term fallout from Fukushima will be worse than what happened to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
So how is Japan responding? Well, for one, their new Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, is facing reality, and most, if not all, of their nuclear facilities will no doubt gain approval to operate into the foreseeable future. Yes, there will be the politics of mayor to governor to the central government, plus at least tepid protests, but they have no other alternative. However, the incident has spawned troublesome discoveries. One recent report indicated that the nuclear reactor site at Aomori had in the past suffered through many major tsunamis. There are others, too, of course, and the public reaction could well be the determining factor for Japan to escape from the present miasma.
What is incredible is that nuclear power, against all odds, appears to be recovering throughout the world. Japan will join this crowd because they must.
The Nation's next real crisis will come when attempts are made to actually build new nuclear facilities. I would call the Japan youth of today the M-Generation. They are, frankly, Meek. They are not as driven anymore, and spend much of their time at video games and such. But this is the potential source of future problems. The 15-24 age unemployment rate has surged past 10%. While their counterparts in Europe are at 20+%, the overall unemployment rate for Japan is half that of Europe.
I'll deal with the China youth problem in another posting, but for Japan, the next generation needs a grand mission for their future. Rather than further feed this festering situation with palliatives, the country should embark on a progressive marine "Peace Corp and Astronaut" effort to meet their energy needs. Japan has meager wind, sun geothermal and biomass prospects. Their only real solution is to re-charge their sinking shipyards to build floating plantships for the Blue Revolution. It's not only the sustainable energy and general boost to the economy, more so, something so dramatic as a return to the seas could well give purpose to the entire populace.
Japan remains the #3 global economy, with Germany quite a ways behind yet at #4. Germany, too, having chosen to abandon nuclear fission by 2022, will more and more face the wrath of energy, especially if the double hammer of Peak Oil and Global Warming comes crushing down on the world. The answer is not space. The solution for Japan, and Germany, too, is the open ocean. On to the Blue Revolution.
An enlightened first step could well be the ocean analogue to the soon to be abandoned International Space Station. The ISP supposedly expended up to $150 billion to produce...what? The Pacific International Ocean Station has been proposed as an international partnership to develop the riches of the ocean in harmony with the marine environment.