Friday's tremendous earthquake off Japan's coast has triggered the normal responses. The American media is busily hyperventilating over what it claims to be the greatest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, the Japanese have mounted a highly-organized disaster relief program, and the U.S. military is on the scene providing the rapid, massive relief that is literally beyond the capability of any other entity on earth.
Ronald Reagan is providing a massive amount of help. No, it's not the Gipper himself, but the nuclear carrier USS Ronald Reagan and a host of other Navy ships, about which more in a moment.
The enormity of the quake is measured on the Richter scale. The January 1994 Los Angeles quake -- which collapsed highways, toppled buildings, and took about 33 lives -- was measured at 6.7 on that 1-10 scale. The latest information from the Japanese meteorological agency's re-measurement of the quake rated it at 9.0, the largest ever measured in Japan.
Remember that the Richter scale is logarithmic: each number represents ten times the next lowest number. So the Japanese quake was more than 100 times stronger than the L.A. quake.
Yesterday, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said it was the nation's worst crisis since World War II. The media is making it sound as if it's enough of a nuclear crisis to rouse Godzilla.
Our media has never understood why Japan -- the only nation to suffer the use of nuclear weapons -- would allow nuclear power plants to be built. The 1954 movie monster Godzilla was created by the effects of nuclear testing and was a metaphor for the dangers of all things nuclear, reflecting post-war Japan's recent memories and fears. So the media's Godzilla narrative, developed over decades of opposition to U.S. nuclear power, requires the belief that nuclear power is more dangerous than any other.
That narrative again took flight almost immediately after the Japanese quake. CNN's Piers Morgan (who?) headlined his commentary as a "countdown to meltdown." By Sunday, two New York Times reporters wrote, under the headline "Partial Meltdowns Presumed at Crippled Reactors," that "Japanese officials struggled on Sunday to contain a quickly escalating nuclear crisis in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake and tsunami, saying they presumed that partial meltdowns had occurred at two crippled reactors, and that they were bracing for a second explosion, even as they appeared to face cooling problems at two more plants and international nuclear experts said radiation had leaked from a fourth."
Buried deep in that and other reports is the disturbing fact -- disturbing to the nuclear Chicken Littles -- that there is little if any radiation leakage reported.
Nearly every report presumes that the Godzilla narrative will result in the continuation of America's three-decades-long moratorium on new nuclear power plants.
The fact that the narrative is nonsensical is demonstrated by events from the 1979 Three Mile Island mishap in Pennsylvania to last week's in Japan and the six decades of U.S. Navy experience.
A "meltdown" occurs when an out-of-control reactor's core reaches such a high temperature that the core materials melt. If the "lava" burns through the reactor's multiple layers of containment and flows into nearby land and water, the release of radiation could be lethal to those immediately exposed, could result in long-term increases of cancer, and could contaminate massive areas of land and water for decades.
The partial meltdown at Three Mile Island was contained. The core did not melt through to contaminate the region and very little radiation was released. TMI, unlike Chernobyl, wasn't a cheesy reactor run by morons. (Japanese reports indicate that though two partial meltdowns have happened, they have been well-contained. The reality may prove to be worse -- or better -- than news reports now say.)
What is fascinating about the Japanese mini-meltdowns is not that they were contained. The fascination comes from the fact that even in this massive quake -- the largest ever recorded in earthquake-prone Japan -- so little actually happened. Every expectation should drive the conclusion that this once in a century event would have totally destroyed nuclear power plants in the path of the quake and resulting tsunami. But they didn't.
If you believe the hot air-powered anti-nuke media, there should have been complete meltdowns at all the affected power plants and millions should be dying of radiation poisoning, even more facing a future of death by cancer and mutant babies that resemble Dennis Kucinich. But -- from what we know now -- nothing like that is happening.
The Japanese government has shown decisiveness in dealing with the crisis in ways the Soviet government did not. They have flooded the endangered reactors with boric acid mixed with seawater, destroying the cores. By doing so, the Japanese have sacrificed billions in equipment to save lives. Those reactors have been shut down and will never operate again.
The lesson should be that if you don't build a badly-designed reactor and hire idiots to run it -- à la Chernobyl -- a nuclear power plant can be as safe as any power plant can be.
If we learn anything from the Japanese disaster it is that we should push forward with nuclear power -- applying the lessons the Japanese learn with our own best engineering and science -- at the fastest pace possible. Which is a lot faster than the liberals will want to allow despite the facts. Our record on nuclear power -- including TMI, in which (according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission) no one in the facility or surrounding community was injured -- is excellent.
We should remember that the U.S. Navy has had nuclear-powered ships since 1953. In the 58 years since, there have been no accidents or man-made mishaps. None. Which is a good thing for the Japanese because one of those ships is providing massive relief that nothing else can.
A huge area of Japan is in desperate need of help. This earthquake has disrupted the supply of fresh water, electricity, communications and destroyed airfields and roads on which relief efforts need to flow. Then the Big Dogs started mobilizing.
There are thousands of U.S. Marines and hundreds of US Air Force aircraft stationed in Japan and they are already operating search and rescue missions in conjunction with Japanese forces and distributing relief supplies. Many of the Seventh Fleet's combatant and supply ships are already there and more are on the way. They bring massive quantities of food, medical supplies, and construction equipment, as well as communications hubs that can fill any gaps. (Pre-positioned relief packages, such as the ones now sailing quickly toward Japan, contain everything you'd think of, from MRE's [Meals, Ready to Eat] to baby food, to save lives and provide some level of comfort.)
When the USS Ronald Reagan arrived off the coast of Japan it changed the game.
The Reagan -- like all Nimitz-class carriers -- has the capability to produce over 400,000 gallons of potable water every day, and other ships can produce nearly that amount. The carrier's four-acre deck will be the "lily pad" for Japanese and U.S. helicopters flying rescue and supply missions 24/7. As my friend retired RAdm. Mike Groothousen (former commander of the Reagan's sister ship, USS Harry S. Truman) reminded me, if you're not using the catapults and arresting gear -- which helos don't need -- your deck crews can operate around the clock for a long time.
And, as Groot told me, the carriers have a lot of radiation-monitoring equipment aboard. They can help the Japanese determine how serious any radiation leaks may be.
Japan will recover, the damage of the earthquake itself overshadowing any effect of the damage to -- or caused by -- its nuclear power plants. A lot has changed since 1954. These days, Godzilla is a good guy.