Japan's Crisis and the Impact on the Technology Sector

The crisis in Japan caused by the earthquake-tsunami, and the resulting problems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant are challenging a Japan, that until very recently, appeared on the brink of recovering from a 20 year recession. Japan Map

The latest tragedy is now estimated to be the most costly natural disaster in history. The earthquake and tsunami concentrated most of the damage in the northern part of the country. The Japanese North is, in general, much less industrialized than Japan's Southern and Southwestern regions.

The problems with the nuclear power facility, at the Fukushima plant located about 100 miles northeast of Tokyo, have caused concerns with both radiation, and with electrical generation capacity, since the Fukushima facility was one of the most important electrical generating plants in Japan.

The damage to the country is severe, but Tokyo, in the Southeastern part of the island, itself suffered minimal direct damage from either the earthquake or resulting tsunami.

If the the nuclear contamination can be limited to only the immediate area around the Fukushima plant, and Japan can stabilize the electrical grid, then the international economic impact should be minimal. However, apparent containment breaches at multiple reactors indicate that a regional event is in progress.

The most likely outcome of the current issues would be a long-term contamination of the ground-water. A regional event that affected the Tokyo metropolitan area, home to 36 million people, and countless technology management and R&D operations, would be very significant.

A direct comparison with Chernobyl is not ideal since a chemical explosion at the Chernobyl plant caused a huge airborne emission of radioactivity (more than 400X more radiation than Hiroshima or Nagasaki) that affected large parts of Europe. The Fukushima crisis seems to be Chernobyl in slow motion. The degree of regional contamination from the Fukushima plant will not be accurately measured for some weeks or months.

An important component in the calculation is the difference between the Tokyo citizenry and population surrounding Chernobyl. Approximately 15% of the adult Ukrainian population have completed higher education. Tokyo has one of the most educated populace in the world.

Kiev is a comparable distance from the Chernobyl accident as Tokyo is from the current event. Kiev was never officially evacuated, though many women and children left voluntarily. Kiev is 110 miles (175 kilometers) South of Chernobyl. The Tokyo Center is 147 miles (238 kilometers) from Fukushima. Would Tokyo tolerate a similarly compromised environment?

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