News

    US Energy Experts Learn from Japan's Ordeal

    Earthquake, tsunami wreaked havoc on energy, transportation

    In the event of a major US earthquake, gasoline resupply may be dependent on petroleum barges like this one.
    In the event of a major US earthquake, gasoline resupply may be dependent on petroleum barges like this one.

    Multimedia

    Audio
    Tom Banse

    One year after the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, U.S. energy experts are drawing critical lessons from that country's ordeal, especially since the Pacific coast of the United States and Canada is prone to the same kind of earthquake.

    The tsunami’s widespread destruction and the partial meltdown it triggered at the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant have garnered the most attention.

    But the twin disasters also wreaked havoc on the region’s energy and transportation systems, and created an extra measure of hardship for residents and emergency aid workers.

    In some places, gasoline to fuel cars, trucks and generators was unavailable for weeks.

    Tokyo University earthquake researcher Kenji Satake explored the Japanese quake zone last year, after the initial emergency response had wound down. A year later, speaking at a scientific conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, he recalled the long waits to refill his car's gas tank.

    "We needed to wait at least a half hour, sometimes more than an hour to get gas," Satake says. "There was a long line for the gas station."

    Collateral effects

    After the earthquake, two oil refineries caught fire and burned for days. In other places, fuel shortages hindered emergency response teams.

    Fuel tank transported by the tsunami in Onagawa, Japan.
    Fuel tank transported by the tsunami in Onagawa, Japan.

    Those collateral effects are very much on the mind of Althea Rizzo, hazards coordinator at Oregon's Emergency Management Office, where planning is under way for a major quake and tsunami as powerful as those last year in Japan.

    Rizzo expects the Pacific Northwest to be in similar shape - or even worse -- after the "Big One" hits.

    "From the refinery to the gas tank there's all sorts of points along that way that are going to be prone to failure," Rizzo says. "The gasoline that you have in your car is probably going to be the gasoline you'll have for the next two to three months."

    Energy lifelines

    That's a worst-case scenario. Rizzo says the resilience of energy "lifelines" is a keystone to recovery from an earthquake. In the U.S., the majority of such critical infrastructure is privately owned.

    For instance, the oil company BP owns refineries. It also operates a 650-kilometer distribution system called the Olympic Pipe Line, which supplies much of the gasoline and jet fuel for western Washington and Oregon.

    BP's director of external affairs in the Northwest is Bill Kidd, who is confident the region's oil refineries will survive a major earthquake.

    According to Kidd, the BP pipeline is designed to shut down automatically in a megaquake. However, he concedes it would take "a while" for the oil flow to be restored.

    "I don't want to be Polyanna-ish [excessively optimistic] about it, but neither do I want to be Doomsday-ish," Kidd says. "We have a lot of people who can weld. We have a lot of material here to be able to fix things."

    Power system

    Kidd says speedy restoration of fuel supplies after a quake would depend on other damaged structures and services being repaired, such as collapsed bridges, severed roads and, especially, electric power outages.

    Gas pipelines and fuel retailers all need electricity to operate.

    "I am much more concerned about the high voltage power system throughout the Northwest and then obviously the lower voltages that feed down and get to us and run our pump stations along the line," he says. "There's a huge question whether or not we'll have power to run whatever is left, that's our biggest issue."

    The state of Washington has an emergency coordinator, Mark Anderson, specifically assigned to energy sector resilience. He says that, based on past disasters, there's one thing to remember about the inevitable shortages of fuel: people won't need as much of it for a while.

    "For example, the same snowstorm/ice storm that takes out supply of fuel also takes the roads out," Anderson says, "people can't drive from place to place."

    Getting moving on upgrades

    In Oregon, state agencies are prodding energy suppliers to assess their vulnerability to a magnitude 9 earthquake and use that information to get moving on structural or equipment upgrades.

    Farther down the Pacific Coast, in California, the nuclear dimensions of the Japanese disaster loom large.  Anti-nuclear campaigners are drawing parallels between the ill-fated Fukushima complex and a pair of nuclear power plants on the California coast.

    They cite the similar ages of the reactors and their locations facing the ocean on active earthquake faults. The plant operators insist their facilities are safe and that California needs the energy. They say they'll prove their case during upcoming license extension hearings.

    But with the memories of Fukushima’s partial meltdown still fresh one year later, opponents are circulating petitions they hope will bring the future of nuclear power in California to a statewide vote later this year.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolatei
    X
    July 29, 2016 4:02 PM
    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100% Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolate

    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100% Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Tesla Opens Battery-Producing Gigafactory

    Two years after starting to produce electric cars, U.S. car maker Tesla Motors has opened the first part of its huge battery manufacturing plant, which will eventually cover more than a square kilometer. Situated close to Reno, Nevada, the so-called Gigafactory will eventually produce more lithium-ion batteries than were made worldwide in 2013. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Polio-affected Afghan Student Fulfilling Her Dreams in America

    Afghanistan is one of only two countries in the world where children still get infected by polio. The other is Pakistan. Mahbooba Akhtarzada who is from Afghanistan, was disabled by polio, but has managed to overcome the obstacles caused by this crippling disease. VOA's Zheela Nasari caught up with Akhtarzada and brings us this report narrated by Bronwyn Benito.
    Video

    Video Hillary Clinton Promises to Build a 'Better Tomorrow'

    Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton urged voters Thursday not to give in to the politics of fear. She vowed to unite the country and move it forward if elected in November. Clinton formally accepted the Democratic Party's nomination at its national convention in Philadelphia. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more.
    Video

    Video Trump Tones Down Praise for Russia

    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is toning down his compliments for Russia and Vladimir Putin as such rhetoric got him in trouble recently. After calling on Russia to find 30.000 missing emails from rival Hillary Clinton, Trump told reporters he doesn't know Putin and never called him a great leader, just one who's better than President Barack Obama. Putin has welcomed Trump's overtures, but, as Zlatica Hoke reports, ordinary Russians say they are not putting much faith in Trump.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora