On March 11, 2011, the northeastern seaboard of Japan was devastated by a magnitude 9 earthquake. Within 30 minutes, a giant tsunami as high as 20 metres slammed ashore and wiped away hundreds of thousands of homes and close to 20 thousand lives. The tsunami triggered a nuclear crisis that kept the country, and indeed the world, on anxious alert for months.
One year later, as Japan grapples with the aftermath of the triple disaster – earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown – David Suzuki travels to the country to learn how the people most affected are responding. Featuring dramatic footage of the tsunami never seen outside Japan, Journey to the Disaster Zone: Japan 3/11 is a testament to the strength and discipline of the Japanese people.
For David, it's a very personal journey, as he explores the impact of the earthquake and tsunami and sees whether the Japanese people are re-thinking their nation's approach to nuclear energy – and the entire idea of a high-consumption lifestyle. "I found lots of ideas bubbling to the surface, focused on sustainable communities, food and energy," Suzuki says.
David travels to Sendai, the city nearest the epicenter of the quake, where he witnesses the dynamic relationship between science and nature. This place has a long history of monitoring earthquakes because it's a highly active seismic region. Here, at their sophisticated deep earth seismic monitoring lab, David learns that the equipment was not designed to measure a quake over an 8 on the Richter scale – they never thought it would need to. The Tohoku earthquake was a grave lesson in humility, and one that revealed the limits of seismic science.
In an interview with Q's Jian Ghomeshi, David Suzuki talks about how Japan is rethinking energy in the wake of the nuclear meltdown. Listen to the interview
As David travels further along the northeast coast, the disaster that struck a year ago becomes palpably real. Unimaginable stories of loss and devastation. And, as if the earthquake and tsunami weren't enough for the country to bear, the Japanese people are still suffering the consequences of a nuclear meltdown – the contamination of tap water, soil, produce, and all important - fish. Although radiation appears to have dropped significantly, they're still finding hot spots of contamination. As David discovers, there is deep mistrust of what the authorities are saying. It has led to citizens setting up their own radiation testing stations, and a struggle to promote radiation awareness throughout the country.
With the recognition that nuclear energy has potentially serious consequences, David finds that there is a strong move away from it in Japan. They're exploring obvious alternatives like solar and wind. But aside from these natural resources, they're also investigating tidal power. Japanese scientists and sailors alike are trying to tap the potential of the tides and currents that surround the island nation. Still others think that the magnesium in the sea can be turned into an economically viable fuel, while other experts feel that Japan should maximize geothermal energy, albeit as a small-scale, community-driven option.
In Journey to the Disaster Zone: Japan 3/11 David presents his quest for answers to the tragedy, and finds that innovative technology and the re-assessment of conventional thinking might turn a cataclysm into a blueprint for the future.