Newswise — Almost one year ago, on March 11, 2011, one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded struck about 40 miles off the coast of Japan. The magnitude 9 “Great Tohoku” quake and the resulting tsunami claimed more than 15,000 lives, devastated Japan’s infrastructure and economy, and triggered a multi-reactor meltdown at the Fukushima power plant.

The impacts of this natural disaster are still being assessed. Several Cornell University researchers who work in fields from anthropology and law to geology, soil and crop science, and the auto industry are available to talk with the media about the evolving understanding of the earthquake, the tsunami and of Japan’s ongoing recovery.

Available experts include:

Annelise Riles is a professor of Law in Far East Legal Studies and a professor of Anthropology. She serves as director of the Clarke Program in East Asian Law and Culture, and has conducted legal and anthropological research in Japan, China and the Pacific. An expert in Japanese law who has lived in Japan, Riles is currently helping to organize a two-day conference to begin March 11 to bring business and political leaders from Japan together in Ithaca to examine the lessons from the earthquake and tsunami. She speaks Japanese, Chinese, French and Fijian.

She says:

“Sadly, the recovery is plagued by a number of serious political problems.”

“They include an unwillingness of the mainstream press to fully investigate or to place news in analytical context; an unwillingness of elites in position of authority, whether in the private sector or the government, to put aside politics as usual and address the needs of the many victims; and a lingering unwillingness on the part of many citizens to openly challenge the government even though many people privately voice their total distrust of government claims and cynicism about its motivations.”

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Larry Brown is a professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and has been the director of the Institute for the Study of the Continents since 2004. Brown`s primary research interest is the exploration of the continental lithosphere and the investigation of deep tectonic processes. He has served as a visiting lecturer at Chiba University in Japan, and has conducted research into tectonic structures and earthquake faults in Japan, Taiwan, Nepal and India.

He says:

“The year following the March 11, 2011 Great Tohoku earthquake has allowed the lessons of that event to become clearer. Japan’s response was a mixed bag of both underappreciated success as well as clear failures. On the positive side, many aspects of Japan’s world leading disaster preparedness systems actually did work, with timely warnings issued both to mitigate the impact of the earthquake waves and tsunami waves. Many lives were saved due to the existence of these systems.

“Certainly our improved knowledge of the geophysics of these phenomena and improved skills in disaster engineering over the past decades were helpful in making resilient buildings that reduced the level of destruction, especially from the earthquake. However the limitations of these systems was also revealed. For example, the advanced earthquake warning systems, set to trigger by the first waves of the event, proved insufficient to provide a timely estimate of the magnitude of this event. Secondly, designing on the basis of the known historical record is clearly limited by the quality of that record.

“One takes little comfort that these lessons may have been learned too late to help thousands of Japanese families. However, lessons were learned that will save lives and trillions of dollars of damage in the future if we find the will to act on them.”

“Lastly, Tohoku was a clear reminder that when disaster of this magnitude occurs, we are all victims to some degree. The interconnectedness of our economies, communications and transit networks has become a central fact of our modern world. We all stand to gain by learning these lessons, just as we all stand to lose by ignoring or postponing action to improve our ability to absorb such hits in an increasingly populated and fragile world.” . . . . .

Murray McBride is a professor in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences who specializes is food chain contamination. With research focused on the chemistry and environmental mobility of trace metals and other elements in soil, he is an expert on the potential of radioactive elements released by nuclear power plant accidents to enter soils and surface waters or to contaminate food crops and livestock.

He says:

“Monitoring done since the Fukushima disaster shows that the primary radioactive contaminant is Cesium-137, which has contaminated soils and some crops up to 40 or more kilometers away from the power plant.

“Conversely, contamination of the open ocean beyond 20 miles from shore is negligible, but near-shore sediments appear to be badly contaminated with Cs-137. Because of the 30-year half-life of Cs-137, crops grown in the affected area are likely to be contaminated by radioactive cesium for decades.

“Although this disaster affected a much smaller land surface than the Chernobyl accident, it caused the largest accidental release of radioactive material into the ocean in history.”

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Art Wheaton is a Workplace and Industry Education Specialist for the Buffalo, N.Y.-based Institute for Industry Studies at Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. His expertise includes the auto industry, high performance work systems, negotiations and conflict resolution, and he has researched comparative industrial relations in Japan, Taiwan, China, South Korea and Canada. He is a co-author of the book, “Knowledge Driven Work: Unexpected Lessons from Japanese and United States Work Practices.”

He says:

“The deadly and devastating Tsunami in Japan had a serious impact on Toyota production and inventory. Toyota suffered more than $1.3 billion in losses attributed to production delays and losses from its suppliers. On this one-year anniversary, Toyota is focused on recapturing market share and building better vehicles.

“In my view, the impact of the tsunami on Toyota will not be significant for 2012.”

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