Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Natural and Accidental Threats

With new reports that al Qaeda is re-energizing, it's tempting to focus - at least for the short-term - on intentional threats. But an all-hazards approach is really what we need, as evidenced by yesterday's earthquake in Japan - along with the cascading effect of damage to a nuclear power plant:

The world's largest nuclear power plant by output capacity remained closed Tuesday, after seismometers indicated the magnitude 6.7 earthquake that hit northwestern Japan Monday produced shocks that exceeded the reactors' design strength, according to media reports.

The seismic activity detected during Monday's quake was reportedly the strongest ever detected at a domestic nuclear reactor.

Japanese officials are investigating the possibility of a second radioactive leak from the plant, the BBC reported on its Web site.

Drums with low-level nuclear waste fell over during the tremors, and some of their lids were found open, the BBC reported.

So althought the damage is apparently limited, it could have been worse. When the shaking exceeds the design specs, you're in uncontrolled-experiment-land.

And sometimes we get reminders that accidental threats can be nasty, too. Like this train wreck and chemical spill in Ukraine:

A train carrying yellow phosphorus derailed in western Ukraine, releasing a cloud of toxic gas into the air over 14 villages. Twenty people were hospitalized and hundreds evacuated on Tuesday, officials said.

Rescuers extinguished a fire that broke out in the highly toxic substance, which can catch fire spontaneously on contact with air at temperatures higher than 104 degrees. It can cause liver damage if consumed.

The poison cloud produced by the fire contaminated 35 square miles, Krol said. Local residents were advised to stay inside, not to use water from wells, eat vegetables from their gardens or drink the milk produced by their cows.

If you're prepared to mitigate a release of radioactive and/or toxic materials, it doesn't matter if the source is natural, accidental, or intentional.

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