Soon after the massive earthquake and tsunami of March 11, the Seattle office of the consul general of Japan was overwhelmed with messages of condolences from Northwesterners.
In the weeks following the disaster, Washington residents and businesses donated $25 million to the relief efforts.
“Those messages and donations were very touching and encouraging to us,” said Consul General Kiyokazu Ota, who is in Spokane to help kick off Japan Week activities.
Ota also praised the actions of the U.S. government, which immediately contributed military forces and naval vessels to the effort. Even now, he said, Nuclear Regulatory Commission experts are helping their Japanese counterparts cope with the nuclear crisis.
“This has been repeatedly reported in Japanese media,” Ota said. “You have helped tremendously.”
The consul general said his nation lost 13,000 lives in the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami, including two American teachers killed in the flooding. But 300,000 could have died were it not for steps Japan has taken to protect its population, he said.
Early warning systems in place since 2007 helped alert Japanese to the largest earthquake to strike the island nation in 1,000 years, and the tsunami that followed, he said. No high-rise buildings collapsed, and automatic braking systems prevented any deaths of passengers riding bullet trains, which travel at more than 200 mph.
As for the crisis resulting from damage to the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant, Ota said emotions were running high. This week, the damage and resulting radioactive emissions were rated on par with the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
But Ota said Fukushima is no Chernobyl, where 33 lives were lost and hundreds were exposed to radiation.
“We are sorry for the emissions from the plant into the environment, but our scientists and authorities have assessed that so far the radiation is estimated to be one-tenth of Chernobyl, and no one was killed and no one was seriously injured,” he said.
Japan, he said, depends on fission for a third of its electricity and “it’s not so easy to say goodbye to nuclear power.”
Ota will speak at 7 p.m. today at the Jepson Center’s Wolff Auditorium on the Gonzaga University campus. He also will participate in a cooking demonstration by the resident chef of the Consulate-General in Seattle at 7 p.m. Friday on the second floor of the COG Building on campus.
On Saturday, Ota will speak at Japan Week opening ceremonies at noon at River Park Square.