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Japan Upgrades Tsunami Warning System
March 10, 2013

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To mark the second anniversary of one of the most devastating earthquakes in recent memory, Japan has unveiled an upgrade to its warning system, even as the cleanup continues in Japan and across the Pacific.

The Tsunami Warning System includes a series of 80 circular devices called Broadband Strong Motion Meters. These devices have been installed all across the country and are equipped to withstand more of a signal saturation and report more of a warning than those that were in place on March 11, 2011, when a magnitude-9.0 earthquake resulted in the tsunami that destroyed so much of the northeastern part of the country and killed thousands of people and displaced hundreds of thousands more.

The plan is for the new system to be able to predict more accurately the size of a tsunami wave. The system in 2011 predicted a 10-foot-high wave. The highest waves topped 130 feet.

In addition, the country has added to its network of seismic stations, increasing the overall total from 221 to 261, and has upgraded the battery system that powers those seismic stations. The 2011 earthquake caused a massive power blackout that affected much of the warning system, including its overall power source and backup systems.

Cleanup has continued in devastated areas, as radiation levels have dropped. Thousands of people in other areas, however, have nothing to go home to or are prohibited from returning because their homes are still in a nuclear exclusion area. The search engine giant Google has brought its Street View technology to several such towns, so that residents can at least have some idea of whether they should bother trying to return when the coast is clear.

Since the tsunami waves washed violently ashore and then back out again, the Japanese government has reported that at least 1.5 million tons of debris was in various parts of the Pacific Ocean, including on the coasts of North America and South America. Garnering headlines were the discovery of a buoy and some soccer balls, all clearly identifiable as being tsunami-driven items from Japan. Federal Express has returned those and other items to their owners.

Also marking the two-year anniversary were groups of anti-nuclear protesters in Tokyo, still pressing their class amid widespread dissatisfaction with the government's nuclear program in the wake of the meltdown at the reactors in the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Plant. The government shut down all 50 of its reactors and has restarted only a small handful. Newly elected Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pledged to restart other reactors, after implementing much stronger safety protocols. But the protesters want the country to go nuclear-free. A group of thousands of people chanting slogans and carrying signs was just the latest in a long line of protests in the past two years.

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