Foreign Policy Blogs

Making sense 1 week later (timeline)

Today marks one week since an earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale devastated the Tohoku region of Japan and caused a tsunami with 33-foot waves that swept six miles inland. As of this writing, 5,692 deaths have been confirmed, along with 2,409 injuries and 9,522 people missing as a result of the disaster. Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) is still struggling to prevent a full-scale meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

It’s hard to believe that just over two weeks ago, I pondered whether Japan was still relevant to the modern world. This week we have seen how the fate of this vulnerable little island country can have repercussions felt around the world, with stocks falling on Wall Street and sparking a debate over nuclear regulation in the U.S. We have also seen a bit of culture clash with TEPCO spokesmen, who don’t feel obligated to inform the public due to their perceived level on Japan’s social hierarchy, as well as Japanese eschewal of admitting mistakes. While TEPCO spokesmen and bureaucrats think hiding the true extent of the radiation leaks will pacify the public, the uncertainty left by their vague statements has had the opposite effect.

It has been an eventful week, and at times it has been easy to get swamped with all the details and rapid developments of the earthquake and its aftermath. So for today’s post, I will provide a time line of the events of the past week.

(Note: all times are given in Japan local time.)

Making sense 1 week later (timeline)

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Wednesday, March 9

11:45 a.m. A 7.2-magnitude foreshock strikes about 25 miles from the March 11 quake epicenter. This was followed by three large aftershocks.

Friday, March 11

2:46 p.m. A 9.0-magnitude earthquake, the worst in Japan’s history and one of the five worst in the world since records began being kept in 1900, strikes off the coast of Miyagi prefecture, moving Japan’s Honshu island 7.9 feet east and shifting the earth on its axis by 3.9 inches. Fukushima Daiichi and Daini, Onagawa, and Tokai nuclear power plants automatically shut down.

3:06 p.m. 7.0-magnitude aftershock.

3:12 p.m. Kamaishi, Iwate, hit by 22-foot tsunami.

3:15 p.m. 7.4-magnitude aftershock. Ofunato, Iwate, wiped out by 10-foot tsunami.

3:20 p.m. Ishinomaki, Miyaki, hit by 11-foot tsunami.

3:21 p.m. Miyako and Kamaishi, Iwate, hit by 13-foot tsunami.

3:26 p.m. 7.2-magnitude aftershock.

3:44 p.m. Erimo, Hokkaido, hit by 11-foot tsunami.

3:50 p.m. Soma, Fukushima, hit by 24-foot tsunami.

At Fukushima Daiichi and Daini nuclear power plants, tsunami destroys backup diesel power system, causing two large explosions at Daiichi, leaking radiation.

3:55 p.m. Tsunami hits Sendai Airport.

4:52 p.m. Oarai, Ibaraki, hit by 14-foot tsunami.

8:15 p.m. Japanese government declares state of emergency at Daiichi plant.

10:30 p.m. Authorities reveal cooling system at the plant is not working.

Saturday, March 12

2:06 a.m. Radiation levels at Daiichi reactor rising.

6:45 a.m. TEPCO says radiation may have leaked. Japanese Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency says radiation levels near main gate eight times normal.

4:19 p.m. NISA reveals small amount of radioactive cesium has leaked, possibly caused by a fuel rod melting.

6:22 p.m. A hydrogen explosion at No. 3 reactor blows roof off Daiichi reactor’s containment structure and injures four people.

8:18 p.m. Some 200,000 residents living within 20 kilometers of the plant begin to evacuate.

10:35 p.m. Officials flood containment structure with sea water, causing radiation levels to fall. Residents near plant are given iodine tablets to fend off radiation poisoning.

Sunday, March 13

3:20 a.m. Three randomly selected people out of a group of 90 test positive for radiation poisoning in Fukushima.

5:37 a.m. Authorities say Saturday’s explosion at Daiichi plant didn’t damage containment vessel.

4:46 p.m. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano warns another explosion could happen at No. 3 reactor.

6:15 p.m. Shinmoedake volcano in Kyushu (the location of Blofeld’s lair in the Bond film You Only Live Twice) erupts, possibly as a result of the earthquake.

Monday, March 14

11 a.m. Hydrogen explosion at No. 3 reactor damages cooling system of No. 2 reactor and injures 11 people. The wall around the plant collapses, but authorities say containment vessel undamaged. Authorities begin pumping sea water and boron into No. 2 reactor to cool nuclear fuel rods. Remaining residents advised to stay indoors.

Bank of Japan pumps 15 trillion yen into money markets to prevent economic collapse.

Rolling blackouts of three hour intervals expected to last until the end of April begin in Tokyo, Kanagawa, Shizuoka, Yamanashi, Chiba, Ibaraki, Saitama, Tochigi and Gunma prefectures. This includes shutting down train lines. Commuters wait for three hours for taxis to get to work, some paying more money for taxi fare than they are likely to earn that day, and have no way to return home after work.

Tuesday, March 15

6 a.m. An explosion rocks No. 2 reactor and damages suppression pool.

8:30 a.m. Edano advises anyone living within 30 kilometers of plant to remain indoors as he cannot rule out a meltdown at all three reactors. The plant’s staff evacuates, leaving only 50 emergency operators.

8:54 a.m. Fire breaks out in a cooling pool at the No. 4 reactor. Prime Minister Naoto Kan imposes a no-fly zone for a 30-kilometer radius around the plant.

11 a.m. Fire at No. 4 reactor extinguished.

11:45 p.m. TEPCO announces plan to use helicopters to dump water on No. 4 reactor to cool nuclear fuel rods.

Wednesday, March 16

7 a.m. A second fire breaks out at the No. 4 reactor.

8 a.m. Evacuation of 20-kilometer radius around plant completed.

9 a.m. Fire at No. 4 reactor extinguished.

10:46 a.m. TEPCO says white smoke has been emitting from No. 3 reactor for past 45 minutes.

11 a.m. Radiation levels at border of Fukushima Daiichi read 3,391 sieverts per hour.

11:36 a.m. Remaining 50 workers are evacuated.

12:35 p.m. Fifty workers return.

Emperor Akihito gives a rare address to the nation.

Thursday, March 17

9:19 a.m. TEPCO spokesman Naoki Tsunoda says power lines to Fukushima plant almost finished.

9:48 a.m. Japan’s Self Defense Forces use helicopters to spray water on reactor No. 3.

Friday, March 18

11 a.m. The U.S. sends water pumps to Japan.

Note: Barring a major development in the earthquake news or nuclear situation, for tomorrow’s post I will write about a former Osaka prosecutor who plead guilty to tampering with evidence–a story that I think has important policy implications–which fell through the cracks this week following the quake.



Dustin Dye

Dustin Dye is the author of the YAKUZA DYNASTY series, available through the Amazon Kindle.

He lived in Okayama, Japan, where he taught English at a junior high school through the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program for three years. He is a graduate from the University of Kansas, where he received a bachelor's degree in anthropology.

His interest in Japan began in elementary school after seeing Godzilla fight Ghidorah, the three-headed monster. But it wasn't until he discovered Akira Kurosawa's films through their spaghetti Western remakes that he truly became fascinated in the people and culture of Japan.

He lives in Kansas with his wife, daughter and guinea pig.

Visit him online at
E-mail him: [email protected]