Tokyo faces a 75% chance of a magnitude 7 quake in the next 4 years, say researchers, a figure much higher than the government’s previous estimate of 70% in the next 30 years.
University of Tokyo researchers estimate there is a 75% chance of magnitude 7 quake striking the southern Kanto region in the next 4 years, based the on increased seismic activity observed after the devastating 2011 magnitude 9 quake.
Previous government estimates were only of a 70% chance of such a quake in the next 30 years.
The government estimated in 2006 that a magnitude 7.3 quake striking in Tokyo Bay would kill approximately 5,600 people and injure a further 159,100 – although as there are in the region of 30 million people in the greater Tokyo area, Tokyo is clearly far from a death-trap, and certainly in a much better position than virtually any other major metropolis threatened by natural disasters.
Most of the deaths and damage from the 2011 quake were actually the result of the tsunami, which is not a major risk to Tokyo. The last huge quake to ruin Tokyo, the 7.9 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, killed at least 105,000 – but this was almost all the result of firestorms running wild amidst largely wooden cities.
Still, Japan’s Reconstruction Minister is desperately trying to convince people not to run away:
Please rest assured, and don’t flee Tokyo.
I can prove this [safety] by pointing to the fact that despite the strong lateral movements triggered by the March 11 earthquake, the shinkansen recovered very quickly. I think this is proof how far our earthquake resistance technology has advanced.
Most would agree that contemporary Japanese disaster-preparedness is second-to-none, so the prospects of massive casualties are remote – although this was supposed to be the case for the nuclear plants at Fukushima, and over the years there have also been periodic scandals involving less than earthquake resistant construction, suggesting there is still the risk of unpleasant surprises.
The experience from the 2011 quake, which saw lingering disruption in eastern Japan despite most of the region being left untouched, also tends to suggest that any disruption to the massively over-centralised national capital region may well have dire economic effects for the rest of Japan and beyond.
The findings themselves are unlikely to be news to Japanese seismologists – many have apparently been keeping quiet about their misgivings until now, so as not to contribute to any regrettably un-Japanese panic or truthfulness.
Online there is everything from abject terror to blasé scepticism evident:
“Tokyo is finished!”
“A 30% chance of it not coming – what a relief!”
“We can finally move the capital in the next 4 years, great.”
“All the 3/11 damage was down to the tsunami. Take care over tsunami and there’s no real problem!”
“No, if it’s directly under Tokyo none of that earthquake resistance will matter at all…”
“Don’t tell me this professor is in the pay of earthquake insurers…”
“What will happen to the Tokyo Sky Tree?”
“Well, if it is underneath I suppose it will fall over. Still, a 7 in the world’s biggest metropolist with 35 million people is going to create pandemonium which will go down in history in any case.”
“Don’t you just love seismologists, giving themselves a 30% margin like that.”
“You people in the regions realise that Tokyo being finished means Japan is finished, I hope?”
“That’s why people are saying to decentralise away from Tokyo…”
“Probably just more government-beholden scholars trying to jack up their budget by causing a stir.”
“They were saying this decades ago. There are always huge quakes in Japan, it’s nothing to worry about now all of a sudden.”
“They’ll be saying exactly the same thing in 10 years.”
“This lot are the same bunch of liars TEPCO has been hiring to push nuclear safety.”
“First, they said no nuclear accident was possible. Now, they say no quake is going to happen in Tokyo. Japan = No Guard.”
“Ignoring some rubbish uni’s predictions I can understand, but as this is Toudai the repercussions will be big. Who’d buy new apartments in Tokyo now…”
“Remember, it’s magnitude 7.0, which is only shindo 6 or so. That’s not too bad.”
“Does anyone still believe these ridiculous percentages they keep coming out with?”
“I doubt the capital would be severely damaged, but the paralysis would be something else…”
“Please hurry up and correct this overconcentration!”
“Nobody minds if they get it wrong and it doesn’t happen, but if it happens unpredicted they will be hung out to dry – naturally it’s better to exaggerate the risk, isn’t being a seismologist great?”