Can a 250-mile long, 41-foot high wall of concrete stop a killer tsunami like the 130-foot high waves that devastated the coast of Japan in 2011? That’s what the government of Japan is hoping as it unveiled plans to build a so-called Great Wall of Japan to stop future monster waves. Will it work?
The Great East Japan earthquake, a magnitude 9.0 tremor off the Pacific coast of Tohoku that was the fourth-strongest recorded since 1900, triggered the 2011 killer tsunami that smashed into northeast Japan, killing over 18,000 people and causing the deadly meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Demands to prevent or lessen the damage of future tsunamis began immediately.
At a cost of an estimated $6.8 billion (so far), the new wall would reach 41 feet in some spots – taller than a 4-story building – and be made with cement. While it’s being called a wall, the barrier will actually be a series of smaller walls to aid in the construction.
Would a wall like this – or another type of wall – have stopped the 2011 tsunami? The answer is unclear at this point. The largest seawall in the world is already off the coast of Japan … or was. The 1.25 mile long Kamaishi seawall was only two years old – sitting in the harbor at a depth of 206 feet – yet 12-foot waves went over it and submerged the city center. On the other hand, the city of Fudai has a 51-foot wall and a 673-foot floodgate over the Fudai River that can be lowered to block tsunamis. The combination stopped the 66-foot waves of the 2011 tsunami and the city suffered minimal damage.
Opponents of the Great Wall of Japan say it will seriously affect marine life, hurt local fishing industries and destroy the view. Even with the wall, coastal residents will still be evacuated to higher ground during a tsunami. Political leaders say it’s an attempt by ruling Liberal Democratic Party create jobs and support the construction industries.
Can this monster wall stop a killer tsunami? Can technology tame nature? Should it? What are consequences? The debate continues.