Japan’s Meltdown

A surfer's perspective from Tokyo amid fears of nuclear disaster

| posted on March 24, 2011

A 2005 image of Brendan Margison surfing in front of the now-damaged nuclear power plant Fukushima in Japan. Photo: Aichner

Evacuation procedures reportedly have Narita International Airport in gridlock, with people waiting up to seven hours for a departure stamp. To my wife and I, however, immigration seems a ghost town. As the only non-Japanese passengers on our Guam to Tokyo flight, we clear customs in seconds, boardbag not withstanding. With very little fanfare, we are officially in Japan. Considering all of the media hype, we aren’t exactly sure what to expect.

Although aftershocks continue to rock the country, and the devastation up north has left over 25,000 dead or missing, Tokyo seems to have escaped the earthquake relatively unscathed. It’s the partial core meltdown at the damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant that has people worried. Reports on the severity of the “worst nuclear disaster in 25 years” vary, but with mounting evidence that radiation has contaminated vegetables, milk, and drinking water, not to mention the Pacific Ocean and associated marine life, it is obvious that “clean energy” is going through a dirty phase. Although panic over jet stream-driven radiation seems to have subsided in the U.S., the situation in Japan has made anti-nuclear sentiment trendy once again, and many are openly questioning the wisdom of building nuclear power plants on fault lines.

In the wake of Japan’s ongoing crisis, the safety of San Onofre’s Nuclear Generating Station has recently been called into question. Located near five faults, the enormous atomic boobs looming over San O and Trestles are clearly at-risk for earthquake damage. Although many geologists claim an earthquake of 8.0 or above in the area is unlikely, it is not unthinkable that, under the right circumstances, a disaster comparable to the Fukushima Dai-ichi meltdown could occur on the shores of one of California’s most rippable (and crowded) waves. The station withstood a 7.2 magnitude quake in April of 2010, and Southern California sees upward of 10,000 tremors per year. With the East Coast still reeling from the BP spill and the western Pacific now suffering radiation exposure, there is certainly cause for concern, particularly for the surf community, which by definition should be sensitive to all things environmental.

Despite all the hype and concern, in general, we remain blind to the fundamental cause of these incidents. It is one thing to be pissed off about an oil spill, but another thing entirely to be willing to stop using gasoline. Likewise, it is easy to be “anti” nuclear power, but not so easy to live without it. The reality is that we as a country consume at an unsustainable rate. Making up only 5 percent of the world’s population, we use nearly 70 percent of its energy, and shamelessly flaunt our consumer ethos through films, websites, and various other forms of media, commercially evangelizing the developing world. Now, as more countries find themselves financially capable of aspiring to the American Dream, we are faced with an escalating global appetite for energy at affordable prices. Unfortunately, our current fuel supply and pollution sinks cannot support this appetite. Until the world, and the U.S. in particular, is willing to curtail its consumption habits, we will be forced to continue splitting atoms and drilling wells, and to accept oils spills and radiation leaks as the price of “progress.”

Shortly before flying to Tokyo, I came across a gas station advertising “Five cents donated to Japan Relief per gallon purchased.” I applaud this spirit of solidarity, and am all for aiding our neighbors in their moment of need. If we really want to fix humanity’s problems, however, the best thing might be to stop purchasing and start rediscovering the simple life. This shouldn’t be too difficult for those of us who surf. After all, the ocean daily supplies all the energy we really need, free of charge, and with no risk of a meltdown.

–Matt Rott

  • Doug Stone

    Are you coming to help or surf?

  • Mik

    So what are you saying Matt???? Surf our problems away????

    Japan is being destroyed, dude. Read this:

    And there’s more bad news, as the radioactivity has just struck home: the ocean.

    Our ocean.

    The sea water off Japan is filling with radioactive discharge from the damaged cooling system.

    This is beyond tragic, and it is just the beginning.

    Instead of “capping” closed these plants, they are trying blindly to salvage them.

    It is like BP in the Gulf….

    Every day, it keeps leaking more, and the earth bleeds more deeply.

    And what about us????

    So what happens if a 7.5 earthquake hits SoCal, when the San Onofre plant is only built for a 7.3? Again, a nuclear plant designed for cost savings, not public safety…

    Both LA and Santa Cruz suffered a 7.1 quake already!!!!!

    There is only one solution: Solar Energy.

    That is our new Mantra.

    Memorize it.

    Share it.

    Fuck nuclear power advocates, fuck big oil, fuck the Middle-East and its energy conflicts that never fucking end, fuck utility companies, fuck muscle cars, fuck Detroit.

    We need Solar homes, Solar cars, Solar iPhones.

    A blonde in a Tesla electric sports car blew my souped-up surfwagon off like a fly the other day. I couldn’t even hear her engine. She laughed at my FlowMaster rice-burner drone. That electric car is quick. And it’s the future.

    Like FireWire surfboards: its a smarter way.

    We can have fun with electric cars. I can’t afford a Tesla, so WTF, I’m getting a Prius.

    Laugh at me? I don’t fucking care. It’s slow, but it’s a step forward. I’d rather drive slow, than die slow—from radiation.

    90% of the world’s conflicts end with this one plan:


    To continue saying that we need gas fueled cars, and oil heated homes is like saying we need 8 track tape decks when I am holding an iPhone in my hand with my entire music library on it plus videos. Your are so fucking wrong.

    We have the brainpower here. The best minds from every country in the world are in Silicon valley creating the future. Put them onto Solar Energy and electric automobiles and we will live in a new world—free from fear of nuclear bombs being made from nuclear powerplants. Free from oil drilling in the ocean. Free from
    utility company monopolies—free from stupidity.


  • Curren


  • Dante

    Right on ! Let’s all send urgent messages to Governor Jerry Brown to close down Diablo Canyon Nuke Plant and San Onofre Nuke Plant ! We here in Calif. can turn off a few extra lights, etc. burn some candles instead. Turn off the computer when not in use, etc. Dr. Helen Caldicott says that Nuke plants in the U.S. supply about 28% of our power use and that 24% of that is wasted power use ! People to indulgent or lazy to turn some switches off ! Do you know that the U.S. operates 104 nuclear power plants ? Do you know that there is so much nuclear waste right now that they don’t know where to put it ? Those who defend nuclear power are idiots with no respect for the earth and future generations and other living creatures ! Do you know that plutonium has a half life of 243,000 years ? Fukushima may be 5000 miles away from California shores, but that radiation can get here easily as well as Hawaii and Russia and on and on ! In the meantime Pres. Obama, who if we remember…Ran on a “Green Energy Platform” now is a big supporter of building new nuclear power plants ! He wants like 3.8 billion of the tax payers $ to move along with these idiotic projects ! Who is his key energy adviser ? I do not even want to know the assholes name ! But he was former C.E.O. of General Electric ! Who builds all these nuke plants for all corners of the globe ? Including Japan ? General Electric ! G.E. also has a waiver that lets them go scott free if their nuke plant system fails ! Like Fukushima did, as reports have indicated …And in today’s news it says: G.E. did not pay taxes on 5.3 billion earnings ! O.K. fellow surfers, ocean lovers, earth lovers, fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers ! Let us redirect our collective “Surf Rage” towards the corporate-government that is against true democracy and care of the planet for all and future generations ! WE the people can make our voices heard ! Enough ! Go to and sign the petition to Obama saying no more nukes ! Contact governor -Jerry Brown- Urge him to close these two dangerous nuke plants in Calif. now ! Let us learn a lesson from this on-going disaster in Japan !

  • mattman

    Thanks for the feedback (aka “rant”), Mik. Maybe you should read the article again, as you obviously didn’t get the gist of it the first time. In the meantime, do some research on Solar energy…it isn’t as clean as you would like to think…panels and batteries have to be built before they can provide “clean” energy. Same goes for the Prius. Alternative energy is good, but all energy will leave a footprint…so reduction is the key.

  • B

    Matt I whole heartedly agree with what you’ve said. Refreshing to hear an opinion that’s not blinded by the dream.
    Mik, if Japan were meeting its current energy demands via solar power do you think there would be enough space for all of the panels they’d need? They barely have enough room for their current population never mind everything else(aka nature). Star trek is fiction. The idea that technology will save us is a farce.

    • Jean

      Nothing could be further from the truth. Japan is mostly mountains and hills covered with forest. People for the most part live in coastal area and reclaimed land. Solar energy is not about solar panels. It’s about solar plants. 1000s of mirrors in concentric ring focussed on the same point, creating extreme heat and using steam to rotate generators. The technology doesn’t cost, is easy set-up, but dependent of time year and geolocation.

      See here what it looks like

      And also see how it compares to nuclear energy

      The only problem with solar energy is capitalism. No one owns the sun. It’s not the case for oil and nuclear energy. It’s reserved to the power brokers. One needs to understand the power struggles that we common people cannot even comprehend. Most wars are waged to take control of natural resources on foreign lands. Millions of people get killed to create these monopolies.

  • Mik

    Mattman & B: Yes. A rant. A highly needed rant. And a realistic one. Private homes can easily get their energy from Solar. Traditional non-nuclear energy can supplement it for large scale manufacturing needs. Nuclear is totally the wrong direction. Solar is the future. R & D is only just beginning in the Solar Industry. It is getting smaller and more efficient. There are major commitments to it in Silicon Valley. And yeah the Prius is not ideal, but it is moving the technology forward, and it does reduce emissions. The idea that the energy it takes to make the batteries makes it as toxic as any other car is ridiculous. Given the fact that there are millions of gas guzzling higher emission producing cars filling the highways every day, year in and year out far outweighs the impact over the few DAYS that it takes to make a Prius.The only thing holding Solar / electric cars back is regressive thinking, like yours B. You have nothing to offer. Especially the Star Trek comment. Because iPhone’s are Star Trek compared to cell phones just 4 years ago. You have no idea what can be developed if the money is put into R & D, so don’t throw cliche’d comments when you can’t back them up with real knowledge regarding possibilities in the Solar industry. Japan will go Solar, and will switch to fuel efficient and electric cars. Germany just voted out a conservative govt for the first time in 20 years, and they voted in the Green Party—primarily in response to Japan’s crisis. They are going to phase out all nukes in Germany by 2020. The world is changing. It can either change for the better, or follow the status quo, and it will change for the worse.

  • Mik

    BTW: let me add this to my “rant”: currently, there are 600,000 people without running water in Japan. Add to that the nuclear radiation levels that made tap water toxic in Tokyo, and then ask how you might take care of your family if this had happened at the San Onofre Power Plant. Also ask what will happen to the ocean and surf, because right now, nuclear radiation is leaking straight into the ocean in Japan. The entire surfing scene in So Cal is potentially just one major earthquake away from total extinction. And I am ranting because the fact is, we do not need to ask for government permission to go Solar. We can all just “do it”, and the more we do, the faster the technology will chase the money. It is really as simple as that. Ignore the ideologues who will politicize this because the concept doesn’t fit the box they have put their brain in. The whole of LA could be on Solar in the time it takes to buy the panels, and install them. Done. Then San Onofre can go fuck itself.

  • nuke free

    Good Rant Mik, Gutted what has happened to Japan. I’m from NZ and we are nuke free, we won’t even let nuclear powered ships into our seas. I am not saying we are perfect country however after seeing what has happened to Japan, there is no chance this country will ever touch nuclear energy. Now the next battle we are facing is the drilling for oil!!. If people get behind new technology it doesn’t take long for it to advance.

  • cc

    Thank you for writing what I have been eulogizing for years. Reduction is really our only option.

    Mlk, I am a total progressive and absolutely support the idea of solar but the problem we face is over-consumption; creating the demand for nuclear and petroleum based energies. petro chemicals are the building blocks of things…actually, almost all things: your iphone, your battery-operated cars, lipstick, pens, computers, etc…. Unless we work to change the way in which we live, the status quo, nothing will change.

    Unfortunately, our whole economy relies on the consumption of goods so no one is going to tell you or me what we really need to hear: stop shopping! live simply. Which would also make a great bumper sticker but what a waste that would be…

  • Mik

    Not against living simply. at all. but I’m not so sure we need to abandon technology.
    we just need to design it with respect for the environment as part of the equation. Like riding a FireWire that will last, instead of a PU or even EPS that doesn’t… Simplifying down is also good. A vegetable garden in every yard, like Italy. Obviously, I am being heavy handed, but I bet that there are allot of japanese families who would agree with me, as they may not even be able to rebuild because the land is now radioactive. And todays news is the ocean is filling with radioactive waste and water.

  • alexandre bertani

    Surf power behind Nuclear power.
    evrybody looks for the next day.
    Nosotros cremos en gran finale.
    Clean energy is the solution .
    Sorry, we arent happy.
    The governament lie about problems.
    Im surfer, live. and they people die.
    i dont like this.

  • Gary Headrick

    I love to read this lively discussion. At least you are working towards a solution when so many people are not even aware of the problem. We have organized a movement that busy people can easily support through facebook, Decommission San Onofre. Friend us and Like us to spread the word. Go to to learn more about our Statement of Objectives and get on our email list for updates on protests, etc. There are green alternatives to Nuclear Power, and investing in them while reducing consumption will offset the 15% nuclear energy we get from it in California. We just need to stick together and get it done!

  • MT

    Mik, I’d like to see some solid research of the Prius being better. Most people use them for commuting on the highway, at speeds over 55MPH, at which point, the electric motor is extra weight, not savings in gas, as it does not operate at all under heavy acceleration or highway speeds. I had a Civic that would do better gas mileage.
    So run your mouth and go off on those of us who actually know what we’re talking about. With the number of units being created (obviously before Japan had to shut down plants), the Prius was making a very high environmental impact, enough to have some experts say that a Hummer is a more environmentally-friendly vehicle.

    This has a lot to do with the impact of the car. While a Subaru is making their cars green by reducing landfill (they have a zero landfill status as of 2008 or so []), the Prius has many MANY materials in it that cannot be recycled. So over a longer period of time, the Subaru is actually the greener car.

    I was reading a report that stated that the sustainability of our POPULATION is unsustainable. This means that at our current growth rate and energy consumption, this planet is simply not big enough and energy is simply not advanced enough to sustain the population. It’s a chilling thought.

    Just wanted to put my 2 cents in on the miserable Prius and those idiots who rally behind it as the savior of the world. Matt is right in one regard, in that reducing our footprint is about the only way to reduce the amount of consumption we have.