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Week In News: Japan Earthquake, Tsunami

GUY RAZ, host:

We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

Mr. PATRICK FULLER (Asia Pacific Communications Manager, International Federation of Red Cross): The concern at the moment is getting help to the survivors and also people who are still trapped in some areas, they can't get out of their houses. So, you know, the focus is on search and rescue.

RAZ: The voice of Patrick Fuller with the International Federation of the Red Cross, speaking from Tokyo.

James Fallows of The Atlantic joins us, as he does most Saturdays, this week from Beijing.

And, Jim, thanks for being with us.

Mr. JAMES FALLOWS (National Correspondent, The Atlantic): Hello, Guy. Nice to talk to you.

RAZ: And, Jim, of course, we begin with the disaster in Japan, a place you know well as a former correspondent there.

Mr. FALLOWS: Yes. And of course, my heart does go out to Japan and the consequences they're going through now. There's been a lot of attention as there should be to the preparations Japan has made over the years and the things it's learned from past earthquake disasters and the way that has reduced the carnage the country is now going through.

I'm here to say that having lived there, it's almost hard to imagine the degree of preparation the Japanese institutions and people make. For example, when my kids went to Japanese public school, they had to wear these little earthquake hoods to school. They're kind of like little Darth Vader padded caps. They'd had monthly earthquake drills.

Something that struck me is that in real time, we were seeing these helicopter shots of the tsunami just working its devastating way across the country side, those helicopters were available and on call to be marshaled. And the contrast was so great with what happened in China three years ago after the Sichuan earthquake, where many people perished just because there was no rescue equipment to get there.

And this contrast is now being very much dwelled upon in the Chinese press, where people are saying look how well prepared the Japanese are and contrasting it to the situation here.

RAZ: What kind of economic impact could this have not just on just on Japan but on the world?

Mr. FALLOWS: I think the second stage coverage of this disaster is largely going to involve some of these economic ripple effects. Even though so many products that we see now, of course, are made in China, many of their components actually come from Japan.

For example, there was a recent study of the iPad, which is made in China but roughly 10 times as much of its value comes from Japanese suppliers, this from Chinese firms. And so, if the supplies there are cut off, that's an issue. If there are disruptions of the factories or of the shipment system, suddenly you can have effects on the worldwide supply chain. And there have been examples of this in the past.

RAZ: Hmm. Jim, Japan, of course, is the third largest nuclear power user in the world, a lot of concern about some of those reactors. I am assuming this has got to be a setback for some of the assumptions we've all made about the safety of these reactors.

Mr. FALLOWS: Certainly, there's going to be a long-term impact on how long it will take for these reactors to get back in line and new ones to be built around the world.

It's striking how much of the history of the peaceful nuclear power industry has been dominated by two incidents: One, Three Mile Island, of course, in the U.S.; the other, Chernobyl in then the Soviet Union in 1986. And so, a question for whether nuclear power plays a large or smaller role in the world's energy balance, I think, is whether the Fukushima nuclear plants have that same kind of iconic and dangerous significance, and we just don't know that yet.

RAZ: That's James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic. You can read his blog at jamesfallows.theatlantic.com, which I should add shamelessly that I will be contributing to as a guest next week.

Jim, thank you so much.

Mr. FALLOWS: Thank you, Guy. And thank you so much for your help on the blog. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.