In its worst crisis since World War II, Japan faces disaster on an epic scale: a rising death toll in the tens of thousands, massive destruction of homes and businesses, shortages of water and power, and the specter of nuclear meltdown at three reactors. The facts and figures are astonishing. The March 11th earthquake was the world's fourth largest earthquake since record keeping began in 1900 and the worst ever to shake Japan. The seismic shock wave released over 4,000 times the energy of the largest nuclear test ever conducted; it shifted the earth's axis by 6 inches and shortened the day by a few millionths of a second. The tsunami slammed Japan's coast with 30 foot-high waves that traveled 6 miles inland, obliterating entire towns in a matter of minutes.
Beyond these raw facts, it is still hard for anyone to take in the scale of the disaster. Television coverage has been dominated by overwhelmingly powerful videos of the wave and its aftermath, as well as plenty of confusion, misinformation, and alarm about the risk of further shocks and the seriousness of the nuclear threat. We're far from knowing the ultimate outcome, but one thing is already clear: the need for a dramatic but clear-headed exploration of what triggered the quake and tsunami.
To deliver this much-needed scientific perspective in a compelling one-hour documentary, NOVA commissioned "Japan's Killer Quake" with Pioneer Productions in the UK -- the same company that produced NOVA's "Deadliest Earthquakes," about last year's Haitian quake, and "Wave That Shook The World," about the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. "Japan's Killer Quakes" airs Wed. March 30 at 8 p.m. on KUED.
Producer Robert Strange will take the same approach as those award-winning documentaries, combining authoritative on-the-spot reporting, personal stories of tragedy and survival, compelling eyewitness videos, and explanatory graphics. Strange's team was shooting in Japan within 72 hours of the disaster, including exclusive helicopter footage. This rapid response means that NOVA will be able to unpack the story of the disaster in suspenseful "real time" and provide first-hand coverage of how Japanese authorities responded to the immense scale of the catastrophe.
Beyond its suspenseful unfolding of day-to-day events, Japan's Killer Quake will explore the disaster's broader implications. The production team includes leading earthquake scientists who will look for evidence of whether the quake fully relieved the strain on the fault, or whether there is a risk of serious future shocks. Japan's Killer Quake will also explore the risk of a comparable disaster on the U.S. west coast, where earthquake preparedness is nowhere near as advanced as in Japan. What can be done to anticipate the worst? Or it is simply impractical to design ahead for the kind of extremely rare and unlikely combination of deadly factors that came together on March 11, 2011?
With gripping stories from tsunami survivors, compelling day-to-day reportage, and in-depth science perspective, Japan's Killer Quake has the potential to be a classic NOVA with widespread audience appeal.
A man walks in a street with his bicycle in Kesennuma, Miyagi prefecture, on March 21, 2011 after the March 11 tsunami and earthquake devastated northeastern Japan.
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