As you might imagine, the Japanese public is quite troubled about the current situation between North Korea and the United States. There was similar concern during the last stand off between North Korea and the US which was just last Fall, but the Japanese government did not consider that situation serious enough to issue Civil Defense warnings and recommendations. Things are different now, the government has opted to increase Civil Defense readiness. Television screens in public places explain how missile warnings will be issued and how the public should respond. These warnings were issued because North Korea has threatened to strike US military assets in Japan in the event of all out war.
There has also been a somewhat panicked private response in Japan. A company that builds five or six blast/fallout shelters a year has been commissioned to build eight just this month. The shelters seem quite robust, but they are not a very useful option for vary many people in Japan’s urbanized environment. High volume air purifiers are also selling well. I’m not sure they’re the wisest investment. While they could substantially reduce the risk of ingesting fine particle fallout, I suspect that any nuclear weapons North Korea might have fitted to missiles have airburst fusing. They are likely to choose airburst both because it maximizes damage area and because I doubt North Korea is confident enough in their weapon designs to risk a ground burst turning into a dud. Airbursts make much less fallout, so air filtration might not be the highest priority and the Japanese government has not recommended purchasing filtration systems.
So what exactly has the Japanese government recommended? The most downloaded government file this week has been a simple and somewhat reassuring pamphlet covering basic Civil Defense recommendations and procedures. I downloaded the English version here. So let’s take a look at some interesting parts:
Actions to Protect Yourself:
I took some screenshots. The cover is quite reassuring. All generations can get through this together!
Emphasis that there will be only a short warning time for missiles, but in most cases enough time to seek shelter.
But what do you do if there is no warning or you missed the warning? Duck and Cover, of course! Trust me, they know that in Japan better than anyone else. At least they used to.
Some might object, “That’s just for regular explosions, not a nuke.” Nope, it’s for nukes too. Seek shielding from blast and reduce exposure. That’s duck and cover and it will save lives.
This next screenshot is from a section on chemical and biological attack. I learned something from this. See the person cutting his shirt with scissors? I’ve watched over a hundred Civil Defense videos and I’ve never seen that. This would work for fallout exposure too. Cutting off the shirt would prevent fallout from being rubbed across the eyes and mouth. There are many elements in fallout that are safe to be exposed to for a short time that will kill you if you ingest them.
And now that you’ve survived, you need food, shelter, and medical treatment. Japan can provide that. Remember, North Korean nukes aren’t that high yield, and are probably targeted away from Japan’s most heavily populated areas. And NK does not have very many functional weapons. The entire nation will be able to mount a highly effective emergency response.
So, Is Japan Ready?
Yes, and for two reasons. The first is that Japan already has some of the best emergency response capabilities and Civil Defense protocols in the world. They say that Australia tries to kill you, but that’s just the flora and fauna. The earth and air rage against Japan, yet it persists. Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Typhoons, Kaiju, and Meltdowns don’t stop them. OK, so I was kidding about the kaiju, but my main point is that Japan is a nation oriented toward disaster preparedness. There are even a couple of places in the Protecting Ourselves pamphlet that refer directly to earthquake preparations. It recommends making sure that people top off their earthquake supplies, and that no more than this recommended level of supplies should be necessary. Having personally seen the poor responses to hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the robust and orderly response to Ike I think I know good Civil Defense when I see it. And I was impressed as hell by the response to the unprecedented severity of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Japan can easily handle a few nukes. Will it be horrifying? Yes, but quite survivable.
And that brings up the second reason, the reason Japan is uniquely well-prepared to respond well to a small-scale nuclear attack: Japan has, in fact, survived a small-scale nuclear attack in what is still living memory. And this attack happened when Japan was at the point of mass starvation and complete industrial collapse. And yet the nation, and many individuals directly affected by atomic bombs survived. They’ve seen Tsutomu Yamaguchi, who survived Hiroshima and Nagasaki, become a minor celebrity as a disarmament activist. They’ve been to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They have reason to believe survival and recovery is possible.
Sometimes the best countermeasure is the prepared mind that believes in the efficacy of individual and collective effort.
Japan is ready.
Addendum, What the Japanese government didn’t mention:
Japan has at least three ships equipped with Aegis BMD interceptors. There has been no official mention of this in Japan. I agree with this decision. While I think Aegis BMD is a promising system, and probably quite capable of stopping one or two of just a few intermediate range missiles, it’s best not to give the public false hope. Japan has never actually fired an interceptor from one of their ships, though their navy has tracked missiles and relayed data during successful US Navy interceptions. Also, Japan is spread out over many islands on a long North/South axis. They can’t cover the whole country. I’m sure they are trying, and Aegis radar data is part of how they are able to predict missile landing areas.
Addendum 2, North Korea’s intentions:
North Korea put out another internal propaganda video. This one is less crazy than last week’s and I think it’s meant to make a statement about the conditions under which North Korea would use nuclear weapons. I have to say, it still looks like NK may be the more reasonable party in this conflict. No YT link I can find, but you can watch it here. The whole part about attacking the US is nonsense, the Taepodong-2 is far from ready, but the general gist of the video is that NK might use nuclear weapons against military assets if faced with an all out attack.
These are reasonable conditions for nuclear escalation.