Reuters Investigates

Insight and investigations from our expert reporters

Japanese quake cost bad, but far from the worst

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By Ben Berkowitz

INSURANCE/JAPANThe March 11 Great Tohoku Earthquake in Japan was a tragic disaster of historic proportions — but from a purely financial standpoint it pales in comparison. (For a special report on insurers, click here.)

Estimates are still coming in but it seems likely the quake will end up ranking as the costliest of the last generation in insured losses, surpassing even the Northridge earthquake that struck southern California in 1994. (The one that collapsed a number of major freeways, by way of reference).

But looking back historically, it is dwarfed by two temblors in particular — the New Madrid quake of 1812 and the San Francisco quake of 1906. If those events happened today, they would each cause nearly $100 billion in *insured* losses, to say nothing of their total economic impact.

Great Tohoku comes in fourth on that all-time list, assuming the higher end of AIR Worldwide’s loss estimate.

Is a 10 percent chance of disaster too high for a nuclear power station?

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JAPAN-QUAKE/Kevin Krolicki has another alarming special report from Japan today challenging the assertion that the disaster facing Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was beyond expections.

The report quotes Tokyo Electric’s own researchers who did a study in 2007 on the risk of tsunamis: 

All Japan, all the time

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Two more special reports from Japan today: first up, a look at how globalization has made companies around the world vulnerable to a shock like the earthquake. ”Disasters show flaws in just-in-time production.”

The PDF version, here, has a nice graphic showing the location of Japan’s ports, some of which have been hard hit by the disaster.

Battling meltdowns, nuclear and fiscal, in Japan

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JAPAN-QUAKE/Check out two special reports out of Tokyo today.

The first examines what has happened at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant since Friday’s massive quake: “Mistakes, misfortune, meltdown: Japan’s quake” (PDF version here)

 Here’s how one expert sums up the situation:

“They might have been prepared for an earthquake. They might have been prepared for a tsunami. They might have been prepared for a nuclear emergency, but it was unlikely that they were prepared for all three,” said Ellen Vancko, an electric power expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists.