Mount Fuji: a sleeping menace?

Japan’s most famous landmark, Mount Fuji, is at a greater risk of erupting since last year’s catastrophic earthquake, official sources suggest.

And what’s more, the Japanese government currently has no official plan of action constructed to deal with such an event, revealed Toshitsugu Fujii, newly-posted head of a Japanese disaster response task force at Mount Fuji. Whilst more than a year has passed since the 9.0 magnitude undersea earthquake and the subsequent tsunami and nuclear meltdown which it triggered on March 11, 2011, the government is still in the process of constructing a disaster response plan, despite strong evidence to suggest that last year’s disasters have increased the likelihood of the volcano, which last erupted in 1707, coming back to life with a terrifying bang.

The Great East Japan Earthquake triggered a series of tremors, including a 6.4 magnitude aftershock directly below Mount Fuji, which put a 20 metre-long crack in its side, increasing the pressure in the volcano’s magma chamber. Researchers at the National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention have been analysing the effects of the tectonic movements caused by the 2011 earthquake, estimating that Mount Fuji’s magma chamber currently experiencing atmospheric pressures of 15.8 kilograms per square centimetre. It takes as little as 0.1 megapascals of pressure to trigger a volcanic eruption. Mount Fuji clocks in at 1.6 megapascals. Numerous examples of volcanoes erupting following a 9.0 magnitude earthquake have been recorded, including Chile, Sumatra and Kamchatka. Should Fuji erupt, its effects could be felt as far away as Tokyo, over 100 miles away. So why isn’t a disaster response strategy of higher priority?

It may be that a cleft in the Japanese government is hindering progress in this area. Within the Japanese bureaucracy, the teams charged with creating disaster prevention and response plans for potential earthquakes, work separately to those dealing with volcanic eruptions. Without any concrete evidence confirming Mount Fuji’s imminent volcanic eruption, these teams remain divided as to whose responsibility this case is.

Local communities are loath to discuss the threat, concerned that media attention will impact upon tourism. A book published in 1983 wrongfully warning of an imminent eruption was blamed for driving tourists away and causing a $3 million loss in revenues for a prefecture bordering the volcano.

But despite resistance, it seems that Mount Fuji’s eruption is a possibility which cannot be ruled out. It may have been 300 years since its last activity, but if recent evidence is to be believed, Mount Fuji quietly remains a very real threat to Japan.

Sources include Reuters, Bangkok Post

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