Tsunami photos from Fukushima


Last week, the Japanese utility company Tepco released photos taken of the March 11 tsunami as it struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Out of the two sets of shots, this photo, in particular, caught me cold. From this angle, the wave looks like such a small thing, doesn't it?

Also chilling: A series of shots taken as the tsunami flooded in and then receded from the power plant, sucking away a bunch of cars and leaving behind one totaled SUV. (Among other damage.)


  1. “the wave looks like such a small thing, doesn’t it?”

    No, it looks pretty massive to me actually. Look at the boat in the foreground for scale. 25 feet of whitewater is nothing to trifle with, especially since it’s not a “wave”. It’s more like the level of the ocean violently and temporarily rising 25 feet than it is a wave.

    It’s not like dropping a pebble into a bucket and watching the waves radiate outward. It’s like taking the bucket and shaking it side to side until the water sloshes out.

  2. Is it bad to admit that I can’t stand to look at any more photos of this horrible disaster? As much as I’m a voyeur like most everyone else, at some point the horror and tragedy just overwhelmed the spectacle, and I just can’t stand to look anymore.

    I kind of felt the same way back after 9/11.

    I know this is important for engineers to study the failure modes of a system like this, and it’s got to be helpful in designing facilities that can survive this sort of thing better, but considering I’m not in either of those groups, I think I’m going to pass.

  3. When you get to learning about tsunamis, you find out that the height of the wave is important, but the LENGTH is VERY important. a 3 foot wide wave is very different than a 300 yard long wave (not that I know how long this was, threw out that size as an example.

  4. The odd thing about this wave is that it is hollow and breaking like a a good surfable wave. It looks like it’s about to close out however.
    I always thought the waves were more like a wall of white water.

  5. In this photo I think those green things are the diesel generators. Looking at the next several, you can see how they’re about to be under water.

  6. Looking at the end of the seawall in the upper right of the picture tells the whole story. The perspective everywhere else in the image doesn’t give a correct impression. Assuming the seawall is of an even evelvation the fact that the wave is significantly higher than the wall shows the basis of the upcoming story.

  7. It is not the height. Waves that big are nothing. Coastlines all over the world are hit by much bigger waves everyday with no ill consequences. You can surf and be hit by a wave that big without nary a scratch.

    It is the wavelength that makes the difference. The wavelength for a well formed swell wave hovers around 10 meters or so but for a Tsunami the wavelength can be hundreds of kilometers…

    The amount of water in a Tsunami is orders and orders of magnitude higher than the amount of water in a common ocean wind generated wave. One will just eventually turn into an unstable trochoid and deliver its energy in the form of forward momentum against the shore mostly harmlessly the other will do pretty much the same but obliterate everything in its way.

    For a comparison, this wave was much higher than the one that hit Fukushima but it was a common ocean wave note the difference in the amount of water and energy that is released as the wave hits:

  8. And in case someone is wondering how big that wave is. Here is the nearest buoy data for that location at the date the wave hit:


    Look for march Hs (significant height) 12.6 meters, that is 41.34 feet. And Significant Height is not the biggest height recorded just the average of the 1/3 largest recorded waves, so that wave was definitely significantly bigger than 41 feet


  9. @Anon, Yes that is when the wave in the Youtube video I posted hit the coast. I posted the video to show the difference between a Tsunami and a normal wind generated ocean wave. The chart gives you an idea of the size of the wave in the video (well above 40 feet +) and allows you to compare its effects to the similarly sized Tsunami that struck the Fukushima nuclear power plant (estimated at 43 feet)

  10. The green things mentioned by Justin are screen and rakes used to remove seaweed and other debris from ocean water before it enters the plant for use as cooling water. They are certainly not diesel generators.

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