While I was fortunate to have been inland and more than 60km away from the Fukushima power plant when it ruptured, on 3 March, 2011, my co-workers and I nevertheless started to get a little anxious when, just a few hours after the initial earthquake hit north-east Japan, our water supply went off.

Heading to the nearest supermarket in search of bottled water, we were met by the sight of hundreds of locals who had had the exact same idea: buy as many provisions as possible and get back indoors. By the time we found a place to park and got into the store, there was barely anything left on the shelves; it had all been snapped up by (understandably) panicked buyers. Deciding to try our luck at the local convenience store, we drove over to 7-Eleven, but found the shelves just as bare.

Although our sitation never got anywhere close to desperate, and our supply came back on about 24 hours later, the thought of  not having any clean, safe drinking water really struck home for a while there.

Until it suddenly becomes unavailable, water is something that we all take for granted on a daily basis. Turn the tap and fill up a glass, fill the kettle and make a coffee, jump in the shower, wash your clothes; we use it almost constantly and can’t get by without it.

So it comes as something of a relief to hear that there are clever people out there creating devices that can do something as unfathomable as turn chemical-filled pool water into something that’s safe to drink in an emergency…

Ahead of its official launch in November, the new water filtration device was demonstrated to wide-eyed elementary school kids in Kanagawa prefecture yesterday.

The device, designed for emergency use and with local governments in mind, measures just 80cm tall and can convert dirty, irradiated or chemical-ridden water into pure drinking water in less than 60 minutes.

By using highly pressurised air to force water through a series of micro-fine filters, the water purifier is capable of producing up to 200 litres per hour. Anything from pool water to water taken from nearby lakes and ponds can be successfully turned into water fit for human consumption.

A spokesperson from Osmo, the company behind the creation, explained its reasoning for bringing the water purifying machine to a local school to demonstrate it.

“In times of emergency like earthquakes, schools are often used as evacuation sites and shelters. With most schools having a swimming pool, it’s really comforting to know that we always have a potential supply of water that can be converted for safe human consumption in an emergency.”

Treated to the demonstration and given the chance to taste the magically-filtered water for themselves, students were shocked by how good it tasted:

“I can’t believe we can make something this good from such dirty water!” exclaimed one schoolchild, possibly receiving pats on the back and having his hair ruffled as a result.

The device is both compact and, weighing just 15kg (33lbs), easily transported to sites where it is needed. While previous units required a source of electricity to run, the current model has been adapted to run on gasoline, meaning that even those stranded in remote areas could be saved by its water-purifying magic.

Despite costing a jaw-dropping US$20,000 for one unit, municipalities in both Shikoku and Kyushu are already considering installing the devices in their designated evacuation centres.

While we all certainly hope that we never need to use a device like this, knowing that they exist and could soon be in the hands of local authorities is certainly very comforting!

Source: Tokyo Shinbun  Images: Osmo / 5election