Monitoring the situation currently unfolding at the Fukushima nuclear plant is Mark Tracy's primary focus since Japan was struck by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that left the country reeling.
A native of Callaway County, Tracy has been living in Japan since 2001. He works as the executive director of the Asian Studies Program at Kansai Gaidai University in Osaka. Although the Kansai region, where Osaka lies, is about 300 miles south of Fukushima, Tracy said the university staff is keeping an eye on developments at the plant.
"One of my current duties is to consult with our staff and respond to any risk to our students," Tracy said. "So, we monitor developing events on a 24-hour cycle and meet four times a day to review what we have learned."
With the tsunami taking out back-up diesel generators that kept the nuclear fuel at the Fukushima plant cool, officials use seawater to try and avert a nuclear meltdown. Radiation levels from the plant are also being closely measured.
"Naturally, everyone is concerned, and one of the largest challenges is obtaining accurate information," Tracy said. "Currently, I don't believe Osaka is in imminent danger, and we are carrying on with our classes but continue to monitor the events around the clock."
Tracy explained that he could "clearly feel" the March 11 quake from Kansai Gaidai, but the main brunt of tremors were far enough away that "there was no significant damage in the Kansai region."
As well as educating Japanese students, Kansai Gaidai University hosts about 700 international students a year.
"All of our foreign students are accounted for and safe. It will take a while longer to confirm the status of all of our Japanese students, because at the time of the earthquake, they were on their spring break," Tracy said.
Although Tracy said everything in his area is proceeding as usual, he has friends in the Tohoku region that were affected by the quake.
"Some of my friends are still isolated, experiencing shortages of food, fuel and water. My friends' situation is uncomfortable but not life-threatening."
After graduating from law school, Tracy worked as assistant county prosecuting attorney from 1992 until about 1997. He worked under the prosecuting attorney at the time, Robert Sterner.
"As a new prosecutor, I could not have had a better role model," Tracy said of Sterner. "His commitment to fair prosecution and strict personal standards still serve as a model for me."
Sterner, now associate circuit judge, said when he first heard about the disaster that hit Japan he wondered if it was going to affect Tracy until he remembered that his former co-worker was too far south. He said although Tracy has plenty of opportunities stateside, he decided Japan was the right place to be.
"He's become enamored of where he is," Sterner said.
Tracy worked for a time at the Fulton lawfirm Riley & Dunlap, was an adjunct professor at Westminster College and taught some lectures at William Woods University.
The former Fulton attorney said he is working with his current university to raise funds to help with recovery efforts in Japan. He said for anyone wishing to help with those efforts, he recommends the International Red Cross or the Salvation Army.
"By far, cash donations are the most effective way to help, and the Red Cross and Salvation Army have a long history of working in Japan and have excellent infrastructure in place."