A 9.0 magnitude earthquake March 11, 2011 was followed forty-five short minutes later by a tsunami with waves reaching 127 feet at their highest. Add to this a nuclear catastrophe promising to continue its painful journey for decades to come, and the victims wonder how to survive. Japan’s nuclear disaster, Fukushima Dai-ichi, is still on-going as of November, 2011, and will be for decades to come. As seen in the faces of the tens of thousands of displaced families, there may be no way to return to normal.
Classified as the ‘worst nuclear crisis since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster,’ a dead zone exists in a 12 mile radius surrounding the power plant. Much of this area is rural, but don’t be fooled by the quiet – this land will probably never be farmed again.
“Fukushima is still a mess. Dose rates far from the plants are still 100 times greater than their natural background,” says Dr. Alan Miller, President of Pedro Point Technology, a nuclear energy consultant with first hand knowledge of conditions on the ground at Fukushima. “The radiation dose in Koriyama, 40 miles from the plant, is still very high. A long term solution is years away,” he adds.
And the bad news keeps on coming. Recent releases of the radioactive gas Xenon have been detected, suggesting that reaction within the core may still be going on. Although the utility, TEPCO, says this is not possible while they continue to pump water into the reactors, maintaining the temperature at a constant 100 degrees Celsius or 212 degrees Fahrenheight.
Why is Fukushima Dangerous?
The overall risk to the population relates to the high releases of cesium- 137 at the height of the accident. Cs- 137 is a by-product of the nuclear reaction in nuclear power plants through a process called fission, or the splitting of uranium and plutonium into numerous by-products. Normally, exposure to cesium- 137 is small in the environment. Through a containment breach and explosions at Fukushima, large amounts were released: approximately 42 percent of that released by the Chernobyl accident. Cesium-137 has a half-life of approximately 30 years, and moves quickly into the environment, making it hard to cleanup or decontaminate areas contaminated by it for a long time. Ingested through food and water or inhaled, it can travel into the body easily, not to mention the external exposure of radiation generated by its decay. The exposure of large doses of Cs-137 in the short term can cause radiation sickness, burns, and an increased cancer risk. As for the long term, who knows?
Fukushima Dai-ichi sent the world reeling and tragically affected thousands of displaced people in the surrounding areas. Besides the stress of displacement, the earthquake and tsunami, added to the nuclear disaster, heaped even more tragedy onto a wounded public. Although no radiation deaths to either the plant workers or the general public have occurred, the long term effects still are looming, but there is always hope. “At least they are finally letting some of the folks back into their homes,” Dr. Miller adds.
Japanese lawyers are now launching a case for the victims of the Fukushima accident against TEPCO and the government, to seek compensation for the nuclear reactor accident. Will the reactor accidents result in more stringent nuclear regulations around the world? Only time will tell, with a lesson hard learned.
International Atomic Energy Agency. IAEA International Fact Finding Expert Mission of the Nuclear Accident Following the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. (2011). Accessed November 4, 2011.
Adams, M. Natural News. Land around Fukushima now radioactive dead zone; resembles target struck by atomic bomb. (2011). Accessed November 4, 2011.
Yahoo News. Lawyers launch Fukushima compensation team. October 30, 2011. Accessed November 4, 2011.
RT. Not gone fission:New fears at Fukushima. Nov. 2, 2011. Accessed November 4, 2011.
World Health Organization. Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. (2011). Accessed November 04, 2011.
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