For the past several days I have been closely monitoring the developments of the aftermath of the March M9.0 earthquake of the coast of Northern Japan. What happened was truly devastating and heartbreaking to comprehend. Tens of thousands of people have lost their homes to the tsunami and more than half a million have had to relocate in temporary shelters due to the combined tsunami damage and the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant (aka Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant). The death toll is rising every day; as of this writing, I’ve read on CBS News that the count is 3,676 and expected to rise as the recovery operation continues.
I have been closely watching the news on Google and live updates from the BBC regarding the Fukushima power plant and it is alarming to see more bad news on a daily basis.
If you haven’t been closely following the events of the power plant here’s a rough summary of it:
- On March 11, Friday, a M9.0 earthquake occurs off the coast of Sendai, Northern Japan, which triggers a major tsunami.
- The earthquake caused an emergency shutdown of many of Japan’s power plants, Fukushima Daiichi and Daini nuclear power plants. Tokyo Electric Power Co. Ltd. (TEPCO) owns and operates these power plants.
- The tsunami damaged and took down Daiichi’s power supply and backup power systems causing the cooling systems to stop working.
- Lack of proper cooling waters caused the water inside the boiling water reactors to turn to steam quickly as the fuel rods continued to heat up. Pressure built up inside the reactor.
- On Saturday, Daiichi’s reactor 1 suffered an explosion, caused by engineers trying to vent the pressured steam, damaging reactor 1’s outer building. Authorities use seawater to try to cool the fuel rods in the reactor.
- On Monday, a similar explosion occurred in reactor 3. Authorities also started detecting rising radiation from reactor 2. They believed that the fuel rods there have been partially exposed. Again, they use seawater to cool them down.
- On Tuesday, another explosion (the third in four days) happened, this time in reactor 2. This explosion is said to have also damaged the steel containment vessel of the reactor. A 20-kilometer exclusion zone around the Fukushima plant has been imposed. Those between 20km and 30-km have been asked to stay indoors.
- Meanwhile, a fire also broke out in the spent fuel rods section of reactor 4 causing radiation levels to spike up once again. So far, there has been a second fire in reactor 4 on Wednesday.
- Also on Wednesday, authorities had to temporarily stop operations in the embattled power plant as radiation levels rapidly increased. Japan’s efforts to pour water from helicopters was immediately canceled due to the radiation levels.
- The nuclear crisis at Fukushima Daiichi power plant has been categorized as a level six in the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES), second only to the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 and worse than the Three Mile Island accident in 1979.
During all this time, there has been massive calls by NGOs and government officials throughout the world to review or shelve plans about using nuclear power. Meanwhile, in countries where nuclear power plants are in operation, people have been calling to shut these down in favor of renewable and safer energy sources.
Amidst the fear and anxiety of this crisis, there have criticism against the Japanese government and TEPCO. There are reports stating that some people in the country believe they are not getting all the information they should be receiving. An interesting view since TEPCO has been accused of withholding information in the past. On the other hand, some reports do state that information being disclosed is the best available there is.
It really is disheartening to see, despite efforts made by Japan’s government and the operator of the power plant, TEPCO, that the situation at the Daiichi plant has approached a dangerous point. If the authorities are desperate enough to try to use helicopters in an effort to maintain the water levels at the reactors then it goes to show that they are running out of options.
I still hope they can prevent a meltdown – even a partial one – and as a whole, Japan will recover from this terrible event.
Sources: http://www.suntimes.com/4341739-417/what-happened-at-fukushima-dai-ichi-nuclear-plant.html, http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=partial-meltdowns-hydrogen-explosions-at-fukushima-nuclear-power-plant, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12307698, http://www.chernobylee.com/blog/2011/03/fukushima-npp-nuclear-crisis–.php, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Nuclear_Event_Scale, http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/03/16/501364/main20043730.shtml