Tuesday, March 15, 2011

On Japan's Nuclear Crisis

I have been following the news coming out of Japan. It is sad enough that the Tsunami hit and killed at least 10,000 and left scores more homeless. It was eerie to read about the 1,000 bodies that washed up on shore. It is a very tough situation that is made even worse by the fact the area, in Northeast Japan, hit by the Tsunami and earthquake is home to a few nuclear power plants.

It sounds scary. The reports are ominous. I heard a report on NPR this evening that very unsettling. There is a fire at one of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant reactors. Officials are afraid that they will not be able to convince any workers to fight to avert disaster. There are real fears that the instrumentation in the reactors used to monitor and control the reactor are either malfunctioning or not functioning at all. The New York Times has reported that:
A small crew of technicians, braving radiation and fire, became the only people remaining at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station on Tuesday — and perhaps Japan’s last chance of preventing a broader nuclear catastrophe. http://nyti.ms/gF9IH2
Fifty people are left to fight and shut down an exposed core. There is a very real fear of a meltdown which could jeopardize many people in this densely populated country. People are trying to get as far away from the reactors as possible. These brave souls who volunteered or were assigned to this detail may well die in their efforts to save others.

This is eerily reminiscent of Chernobyl. At this point, Chernobyl was much worse than Daichi. The Chernobyl reactor exploded and spew huge plumes of radioactive steam, smoke, and ash into the atmosphere risking millions. The similarity was a few hearty souls, heros, went in a poured cement around the core to seal it and prevent an even worse disaster. 28 died from radiation exposure and the remainder have been afflicted with severe radiation related health afflictions. It is a very grim situation for the workers that have stayed on.

The other thing that strikes me is that Japan has already had more than it’s fair share of nuclear devastation. It was the only place in the world where atom bombs have been used in warfare. In 1945, the United States dropped bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in order to force Japan to surrender. It worked but at a great human price. (Please see my posting written on the 60th anniversary of those bombings: http://thissideoffifty.blogspot.com/2009/01/august-2005-atom-bombing-of-hiroshima.html)

Now, 66 years later, this poor country is struggling with another potential nuclear devastation, this one of their own creation. I was a little surprised earlier this week when I learned that the Japanese had nuclear power plants. I had assumed that, given the events of 1945, they would have chosen another path. I am now thinking that their energy needs were so great their natural resources were so scant that nuclear power was the only path. I also imagine that they reasoned that their industrial might and dedication to quality management would be more than sufficient to guarantee safe operation of such facilities
Europe's energy commissioner Guenther Oettinger went further and dubbed the nuclear disaster an "apocalypse", saying Tokyo had almost lost control of events at the Fukushima plant. "There is talk of an apocalypse and I think the word is particularly well chosen," he said in remarks to the European Parliament. http://t.co/Sri1nJf

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