Natural Disasters and Nuclear Power: Lessons From Japan

by Green Jobs Ready on March 17, 2011


On March 11—as anyone who has been glued to their televisions or following news updates knows—Japan was hit with a massive, 9.0 earthquake, which experts are saying is the fourth-largest in recorded history since 1900. As if the earthquake, which shifted the rotation of the earth’s axis slightly enough to shorten the length of the day, itself wasn’t enough, the shift in the tectonic plates produced an equally fearsome tsunami that devastated the country’s eastern coastline. Numerous news sources are reporting that, at the time this blog was published, the death toll has reached at least 5,000, with thousands more individuals missing.

In addition to the sheer loss of human life, another quandary has emerged from these natural disasters. Early Tuesday, the Japanese Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, which had been damaged extensively by the earthquake, experienced a major explosion that subsequently spurred fires and the halting of all operations at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant. Japanese government officials have since ordered thousands of citizens within the vicinity of the damaged plant to evacuate, and also ordered those on the outskirts of the evacuated area to remain indoors.

What’s left in the situation, which is still in the process of unraveling, are major questions regarding the appropriate usage, if any, of nuclear power. Is it worth the risk? It’s certainly a question that has crossed the minds of several prominent thinkers, including Steve Hallett and John Wright, authors of “Life without Oil: Why We Must Shift to a New Energy Future.”

“The hydrogen explosions and venting of radioactive materials at the Daiichi nuclear power plants at Fukushima, only 150 miles north of Tokyo, already represent the second worst nuclear accident in history, and the situation is becoming increasingly precarious,” wrote Hallett and Wright for The Huffington Post. “It remains uncertain that on-site stockpiles of used — but still highly radioactive — fuel rods can be stabilized, and further meltdown and venting of radioactive materials seems likely. The full scale of the tragedy at Fukushima has not yet played out, and may not be fully known for months. A massive response will be required to prevent the critical situation at this power plant from becoming much worse, and we can only hope that this response can be mustered to reduce the human suffering that will result.”

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