Is Japan Still Feeling the Effects From the 2011 Disaster at Fukushima?

by Vanessa Merta on February 19, 2014

The Explosion at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant, March 12, 2011

The Explosion at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant  March 12, 2011

In April 1986, the world’s most infamous nuclear disaster occurred in Ukraine, referred to as the disaster at Chernobyl.  On the International Nuclear Event Scale it received a top score of a seven.  More recently the world has experienced another nuclear disaster, also scoring a seven on this scale. This was the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster in 2011, and it was triggered by a natural phenomenon, an earthquake (Peplow).  To this day, the Fukushima Nuclear plant is still leaking radioactive materials and because of that it should be a national priority for the Japanese government.

On March 11th, 2011 Japan was hit with its largest earthquake.  This magnitude nine earthquake triggered a huge tsunami that damaged the east coast of Japan, and six miles inward. In this tsunami’s path was the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant.  The power plant was unfortunately poorly managed, and when the workers tried to prevent this disaster, they were unsuccessful.  Because of the floods, there was no electricity and the site’s backup generators ran out of fuel the day after the tsunami.  By this time, three of the reactors were starting to overheat.  Luckily, the plant’s three other reactors were out of commission at the time.  Because of the heat from the active reactors, a huge amount of hydrogen gas was formed. The pressure from the new gas was increasing to dangerous amounts, and late on March 12th, the reactors exploded from this pressure (Nakanishi).  The explosions emitted radioactive particles that spread far from the plant.  Today, the areas surrounding the plant are still scattered with the radioactivity from the 2011 explosions (West).

One of the ways that this disaster is still affecting Japan today is the contamination of surrounding water supplies.  The plant uses contaminated water as a part of their cooling system, but an unfortunate accident caused this system to malfunction.  There was a leak in one of the tanks, and before an employee noticed, over 300 tons of contaminated water leaked into the ocean. This water is contained with cesium, strontium and tritium, all radioactive substances that cause harmful effects to the environment and to people (Von Marco Evers).  Since the explosions, the plant has been leaking cesium-contaminated water almost consistently.  This radioactive contaminated water is unfortunately going into the ocean and into the groundwater.  Radiation poisoning can cause a plethora of negative effects to its victims. This includes burns, nausea, hair loss, birth defects, and even cancer and death in some cases (Perez).

These toxic substances were found in plants surrounding the Fukushima Nuclear Plant.  When wheat was tested two months after the explosions, the plants that were growing during the event were found to have higher levels of radioactivity than the younger ones. While this news was better than expected, any level of radioactivity in food can have detrimental results.  Although the wheat looked like it was going to be okay in the future, the rice production was looking grim.  The radioactivity was extremely high in rice paddies, both in the rice grown and the soil it grew in (Nakanishi).

The only event to parallel this disaster is the one at Chernobyl.  Like in Chernobyl, there are high amounts of radioactive cesium-137 in Fukushima.  This chemical has the half-life of 30 years, meaning that there would be radioactivity for decades (Peplow).  Water and plants in this area will need to be monitored for years to come in order to avoid the health risks that the people of Chernobyl are suffering from.  Unfortunately, as recently as February 14th 2014, there has been a record amount of cesium in the groundwater under and around Fukushima. The reactors are still leaking, as it was discovered that this cesium was coming from cracks inside at seven different locations (West).  While the employees of the Fukushima Nuclear plant are focusing all energy on stopping these leaks, more and more keep popping up.

Even with all of these malfunctions, residents are still living in the areas surrounding the plant.  They were evacuated for a short period of time, but are now back in their homes. These people are eating the radioactive rice and they are exposed to the radioactive water.  The effects of this radioactivity can be deadly, but some of the residents have no other options.  The Japanese government should be working on a solution to this problem, but with more and more issues surfacing, they cannot keep up.  The nuclear disaster at Fukushima was a terrible one, and unfortunately three years later, the residents of Japan, and the environment, are still suffering.


Web Sources:

Nakanishi, Tomoko M. Agricultural Implications of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident. Tokyo, Japan: Springer, 2013. 1-9. Print.

Peplow, Mark . “Chernobyl’s Legacy.” Nature. 471. (2011): n. page. Web. 6 Feb. 2014.

Perez, Eric. “Radiation Sickness.” National Institutes for Health . (2014): n. page. Web.

Von Marco Evers, Spiegel. “Japan’s Nuclear Migraine: A Never-Ending Disaster at Fukushima.” ABC News. 14 11 2013: n. page. Print.

West, Broc. “RECORD CESIUM LEVELS REPORTED AT REACTOR 1 .” Fukushima Update. 14 Feb 2014: n. page. Web. 18 Feb. 2014.

Photo Sources:

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