The Human cost of the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster

Source: Anonymous

At 2.46pm on March 11th 2011 an earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale struck off the eastern coast of Japan, followed by a tsunami that according to Russia Today reached 23m in height, later estimates claimed the waves reached 15m. When the earthquake struck four nuclear power plants including Fukushima-Daiichi automatically shut down. Diesel backup generators that were supposed to kick in when power was lost didn’t survive the tsunami leaving the emergency batteries to run the plant, within eight hours these batteries had failed leaving the nuclear plant with no way of cooling itself (Biello. D, 2011) within three days the reactors were in meltdown and explosions began to destroy the reactor buildings (Greenpeace, 2011). By the 12/03/2011 Japan’s Nuclear & Industrial Safety Agency had shut down another 11 nuclear plants for growing fears over safety (Russia Today).

Fukushima is located 160Km north of Japan, an exclusion zone of 20Kms was set up around the Fukushima plant, people were told to avoid drinking tap water and keep their mouths, noses and exposed skin covered whilst outside and wash thoroughly on returning home.  By the 15/03/2011 over 200,000 people had been evacuated from the area with 160,000 believed to have been exposed to high levels of radiation, only 600 remained in the area. (Russia Today)

Following a 4th blast on 15th March staff from the nuclear plant were evacuated, leaving behind just 50 individuals all over the age of 60 to continue with attempts to cool the reactors (This World: Inside the Meltdown: BBC 2, 23/2/2012)

The latest figures suggest that over 20,000 people died as a result of the disaster and 100,000 plus have had to leave their homes where many families have lived for numerous generations. Between the 26th and 30th March 2011 Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission screened 1080 children under 15, from the Japanese Fukushima prefecture (Migagi, Iwaite and Fukushima) for thyroid exposure to radiation and found 45% of these children tested positive. (Russia Today)

Radiation levels at their peak reached alarming levels, levels in seawater reached 4500 times’ normal levels, and on 5th April 2011 according to TEPCO (the company who ran Fukushima) levels of Iodine-131 (8 day half-life) (Argonne National Laboratory) was at 7.5 million times the legal limit and Cesium-137 (30.7 years half-life) (Centre for Disease control and prevention) was at 1.1 million times the legal limit. It is believed that it will be 20 – 30 years before residents will be allowed to return to their homes due to the length of time it’ll take radiation levels to drop to safe levels; on 10/05/2011 residents from 52 households were allowed to return home to collect personal belongings, many opted to collect items of sentimental value such as photographs. (Russia Today)

So what does the future hold for the people of Fukushima and surrounding areas? Although TEPCO were reported to be paying up to $12,000 to each of the 50,000 families that lived within the 30Km exclusion zone can this ever compensate them for their loss? Or, the future health problems they are likely to encounter? (Russia Today)

Biello. D,2011: Anatomy of a nuclear crisis: A chronology of Fukushima http://e360.yale.edu/feature/anatomy_of_a_nuclear_crisis_a_chronology_of_fukushima/2385/  accessed 23/02/12

Greenpeace 2011: Fukushima nuclear disaster timeline: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/Global/international/publications/nuclear/2012/Fukushima/Fact%20Sheets/Fukushima_Timeline.pdf accessed 23/02/12

BBC 2 2012: Inside the Meltdown: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01cpd2m/This_World_Inside_the_Meltdown/http://rt.com/news/japan-tsunami-reconstruction-photos-111/ accessed 24/02/12

Argonne National Laboratory, EVS, Human Health Facts, 2005 http://www.evs.anl.gov/pub/doc/Iodine.pdf accessed 25/02/12

Centre for Disease control and prevention: http://www.bt.cdc.gov/radiation/isotopes/cesium.asp accessed 25/02/12

Image

Anonymous, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fukushima_I_reactor_units_3_and_4_by_Digital_Globe.jpg?uselang=en-gb accessed 24/02/12

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