On Thursday, March 11th, 2021, Japan mourned around 20,000 victims of the 2011 nuclear disaster at Fukushima. The streets of Japan were filled with demonstrations of silent prayer, as well as anti-nuclear protests ten years after the disaster. Taking part in these demonstrations were Emperor Naruhito and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. A special moment of silence was observed at 2:46 in the afternoon, exactly when the calamity hit Fukushima.
“I also consider it important to heal emotional scars and watch over the mental and physical health of those afflicted, including the elderly and children,” NBC News reports Emperor Naruhito saying. Not only did so many people pass away, but many were displaced from their homes, jobs, and communities. Houses and businesses were swept away by the tsunami, and the entire Fukushima prefecture, along with its surrounding cities, was riddled with radiation due to the tremors and shaking of the Earthquake.
The entire disaster was a prime example of the domino effect and it started with the Tohoku earthquake, also known as the Great East Japan earthquake. It was recorded to be the most powerful earthquake in Japan and the fourth most powerful earthquake in the entire world. The tremors of the earthquake then triggered a tsunami. The tsunami reached heights of over 10 kilometers in Japan’s Sendai area. Inhabitants of Sendai were given five to ten minutes of warning to evacuate their homes. This was not enough time for families to leave the area. Even a majority of evacuation sites were completely wiped out due to the waves. Over 15,000 people were killed. Many drowned, while others died of injuries resulting from blunt trauma. Over 2,500 people went missing and over 200,000 had to permanently relocate to other areas and had lost their homes as well as all of their belongings. In short, many had to restart their lives in some manner. However, it didn’t stop here. The tsunami also triggered nuclear emergencies at three different nuclear reactors in the Fukushima district’s nuclear power plant. The plant’s active reactors shut down their usual fission reactions after detecting the earthquake. The reactors’ electricity supplies then failed and emergency diesel generators started in order to keep pumping coolant to the reactors’ cores and preventing them from heating up. Even though the reactions had stopped, there was residual decay heat from the fissions. This all would have been alright if it wasn’t for the tsunami. The tsunami swept water over the plant’s seawall and ended up flooding the lower parts of the first, second, third, and fourth reactors. The flooding caused the emergency generators to malfunction, and since coolant was not being administered to the reactor cores, they started to heat up due to the decay heat. There were three nuclear meltdowns, three hydrogen explosions, and the release of radioactive contamination in the plant’s first, second, and third units over a course of three days. Temperatures increased exponentially as radiation seeped from the plant into the surrounding areas. Over 150,000 residents had to evacuate the areas in a 20-kilometer area around the plant. Radioactive isotopes leached into large bodies of water, namely the Pacific Ocean, and killed many forms of oceanic life. Radioactive isotopes were found in the atmosphere years later.
Even after such a large disaster, one that was deemed larger than Chernobyl, Japan is moving towards betterment. As of 2020, the World Health Organization has reported no increase in stillbirths, miscarriages, or mental and physical disorders in the children born after the accident. PM Suga and U.S. President Biden are moving towards finishing the reconstruction of the affected regions and Japan is debating the role of nuclear power in its mix of energy sources to achieve carbon net neutrality by 2050. Non-profit organizations should work towards helping the families forced to relocate with basic amenities, such as food, water, and shelter. They should also help with the work of reconstructing the Fukushima area when radioactive isotope levels reach a safe low.
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