I’m sure we all remember the earthquake that hit Japan last March, 2011.
The Tohoku earthquake, also known as the Great East Japan earthquake, and its subsequent tsunami absolutely devastated Japan and made headlines around the world. At 9Mw it remains one of the most powerful earthquakes in global history. It was responsible for 15,842 deaths and an estimated economic cost of $235 billion. 3485 people are listed as missing.
Photo: Asahi Shimbun ‘A woman mourns the devastation of Natori, Miyagi Prefecture, in northern Japan on March 13.’
The flooding, shock waves and preceding after-shocks destroyed lives, homes and infrastructure along the east coast of Japan and this was a gigantic natural tragedy. One particular impact however ignited international debate over a man made destructive energy: Nuclear Power.
The tsunami, with waves reaching 10km inland, caused a number of nuclear accidents. Most terrifyingly there were Level 7 meltdowns at three reactors at the Fukushima 1 Nuclear Power Plant Complex. It posed a national emergency to human health and the environment. The world has seen the effects of nuclear meltdowns before, most notably at Chernobyl, Ukraine 1986 and Three Mile Island, U.S.A. 1979. The catastrophic radioactive contamination released into the atmosphere following such incidents can prove fatal. Even younger generations born decades after a meltdown have suffered cancers and sickness attributed to these disasters.
Photo: Unharvested Apples hang from a contaminated tree near Chernobyl, December 1989.
Photo: Chernobyl 25 years on - in the abandoned city of Pripyat.
So when Fukushima’s Nuclear powerplant was proclaimed unstable the world panicked.
Government agencies from many countries responded directly to the crisis by addressing their own nuclear programmes. In Germany 200,000 people protested on the streets against nuclear power as a viable energy alternative. In May, following a popular anti-nuclear rally, the Swiss government outlawed the building of new nuclear power reactors in their country.
But now, after 9 months, the Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has declared the Fukushima site as stable.
Source: The Guardian Newspaper
It is clearly a relief that things have recovered at all. But what is the future for nuclear power? It remains an extremely developed source of energy and large scale disasters are rare enough for nuclear development to continue. Of course we will run out of fossil fuels and nuclear power provides an alternative.
However, most environmental NGO’s and political bodies have anti-nuclear agendas. If you are interested, read Friends of the Earth’s (UK) paper: Why nuclear power is not an achieveable and safe answer to climate change.
But not everyone agrees. There is an Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy community on the web that argues for the continuation of nuclear power. The debates goes on.
Whatever we believe, it is important to remember the lives lost and more endangered last March in Japan.
We are simultaneously powerless to Earth’s floods and quakes, and unnaturally powerful in our development of nuclear power. Both are devastating, only one we can control… although many say we are doing our collective best to change the world’s climate too.
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