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Complete Meltdown: Fukushima and the World's End
January 25, 2014
by Spencer Santilli

As typically happens with world changing events, we often remember where we were upon hearing the news for the first time.  For the March 2011 earthquake off the coast of Japan I was in my junior year at St. Bonaventure, comfortably seated at the table of my college apartment.  Watching the news, I was aware that I was witnessing history — albeit I didn’t foresee the implications this event would have nearly four years after.  The massive tsunami that crashed into the eastern shores of Japan wreaked havoc on the area and devastated the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.  A month after the initial disaster the Japanese government stated that the Fukushima plant registered level seven on the International Nuclear Event Scale, joining only the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown in this category.  This is a global crisis that has been downplayed, underreported, and mishandled by multiple entities.  It is time to open a crucial discussion of how to prevent a complete disaster and to minimize the widespread effects already witnessed by humanity.  

If there is one thing society should have learned about Earth in the last fifteen years is that we can never plan for all that Mother Nature could throw at us.  Hurricanes, enormous  tornados, earthquakes, and tsunamis have all inflicted massive amounts of damage in the last fifteen years.  Yet there are still several events that we should all acknowledge are more threatening than the rest.  The possibilities of a nuclear reactor meltdown, warfare, or contamination are, to me, the most horrifying hazard on the planet.  The atom and its finite components are building blocks of nature, and our leading scientists are manipulating these particles without completely understanding the ramifications.  The world’s first nuclear scientists could hardly fathom the implications their research would open doors to decades down the road.  We continue to push the boundaries of nuclear research, but now is the time to decide if we’ve delved too far into something we do not understand.  

There have been several trains of thought concerning the seriousness of the Fukushima disaster, ranging from the unconcerned denial to the grave revelations of complete annihilation of Japan.  Among the deniers is the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which stands to lose billions of dollars in the wake of the accident. On October 12, 2012 TEPCO finally admitted to not taking stronger precautions against disaster for fear of inciting protests and lawsuits against their power plants. Corporations seem to be more concerned about protests and lawsuits rather than the safety of humanity.  Given that frightening statement we are not worthy as a society of harnessing such elemental power.  This is not just a statement against TEPCO for their obvious failures, but a statement to humanity to reinvestigate what it means to use nuclear power and whether we are responsible enough as a species to continue to delve into such areas of the nature.  

Despite numerous initial hopes of a speedy cleanup and recovery, Fukushima is constantly leaking hazardous radioactive material into the atmosphere and Pacific Ocean.  Reports state that the plant is still leaking roughly 300 tons of radioactive water into the ocean every day, without mentioning how much is dispersed into the air and surrounding ground. Elements like cesium, strontium, and tritium (a radioactive isotope of hydrogen) are exceedingly dangerous with limited exposure and prolonged exposure can be worse than death.  Recently the story of the brave sailors on the USS Ronald Reagan, who were among the first responders, has emerged as a tale of horrific consequences.  Roughly seventy sailors who were on the ship have come forward citing side effects of heavy radioactive poisoning—cancers, thyroid troubles, hair loss, and other deadly diseases. The Reagan was docked just miles off the coast from Fukushima and was directly in line with plumes of radioactive fallout and weather caused by the meltdown.  The sailors were breathing radioactive air, drinking radioactive water, living on a radiated ship, all because the US Government and TEPCO did not accurately relay the dangerous conditions of the plant soon enough to those responding.  We are more than comfortable as a species to split an atom for power or war, but we have continually proven to be reluctant when it comes to dealing with the devastating side effects of nuclear research.  

Renowned nuclear physicist, and Can the Man hero, Michio Kaku gave a talk on Democracy Now that discussed the measures that need to be taken to ensure no further disaster stems from Fukushima.  Kaku states that TEPCO wants the world to believe that the situation inside the melting reactors is stable, but this could not be further from the truth.  Every measure taken to stabilize and cool the reacting cores has failed, and Japan has resorted to sending in firemen to spray water into the reactor by hand.  Needless to say, these brave men are either no longer alive or dealing with crippling radioactive side effects.  Kaku also noted that the slightest disturbance, be it an earthquake or part of the building collapses, could spell disaster for the entire island of Japan.  When asked how he would deal with the situation, Kaku hearkened back to the Chernobyl disaster.  After the 1986 meltdown in Russia, nearly six hundred thousand military members were called in to bury the reactor in hundreds of tons of concrete and sand.  Although the immediate area of Chernobyl will likely always be radioactive, the immediate threat of further catastrophe was eradicated by burying the reactor.  Kaku argues the same should have already been considered and initiated for the Fukushima reactor, which isn’t deep in Russia but rather perched on the edge of the world’s largest ocean — one of our greatest food sources. 

Now as the world approaches the three year anniversary of the tsunami, we are no closer to resolving the situation at hand.  Food, milk, water, air, and now lives, are contaminated with radioactive materials that will likely never be completely eradicated from the environment.  Generations of Japanese citizens will continue to be plagued by the failures of TEPCO and the entire history of nuclear research, being that the devastation of the atomic age began in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  But despite this event not occurring on US soil, American citizens are also at risk as waves of radioactive contaminants beginning to show up on the western coast.  Lest we forget the danger of our own plants, being that the Indian Point plant located some thirty miles outside of New York City is at greatest risk for environmental damage and subsequent meltdown.  Michio Kaku states in the following video that when calculated in 1980 the potential damage from an Indian Point incident would surpass $200 billion.  Let’s hope it never comes to that, because by then it might already be too late to fix our fascination with manipulating Mother Nature.  We may, after all, be crafting our own disaster and disguising it under the promises of energy and a more secure future. 

-Spencer James-
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