On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake triggered a fifty-foot tsunami off the coast of northeastern Japan. The tsunami destroyed much of the northeastern coastline of Japan and instantly overwhelmed the protective seawall meant to protect the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The plant’s electrical grid was destroyed—effectively resulting in the failure of the nuclear plant’s primary electrical systems and backup generators. The loss of the cooling system led to a series of massive hydrogen explosions that released an enormous amount of radioactivity into the upper atmosphere. Additionally, it triggered full-blown reactor core meltdowns in three of the plant's reactors. The meltdowns escalated into melt-throughs as the seawater being poured onto the reactors and exposed fuel rods ultimately failed. Fukushima now exists in a state of jeopardy; the worst case possible scenario has been realized. As the most devastating nuclear crisis the world has ever faced, we have crossed the boundary where modern science has not gone before; ultimately, we are facing new problems that have no easy solution. What is certain are the long lasting implications of this disaster that will be measured not in decades—but in centuries.
The catastrophic nuclear disaster in northeastern Japan continues with no end in sight. As nuclear hot spots are slowly beginning to show up all over Japan, radiation is continuing to leak into the ocean, ground and atmosphere. In terms of the total amount of radiation released into the environment, nuclear expert Arnold Gundersen has stated that we are now looking at the equivalent of twenty Chernobyl events. It has been confirmed by Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) that three reactors suffered a complete meltdown shortly after the earthquake. In addition to the meltdowns, all three reactors have since suffered a complete melt-through—which is the worst-case possible scenario. The nuclear core has melted through the outer containment vessel and is now in direct contact with the Earth. The hypothetical "China Syndrome" event has now become a reality; the melted core has penetrated the Earth and is contaminating the groundwater below the plant. Workers are reporting cracks in the Earth and radioactive steam being emitted from the cracks.
The damaged reactors continue to emit radioactivity and are too hot to be entombed in concrete. As the melted nuclear reactor cores continue to experience criticality, radiation spikes are continually being discovered around the plant. It will be at least another year before they cool enough to be entombed—which will ultimately not stop the radioactive releases. In the event of an aftershock, reactor four also still has the possibility of collapsing, melting down and releasing an enormous amount of radiation into the atmosphere. Much of the area around the planet will be indefinitely uninhabitable for hundreds of years. Early symptoms of radiation sickness are beginning to show up in children who live near the plant. Radioactive isotopes are being detected in the breast milk and urine of Japanese citizens as far away as Tokyo. Radiation is slowly bleeding into the Pacific Ocean, contaminating sea life up to 460 km away and could reach the west coast of the United States within a year. Over time, radiation will slowly work its way up the food chain, contaminating a large percentage of the sea-life in the Pacific.
Radioactive fallout from the disaster has resulted in the release of extremely radioactive nuclear hot particles that have been detected on the west coast of the United States since March. Hot particles are virtually undetectable isotopes that continuously expose a person to internal radiation and can eventually cause cancer. Radioactive Fallout consisting of Iodine-131; Plutonium-238; Cesium-134,137; Strontium-90; Barium; Americium; Tellurium; and Uranium is being detected in the precipitation, drinking water, milk, soil and food supply of the United States. Fallout is continuing to contaminate much of the air, water, and land in the Northern Hemisphere. Future cancer epidemics, birth defects, and genetic mutations in the Northern Hemisphere in the coming decades could total millions. Infant mortality rates in the Pacific Northwest are up 35% in the last three months, possibly in relation to the Fukushima event.
In addition to the near total media blackout on the disaster by the United States and Japanese mass media, both governments have greatly underestimated the extreme magnitude and danger of the situation that we are facing. TEPCO has continued to consistently underestimate, cover up, mislead, and lie about the entire situation from the initial stages of the accident. The E.P.A. has stopped all radiation monitoring in the United States during the crisis as they continue to downplay the magnitude of the current situation. Both governments continue to put the lives and health of their citizens and the world at risk as they withhold critical information that will ultimately be the difference between life and death. As the worst nuclear disaster and public health crisis the world has ever faced, we may soon discover that the consequences of nuclear energy are too great—only time will tell how devastating the impact on human life and the planet will ultimately be.
As a direct result of this event, Germany and Switzerland have taken action to stop their reliance on nuclear energy. The Fukushima events reveal the inherent danger that exists within the use of nuclear energy and the similar dangers that the United States could soon face. Nuclear scientists have pointed out that an event like Fukushima can and eventually will happen here—it is only a matter of time. As three nuclear sites in the United States are currently being threatened by natural disasters, it is rapidly becoming more and more obvious that nuclear energy is a precarious and unstable energy source that is extremely vulnerable to unpredictable and unstoppable natural forces.
Digital Static presents "Melting Down," a short social awareness film focusing on the recent Fukushima nuclear catastrophe and the unprecedented consequences of nuclear energy in the modern age.
Music Credits: U2, Bullet The Blue Sky, Island Records, 1987
Video Editing and Motion Graphics: Digital Static
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