On March 11, Japan was hit by one of the largest earthquakes in its recorded history triggering a massive tsunami which has devastated its eastern coastline. The earthquake, with an 8.9 magnitude, was centred in the Miyagi prefecture of Japan—about 230 miles northeast of Tokyo. The death toll is still rising tragically into the thousands—with thousands more declared missing. The tsunami caused a 30-foot wall of water to rush over entire towns, rice fields and wrecked everything in its path from buildings to boats to bridges.
Tens of thousands of residents are displaced because of the massive tsunami that cleared thousands of homes. Save the Children says as many as 100,000 children may have been displaced due to the earthquake and tsunami. When the quake struck, it caused tsunami warnings for 50 countries worldwide. In Tokyo, rail services were suspended and elevated highways were shut. Tokyo residents felt the quake though were not affected to a larger extent by the tsunami, however 50 aftershocks rocked the area, seven registering a massive 6.3 on the Richter scale.
On March 12, the government of Japan launched a rescue mission in which 300 planes, thousands of troops and 40 ships were mobilized. The U.S. sent military vessels and aircraft carriers, while Australia, New Zealand and South Korea sent relief teams.
Nuclear reaction scares
In northeast Japan, a blast occurred in an atomic power plant which raised panic around Japan and internationally due to radiation leaks. The first explosion due to the earthquake hit the wall and roof of Fukushima power plant with fears of radiation leaks spreading to three other reactors. Currently there have been explosions in four of its nuclear reactors. The plants are at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (Tepco) Fukushima facility.
The evacuation radius has become 12 miles from within the plant and residents of the region have been told to stay indoors, turn off air conditioning and to not drink tap water.
After the first explosion, Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission reported that the plant may be experiencing a meltdown and that the radioactivity in the control room is 1,000 times the normal level and eight times the normal level in the vicinity surrounding the plant.
Radioactive steam was released to relieve pressure in the plants. The Prime Minister of Japan, Naoto Kan, has already ordered thousands of people, within a six mile radius to evacuate. According to Sky News, Ryohei Shiomi of Japan’s nuclear safety commission, said that even if a meltdown took place it would not affect people within a six mile radius.
If the core of the power plant overheats then there could be major unwanted results with the fuel being damaged and a molten mass could melt through the reactor vessel and release radioactivity into the containment building that surrounds the vessel.
In a recent turn of events, a third reactor was rocked by an explosion on March 14, and a fourth ignited, escalating worries. The Japanese government has warned anyone near the plants to stay inside to avoid radiation exposure.
With the third blast its failing power plant has hit levels that are damaging to human health. Technicians are still trying to cool the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi facility but many non-essential personnel were ordered to leave because of the unsafe measures of radiation being released into the air. On March 15, fire broke out at the No. 4 reactor, the reported cause of the leak.
During a nationally televised statement, Naoto Kan, Japan’s Prime Minister, confirmed the radiation had spread from the four reactors of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. This is the worst nuclear crisis for Japan since the Second World War and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is also the first threat of a nuclear explosion since a nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine exploded in 1986.