The death toll in Japan has reached 1,000 people after the massive earthquake that struck there overnight. Additionally, the Japanese government has ordered 2,000 people living within two miles of Fukushima’s Daiichi nuclear power plant to evacuate. The plant is in an official state of emergency, since its reactors have shut down, causing problems with its cooling system. Rising pressure has been reported in a key part of the plant, and “Japanese media reports have said a further big rise in pressure may break the vessel,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. claims there is currently no radiation leakage, and the “International Atomic Energy Agency said it is ready to provide assistance to Japan if requested following the massive earthquake.” The agency is monitoring the situation round the clock, the WSJ says. President Obama has offered “technical aid to cope with (the) damaged nuclear power plant,” the LA Times reports; furthermore, according to the LA Times, “Japan’s nuclear safety agency plans to release what it described as slightly radioactive vapor” from the plant. (Emphasis mine. I can’t believe there’s anything slight about radioactivity.) The Japanese nuclear safety agency says the vapor “posed no danger to human health or the environment.” Japanese authorities have also reported an extinguished fire at the nuclear power plant in Onagawa.
Much has been written about how to prepare for an earthquake or tsunami, but dealing with a disaster at a nuclear plant is not something most people will ever be forced to think about. I’m not like most people, though, since I sent my daughter to pre-school a few miles away from not one but two nuclear power plants, and I had to sign a waiver allowing her to take iodine pills in the wake of a radioactive emergency.
It’s a strange thing, living under the shadow of a cooling tower. People in my hometown, where the aforementioned plants are located, would often joke that there was something in the water that made everyone so kooky, and maybe they were right. My uncle argued that his strawberries were bigger because of the nuke plant, and that because of the radiation, they’d glow in the dark. When you live near a nuclear power plant, eventually you take it for granted; you can’t stay sane if you’re worried every day that you might experience the next Chernobyl. But as this emergency in Japan reminds us, nuclear plants can be damaged, and the results could be devastating.