Fukushima Reactor: An Unnatural Disaster

Alin Boughousi, Staff Writer


The Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster may be the worst of its kind. It has left a path of devastation in its wake and the radiation may have already reached our shores. This is not the first time a reactor has leaked dangerous levels of radiation into the environment. It begs the question –  is nuclear energy safe?

Experts say that air travel is the safest mode of transportation, but when there is a plane crash, hundreds lose their lives. When nuclear reactors fail, the damage lasts for decades.

In 1986, a flawed reactor design at Chernobyl, Russia caused a leak whose effects are still being felt today. Twenty-one people died in the accident itself and at least 100 have died from cancer due from radiation exposure. Today, the plant is still leaking radiation.

Although nuclear power is clean and efficient, a meltdown near a city would cause significant deaths due to radiation exposure. Reactors are vulnerable when not checked constantly, to keep them from spewing a dangerous amount of radiation into the atmosphere. According to some thermodynamics professors, every nuclear power reactor annually generates 20-30 tons of high-level nuclear waste and, unshielded, it delivers a lethal dose that will remain a hazard for at least 12,000 human generations.

The Fukushima accident happened in March of 2011, when an earthquake of magnitude 9.0 and tsunami hit the nuclear plant located in this seaport city in Japan. The tsunami engulfed about 560 square kilometers and resulted in the deaths of more than 19,000.  Damage to coastal ports and towns with more than a million buildings destroyed or partly collapsed.

The plant accident could cost Japan up to $250 billion over the next 10 years. The estimate is part of the Nuclear Safety Commission’s ongoing survey of opinions on the disaster from nuclear and other experts. The financial costs of the Fukushima disaster will take many years to recover.

So far the Japanese government has only reported three deaths caused by radiation poisoning, which includes the head of the nuclear power plant who died from radiation exposure, but according to Bloomberg Business news there may be as many as 1,300 cancer deaths still to come.

The Japanese government is not cooperating with the media and seems to be withholding information. Death tolls, radiation amounts, fish and water safety, and the possibility of future cancer cases are not being reported.

According to PR Watch.org, a liberal non-profit, poor mainstream media coverage of Japan’s two-year-long struggle to gain control over the Fukushima disaster has deprived the world of crucial information about the risks of nuclear power following natural disasters. After a few weeks of covering the early aftermath of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami, the U.S. media moved on, leaving behind the crisis at Fukushima, which continues to unfold.

Some Americans have been affected by the radiation there as well. A group of U.S. Navy personnel involved in the humanitarian effort after the disaster have filed a lawsuit against the Tokyo Electric Power Co. for more than $200 million in damages and future medical costs for exposure to radiation.

The San Onofre nuclear plant is currently being prepared to shut down due to faulty steam generators. Imagine if an earthquake caused damage to that reactor, which is so close to Los Angeles. We would be in the same situation Japan is in now − maybe worse.

Maybe we should stick to natural power sources such as solar and wind.