The terrible triple disaster that hit Japan recently was so unbelievable in its scope due to our inability to comprehend just how large the forces of nature are.
While the earthquake and tsunami were events that, while terrible, had a defined start and finish to them, not so with the problems at the Fukushima Nuclear Plant which seem to be getting worse. Just what is going on there is open to speculation. Some facts are solid, others are very shaky and what the outcome will be is not known at this time.
What is known with certainty is that the several reactors at this plant malfunctioned as a result of the earthquake and the tsunami damage to the plant itself, but more importantly, to the back-up power generators which were there to ensure back-up cooling for the reactor water in the event the primary system failed. But when the back-up generators were damaged, and power to the plant was interrupted there was no good way to keep the reactors cool.
The known facts: The plant has been damaged, there have been leaks of radioactive materials into the air and water around the plant, two workers have been exposed to very high levels of radiation. Measured radiation levels are increasing. Radiation has been detected in drinking water in Tokyo and radiation from Japan has been detected in China, and in the USA .
What is confusing: Are the radiation numbers being told to the public accurate? Have the dangers from the situation been adequately communicated? Why are there conflicting stories? For example, this weekend, water inside the complex was reported to be 10 million times the level normally found in water inside nuclear power plants. But later it was reported that the level was really only 100,000 times the normal levels. Both seem dangerously high to me.
What the Future holds: We really don’t know. No one does. This is beyond our human experience. One thing is for sure the seawater nearby has been severely contaminated and the radiation levels are getting higher. We’ve heard from people in Japan who are beyond concerned, which is quite natural. While the half-life of radioactive iodine is quite short, the other radioactive decay products such as cesium 137 and strontium 90 will be with us for a very long time.
Stay tuned. This story has a long way to go.