Next Friday, March 11, will mark the fifth anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, triggered by an earthquake and tsunami that ravaged the Fukushima prefecture of Japan. The natural calamities alone killed nearly 16 thousand people, and while the short and long term effects of the exposure to the leaked chemicals remains to be seen, many local and federal entities are now forced to acknowledge the inherent dangers in harvesting nuclear energy and how to best deal with tragedy when it occurs.
On Monday, Ramapo’s Michael Edelstein, a professor and the director of the Institute for Environmental Studies, and Izumi Osawa-Minevich, program assistant for the Roukema Center for International Education, presented a look back at the disaster in Fukushima. The incident was only the second event to be classified as a Level 7 meltdown by the International Nuclear Event Scale, after the Chernobyl disaster of 1986. The lecture encompassed the topic of nuclear power and its place in modern society, the perceptions surrounding the power supply and how it is harvested, and the legitimate concerns and subsequent action taken when such a disaster occurs.
Osawa-Minevich, who was born in the prefecture of Fukushima, used her lecture to not only highlight the disastrous effects of the collapsed nuclear reactors to the surrounding area, but to warn of the potential catastrophe, after having friends and relatives directly affected by the disaster. Where proponents of widespread use of nuclear power revel in its efficiency and relatively modest cost, the rare accident that can occur is often overlooked and treated as an outlier. Even today, residents in the area are wary of drinking the tap water, which the government has said is safe, and will only drink from bottled water, professor Osawa-Minevich explained.
As discussed during the event, a total of 154 thousand people were evacuated due to fallout from the meltdown, of which 120 thousand are still displaced, along with hundreds of thousands more due to the tsunami. Temporary housing has been established for residents, as well as other community services such as indoor parks.
“The government would help residents return home as soon as possible and assist local municipalities with decontamination and repair of infrastructure,” according to world-nuclear.org.
In the years since, the government has also shut down the country’s 48 nuclear power plants, only reestablishing one in each of the last two years, according to Osawa-Minevich.
The long-term effects of the tragedy are still being assessed, and the government, as well as other non-governmental organizations and grassroots movements, are all working to decontaminate the area in the hopes of rekindling its economy and well-being. According to a Scientific American article, roughly 200 deaths will occur as a result of direct exposure or inhalation of radiation. This number was based on a computer model constructed by Stanford researchers. It has been disputed thus far whether or not the fallout would have any long-term effects and whether cancer and other ailments could be attributed to radiation exposure.
Japanese authorities are still conducting surveys and data analysis with no definitive findings. Regardless of the ultimate scientific findings, the lecture raised many questions regarding the interdependency of government and energy commissions, and where citizens’ lives come into play. The aftermath of this tragedy, and the global response to a national disaster, will undoubtedly have a resounding impact as the world progresses into a new age of energy.