As the aftershocks of Thursday’s earthquake in Japan begin to fade, a new and more dangerous threat is emerging that could put the entire nation at risk: nuclear disaster. As of this morning, six nuclear reactors have become unstable and officials are trying frantically to avoid an explosion that would pose a severe environmental and health risk for years to come.
Avoiding nuclear catastrophe
Beginning yesterday, officials at one of the nuclear power plants had been pumping seawater into the unstable system to ensure its temperature would not rise out of control and cause an explosion. This morning, they began pumping seawater into a second reactor. If temperatures are allowed to increase, and fuel rods melt, it will result in a steam explosion at the nuclear power plants, and will disperse radioactive material into the air. Unfortunately, the use of seawater in efforts to cool the plants render them unusable for the future.
Yesterday saw an explosion at the Daiichi plant (known as ‘Unit 1’), although not nuclear in nature. There have been conflicting reports as to what caused the explosion, but some are claiming it happened as a result of trying to reduce pressure from hydrogen gas inside the plant. As you can see from the following video, the explosion was certainly significant, injuring at least 4 people, and reportedly releasing radioactive material into the region.
Fears of radiation
Japan, a nation all too familiar with the horrible dangers of radiation, is not taking chances when it comes to evacuation. Hundreds of thousands of people are being told to leave the areas surrounding the nuclear power plants. Some reports claim there is no immediate health risk, and that any radioactive material would be carried out to the Pacific Ocean, but residents of Tokyo are still being warned to leave their city as clouds of radiation could spread quickly in the wake of an explosion. However, in the area around the Daiichi nuclear power plant where the explosion occurred, hundreds of people may have already been exposed to radiation poisoning.
Rolling blackouts and power outages
Another effect of the unstable power supply is a lack of energy in Japan’s homes and businesses. Toyota is closing all of its Japanese factories on Monday to reduce the strain on the energy grid, and citizens have been notified by the government that three-hour blackouts can be expected, and that they also may affect the supply of gas and water.
Environmental risks of nuclear fallout
We need to look no further than Chernobyl to understand the serious threat which unstable nuclear power plants pose to the citizens and surrounding environments in Japan. While some claim the result would not be anywhere near Chernobyl’s effects, as that reactor had no containment and was operating at full power at the time of explosion, the sheer number of unstable reactors in Japan and escalating problems are causing much concern.
We will not know whether the cooling methods being carried out at the unstable nuclear plants have been entirely successful for at least a few days, but we can hope that the disaster in Japan caused by the earthquake and tsunami do not get any worse, for the benefit of the Japanese citizens as well as the good of the environment.