<While this is being published on April 1st, this is most assuredly NOT an April Fools Joke>
Its now been three full weeks since the Tohoku Daishinsai, the Great North-East Earthquake of March 11 2011. What I'd like to focus on in the next series of posts are continuing after effects of the 3-11 earthquake.
Located roughly 140 miles North-East of Tokyo is the Tokyo Electric Power Co, TEPCO, Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. At this facility are six reactors. When the earthquake hit several of the reactors were in operation and scrammed, shut down. But with the ensuing tsunami and 600+ high intensity after shocks over the next several days the facility was damaged and the power supply to cool the radioactive fuel was interrupted.
Reactors 1-6 at Fukushima. 1-4 are the reactors in crisis.
This caused overheating and water pressure build-up and eventually, hydrogen explosions in several of the reactor buildings.
But the real danger of contamination came when the the fuel rods at some of the buildings began to overheat and burn off material into the open atmosphere.
The resultant contamination has caused the Japanese government to set a 20 kilometer exclusion zone that was later expanded to 30 km.
Meanwhile, 18 days later, TEPCO continues to try to bring the reactors into to cool-down state so they can be safely shut down and decommission the worst 4 of the reactors. Initially, TEPCO used fire engines to spray seawater into the now open buildings (due to the hydrogen explosions).
However the problem with using seawater is that sea salt is crystalizing on the super-hot fuel rods which then blocks future cooling attempts with fresh water. This is has been complicated by the fact that a partial meltdown has occurred in at least one reactor and the containment core is leaking highly radioactive coolant water. High level of radioactivity is now being recorded in the nearby seawater and soil.
The consequences of the Fukushima Reactor failures are wide-ranging and very serious.
1. A 30 km or 19 mile radius around the Fukushima Reactors may be uninhabitable for decades.
30km Exclusion Zone
2. Food production in Fukushima Prefecture and the surrounding prefectures have also been disrupted for decades to come. Days after the radioactive materials escaped from the Fukushima reactors, elevated levels of radioactivity were detected in milk and leafy vegetables as far south as Iwate Prefecture. The Japanese government has halted produce and dairy shipments from the effected zones.
3. Depending on the direction of wind and rain of the last two weeks, Tokyo has also had elevated levels of atmospheric radiation as well as in tap water due to rain into water purifying plants. Thus far this radiation in Tokyo is well below safety levels to human health. You can check here on the official MEXT site to see the steady drop in levels in Tokyo over the last week.
However continued safety in areas outside the 30 km exclusion zone are contingent on TEPCO being able to continue to cool down the Fukushima reactors and contain the radioactive leakage over the ensuing weeks, months and possibly years without further incident. The radioactive iodine carried on the wind currents and rain has a half life of 8 days and will decay to normal background levels in about one month's time. More worrying is the trace amounts of cesium detected in Tokyo. This has a much longer half-life of decades. But thus far, radiation levels in Tokyo are within safety margins.
Before and after images of the reactor buildings after the hydrogen explosions (caused by superheated water).
4. The highly concentrated radioactive material detected immediately near the Fukushima Plant, including plutonium in recent reports, will no doubt have serious effects on fishing along the entire North-East Coast of Japan and possibly Asia. Shellfish and crustaceans should probably be avoided as a food source for the near future as bottom feeders and scavengers tend to accumulate much higher concentrations of environmental contaminates than fish. However as will mercury build-up in the food chain, sea animals at the top of the food chain may also end up with higher levels of radiation in their systems.
5. Due to the fact that Northern Japan and Southern Japan used different power specifications, and that 30% of power in Japan is provided by Nuclear Power, power distribution in Northern Japan will be disrupted for months if not several years. This will impact the entire Japanese economy as Tokyo is the center of the nation's commerce. With rolling blackouts in the Kanto Region, already many corporations are running their businesses at a loss. And power shortages may become worse in the summer months.
Here is a anime-style realtime monitor of Tokyo's power supply:
If you are a programmer you can take a crack at using TEPCO's API for your own monitor here.
Note: I will source the images when I get a chance, images copyright the creators, I am using them for educational purposes.