Of all the world's nations, Japan may be the most prepared to cope with the aftermath of a devastating earthquake. This is because the country has devoted significant resources to earthquake damage mitigation over the years, based on the country's long history of frequent and destructive tremors.
With that said, even the highest construction standards cannot withstand the force of the most powerful quakes – and the 9.0 magnitude Great Tohoku Earthquake that struck on March 11, 2011 is the strongest to hit Japan in recorded history.
Eleven nuclear reactors at four nuclear power plants in the vicinity of Sendai were automatically shut down in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, however one of the plants, the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, suffered damage to the cooling system of several of its six reactors.
Even though the reactors were successfully shut down, both their cores and their stored fuel rods will continue to generate heat. In a worst case scenario, a “China Syndrome” type event could occur leading to a fire, a partial or complete core meltdown, and an accompanying release of radiation and fallout to the surrounding city and countryside - and perhaps even further.
According to Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, “The emergency shutdown has been conducted but the process of cooling down the reaction is currently not going as planned.” Edano explained that workers at the Fukushima Daiichi plant were unable to generate enough electricity to operate the cooling system water pumps, even after accessing all of the available backup electricity.
In response to the ongoing events at this and other regional nuclear power plants, the Japanese government has declared a Nuclear Emergency.
Thousands of residents living near Tokyo Electric Power's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (located 170 miles or 270 kilometers northeast of Tokyo) have been ordered to evacuate the area as a precautionary measure. For those evacuated and others living nearby, the current emergency is not the first: the Fukushima Daiichi plant has a somewhat shaky history not always connected with earthquakes.
The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant was commissioned on March 26 of 1971 and is one of the largest nuclear power plants in the world with annual power generation of 25,806 GW·h (gigawatt hours). The plant also has a troubling history of problems, systems failures and radiation releases, including an August 11, 2006 incident that saw tritium-infused steam accidentally released into the environment.
A table prepared by JNES (the Japan Nuclear Safety Organization) lists an astonishing 39 reportable safety issues occurring at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant between June of 1984 and November of 2010. Add one more to the list – and let's all hope the current natural disaster isn't compounded by a nuclear disaster. (via CNN, Business Insider, Wikipedia, TEPCO, and JNES)
An explosion thought to be caused by the ignition of hydrogen gas blew the roof off of one of the reactor buildings at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Watch video of the March 12, 2011 event here:
The author and the management of InventorSpot extend heartfelt condolences to the people of Japan at this time, and we sincerely express our best wishes to Japan's citizens and authorities in making a speedy recovery from this terrifying and destructive event!