A historic 9.0-magnitude earthquake and an accompanying tsunami rocked northern Japan earlier this month. Yet, the consequences of the disaster are still unfolding.
The quake was the fourth largest in the world since 1900, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, and at this point the only thing known about the extent of the damage is that it’s severe. The death count, which is still rising, was already 10,151 as of Saturday. Nearly 20,000 more are still missing, according to the Australian Associated Press.
Now, Japan faces the daunting task of rebuilding.
But after the quake, Japan faced another unexpected emergency, one that may cause politicians to reconsider the use of nuclear power in America and has already prompted inspections of U.S. plants.
Reactor three at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant had its core breached soon after and is likely releasing cesium-137 (with a half-life of 30 years), plutonium-239 (with a half-life of 24,000 years) and other elements into the environment, according to a report by Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO).
Recognizing the danger of the radiation, the Japanese government ordered all citizens within a 12-mile radius of the Fukushima plant to evacuate, while the U.S. military has suggested Americans stay at least 50 miles away.
Workers at the plant’s nuclear cores are at significant risk for health problems.
But while the circumstances seem startling, terrifying even, the risk posed by the Fukushima plant is not as great as the media might have you believe.
Three of the workers slaving to bring the reactors under control were hospitalized due to exposure, but only received enough radiation to increase their lifetime risk of fatal cancer by 2-4 percent, according to BBC News. Given that the Fukushima plant is now considered the second worst nuclear disaster in history, the ramifications are relatively minimal.
It pains a liberal to say it, but the benefits of nuclear power outweigh the significant risks. Nuclear power plants emit no greenhouse gasses and no pollution in general, save for a small amount of nuclear waste. That is critical at a time when global warming threatens the global climate.
Anyone who doubts the safety of nuclear power plants will be comforted to know that one of the most intense natural disasters in recorded history caused what will likely amount to a relatively minor release of radiation.
What may surprise some is that the Fukushima’s reactor design has been under scrutiny for some time. In fact, one of its designers resigned nearly 35 years ago because he thought it was unsafe, according to Reuters.
Had the designers been held to higher standards, the nuclear emergency in Japan may have been avoided entirely. With extensive safety regulations and impeccable planning, nuclear power can be a safe technology and it should be utilized as an environmentally friendly energy source.
Vincent DeFrancesco is a junior majoring in mass communications.