It’s been over two years since the fatal 2011 tsunami hit the Fukushima power plant, causing several explosions in the process due to the knocked out cooling systems. Japanese officials acknowledged that the plant had been leaking radiation into the Pacific Ocean since soon after the nuclear meltdown occurred. Despite the estimated four decade cleanup process, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe insisted that the whole situation was “under control”.
Back-peddling on those comments, Shinzo Abe announced a call for help, seeking international expertise on controlling the situation. Currently a team of sixteen members are evaluating the cleanup and overseeing the daily operations. One of the reactors requires the manual removal of spent fuel rods because of how badly damaged and unstable the building is. Normally, this is a computer-controlled process where the spent fuel rods are delicately removed and the computer is aware of each rod’s location right down to the millimeter. Given the damage of the building, manually removing 1,300 spent fuel rods is likely to spell greater disaster if some of the rods break during the process. To put the potential catastrophe in perspective, if another earthquake destroys the already unstable building, the 400 tons of fuel sitting in the pool would spew out more than 15,000 times the radiation that was released at Hiroshima in 1945. Basically, a lot depends on this operation. The release of radiation into the atmosphere not only affects Tokyo and neighboring countries, it affects the US West Coast with the potential nuclear dust just a breeze away. The events that will unfold at Fukushima over the next 60 days are likely to shape the world for better or worse. The worst is likely to change life in all of the Northern Hemisphere.