The Fallout of Fukushima

Looking down upon Fukushima from the Bandai Azuma Skyline
History dictates that Japan is no stranger to Mother Nature’s wrath, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, torrential rain, landslides and typhoons have all blighted Japan’s islands for millennia. Situated precariously along the so called Pacific Rim of Fire a number of the earth’s tectonic plates converge enabling islands, mountain chains and volcanoes to formulate. It is here that trouble is often birthed, the Pacific plate moving westward towards Japan collides with the Okhotsk plate and forms what is known as a subduction zone, whereby the former is being forced under the later causing great friction and unrest inevitably leading to earthquakes. And on March 11th 2011 the world was to bear witness to the cruel and cantankerous ways of this highly volatile area.

At 14:46 in the afternoon 45 miles east of the Tōhoku coastline a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck, an earthquake that would come to be known as the Great East Japan Earthquake. Triggering one of the most fearsome tsunami’s that man has ever bared witness too, bringing relentless death and destruction too all in its path. The tsunami which reached the coast of Japan some 50 minutes after the earth was jolted by the gigantic earthquake saw waves reach a maximum height of 15 metres, venturing some 6 miles inland and flooding an area altogether of approximately 217 square miles. The results devastating, a word that just seems massively tame when compared to the scale of carnage caused. Some 15, 853 people would lose their lives and over 300,000 would lose their homes and all of their worldly possessions.

Yet amidst this already completely disastrous event would rise another catastrophic monstrosity that would come to plague Fukushima for years to come. Along the coast just 40 miles south east of Fukushima City sits the Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The plant was spared no mercy during the tsunami and its cooling systems were disabled when inundated with ridiculously vast swathes of the Pacific Ocean. The backup generators which pump the water into the reactors to keep them cool would also soon fail thus leading the reactors to overheat causing three of the six reactors at the plant to emerge into a full scale nuclear meltdown. It would be the biggest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl back in 1986.  The meltdown would lead to some 50,000 people being evacuated locally and a 12 mile (20km) exclusion zone being set up amidst fears of high levels of radiation. At one stage evacuation plans for Tokyo were even being considered, an almost unimaginable feat.

So when I came rolling down into Fukushima it felt only natural to feel some sort of trepidation on my approach. Yet as far as I could tell nobody had any extra limbs, most people had just the one pair of eyes, atomic breath appeared to be absent and the city of some 290,000 people motioned as any other big Japanese city would. Salary men stumbled around drunkenly after work shouting at innocent bystanding vending machines, people passing me on the bus buried themselves deep into the world of their mobile phones, young girls paraded out of department stores cluttered with bags of expensive designer clobber as old ladies terrorized the sidewalks on their bicycles colloquially known as Mamachari. Life as it were, continued as normal.

My couchsurfing host for the night Renée, an English teacher from Idaho confirmed that she wouldn’t be living in Fukushima if she didn’t feel safe as she poured me a glass of tap water. I drunk hesitantly, the water tasting as pure as any other water I would come to taste in Japan. Needless to say I wasn’t as nervous as Japanese MP Yasuhiro Sonoda would have been when he shakily sampled some decontaminated water  directly from a puddle inside one of the nuclear reactors in an effort to boost trust issues that many a residents of Fukushima are having with their government. And who could blame them when stories break about botched jobs by TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) at the plant with at least 300 tonnes of contaminated water leaking into the Pacific Ocean for at least 2 years post nuclear meltdown, vehemently killing the local fishing industry. And with soil and groundwater also effected it will be hard to persuade the local residents of the areas overall safety. The World Health Organisation have stated their will be no discernible long-term health effects in Fukushima which should give warmth to those that rely on the land for a living and hopefully in time people will be able to gain back the trust lost in their government. But for something so truly devastating, is time really the answer?


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