by Jana Echterhoff
There are some pictures that just stay in your mind. They are too impressive and sometimes too cruel to simply forget them. For me, there’s this one scene that took place after the triple-catastrophe in Fukushima, Japan. A four-year-old girl and a mother approached each other, both thinking that the other one have died. Both of them are crying insanely while running through the debris. The reason for their dismal situation is the combined force of an earthquake, the tsunami and the “ultimate MCA” of the nuclear power plant in Fukushima on the 11th March 2011. This catastrophe happened only three years ago, even if it doesn’t seem so. And yet it feels as if it is almost ages ago – nobody talks about it anymore, especially not the media. The news lost its currency. The nuclear radiation did not.
The fatal earthquake on the 11th March 2011 caused enough grief and destruction. An earthquake with the magnitude of 9.0, as in this case, happens rarely, and even less often does it consequently cause a tsunami. Both disasters were equally disastrous for Japan: 20,000 people died and whole towns were completely destroyed. However, as if this would not have been enough, the nuclear “ultimate MCA” of the power plant “Fukushima Daiichi” contaminated the whole region. The pure facts are shocking – just to mention a couple: on the 11th March, the earthquake 163 kilometres from the power plant led to a failure of electricity. At first, emergency generators still worked. Then, the tsunami flooded blocs 1 to 4 until a height of 5 metres, blocs 5 and 6 “just” about 1 metre. From this moment onwards, all 12 emergency generators that had kept the cooling of the reactors alive until then stopped working. The lack of cooling led to core meltdowns of blocs 1 until 3, from the 12th until 15th of March several explosions took place. The result: contaminated water was set free, the chain of events started. The grade of contamination was alarming – at a distance of 30 kilometres from Fukushima, there was radiation of about 3 until 170 millisievert per hour. An exposure to this amount of radiation for 6 to 7 hours is as high as the maximum amount that is considered as safe within a year. The situation within 20 kilometres was even worse – radiation up to 330 millisievert per hour was measured. As a comparison: radiation up to 2.4. millisievert per hour is still “healthy”.
One side of the coin is that Fukushima’s operator company Tepco wasn’t able to cope with the problem. Undoubtedly, the situation was worsened by the fact that the administration did not follow a way of transparent information policy towards the people and media from the beginning on. However, at first, it was a hot topic with the media-reports; researches and news-feeds about Japan were what people wanted to hear about. During this process, lots of information were revealed. Questions arose as to water-contamination and long-term effects of the incident. If you look up these things in the Internet, you will probably find most articles dating back to 2011. The German magazine “Spiegel” published a report about this topic on the 21th August 2011. The first BBC articles about this topic, when googling Fukushima, are from 2011 as well. It is probably even legitimate to say that after the first weeks after the catastrophe, news assailed people with information about what happened in Japan and how serious it is. The meltdowns within three reactors, the destruction of four out of six reactors, the evacuation of about 150.000 people, the unmentioned long-term deaths caused by nuclear contamination and, in particular, the inability of the operator company Tepco to cope with this scope of destruction.
The thing I consider to be problematic is that the news was covered only for such a short period of time. All of it is horrible and concerned – and still concerns – not only a few people. Nuclear contamination doesn’t care about national boarders, it’s just like that. Within a few days, nuclear particles of Fukushima were measured at the US West-coast as stated in the Focus magazine. It is self-evident that provision of information to the general public is needed. However, nuclear power doesn’t care about time either. It’s not that the aftermath of it stops after a year; it will last for generations. Still, the news stop talking about it after a while. New, more important stories replaced the disaster. But what about the determined water that is still used to cool the reactors? What happened to the Pacific Ocean so far, since thousands of litres of contaminated water were already set free and are still? How serious is the situation in Japan?
I think that this topic deserves more space than just some random background-articles within the big news(papers) and, in particular, more time than just the two weeks around the “anniversary” of the disaster. It is simply too serious to simply let it be overshadowed by the “bigger” and “more contemporary” news.