by Dr. Amy Wiesner
Almost 3 months after the earthquake and tsunami that caused devastating damage in Japan, it seems that, in the US, it’s not a major concern anymore. That certainly should not be the case.
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the situation at the plant is still serious. Radioactive contamination is still occurring both by being released into the air and with the outflow of water from the four damaged reactors.
According to the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, Japan has now double the initial estimate of radioactive fallout and the government is evacuating to areas farther afield. The levels of radiation are nearing those reached in Chernobyl, the world’s largest nuclear disaster before this one. Chernobyl was thought to be more toxic because fires were involved, easily spreading the radioactive materials into the surrounding areas through the air. But the Fukushima disaster is now at severity level 7--the same level as Chernobyl.
Another concern is the typhoon season that has now started. According the BBC News, the stricken plant is not protected against heavy rains and wind which can carry the radioactive materials into the air and farther away from the affected area. Korea is concerned that they will be negatively affected by the strong-blowing winds. Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO), who runs the plant, “apologize(s) for the lack of significant measures against the wind and rain...(and) have made utmost efforts but...have not completed covering the damaged reactor buildings.”
Now, green tea is being banned from export from four different regions near the affected area. The green tea plantations were shown to have contamination in the plants. And the UC Berkeley Nuclear Engineering Department has been testing some local food in California and has found low levels of contamination, though they say that the levels aren’t dangerous.
Even though this is not a “breaking” news story, the long-lasting and far-reaching consequences of this disaster cannot be ignored. Because radioactive materials can take thousands of years to break down, we don’t really know the consequences of using nuclear energy.
Though this good news is a result of the calamity: Germany plans to be nuclear-power plant free as of 2022. That means that they do not want to build any more plants, nor open ones that are currently not operational and they will shut down working ones by 2022. They plan to switch to renewable energy--Parliament just has to pass the bill.
Hopefully, the rest of the world will follow in Germany’s footsteps.
Image courtesy of guardian.co.uk.