Japan was hit by the worst earthquake in recorded history last week on March 11, 2011, measured at an unprecedented magnitude of 8.9. Since then, the island state suffered aftershocks for hours, many of which were more than magnitude 6.0. The crushing devastation created by the earthquake and aftershocks was exacerbated by the tsunami, and in the end, it was discovered that the quake actually shifted the Earth’s axis, moving Japan 13 feet closer to the United States. In the wake of these epic natural disasters, Japan’s nuclear reactors showed serious signs of deterioration as they released radioactive steam, there was an explosion at one site, other reactors failed, and nuclear cores were observed as having partially melted.
Thousands of people evacuated the areas surrounding the nuclear plants, and with the shifting winds blowing nuclear materials over the nation, there is no telling when the evacuees will be able to return to their homes. After the earthquake and the tsunami, protecting the reactors has become even more difficult with the lack of electricity. With these various natural disasters and scientific concerns at play, the White House was called upon to discuss its position on the United States’ nuclear power development. As nuclear power is a significant source of power in the United States, with 20 percent of electricity coming from nuclear power, the nuclear plant issues in Japan are a cause for concern in the United States. Even though the distance between Japan and the United States means that there is no real concern of radiation from Japan reaching any part of the United States, there are still many questions being raised about the safety of nuclear power as a source of energy and the strength of nuclear reactors to survive natural disasters.
While Japan was well-prepared for an earthquake, it still suffered incredible devastation, including the damage to the nuclear reactors. President Barack Obama must now address whether he will
continue to encourage expansion of nuclear power in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Senator Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, supports nuclear power as an alternative to dependence on imported fossil fuels, but he also asserts a need to observe the situation in Japan in order to revise plans for building further nuclear power plants in America. Between the economic recession and fears from Japan’s own experiences with nuclear power, the United States see a diminishment of investment in nuclear facilities which are very costly in a time of financial crisis.
Japan’s Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, addressed the nation after a severe explosion at one nuclear reactor created fear of an imminent nuclear meltdown, as attempts to cooldown the plants and prevent further overheating have not completely accomplished the temperatures necessary to entomb the nuclear cores’ radioactive materials. Japan is currently facing a situation far graver than the 1979 Three Mile Island disaster in the United States, and environmentalists are calling for President Obama to reconsider his stance on nuclear energy in the face of such disasters. If nothing else, Japan’s experience will hopefully lead to more stringent evaluation of risk factors and planning of future nuclear plant establishment in the United States.