How avoidable were Fukushima and Chernobyl

Nuclear accident ten years agoThe Fukushima Avoidable Disaster

Friday March 11th, 2011. 2:46 pm and 23 seconds. The earth tore open 70 kilometers off the Japanese coast. A 9.1 magnitude quake. It triggered a tsunami that was to tower high in some bays in Japan and killed 15,000 people. Hundreds of thousands were left homeless.

(imago / Pool Photo) The lessons from Fukushima
Compared to Chernobyl in 1986, the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant went smoothly - but the impact on the environment and society in Japan was also immense. What lessons can be learned?

Mitsuko Kuroso remembers with horror the moment when she saw a mountain rolling towards her: "Black and huge. We fled to the first floor. Then the water washed all the furniture towards us. It was horrible."

Damage to the nuclear reactor initially went unnoticed

The horror was great. In contrast to the rest of the world, the Japanese public initially ignored a second catastrophe. A nuclear power plant in the earthquake area gave cause for concern. The reactor in Fukushima north of Tokyo.

41 minutes after the earthquake, the masses of water penetrate Fukushima Daiichi - the oldest but most powerful of the Japanese nuclear power plants. The system has not been connected to the tsunami warning system. Nobody has any idea what is to come. Everyone is preoccupied with the damage caused by the earthquake. Ayaka Hashimoto too: "I thought the power plants were safe the whole time, I never dreamed of having doubts."

The tsunami put blocks one to four, five meters deep under water. He destroys sea water pumps. The cooling systems fail. It floods the power supply. There is no emergency power supply, no security systems, no means of communication.

In Fukushima Daiichi, the workers are desperately trying to cool the reactors, opening valves by hand, connecting fire pumps to feed in seawater, and removing the batteries from their cars. Only the next day the residents in the vicinity of the nuclear power plant were asked to leave their houses via loudspeaker announcements.

A fin whale off the island of Pico in the Atlantic ( Earthquake research - measuring the sea floor with whale songs
Fin whale songs are among the loudest natural sounds in the oceans and can be detected over great distances. With the help of these chants, researchers measured the density of the sea floor in the northeastern Pacific. They want to use this to localize the origin of earthquakes more precisely.

The core meltdowns are taking place in blocks 1 to 3. Block 4 is shut down due to revision. The hot fuel elements are in the spent fuel. Without cooling water replenishment. A fourth meltdown is looming. There are explosions in blocks one, three and four. Large amounts of radioactivity are released.

Deceptive belief in a security myth

The analysis of the quadruple accident should show that the nuclear disaster could have been avoided. The Japanese had not even retrofitted the security systems that had been standard in most countries since the 1979 Three Mile Island disaster in the US state of Pennsylvania. Among other things, they would have prevented the explosions. And although the tsunami danger was known, operator Tepco and the nuclear regulatory authority NISA had simply ignored it.

At a conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2011, Japan's then Minister of Economic Affairs, Banri Kaieda, summed up: "We did not include such serious incidents in our safety guidelines because we believe in a safety myth in Japan. We were convinced of it that our nuclear technology is safe. Our experts also believed in this myth. "

The tsunami shattered this myth. 165,000 people had to be evacuated. This prevented them - unlike in Chernobyl - from falling ill or dying acutely from the dangerous amounts of radiation released. But more than 2,500 people died in the first two years after the accidents as a result of the evacuation, because the psychological and social consequences are serious. Life as they knew it was over from one day to the next. And unlike the victims of the tsunami, there is also radiation in addition to the shock.

(imago stock & people) Forever FukushimaTakayuki Atsumi was about to become a fisherman when the devastating tsunami destroyed his livelihood. Today Atsumi rebuilt everything, but now 1.2 million tons of the contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant are to be discharged into the sea.

Yoshimoto Shigihara is head of a village near Fukushima: "The tsunami victims have nothing more. Their houses have been smashed and washed away. It is terrible when we see the tsunami areas like that. But we do not know how long our radioactive tsunami will last that we are inundated by. "

In the meantime, large parts of the formerly evacuated area have been released again. The government wants the residents to return. But many shy away from the risks. Because the long-lived radionuclides are still emitting.