Crisis and Devastation in Japan

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

An aerial view shows the quake-damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant in the Japanese town of Futaba, Fukushima prefecture on March 12, 2011. (STR/AFP/Getty Images/Getty)

The crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant is being called the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl. There have been explosions at three reactors. Meanwhile, radiation levels are on the rise. Takeaway listeners have expressed concern about nuclear reactors near them. David from Manhattan wrote on our website: I live in NYC, near enough or downwind of many. I'm concerned because unlike other materials, nuclear material's toxicity doesn't simply dilute away over time. A release of nuclear material is necessarily a disaster.

Robert Hernan is the author of “This Borrowed Earth: Lessons from the Fifteen Worst Environmental Disasters Around the World.”  He's written about nuclear meltdowns, including the crisis at Three Mile Island in 1979 in Pennsylvania. He helps put this nuclear crisis in historical and environmental perspective.

Back in Japan, a U.S. rescue team has been working to find survivors, where there are none. Battalion Chief Chris Schaff from the U.S. rescue team, Virginia Task Force 1 from Fairfax County Virginia fire and rescue, said his team dropped into the northern coastal town of Ofunato only to find most of it washed away.


Robert Emmet Hernan and Chris Schaff

Produced by:

Arwa Gunja

Comments [9]

Trey from Detroit

Telling the *truth* would include a discussion of why have to kill a couple dozen coal miners every year, AND some talk about why we have thirty *thousand* deaths every year caused by pollution from burning coal!

Telling the truth would let everyone know that the nuclear waste storage problem derives almost totally from nuclear waste from our useless (at best) military weaponry, not from spent nuclear fuel!

Mar. 15 2011 10:39 AM
Lynda jones from ATL metro

I think that we should abandon all nuclear power. Shouldn't we have learned from Chernobyl and Three Mile Island? Why are we still messing with this stuff? Isn't it blatantly clear that nuclear anything is crazy dangerous?? I keep hearing the question being asked on CNN, "what if this happens in America? Are we prepared?" Why play with fate? It is grossly irresponsible for the U.S. and other counties to rely on such unstable forms of energy.

Mar. 15 2011 10:11 AM

I applaud John on this interview with the "nuclear expert." John was voicing the fears of listeners like me. The "expert" opinion did little to assure me that nuclear energy is safe.

Mar. 15 2011 10:03 AM
Jennie Flood from Rhode Island

Besides the deaths at the Idaho plant in the 1960s, there were also deaths from the nuclear power industry in Rhode Island. A Rhode Island man was killed on the job by radiation exposure. In 1964 in Charlestown, Rhode Island, Robert Peabody was working the second shift at the United Nuclear waste processing plant. The training was minimal, supervision lax and written policies inadequate. Peabody, a Navy vet and mechanic, had picked up a second job to support his large family. When he came on the evening shift, no one warned him that a container full of radioactive water was more concentrated than what he usually handled. When he emptied it into a larger tank the highly concentrated sludge set off a fission reaction. Two other workers who responded to the accident were exposed to a second, smaller fission reaction. Robert Peabody was doomed in an instant, but it took him 49 hours to die.

Mar. 15 2011 10:03 AM
Darren from Columbia, SC

I'm a little disappointed with the program this morning. If I wanted that kind of alarmism, I would flip on HLN or Fox News, not NPR. This morning I heard John try to goad a nuclear expert into telling people to be afraid of meltdowns in America, and a geologist tell listeners that the San Andreas fault is on the verge of rupture--without actually forecasting anything.
Millions have died for oil, and coal mines explode much more often than nuclear incidents. I'm not dismissing the incident in Japan, but a 30-foot wall of water hit the coast after an earthquake with the force of about 18 of the strongest nuclear bombs ever produced. If there's a structure that can escape those forces unscathed, then I want to shake the architect's hand.

Mar. 15 2011 09:59 AM
Steve Parker

Although Katrina was indeed a category 5 out in the Gulf, it weakend considerably before making landfall. I believe it was a category 3 at that point. Had it been a cat. 5 at landfall, we would very likley be in the same situation as Japan is now. Wish you had busted your guest on this misinformation.

Mar. 15 2011 09:55 AM
Rue Fresnel from New York

I just listened to John's interview with the "nuclear expert" that John labeled as "contentious." What I heard, however, was John's disappointment at not getting the response/answers that he wanted. He clearly wanted more drama, more "be afraid, be very very afraid." Instead he got measured responses that began by qualifying the unique parameters of the circumstances in Japan: i.e.9.0 earthquake, tsunami, particular construction of the Daiichi nuclear plants. The "expert" cited the differences in geology, geography, and circumstance between the Japanese situation and those in Three Mile Island and New Orleans taking care to clarify his thinking. John should know by now that it's the job of an interviewer to listen and imagine the possibility that he might actually be informed by an "expert." If he wants drama, he should go to Broadway. What we need now from our "journalists" is more measured, informed dialogue, not more scare mongering and drama. Heaven knows, there's plenty to be scared about without our NPR journalists thinking it's their job to pump up the drama.

Mar. 15 2011 09:31 AM
Kahlil Kettering from South Florida

I live near the Florida Power and Light Turkey Point nuclear power plant in South Florida. This power plant is only 25 miles from densely populated Miami and sits right next to Biscayne National Park. Not only is this story disturbing to me because Turkey Point is in Miami-Dade county which is an active Hurricane zone, and not only because they have received a number of safety violations in the past, and not only because levels of tritium are being found in ground water outside the plant, but also because they are currently planning to double the size of the nuclear power plant by adding two new reactors!

Mar. 15 2011 09:24 AM
arnold from NJ

It is irresponsible to allow nuclear plants to be built in an area which is has had a history of earthquakes occurring and ensuing tsunami's .

Mar. 15 2011 08:10 AM

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