Why You Should Care: Are these Results from the Fukushima Disaster?

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Although this image was posted to Twitter over a month ago, it exploded this week. In 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake occurred. This event triggered a tsunami that would flood portions of the plant resulting in the nuclear meltdown of three of the plant’s six reactors. According to the International Nuclear Event Scale, a tool whose goal is to keep the community informed about the level of danger during a large-scale disaster, the Fukushima meltdown earned a 7. The only other event to ever receive such a high rating was the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, which resulted in the evacuation of two towns bordering the plant.

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The International Nuclear Event Scale. Credit: IAEA

Images from Fukushima?

While it is still too soon to tell what the consequences of the Fukushima disaster will have on Japan’s citizens, we may be seeing some of the first signs through vegetation in the area. In 2013, these photographs surfaced on the web:

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Mutant Tomatoes. Credit: Daily Mail
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Four oranges connected by the stem. Credit: Daily Mail

And most recently, this photograph uploaded to twitter in May:

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Mutated daises spotted near Fukushima.

While there’s no way to say that these mutations were the direct result of radiation from Fukushima, there’s no doubt that the results will impact human and plant life in the region. While both Chernobyl and Fukushima are both rated level 7 on the nuclear event scale, there is much discussion about which event will have the most lasting damage. The majority of scientists agree that the Chernobyl event resulted in a higher contamination level of air, soil, and rainwater.  Chernobyl released 5200 petabecquerels (radioactive measurement equal to one nuclear decay per second) while Fukushima only released 770.

Side Effects of Nuclear Meltdown

Chernobyl is our only basis for the effects of a nuclear disaster, and since the event was significantly more catastrophic (in terms of radiation released) the residents of Japan and Fukushima region are probably less at risk for these kinds of complications. Only time will tell.  In the last three decades, there have been over 6,000 cases of thyroid cancer in children in the surrounding area, with thousands of deaths also resulting from the radiation. A study published in 2004 estimated that the radioactivity released has resulted in 985,000 premature deaths since the reactor became compromised in Chernobyl.

No deaths resulted from short-term exposure to radiation in Fukushima, but thousands perished in the earthquake and tsunami. Those citizens living in the worst affected areas do have a higher risk of developing thyroid cancer, breast cancer, and leukemia depending on gender and age.

This has also contributed to the international community reassessing their own dependency on nuclear power. While some countries, like Germany, have decided to phase out its reactors over the course of several years, others have only shown brief hesitation before continuing down this dangerous path. China plans to triple their nuclear output over the next two decades.  While there’s no doubt that nuclear power will help China its goal of eliminating their dependence on imported oil and gas, what price will they pay if disaster strikes?

What are you thoughts on nuclear power?

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Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima

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