The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster and the Aftermath to Encounter

March 11, 2011, a day inscribed in the calendar as one of the gloomiest days of this new decade so far. The entire world witnessed the wrath of nature falling heavy on mankind as an earthquake of magnitude 9.0 sparked a tremendous tsunami, which devoured thousands of lives and caused extensive infrastructural damage to the east coast of Japan, overseeing the Pacific Ocean. This very quake and the destructive waves (38.9 m high) also triggered a massive explosion in the Fukushima Dai-chi Nuclear Power Plant with a generation capacity of 4696 MW [1] located in the Futuba district of Fukushima prefecture, Japan.

 Being operated for 40 years, the plant encountered this unpredicted disaster when a severe blast occurred in three of its reactors due to the formation of Hydrogen gas. As we all know, reactions taking place in the nuclear plants are mostly highly exothermic. In order to reduce the severity of excessive heat release, cooling water is used in the reactors. Owing to the tremor, a leakage in one of the reactor was found, which caused the level of cooling water (used for cooling the reactors’ fuel rods) drop to such an extent that left half of the length of the reactor-rods exposed to the air. As a result, the plant experienced an abrupt rise in the temperature which was reported to have reached tens of mega-kelvins [2]. This uncontrolled rise in temperature ignited nuclear fission in the rods with the release of many harmful radio-active elements. Such a phenomenon is referred to as ‘Meltdown’. Due to this nuclear fission a huge amount of energy was released which contributed to the splitting of water molecules into Hydrogen and Oxygen gases. Having reached to an incompressible state, the Hydrogen gas exploded out of the reactor while some of the undecomposed water molecules turned into steam which combined with a stream of radio-active elements emitting form the reactors. The stream making its way to the atmosphere was reported to have Iodine-131(half life of 8 days), Caesium-134 isotopes (half life of 2 years) in greater ratio while a small extent of Caesium-137 isotopes (half life of 30 years) were found in the atmosphere along with little Plutonium isotopes (half life ranging from 88 years to 24000 years), which the experts suspect was formed due to the transformation of Uranium during the fission.

 Even though scientists have ruled out a possible threat of any undesired climatic change in Japan and its neighboring regions, tests have proven that the soil, water and plants adjacent to the plant contained a considerable amount of I-131, Cs-134, Cs-137 [3]. According to Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) plutonium isotopes were found in five locations near the plant [4]. However, another pool of scientists have shown great anxiety regarding the wester-wind blowing with these radio-nuclides towards the ‘West Coast’ of  the  United States which may lead to possible acid rain and contamination in many Pacific islands.

 The explosion in Fukushima has been constantly brought into comparison with the Chernobyl nuclear blast in Russia in 1986. Scientists have shaded light on the radioactive Iodine and Caesium isotope contents in the air of Fukushima almost nearing that of the Chernobyl disaster. According to Keith Baverstock, radiation scientist and Professor of Environmental Science in the University of Koupio, Finland, human body readily absorbs Iodine and Caesium isotopes. Iodine isotopes are rapidly absorbed by the thyroid which may develop subsequent thyroid cancer while Caesium is absorbed by the muscles where it remains for a longer period causing further decay owing to its half life of 30 years. Besides Iodine and Caesium , the isotopes of Plutonium even though found in a very negligible range, must be treated with equal precaution as it radiates ?-particles and at times may prove lethal to human health since it damages the DNA when taken in through inhalation [5].

 It is impossible to permanently stop the harmful emission of the radioactive elements. Yet measures can be taken to control it and save the world from further contamination. With the reverse osmosis method, I-131 can be removed to some degree by using thinner pores (0.0001microns) [6]. However the best possible way to remove Cs-137 is by applying the ion-exchange method where the contaminants are exchanged with Sodium ions (Na+) and get absorbed in resins specially designed to absorb Cs [7].

 Even though the degree of severity of the Fukushima explosion is considered less than that of Chernobyl’s, we cannot rule out the aftermath associated with it. We might not come across immediate consequences but the gradual decay of the radio-active elements leaves our survival on the brink of a major threat. It is evident that the implementation of nuclear energy may prove alarming at times and incidents as such leave us with a question unanswered– ‘Whether the use of nuclear energy is paving our way towards a newer and better life or simply dragging the world toward its doom?’

References:

[1] “Doc’s Green Blog: The Cost of Fukushima”; Retrieved 10 June 2011 from docsgreen.blogspot.com/2011/03/cost-of-fukushima.html
[2] “Nuclear Explosion”, World News. Retrieved 11 June 2011 from wn.com/nuclear_explosion?orderby=relevance&upload_time
[3] “Status of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant”, Department of Atomic Energy, Government of India (2011). Retrieved 12 June 2011 from www.dae.gov.in/daiichi/japan030511.pdf
[4] “Plutonium leaks from nuke plant”, ABC News. Retrieved 10 June from www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2011/03/28/3176037.htm
[5] Sinclair, P., “New Scientist: Comparing Fukushima to Chernobyl”, Climate Denial Crock of the Week (2011). Retrieved 14 June 2011 from climatecrocks.com/…/new-scientist-comparing-fukushima-to-chernobyl/
[6] “Radioactive contaminants removal with Reverse Osmosis water purification device”, Crobal Water. Retrieved 14 June 2011 from www.crobalwater.com/radioactivityremoval.html
[7] “Crisis in Japan”, Department of Nuclear Engineering, University of California, Berkeley (2011). Retrieved 16 June 2011 from www.nuc.berkeley.edu/Japan-crisis
 

 

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Mursalat, M., The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster and the Aftermath to Encounter, ChE Thoughts 2 (2), 19-20, 2011.

 

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