Deadly Lessons from Fukushima Changed Japan and the World

The strongest earthquake in Japan’s recorded history triggered a massive tsunami in 2011. Together, the two natural disasters claimed close to 20,000 lives, making the event one of the deadliest in Japan’s history. But the crisis didn’t end there.

The strongest earthquake in Japan’s recorded history triggered a massive tsunami in 2011. Waves taller than houses slammed against hundreds of miles of the country’s northern coastline; one wave measured 33 feet high. Together, the two natural disasters claimed close to 20,000 lives, making the event one of the deadliest in Japan’s history.

But the crisis didn’t end there. The tsunami knocked out power to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, launching a nuclear meltdown whose fallout still affects Japan’s citizens, international relations, and internal politics to this day, according to Martin Fackler. And he should know. Fackler, a writer, journalist, and Harvard research fellow, has spent two decades covering Asia. He reported on the Fukushima accident for The New York Times, arriving in Japan just one day after the quake struck. His team’s coverage earned them a spot as a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize.

On April 20, Fackler joined Arnold “Arn” Howitt, co-director of the Program on Crisis Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School, to discuss how the nuclear accident — the second-worst in history, after Chernobyl — irrevocably altered Japan. The event, called “Dry Run for War: How Fukushima Changed Japan and Its Place in the World,” was hosted by the Rajawali Foundation Institute for Asia, the Program on U.S.-Japan Relations at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, and Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies.

“When this accident began — and I say began because it’s not over,” Fackler said at the start of his presentation on Japan’s day-to-day response to the crisis. More than a decade later, about 30,000 Japanese citizens who lived near the Fukushima plant are still under evacuation orders (the government lifted a few in early April).

When the tsunami hit, Fackler said, three of the plant’s six reactors sustained severe core damage and melted down, releasing hydrogen and radioactive materials. Cooling systems failed. Then, the leaking hydrogen detonated, damaging the other three reactor buildings.

In the HBO TV series “Chernobyl,” local leaders send in firefighters to try to cool the reactors and prevent an even more catastrophic disaster. (If a meltdown burns hot enough, it can blaze through steel and other barriers and release huge amounts of radioactivity.) “Many of them paid the ultimate price,” Fackler said of the first responders.

Source: EMM/ Homeland Security News Wire