Though the information coming out of Japan is understandably sketchy and confused at this point, there is growing concern that at least on of the nuclear reactors in Fukushima is in meltdown. There was an explosion yesterday and Cesium has been detected in the atmosphere. Japan's government has ordered the evacuation of residents within 20 kilometers of one nuclear power plant and within 10 kilometers of a second. More than 83,000 people live within 10 kilometers of the two plants, according to Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.
This is horrible news. It's not enough that they have to deal with the worst earthquake in their history and the resulting tsunami, now there is this. This reactor is 250 km north of Tokyo. (For us non-metric folk, that is or about 155 miles, slightly less than the distance from Houston to Austin. )
Some are calling this disaster worse than Chernobyl. An 18 mile restricted zone is still enforced around Chernobyl 25 years later. We could easily see a similar zone go up around Fukushima. Perhaps even larger since there are multiple reactors there and it's possible that more than one is in danger of meltdown.
Remember, the effects of Chernobyl were felt far from the Ukraine. Today in Germany, the government buys wild boar meat from hunters to limit its exposure on the market. Why? Because it's radioactive. 25 years later, the wild boar in Germany are still finding cesium-137 in their diet of mushrooms and truffles, which tend to absorb more radiation.
Germany is 720 miles from Chernobyl.
While I doubt that it will happen, what happens if Japan, or a large portion of it, becomes uninhabitable? If Tokyo, with a population of 12 million, has to deal with radiation poisoning, how does the world respond?
Japan has a massive economy. If that economy fails because of these combined disasters, what happens to the world economy?
We're still very early in the aftermath. We'll learn more as the days pass. Right now, so much of the news we have seems conflicting. The human toll is still unknown. Death tolls and missing counts change regularly and depend on whom is speaking.
Right now, all I can do is pray. Pray that the engineers stabilize the reactors. Pray that the loss of life is minimal. Pray that Japan recovers from this blow.