Japan Quake Holds Important Lessons

By Olivia Kittel
Elm Columnist

As almost everyone knows, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck Japan on March 11, causing a tsunami and a nuclear crisis, among other massive destruction.
Along with destroying countless homes, taking many lives, and other devastation, it cut off electricity at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.

This is devastating because the six reactors on sight require water in order to cool their cores and the water systems cannot operate with out electricity. This means that the systems will over heat and turn the existing water in the systems to steam. As a result, there have been multiple explosions and a partial meltdown of the system, both causing radiation to spread across Japan.

Why does this radiation pose such an imminent threat? The radiation created in nuclear power plants is ionizing radiation. This means that it has the ability to break down chemical bonds, and thus, cause cancer. The leaked and traveling radiation will have hazardous health effects on humans living in close proximity to Fukushima.
The initial symptoms of radiation exposure are similar to those of radiation treatment for cancerous tumors. They begin with fatigue, nausea, and vomiting. With increased exposure, the symptoms turn to hair loss and diarrhea.

As exposure levels increase further, the intestinal lining deteriorates, there is worsened diarrhea and dehydration, and eventually central nervous system becomes damaged. The final stages of radiation exposure lead to loss of consciousness and then death.

This is not the only consequence of the nuclear crisis in Japan. The crisis has certainly heightened awareness in the United States about domestic nuclear power plant safety. It is crucial that the disaster in Japan serve as an eye-opener for the United States. There are many power plants within extremely close range to major U.S. cities, and a safe, and effective evacuation plan must be created.

The Indian Point nuclear power plant is located only 38 miles from New York City, and the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant is located 50 miles from Washington, D.C. and less than 60 miles from Chestertown, MD. Current policy in the United States plans to evacuate only people living within 10 miles of the plant in case of an emergency. However, U.S. officials in Japan have urged American citizens within 50 miles of Fukushima to leave and Japanese officials have evacuated people living within 20 miles of the plant. This suggests that the 10-mile evacuation plan should be revised to include a larger evacuation area.

The issue with revising our current 10-mile evacuation plan in order to encompass more land is that the evacuation areas would now include major cities. For example, in case of an emergency at the Indian Point plant in New York, all of New York City would have to be evacuated, this means more than 20 million people would have to relocate. It is a similar situation if an emergency should exist at the Calvert Cliffs plant, as much of the heavily populated Washington, D.C. would be forced to evacuate.

Does an emergency similar to the earthquake in Japan really pose an imminent threat on the United States? The answer is yes, according to some seismologists.

Earthquakes, especially of the magnitude of the one that hit Japan, have ripple effects and aftershocks. They can last weeks and cause other earthquakes on other parts of the same plate. This is because, according to John Mutter, a professor of environmental sciences at Columbia University, “when a quake occurs, stress is relieved in one area of a plate and transferred to other parts of that plate.” The possibility of more earthquakes in the near future is large, especially because of the many earthquakes experienced within this year. Chile experienced a devastating earthquake in February 2010, New Zealand experienced two just this past September, and Japan experienced a devastating earthquake the most recently. Many seismologists argue that it is likely that the west coast of the United States may experience a major earthquake as a ripple effect.

March 25, 2011
Volume LXXXI Issue 19

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