This post was researched and written by our news blog writer and pro bono attorney, James Ryan McNelis, J.D., M.P.A.
On March 11th, an 8.9 magnitude devastated northeastern Japan, but the true impact of the damage may take months to realize. The quake was the 5th largest in recorded history, and was so powerful, that it shifted the Earth 4 inches on its axis. The quake also triggered a tsunami, which crossed the entire Pacific to cause damage even in California, resulting in 1 American death here. Even ignoring the many aftershocks, which have reached as high as 6.7 on the Richter scale, the enormity of this quake’s destructive power cannot be under-stated.
It is estimated that over 18,000 people have lost their lives. Most of the deaths seem to be the result of drowning, as people were washed out to see by the powerful tsunamis that overran low lying villages and towns. Many communities are still scrambling to find the missing; with some town’s reporting more than 10,000 people missing. Japan is a nation that is no stranger to earthquakes, and as such has strict building code regulations and early warning systems to protect the people, but a disaster on this scale will put to ruin even the best laid out planning.
If all of this weren’t enough, the quake has threatened the safety of several nuclear power facilities. As a result of the quake, the nuclear power plants loss electric power needed to operate the cooling systems to control the reactor’s temperature. Back-up systems were also damaged, and Japanese officials are currently in a race against the clock to prevent full-scale meltdowns, which would be an environmental disaster unlike any seen since the Chernobyl nuclear incident in 1986.
America has pledged to help support Japan during this crisis, and already sent rescue workers and nuclear experts. In regards to the pending nuclear problem, officials said they were beginning to get a clearer picture of what went wrong, and as one senior official put it, “under the best scenarios, this isn’t going to end anytime soon.” The reactor operators have had to resort to using sea water to cool the reactors, and then forced to release radioactive steam into the atmosphere as part of an emergency cool down procedure. Even if this procedure is successful, it will take more than 1 year of such cooling and steam releases to bring the situation back under control. The alternative, however, is unimaginable, as a full meltdown of even one of the many affected reactors would release so much radioactive fallout, that it would likely circle the globe.
So with so much going wrong in Japan right now, the world looks on and hopes for a lucky break, and hopes that this path of destruction will soon end.
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