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LETTER
Year : 2011  |  Volume : 3  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 315-316  

Fukushima, Japan: An apocalypse in the making?


Division of CBRN Defence, Institute of Nuclear Medicine and Allied Sciences, Brig. SK Mazumdar Road, Delhi 110 054, India

Date of Web Publication12-May-2011

Correspondence Address:
Rakesh Kumar Sharma
Division of CBRN Defence, Institute of Nuclear Medicine and Allied Sciences, Brig. SK Mazumdar Road, Delhi 110 054
India
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/0975-7406.80756

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How to cite this article:
Sharma RK, Arora R. Fukushima, Japan: An apocalypse in the making?. J Pharm Bioall Sci 2011;3:315-6

How to cite this URL:
Sharma RK, Arora R. Fukushima, Japan: An apocalypse in the making?. J Pharm Bioall Sci [serial online] 2011 [cited 2019 May 23];3:315-6. Available from: http://www.jpbsonline.org/text.asp?2011/3/2/315/80756

Sir,

A massive 8.9-magnitude earthquake, with epicentre in the northeastern coast, hit Japan on March 11, 2011 at 2:46 pm (JST), 72 km off the coast at a depth of approximately 30 km and resulted in triggering of extremely destructive 10 m high tsunami waves, which hit nearly 10 km inland in Japan within minutes after the earthquake. The earthquake and tsunami have caused extensive and severe damage in Northeastern Japan, leaving over 28,000 confirmed dead, injured, or missing, and several millions affected without access to basic amenities like water, food, fuel, electricity, and transportation. The natural disaster has been further complicated and has led to the brink of a megadisaster involving the leakage of radiation from a runaway nuclear reaction that nearly went out of control at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Despite emergency systems in place, the situation over the last week has deteriorated and fears abound of a meltdown and breach of containment vessels. At approximately 10 AM on March 15th 2011, radiation as high as 400 mSv/h at the inland side of the Unit 3 reactor building and 100 mSv/h at the inland side of the Unit 4 reactor building was observed .

Japanese authorities (Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency) after assessment clarified on March 18 that the core damage at the Fukushima Daiichi 2 and 3 reactor Units caused by a loss of all cooling function could be rated as 5 on the International Nuclear and Radiation Event Scale (INES), while the loss of cooling and water supplying functions in the spent fuel pool of the Unit 4 reactor has been rated as 3. Mayapuri incidence was Level 4, and Chernobyl was Level 7 on the INES scale [Figure 1]. The latest radiation map can be accessed at http://www.targetmap.com/viewer.aspx?reportId=4870
Figure 1: The International Nuclear and Radiation Event Scale (INES)

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The loss of cooling functions in the reactor Units 1, 2, and 4 of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant has also been rated as 3. All reactor units at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant are now in a cold shut down condition inching toward catastrophe. Consequently, the Japanese government has had to instruct evacuation for local residents within a 20 km radius of the periphery because it is possible that radioactive materials have been discharged, while the US advised its citizens to keep a safe distance of 80 km from the nuclear plant [Figure 2].
Figure 2: Damaged Reactor Nos. 1-4 of the ill-fated nuclear power plant

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In a desperate attempt to cool the unit, Japanese officials have continued to drop and spray water from helicopters and trucks onto Unit 3 at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. An emergency diesel generator is also powering water injection into the ponds. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plants remains very serious. As on 18 March, 2011, Japan had raised the nuclear alert level to 5 at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, though France rates it as 6. The severity of the nuclear accident has been rerated as 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES) as on 12 April, 2011.

There has been a lot of panic worldwide and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has set in motion its environmental emergency response mechanism and is providing the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with meteorological information as per the Joint Radiation Emergency Management Plan. Meteorologists are working closely in coordination with IAEA and World Health Organization (WHO), while WMO's Regional Specialized Meteorological centers in Beijing, Tokyo, and Obninsk are closely keeping a watch on the situation. These centers are responsible for developing predictions of the trajectories and spreading of contaminants following environmental accidents with cross-border implications. The Russian Federation, Ireland and Switzerland reported the detection of very small amounts of iodine-131 and cesium-137 in air.

According to Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) the dose equivalent on the edge of compound of the Fukushima Power Plant is now at 8.22 mSv. Radiation of 50-110 mSv causes F1 cancers, 680-1100 mSv results in death (Source: Health risks from exposure to low levels of Ionizing radiation, BEIR VII phase, National Research Council). As on 01 April, 2011 radiation 4,385 times higher than the legal standard has been detected in seawater at a location 330 meters south of the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Analytical results in Fukushima prefecture for the broccoli, cabbage, rapeseed, spinach and other leafy vegetables, indicated that iodine-131 and/or caesium-134 and caesium-137 exceeded the regulation values set by the Japanese authorities.

Japan has a very strong disaster preparedness and response mechanism in place and a history of successfully dealing and emerging from disasters in the past, including the Hiroshima and Nagasaki incident. The Fukushima incident has been a gruesome reminder of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki incident and has brought back memories of the worst kind. However, Japan should be able to deal with the situation and emerge without substantial damage. Other nations need to learn from such emergencies and take adequate precautionary measures to avoid the occurrence of such incidents. An important lesson that has come to the fore is that a safe and secure generator backup is very important. Secondly, the nuclear plants should be significantly higher and away from the fault region so that the earthquake and tsunami effects cannot cause so much damage.

Other nuclear accidents such as the Three Mile Island incident, Chernobyl accident, etc. in the past have shown the world that nuclear power can be both a boon and a bane. The use of nuclear energy is fraught with dangers. Such incidents can happen in any part of the globe, and despite all precautionary measures and efficient protocols and standard operating procedures in place necessitate a relook at the design and location of nuclear reactors. The way Japanese engineers at Fukushima have been still handling the incident despite being at great risk of being exposed to very high levels of radiation for the sake of the country is exemplary. Low doses of radiation have even spread to several far off countries. TEPCO has announced that it would be decommissioning the four damaged reactors in Fukushima, Japan after several attempts to revive it failed, while the Japanese Prime Minister Mr. Naoto Kan has also said that the nuclear reactors must be decommissioned. Whether the Fukushima nuclear reactors will meet the same fate like Chernobyl-like burial or not only time will tell.

In India, as in other parts of the world, where nuclear energy is being touted as a major source for meeting the growing energy needs in coming years, especially in the wake of the recent signing of the nuclear deal, there is a need to go ahead taking all precautionary and preventive measures. The safety and security of nuclear reactors should be our utmost concern in the view of the Fukushima incidents. The Prime Minister of India has already ordered a fresh safety audit of all nuclear power plants.

We need to also strengthen prevention, detection, and response mechanisms for CBRN Defence in a holistic and comprehensive manner and take up massive awareness generation and training programme for capacity development at various levels.


    Figures

  [Figure 1], [Figure 2]


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