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Friday, March 18, 2011

the woes at Fukushima - Earthquake, Tsunami and radiation leakage

The land of rising Sun, an archipelago of  6852 islands is in the news for wrong seasons after surviving the natural disasters of largest earthquake on March 11 measuring 9.0 and spawning of a deadly Tsunami after.   Car, ships and building were swept away by a wall of water and the country is still counting its dead.  Sendai, a port city was worst affected.  Even after  the natural disasters struck, the crowds were orderly and calm.

In disaster films, you could see heroes who would remain stoic, undaunted, committed to the cause, facing adversity sacrificing themselves for the cause.  Japan is fortunate to have some such heroes which include some workers, emergency service personnel and scientists battling to save the Fukushima nuclear plant, their fellow citizens and themselves.  Fukushima, strangely means ‘good fortune island’ and lies about 250 km north of Tokyo and 80 km south of Sendai, known for nuclear power plants.  The plants have boiling water reactors, a part of which had been shut down for maintenance.  The remaining reactors were shut down after the earthquake but tsunami flooded the plant knocking the emergency reactors required to run pumps which cool and control the reactors.  The earthquake in its wake prevented assistance reaching in time.  

There has been news repots of partial nuclear meltdowns (hard to comprehend for commoners like us) and of multiple fires.  Fears of radiation leaks led to a 20 km (12-mile) radius evacuation around the plant. Even as rumours spread of the levels of radiation leakage, there are contradicting reports on its extent.

Recently, some photo footage showed attempts of helicopter dumping sea water which again is stated to be not so widely used technique and it reportedly did not work. Four Chinook helicopters were used to dump seven tonnes of water on reactors No. 3 and 4. The main target seems to have been to replenish reservoirs holding spent nuclear fuel rods. These rods, which have no containment vessel, are seen as the most likely source of a major radiation leak. Japan disputed claims by US officials that the reservoirs in two reactors were now dry - which would mean rapidly heating rods and eventually a radiation leak.    Experts further suggest that reconnecting the stricken facility to the National grid would enable delivery of electrical power.   The  International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) views Japan's nuclear crisis as an extremely serious accident requiring international co-operation.

Initially, there were reports of radiation level of 1,557 microsieverts per hour which  one hour's exposure is roughly equivalent to one chest X-ray which was not worrisome.  But there are continuing reports that people over there have been exposed to some radiation.  USS Ronald Reagan,  reportedly detected low levels of radiation at a distance of 100 miles (161km) from the Fukushima plant. Taiwan and South Korea both reported detecting radiation on the clothes of travellers arriving from Japan.

There was panic buying in nearby states like China and Russia of iodine tablets, seaweed and red wine - substances believe to help against radiation poisoning. 
Sure, most of us watching the events are perturbed but can do little at this stage as the magnitude and the extent of impact is little understood.  Usually, one tends to perceive things by relating them to known things.  In the film, Dasavatharam,  the remedy was NaCL – the sea water as it contains sodium chloride – the common salt, an ionic compound causing salinity of the ocean.  Similarly for radiation, iodine tablets are prescribed.  It is stated that if  the body has all the iodine it needs, it will not absorb further iodine from the atmosphere. The tablets fill the body up with non-radioactive iodine, which prevent it absorbing the radioactive iodine

The country is on the verge of a disaster and we pray that everything is contained and Japan limps back to its aggressive work culture sooner.

Regards - Sampathkumar S

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