Catastrophe After Japan’s Earthquake

Update: Japanese officials said Saturday that radiation levels within one reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant are now 1,000 times above normal, and some radiation has leaked outside the plant. Though evacuation of local residents has been expanded, officials said the leak posed “no immediate health threat.” (Read more at The New York Times.) And AP reports that new states of emergency have been declared at four other nuclear reactors.

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After the devastating 8.9 magnitude earthquake hit Japan, many establishments and industries were destroyed and shut down, including the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant and an oil refinery in Ichihara, Chiba.

The government has called a state of emergency near the atomic energy site and has asked citizens to evacuate the area. “Residents living within a 3-kilometer radius of the plant were asked to evacuate, while residents living within a zone 3 to 10 kilometers away were asked to stay inside their homes.” (CNN).

A total of four plants have been shut down since Fukushima. Fukushima is the only one posing a direct emergency due to a failed cooling system, but there doesn’t seem to be a direct threat to the environment. However, 20% of Japan’s nuclear capacity has been shut down.

Now is the time to evaluate whether or not nuclear power plants are the safest idea. On average, nuclear power plants produce 20 metric tons of high-level radioactive waste per year. All this waste throws off heat and radiation into the environment, which could be lethal to any nearby lifeforms.

Eventually this high-level radioactive waste will decay into something safe. It will only take tens of thousands of years. If you’re around that long, you’ll be able to move right back into your house.

This potential disaster echoes the 1986 Chernobyl crisis. In the Ukraine, Chernobyl spilled out 50 tons of radioactive material. The proper name for this catastrophe is “nuclear meltdown”. Thirty thousand were forced to evacuate and, of these people, thousands died from cancer or other illnesses later in life. Millions of acres of the Ukraine forest in that area are still highly damaged. (HowStuffWorks).

Even regularly operating systems pose a threat to the environment. Mining of uranium emits carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides into the air. The plants also require a large amount of water for cooling, which is taken from local rivers and lakes, disturbing local aquatic systems.

Clearly nuclear power is extremely concerning. I am equally concerned about the burning of a Japanese oil refinery.

Raw Video: Refinery Burns After Japanese Earthquake

I think an article by Crude Oil Biz says it best,

Burning oil can cause devastating effects. One such example is acid rain. As the name suggests, acid rain is a more acidic rain than normal. The burning of these fuels creates sulfur dioxides and nitrogen oxides in the air and when they merge with the moisture, acid rain is created. And what does this acid do? It penetrates the rivers, lakes and streams and can kill plants, fish and wildlife in the surrounding areas. Also, there is the structural damage that takes place as a result of the constant acid beating on buildings, statues and other structures. Concrete, brick and other building substances are literally eaten away.

Global warming is another concern in the issue surrounding the burning of oil. When oil and gasoline are burned, carbon dioxide is the resulting by product that is put into the air. Carbon dioxide traps heat in the atmosphere, and the planet becomes hotter. The trapping of heat can create a huge change in climate, which can seriously affect wildlife and ecosystems around the world.

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