Edge of disaster

A little over 65 years after Japan became the first country to be attacked with nuclear weapons, it is now staring at a nuclear catastrophe once again. An earthquake measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale that was followed by giant tsunami waves wreaked havoc along Japan’s northeast, sweeping far inland and devastating a number of towns and villages. In the coastal city of Sendai, cars, boats, trains and shipping containers were tossed around like toys by the killer waves. Around 2,000 bodies have been recovered so far and tens of thousands are still missing. But even as Japan struggles to get a grip on the havoc, a more deadly disaster is unfolding.

At least two reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi atomic power plant have been severely damaged. There have been massive explosions and the danger of widespread nuclear radiation looms. Japan, the only country to have suffered a nuclear attack, is now living out its worst nightmare. Its people will suffer the immediate and long term impact of nuclear radiation. Scientists and anti-nuclear activists had repeatedly warned of the extreme vulnerability of nuclear reactors in Japan given that the country is a hot spot for earthquakes. The dire scenarios they warned the world about are now unfolding in Japan.

The Japanese government has sought to play down fears of a radiation leak at Fukushima. But plant officials have admitted that radiation in the area has crossed permissible levels. While the government might be seeking to avoid triggering panic among the public, it must avoid secrecy as denial and dissemination will only deepen the crisis. Evacuation of people and treatment of those who have been exposed to radiation hinges on provision of correct information.

Japan had put in place alarm systems, earthquake resistant buildings and other safeguards to protect people in the event of a deadly tremor. But none of these were enough to protect people fully, underscoring the fact that despite the advance in science and technology man remains vulnerable in the face of natural disasters. The Japanese nuclear reactors had multiple safeguards; yet when the tsunami crashed into the coast, these collapsed. Last Friday, as Japan was battered by the quake and aftershocks and then by a tsunami it did seem it was the worst day in its history. Now as reactors spew nuclear radiation, it is evident the worst is still to come. The days after are bringing new, deadlier havoc to this country.

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