Causes of Fukishima Meltdown

Fukishima nuclear power meltdown occurred in 2011 at the Fukushima Daiichi Plant Located in the northern Japan. The accident marked the second worst nuclear accident in the history of nuclear power generation. The nuclear power located on Japan’s Pacific coast and operated by the Tokyo Electric and Power Company (TEPCO), comprised of six boiling-water reactors built between 1971 and 1979. At the time of the accident, only three reactors were operational. The accident was caused by tsunami waves triggered by the March 11, 2011 Japan earthquake. 

The TEPCO report highlighted tsunami waves generated by the March 11 earthquake which destroyed the backup generators at the Fukishima nuclear plant as the immediate cause of the meltdown (Frontline, 2012). Although the plant operators had successfully shut down the three operational reactors after the earthquake, they suffered water loss which caused the plant’s cooling system to fail within the initial days of the disaster. Cooling system failure resulted to residual heat increase in the reactors’ core causing their fuel rods to overheat and partially melt down, thus releasing radiations to the atmosphere at times. At the time, the plant emergency operators were unable to reach the reactors controls due to three consecutive explosions resulting from the buildup pressurized hydrogen gas in the outer containment buildings enclosing the reactors. These explosions together with a fire caused by the rising temperatures in reactor 4 which held the spent fuel rods, released enormous amounts of radiation from the plant, making possibility of cooling the reactors directly more difficult. The tsunami debris washed all over the plant hindered the emergency workers from cooling and stabilizing the reactors directly by pumping seawater and boric acid into them.   

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Evacuation Area and Number of People Displaced

Following the meltdown, the Japan Government was concerned over possible radiation exposure and marked a 30 km no-fly zone around the nuclear facility. Initially, government officials initiated evacuation mission over the land of 20 km radius around the plan which covered nearly 600 square km. After the third explosion which occurred on March 5, the authorities and the plant officials were afraid that the containment vessel where the fuel rods were stored was damaged. The fear of mass release of radiations saw the government officials designate a much wider zone which extended to 30 km in radius on the area surrounding the plant. The government immediate response was call for an immediate evacuation of people within 2 miles of the plant. By the end of March, the government had expanded the evacuation zone to 30 km around the plant after it was determined that ocean water near the plant was contaminated with high levels of iodine-131 leaking through the cracks in the plant trenches and tunnels surrounding the ocean.  Months following the disaster, another corridor stretching over 207 square km covering the land away from the initial 20 km zone was also designated for evacuation. Nearly 47,000 residents were displaced from their homes, while at the same time, people living in adjacent areas to the 20 km evacuation warning zone were also preparing to evacuate (Frontline, 2012). 

Preparation for Natural Disasters to avoid Nuclear Accidents

From my point of view, it was possible to be fully prepared for all natural disasters to avoid the meltdown that occurred at the Fukishima nuclear power plant. This could have been achieved through evaluation of the worst possible case scenario in the event of the natural disasters and the subsequent establishment of the precautionally measure to retaliate their impacts. From this analysis, the TEPCO company would have determined the possibility of tsunami, which was a more likely to follow earthquakes, to flood their backup generators which were placed at the basement. This would have established the need to position the vital generators on a location less likely to be hit by floods and more accessible. 

Sources of Radiations

All living creatures are exposed to radiations from the beginning of time which emanates from the various natural background as well as man-made sources. Natural background radiations can be traced from two major sources namely; cosmic radiation and terrestrial radiation (U.S.NRC, 2017). Cosmic radiations are generated by the interaction of the charged particles from the sun and the stars with the magnetic field in the earth’s atmosphere. These are mainly beta and gamma radiations. Terrestrial radiations are produced by radioactive materials found in the soil, water and vegetation. On the other hand, man-made radiation sources that mainly exposed to the public is from medical procedures such as diagnostic X-rays and nuclear medicine, and consumer products such as tobacco. 

Uses of Radiations in the United States

In the United States, radiation is mainly used in medicine and for generating electricity (U.S.NRC, 2017). Medical facilities often use a variety of nuclear materials and processes in the diagnoses, monitoring and treatment of metabolic processes and medical conditions in patients. For example, radiation therapy also known as diagnostic x-rays have been widely used in the US in the treatment of bone cancer and hyperthyroidism. Nuclear fission process is also used to in nuclear plants to generate more reliable, abundant, clean and affordable sources of electricity.

Personal Annual Radiation Dose

Using the personal details listed below, my annual radiation dose is 362.005 mrem. The personal annual radiation dose has been derived from the following; radon in the air: 200 mrem; area of residence: 46 mrem; diagnostic x-rays: 40 mrem; food and water: 40 mrem; cosmic radiation: 26 mrem; type of building: 7 mrem; elevation from sea: 2 mrem; television viewing: 1 mrem; gas lantern mantles when camping: 0.003 mrem; airport luggage inspection typical x-ray machine: 0.002 mrem. This value is above the average mrems a person is exposed to each year. The result makes me feel less safe from radiation exposure (U.S.NRC, 2017).

Average Life expectancy lose due to Radiation Exposure

An average person in the United States lose an estimate of 121 days of life expectancy on average due to radiation exposure compared to 2,374 days lost from cigarette smoking (U.S.NRC, 2017). The value of life expectancy lost from cigarette smoking is far way larger than that of exposure to radiation. This determination is surprising enough. Although the concept of exposure to radiation may capture more attention than that of smoking, cigarettes smoking has more devastating impacts on human life. 

NRC System to Reduce Exposure to Radiations

Given the level of public concern on radiation and its possible risks, the U.S Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) have developed a system that ensure all users of radioactive materials maintains radiation exposure within a stipulated dose limit if effort to protect the resident (U.S.NRC, 2017). The system serves four main objectives tailored to minimize peoples’ exposure, regulate use of radioactive materials, govern nuclear medicine usage, and monitor radiations from nuclear plant. The system requires all nuclear users to obtain a license from the commission to ensure that they observe all the safety regulations in handling radioactive materials. In addition, the agency has developed regulations for the dose limits for radiation workers and the public, monitoring and labeling radioactive materials, posting signs in and around radiation areas, as well as reporting the theft or loss of radioactive materials. These alongside the imposed penalties for failure to observe the agency’s regulations helps NRC to reduce human exposure to radiation.

Radiation and National Security

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has ensured protection of nuclear power plant through installation of physical barriers, armed guards, intrusion detection systems and area surveillance system. In addition to this, the agency requires all nuclear plants to include access controls and access authorization requirements in their system for monitoring employees working within the plants. The agency also issues licenses for the use of nuclear materials and has implemented regulatory programs tracking the use of these materials. Through strengthening the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), NRC has promoted international safeguard activities that ensures peaceful use of nuclear materials in the international community (U.S.NRC, 2017).

In conclusion, it can be noted that the Fukishima meltdown resulted from natural causes (earthquake and subsequent tsunami) and the devastating impacts of the accident raised the public and government concern over the safety of radiation use all over the world. From this incident, the U.S. Government through the NRC has reviewed its nuclear policies to ensure protection of people from radiation exposure, both nationally and internationally (U.S.NRC, 2017). The Agency has established governing principles that bound all nuclear users in ensuring safer use of nuclear materials and processes. The agency further supports IAEA on establishing and implementing global nuclear safety measures and protocols. 

References

Frontline (2012, February 28). Inside the Japan’s Nuclear Meltdown. Retrieved from https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/japans-nuclear-meltdown/

Unite States Nuclear Regulation Commission (U.S.NRC)(2017, September 25). Protecting People and the Environment: How the NRC Protects You. Retrieved from https://www.nrc.gov/about-nrc/radiation/protects-you.html

Unite States Nuclear Regulation Commission (U.S.NRC)(2017, October 2). Uses of Radiation. Retrieved from https://www.nrc.gov/about-nrc/radiation/around-us/uses-radiation.html

Unite States Nuclear Regulation Commission (U.S.NRC)(2017, March 1). Personal Annual Radiation Dose Calculation. Retrieved from https://www.nrc.gov/about-nrc/radiation/around-us/calculator.cfm. Unite States Nuclear Regulation Commission (U.S.NRC)(2017, April 7). Natural and Man-Made Radiation Sources. Retrieved from https://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/basic-ref/students/for-educators/06.pdf.

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