Workers carry out radiation screening on a bus for a media tour at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s (Tepco) Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant in Okuma Town, Fukushima Prefecture, on 26 May 2012. Photo: Tomohiro Ohsumi / AFP / Getty Images

By Jessica M. Morrison
31 January 2013

Three-Eleven is what they call the disaster. On March 11, 2011, all hell broke loose when a 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck the eastern coast of Japan. As if that weren’t enough, a massive tsunami followed about an hour later, churning over everything in its path for some 200 square miles.

Entire cities were lost. Some 16,000 people died. But it wasn’t over yet. The disaster would further its assault on locals and send chills down spines worldwide once the floodwaters receded and people realized the disaster that was unfolding in the seaside prefecture of Fukushima.                                                      

The tsunami topped a seawall and knocked out the power and backup generators at Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant. That killed the pumps that bathed radioactive fuel rods in water and kept them from melting. The cores in three reactors melted down. Seawater was used for emergency cooling and was highly contaminated; unknown amounts escaped into the environment. The promise of safe, limitless power flickered around the world.

Before the disaster, about 600,000 people lived within 30 kilometers of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant. By the end of March 2011, more than half of that population had been evacuated. Many will never return to their homes.

In October 2011, the Science Council of Japan organized a committee to rethink reconstruction with an eye toward the social responsibility of science and scientists. Little more than a year later, I visited Tokyo for a conference on the impact of Fukushima on the ocean and the future of nuclear power in Japan.

“Science and technology enable us to make more use of the natural environment,” said Takashi Onishi, a professor of engineering and current president of the Science Council of Japan. “Then, we have been bringing people closer to the danger that a natural disaster may cause.” [more]

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