The Fukushima nuclear disaster touched people around the world. The concern for the citizens of Japan was matched by the fear of the potential dangers of other nuclear reactors. It made the world stop and take notice of the ramifications of playing with nature and whether the benefit outweighs the risk. The effects on Japan were much more far reaching that the immediate fear and destruction. Japan will be dealing with possible radiation contamination for many years to come. The most basic ingredients of human survival, water and food, were tainted by the reactor’s failure, leaving Japan to deal with much more than the structural damage.
The earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in March 2011 cut off the ability to keep the reactors at the Fukushima nuclear plant cool. Three of the reactors reached full meltdown, sending radioactive products flooding up to fifty km of surrounding area. Although the Fukushima disaster did not reach the destructive measure of Chernobyl, it led to unhealthy levels of radiation in many of those close to the plant and spread radioactive materials into the soil and water supply. Anyone living within twenty km of the plant were forced to evacuate. Those within twenty to thirty km range were asked to voluntarily evacuate. Testing of plant, animal and water sources showed the presence of radioactive iodine and caesium.
The dangerous products of the nuclear meltdown were radioactive forms of iodine and caesium. Both of them can cause dangerous health risks, but in different ways. Radioactive iodine decays naturally in a matter of weeks. However, due to the natural absorption of iodine by the thyroid, exposure to the radioactive form of iodine can lead to thyroid cancer. Those exposed were treated with potassium iodine pills. These pills guaranteed that the thyroid had plenty of healthy iodine and would not absorb the dangerous form. The true danger is the exposure to radioactive caesium. It can exist up to thirty years, allowing a continued danger as it flows through the natural life cycle that involves water, soil, and animal life. For this reasons the immediate ban on the sale from any foodstuff being produced in the danger zone was enforced very quickly. The Japanese government, global agencies, and international trade organizations continue to monitor the environment and food products for dangerous levels of radioactive material.
The long term effects of this disaster echo those of immediate concern. The existence of the dangerous products of the nuclear meltdown, particularly radioactive caesium, in the water and soil, create a thirty year cycle of health risks. The cyclical movement of tainted water into soil that produces plants which feed people, livestock and seafood has many watchful of increased cancer and other health issues. The existence of caesium will not show an immediate effect on the health of the Japanese people. It requires long term ingestion for the body to show the negative effects of unhealthy levels of caesium.
The lifespan of radioactive caesium has resulted in a long term fear of both the Japanese people and at a global level. At the local level the people fear for their health, particularly that of fetuses and young children living during the disaster. The radioactive products have the potential to increase brain damage in unborn children in the early stages of development and childhood cancers. The possible health problems of the young point to an uncertain future for the growth and advancement of Japan.
Globally, there is a concern regarding the safety of trade products coming from Japan. Many countries demand paperwork proving that food has been tested before shipped; some do additional testing to verify food safety. This had an immediate effect on trade and its resulting economic impact at both the local and international level.
The most immediately felt health risk is the mental stress that comes from any disaster. The nuclear meltdown at Fukushima has led to higher stress levels due to the potentially far-reaching and long term effects. Only the passing of time and increasingly positive reports from monitoring agencies will ease the fear and worry of the Japanese people.
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The Japanese people continue to work towards recovering from the devastation of both the tsunami and resulting nuclear disaster. The recovery goes beyond repairing structures, monitoring radiation levels and relocating evacuees. It includes new safety measures and restrictions on both existing and future nuclear plants. The Fukushima disaster has affected more than the Japanese. It has shown the world that more thought and action needs to be done to protect the environment and life from the potential dangers that come from technology that uses unstable aspects of nature.