Science and Journalism in Society

Brandeis University JOUR 130B

Five Years After the Accident: Fukushima’s Reality Today

On March 11, 2011, a terrible tsunami destroyed the Fukushima power plant in Japan, causing radiation spewed in large dimensions. Although the Japanese government immediately decided to shut down all the reactors and started preventing future environmental damage and investigated into the exposure, according to the article by Madhusree Mukerjee, which is published on Scientific American website  on March 8, 2016, “major questions still loom today” and “the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), is reluctant to share information.”

Despite the efforts that the government and other related organizations have put into the series of problems, they certainly did not do a great job of protecting the citizens and environment, more importantly, the authorities are not open for detailed information at all. After five years, they tried to persuade people to believe that everything has passed already.

According to Mukerjee, this February Tepco finally admitted that “it had waited for two months after the accident before announcing the meltdowns—which possibly delayed evacuations and endangered lives” due to the widespread suspicions and public pressure. Though Tepco has put great efforts into cleaning up, it still has “‘no idea where and how much fuel debris is in the reactor now,’ says nuclear engineer Tadahiro Katsuta of Meiji University.”

Meanwhile, the collected contaminated water also brings a huge problem: how to isolate all the radioactive substances from it? While most of the substances have been removed after “painstakingly cleaning”, tritium concentration remains at high level as it is extremely hard to separate.

Since the accident, many Japanese citizens have gathered to protest against the further use of nuclear power. However both the Japanese government and Tepco did not react to the protests well as they restart several reactors again and keep trying to hind information from the general public. For people who has lived in the evacuated area around Fukushima power plant, the lack of responses is absolutely a much greater pain. According to the World Nuclear Industry Status Report, 2015, 3200 deaths have resulted from the accidents, ailments and trauma due to the evacuation. In the mean time, “Exile may be permanent, however, for tens of thousands of people from the most contaminated areas.” Conversely, radiation epidemiologist Yoshisada Shibata of Nagasaki University opposed the statistical result above and “dismisses as ‘nonsense’ the claim that the disaster is responsible for those cases” as he thinks that it is too fast since the cancers could not grow to such large size just after the exposure. Also, as another piece of evidence to reject the claim, Shibata compares the situation with that in Chernobyl and points out that “no Fukushima children who were infants at the time of the disaster have tumors.”

On the other hand, the water body and marine ecosystem are facing huge contamination problems caused by the leak. Although the clean-up works have showed their positive effects, the radioactive contamination is going to “stay put near Japan,” according to marine radiochemist Ken Buesseler of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

To view the results (problems) of Fukushima accidents from a brand new angle, the future of scientific research comes into play. An article published online in Nature on March 2, 2016 provides a valuable insights into the problem. As a well-known resource-poor country, Japan absolutely needs nuclear power’s support in order to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Since the accident in 2011, the article points put many of those decisions  on evacuation, clean-up and so on were made at “the science–policy interface.” and “scientists, especially those involved in giving policy advice, lost credibility and the trust of the public” due to all the concealment described in previous paragraphs and continuous arguments raised by people with opposite interests. The article states that the tragedy happened in 2011 has revealed a “fundamental problem” presents in Japanese scientific research field that the connections ” between disciplines and between Japan’s scholars and those working in other countries” are weak.

The article introduces two possible solutions to improve the interdisciplinary research in Japan after briefly describing two case studies: either “globalize the review process” or “globalize research.”

Overall, although two articles have taken completely different aspects of the Fukushima power plant, both admitted near the end of its work that problems “abound” even after five years of the disasters.


1 Comment

  1. this is very well structured. I would be careful with words like “huge” and other editorializing adjectives. You could tackle this topic for your final, you know. Thanks!

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