Radiation is leaking from a troubled nuclear reactor north of Tokyo after an explosion blew the roof off the facility, raising fears of a catastrophic meltdown one day after Japan was struck by a massive earthquake and tsunami.
Though government experts said the chance of the reactor sustaining serious damage remained low, residents were being evacuated from a 20-kilometre radius around the 40-year-old Daiichi 1 reactor plant in Fukushima prefecture Saturday.
The blast came as the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., was racing to reduce pressures in the reactor core. Footage on Japanese TV showed that the walls of one building had crumbled, leaving only a skeletal metal frame standing. Puffs of smoke were spewing out of the plant, which is about 260 kilometres north of the Japanese capital and its metropolitan population of 35 million.
“An unchecked rise in temperature could cause the core to essentially turn into a molten mass that could burn through the reactor vessel,” risk information service Stratfor said in a report before the explosion. “This may lead to a release of an unchecked amount of radiation into the containment building that surrounds the reactor.”
Japan has declared states of emergency at five reactors in two power plants since Friday, with the Daiichi 1 reactor the most troubled. Operators have detected eight times the normal radiation levels outside the facility and 1,000 times normal inside Unit 1's control room. Some radiation has already been released
First, the world is both appalled and deep in empathy for the Japanese people following this 8.9 earthquake followed by a tsunami with a wall of water reaching some 30-plus feet high, both of them shacking the tiny country and washing over much of its territory. Our condolences and our global assistance, we can only hope, are extended to the people of Japan in their hour of tragedy.
And who, while watching the horrendous pictures from the quake's devastation, mingled with shots of the Japanese people, could not help but be mesmerized by their calm, orderly demeanour in the face of such calamity? No violence, no looting, no outburst of anger or opportunism and thousands, if not millions, calmly sleeping on the floors of banks, schools and other public buildings while transportation facilities were shut down.
Second, the annoucement of the explosion in one nuclear reactor, and the shutting down of five others, fearing their potential meltdown, leaves the world wondering about the impact of these emerging facts. This is no longer, if it ever was, only a tragedy in Japan, and threatens to spread much further afield. At this reporting, winds are reported to be light, headed N-E, and the amount and concentrations of radioactivity still seem much lighter than they could become. This is a repercussion of the quake that bears close attention not only by the responsible authorities in Japan, but by the global community. We are all too familiar with names like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl from our not-so-distant past, and the resulting impact on human lives both in terms of deaths caused and lives tormented by the response to the release of nuclear fallout.
And the timing of this disaster, while never is a good time for the people of Japan, must not be permitted to remove the world's focus from the horrendous acts of atrocities in Libya, where an ITN reporter stood in front of his camerman, as reported by PBS's Newshour with Jim Lehrer last night, and told us of graves of people killed in the fighting with the Libyan dictator where he was then standing, now bulldozed into nothingness, clearly war crimes if what he witnessed and his hypothesis is correct. And when he asked a bystander, a Libyan man what happened to the graves, presumably out of fear of reprisal, his only comment was, "No graves...I don't know nothing."
- An world economy slowly recovering from a virtual meltdown,
- wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, where both theatres can hardly be considered calming,
- uprisings in several Middle East countries, with the supply and transport of oil is threatened and causing price spikes,
- Japan now in serious turmoil with over 1000 lives reported lost already, and that number is likely to swell much higher,
- attempts to build a society in Haiti after another earthquake hit the virtually failed state over a year ago,
- food prices spiking both as a result of oil issues and warmer temperatures resulting from global warming....
To an outsider's eye, it does seem to be, as the British might put it, "a little much" for the world's people to withstand. And every day, as we watch the world leaders, including the president of the United States whose plate is so full to overflowing with serious and complicated and pressing issues, we wonder how they manage to keep their cool, their detachment and their capacity to continue to work in the trenches on our behalf.
One has to wonder how unusual is this current vortex of humanitarian disasters. Has the number, severity and complexity been this difficult in the past? Or, is the 24-7 news cycle with the multiple sources of information now available making our information tsunami a little more difficult to absord, to comprehend and to interpret?