Paul Gorman, The Press, NZ – February 20, 2015
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The one-in-1000 year tsunami generated by that gargantuan quake smashed into coastal parts of the northeastern coast of Honshu, and 14-metre-high surges ultimately caused a meltdown or partial meltdown (depending on who you believe) at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station.
Before the accident, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) nuclear plant had the capacity to generate 4680 megawatts of electricity, making it more than four times as big as Huntly power station, New Zealand’s largest plant, or nine times the size of Benmore power station. Its six reactors were among 54 operating in Japan and generating about 30 per cent of the country’s electricity. It was one of the 15 largest nuclear power stations in the world.
In a nutshell, sea-water swamped the generators, the cooling systems failed, temperatures in the reactors rose above 2500 degrees Celsius, fuel rods melted and then the roofs of the reactor structures exploded, allowing gases to vent into the atmosphere. Radioactive material also leaked from damaged pipes into soil and the sea.
Japan’s first nuclear emergency was declared and more than 100,000 people living within 20 kilometres of the power station were evacuated from an exclusion zone which is still in place, although some have recently chosen to move back inside it. Food supplies and water downwind of the plant were heavily irradiated and there was panic as far away as Tokyo about contamination.
On the International Nuclear Event Scale, the Fukushima-Daichi disaster rates just below Chernobyl as the world’s worst nuclear accident. It has been classified as a seven on a scale of seven for the “major release of radioactive material with widespread health and environmental effects requiring implementation of planned and extended countermeasures”.
As well as failures and partial meltdowns at other nuclear plants caused by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, there has been a string of other accidents over the past 30 years, many of which the populace was unaware of due to information being suppressed or concealed, or even falsified by Tepco officials in the case of cracks found in 13 of its 17 reactor covers in 2002.
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