As Japan is situated on several fault lines, the Japanese are familiar with earthquakes and tsunami's. However, the earthquake-proof buildings and tsunami walls near the Japanese coastlines couldn't withstand an earthquake and tsunami as powerful as the Tōhoku natural disaster. On Friday 11 March 2011, Japan was struck by a devastating earthquake and tsunami
, also known as the Tōhoku earthquake. It is the most powerful known earthquake that has ever hit Japan since earthquakes have been recorded in the modern scientific way for the first time in 1900. The Tōhoku earthquake is also one of the five most powerful earthquakes in the world .
The 9.0-magnitude offshore earthquake had an epicenter 72 km east of the coast of the Oshika Peninsula of Tōhoku
, Japan and an underwater hypocenter at a depth of approximately 32 km. Minutes after the undersea earthquake struck Japan, huge tsunami waves of up to 23.6 m engulfed the Tōhoku region
, destroying numerous cities and towns in its entirety. The higly destructive tsunami waves traveled up to 10 km inland. The earthquake and tsunami led to many thousands of victims, flooding, landslides, building and infrastructure damage, serious nuclear incidents, making it the most expensive natural disaster on record .
Prime Minister Naoto Kan called the natural calamity the "toughest and the most difficult crisis for Japan". Due to the earthquake and tsunami several of Japan's nuclear plants situated in the affected area were damaged severely. Fukushima I, II, Onogawa Nuclear Power Plant and Tokai nuclear power stations were automatically shut down after the quake . However, the tsunami destroyed the back-up diesel generators of the plants needed to cool down the nuclear core reactor of the plant. In order to stop overheating, possible explosions, further leakage of nuclear material and the risk of nuclear radiation, sea water was taken to the plants for cooling down the reactors. But because sea water could damage the machinery, it was eventually decided that freshwater was needed for the nuclear plants to cool down the reactors.
Originally, people living in the area of the nuclear power plants were advised to stay indoors to avoid radiation. Eventually many people from that area needed to be evacuated
Unfortunately, so far the Japanese have not been able to contain the situation in the powerplants. Explosions at a power plant led to radiation and a partial meltdown. Plutonium
was found leaking from the Fukushima Daiichi atomic power plant and well as highly radioactive water . According to Sakae Muto, the vice-president of Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), the level of plutonium is "not at the level that's harmful to human health". Seawater
near Fukushima I also contained radioactive material .
Greenpeace has also investigated
the area surrounding the power plants and based on its radiation measurements the organisation suggests a further extending of the evacuation area surrounding the Fukushima power plant .
Japanese people avoid eating
fish and foods that originate from the nuclear plants area and surroundings. It is feared that the radioactive material will be hazardous to both human and animal life and that it will contaminate the environment. Radioactive iodine and cesium were found in spinach and milk
as well as other food products in the region of the Fukushima nuclear power plants on Saturday.
The Japanese government is taking precautions, such as banning shipments of certain produce
from Fukushima and neighboring prefectures Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma . According to the WHO the radiation of food is a serious problem. Peter Cordingley, a spokesman of the WHO said: "It's a lot more serious than anybody thought in the early days when we thought that this kind of problem can be limited to 20 to 30 kilometers" . He stated that at the moment it is rather difficult to know whether the radioactive material found in some food in Japan originated from the Daiichi power plant .
Before the nuclear crisis in Japan there was a large nuclear accident in 1979 at the the USA Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station
and in 1986 the Chernobyl disaster
took place in Ukraine due to major design deficiencies, a lack of safety and the violation of operating procedures . The nuclear catastrophy in Japan raises questions about the possible impact of nuclear energy industry on safety and health. Several European countries
have discussed the use of nuclear energy and safety measures or have temporarily shut down nuclear reactors since the Japanese earthquake of 11 March 2011.
The European Union is developing a stress test for European nuclear power plants . European countries are considering how safe nuclear power stations are but the difference between European countries and Japan - Europe is not as geologically active as Japan - has been taken into account . During a meeting in Brussels with all other European ministers of Environment, Austrian Minister of Environment Nikolaus Berlakovich called for a security check of all european nuclear power plants: "The people in Europe and Austria ask themselves how secure are our reactors in Europe, around Austria [...] It must be quickly proven how earthquake-proof the nuclear power stations are, how do the cooling systems work, what is the reactors' protection. That must come quickly to reassure the people" .
Slovak Environment Minister Jozsef Nagy would regard a stress test for all European power plants as a milestone for nuclear energy: "[...] this might be a milestone in nuclear energy, so we will learn and introduce technologies that are resilient to similar, or even stronger, natural events."  German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced a safety review of all nuclear reactors and the provisional shut-down of 7 ageing reactors. During this period premiers of German Federations will also discuss renewable energies, international safety standards for nuclear power and what to do with radioactive waste.  A survey by German broadcaster ARD made clear that many Germans worry about the safety of nuclear energy. 53 % of the respondents of the survey stressed that all nuclear reactors should be shut down and 70 of the participants of the review is of the opinion that something similar to the nuclear crisis in Japan could happen in Germany .
Japan's nuclear crisis has so far evoked many questions and worries about the safety of nuclear energy just like the Chernobyl disaster evoked responses in the 1980s. Physicist Leonid A. Bolshov, director of the Institute for Nuclear Safety and Development, formed in 1988 in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster, stated: “The Japanese disaster will give the whole world a lesson [...] After a disaster, a burst of attention to safety follows” .
- Nuclear Energy — Crisis in Japan, The New York Times
- Europe to Test Safety of Nuclear Reactors, The New York Times
- Japan Orders Evacuation Near 2nd Nuclear Plant , The New York TimesNuclear Industry in Russia Sells Safety, Taught by Chernobyl, The New York Times
- U.N. atomic watchdog mulling increased nuclear safety scrutiny after Japan’s Fukushima disaster, All Headline NewsJapan crisis impacts US project, World Nuclear News
- Spanish minister: 'This government is not anti-nuclear', World Nuclear NewsConditions laid out for Netherlands nuclear, World Nuclear News
- France redirects its nuclear giants, World Nuclear NewsUS public remains favourable to nuclear, World Nuclear NewsApplications for nuclear plants raise safety, oversight concerns, Government Executive
- Europe split over nuclear safety amid Japan crisis, Reuters
- Factbox: European states react to nuclear safety fears, Reuters
- Italy government sticks to nuclear energy plan, Reuters
- Japan's nuclear crisis: the causes and the risks, The Guardian
- Is the French public beginning to doubt nuclear power?, The Guardian
- France keeps faith with nuclear in face of global doubts, The GuardianNuclear safety worries spread to Europe, The Guardian
- Besser spät als nie, Die Zeit
- GAU im Pool, Die Zeit
- Oettingers Energiepolitik wird zum Rohrkrepierer, Die ZeitL'UE débat de la sûreté de ses centrales nucléaires, Le Monde
- Nuclear power: When the steam clears. The Fukushima crisis will slow the growth of nuclear power. Might it reverse it? , The EconomistPlutonium detected in soil at Fukushima nuke plant, The Mainichi Daily News
- EU to mull 'stress tests' for nuclear plants , Physorg.com
- Germany shuts down seven reactors, Physorg.com
- Germany set to abandon nuclear power for good, Physorg.comEU fixes post-Japan nuclear safety overhaul, Physorg.com
Weblinks International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) & World Nuclear Association (WNA):
- Current status of the nuclear industry worldwide, IAEA PRISNuclear Security, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
- Nuclear Security Plan for 2010-2013, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)Nuclear Security Plan 2010-2013, GOV/2009/54-GC(53)/18, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
- Fukushima Nuclear Accident, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)IAEA Board Discusses Fukushima Nuclear Accident, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
- UK Signs Agreement to Contribute to IAEA Nuclear Security Fund , International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)Russian Federation Supports IAEA Nuclear Security Fund , International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
- Nuclear Power Plants and Earthquakes, World Nuclear Association (WNA)Safety of Nuclear Power Reactors, World Nuclear Association (WNA)
- Safety of Nuclear Power Reactors - Appendix, World Nuclear Association (WNA)
Relevant Peace Palace Library Keywords:
Daiichi Nuclear Power Station 170 miles north of Tokyo , Japan
Aflo/European Pressphoto Agency
 See 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, Wikipedia.org.
 See Ibid.
 As quoted from Ibid.
 See Japan Orders Evacuation Near 2nd Nuclear Plant , The New York Times.
 See Plutonium detected in soil at Fukushima nuke plant, The Mainichi Daily News
 As quoted from Japan finds plutonium at stricken nuclear plant, Reuters.
 See Is Japan's Seawater Radiation Spreading?, Time
 Japan rejects Greenpeace argument for expanding evacuation zone, Reuters.
 As quoted from / see Radiation Found in Japanese Food, Foreign Policy Blogs - Global Food Security.
 As quoted from WHO spokesman: Japan food safety situation "serious", Reuters.
 See ibid.
 Safety of Nuclear Power Reactors, World Nuclear Association (WNA).
 See Europe split over nuclear safety amid Japan crisis, Reuters.
 As quoted from Ibid.
 As quoted from Germany shuts down seven reactors, Physorg.com
 As quoted from Nuclear Power in France, and Nuclear Power in the USA, World Nuclear Association.
 Europe split over nuclear safety amid Japan crisis, Reuters.
 As quoted from ibid.
 As quoted from Europe to Test Safety of Nuclear Reactors, The New York Times
 As quoted from Nuclear Industry in Russia Sells Safety, Taught by Chernobyl, The New York Times