Fukushima: Lessons Learned (Part One)

Today begins a five-part series on the events which unfolded at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant as workers tried to simultaneously stabilize three out-of-control reactors after the deadly earthquake.  Fukushima will surely stand as one of the most complex emergency events ever as technicians improvised solutions in an attempt to counteract the run-away physics created by a total loss of power within the facility.  Without electrical power they lost all systems used to monitor and control the temperature and pressure of the reactors, containment vessels and fuel.

This past March 11th at just before 3PM, the largest earthquake ever to strike Japan occurred 43 miles east of Tohoku in the ocean where the Pacific plate is sliding under the Japanese Island of Honshu.  The Tohoku mega-quake is the fourth or fifth largest quake on record at 9.0 and shifted the earth on its axis between 4 to 10 inches.  The stupendous amount of energy released in the earthquake which lasted over three minutes is estimated to be 600,000,000 times that of the atomic bomb detonated at Hiroshima.

At least 15,833 persons are confirmed dead and thousands more remain missing.  500,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed and significant parts of the infrastructure, including Sendai Airport were severely damaged.

The devastating quake and the chaos that it caused was in many cases dwarfed by the extraordinary damage coming from a series of seven tsunamis which struck in some places 30 to 45 minutes later.  These tsunamis ranged from 10 to 128 feet in height, inundating huge areas of land and literally wiping out entire towns and villages in their wake.  Satellite photos taken before and after the waves show the immense carnage.

In the hours after the quake and the tsunamis, the country was reeling as strong aftershocks continued to occur.  With utter devastation in evidence it could be said that the worst was over, but in one place it was just about to begin.

Tomorrow:  Part Two, Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant

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