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About ten days ago, the lives of the people in Japan changed forever, when a powerful earthquake rocked the nation, and triggered a giant tsunami that destroyed everything in its path. Unfortunately, that was not the last of their worries . . . ,
First there was the realization that the jitter was a little larger than had originally been estimated - A magnitude of 9.0 making it the fourth, not fifth largest earthquake on record. What's worse is the numerous aftershocks that continue to rock the already fragile nation. Click on the link to see the number and magnitude of shakes that followed the big one - geofon.gfz-potsdam.de.
Also, the count of people missing or dead rose from an estimated few hundred to between 10,000-15,000 and while there are some miracle rescues still being made, the hope for the rest is waning, as days go by.
Thousands of people are still in shelters, wondering how to put their life back together, and food and water remain scarce, especially in the areas hit hardest by the disaster. Most of those regions still don't have electricity, making life almost unbearable, thanks to the cold temperatures. But all these issues, while sad, are to be expected following a natural disaster of this proportion.
Japan, however has an added issue to grapple with - The potential meltdown of the Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Plant, which is causing panic not only in Japan, but also, worldwide.
It all began, when the tremors of the earthquake triggered the automatic shutdown of 15 of Japan's 55 Nuclear Reactors. This in turn, stopped the production of electricity causing massive power failures not only in Tokyo, but also, at the Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Plant, which uses electricity to pump cooling water around the nuclear plant's reactors. To keep the pumps running, the back-up diesel generators immediately kicked in and things went smoothly, until the tsunami hit, about 30 minutes later.
The 23ft. waves easily surpassed the barrier wall that had been designed to block out surges of up to 18ft., flooding the generator fuel tanks and rendering them useless. With no water to cool it down, the water in the containment vessels that house the reactors, turned to steam, adding to the pressure inside. To add to the woes, the zirconium metal that covers the fuel rods, reacted with the water to produce hydrogen gas. In order to reduce the pressure the workers tried to release some of the steam and gas - Unfortunately, the hydrogen got caught up inside the reactor buildings and caught fire.
Meanwhile, even though control rods had stopped the nuclear plants, the radioactive decay of the fuel continues to take place and generate heat. Since the cooling systems are not working, the fuel rods have begun to melt, releasing harmful radioactive fumes.
There have been some positive developments reported in the last 24 hours. The 300 brave engineers who have been working non-stop to restore power so that cooling system can be re-started, have announced that they have been successful in fixing four of the six pumps and plan to begin testing them soon. If they still don't work then the Japanese government may resort to burying the reactors in sand and concrete, a method that has worked in the past.
The leakage of small amounts of radioactive fumes is causing some concern amongst people, as far away as, California. However, the International Atomic Energy Association, who has been monitoring the gas levels, believe that they are not high enough to pose any danger to human health - A view that is shared by most independent experts. We sure hope they are right and that Japan's nuclear crises can be resolved quickly, so that the country can start to focus on rebuilding.
Resources: news.yahoo.com, telegraph.co.uk