Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The triple tragedies of Nippon

A third explosion rocks the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on March 14, 2011

The horrors of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan is a triple whammy from which few modern nations could ever hope to recover. But there they are again. Day after day. Night after night. The Japanese people are resolute and they are stoic. Despite the loss of power, basic necessities like food and water and the grief of losing at least ten thousand souls to the ravages of Mother Nature, the Japanese people seem unflappable. They mourn their lost family members when they find out they are, indeed, gone, but hold out interminable hope that their loved ones will turn up soon, despite all indications to the contrary. In an extraordinary fashion they wait in lines for food and medical care. There are no riots. There has been no looting. Perhaps it is because of their centuries-long isolation, but the Japanese people have demonstrated an incredible resilience and self-dependence in the face of what would certainly be considered the most stressful of times. Now on top of this already heavy burden comes more chilling news. A meltdown at not one, but several affected power plants lacking means to contain the radiation cores or to cool spent fuel rods has ramped up to a frightening real possibility of nuclear disaster. Residents within a 12-mile radius of the Fukeshima Power Plant have been evacuated and those within a 19-mile radius have been advised to stay indoors and tape shut their windows. The invisible threat of nuclear pollution stands in stark contrast to the massive 9.0 earthquake and four-story tall torrent of water unleashed on the unsuspecting countryside following that seismic event. At least that devastation could be seen and measured. The whole scale destruction is overwhelming, but the unseen menace of radioactivity is perhaps known best in Japan, the only nation to have suffered nuclear attacks on its people. Now their nation's line of defense rests with the scores of workers assigned to clean up and contain the nuclear radiation threat. If the worst nuclear accident - the Chernobyl plant in the Ukraine back in 1986 - stands for anything, it should serve as a reminder of what these workers and nearby residents could be anticipating. First of all the rescue workers could be exposed to such massive amounts of radiation that their short-term health outlook could be severely impacted. The firemen who responded to the plant breakdown at Chernobyl and were credited with saving hundreds, if not thousands, of nearby residents from radiation exposure died within 30 days of their efforts and those not as severely affected found many of their ranks thinned by rampant cancer just a few years later. The workers being rushed into the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant could be just as much at risk while attempting to keep nearby residents out of harm's way. Nuclear fallout that is spewed from the plants, carried airborne and falls to nearby fields could find its way into the food chain. Cattle who consumed such affected grass or hay in the days and months following the Chernobyl disaster produced milk with high radiation levels that spiked an increase in thyroid and other cancers in the years following the accident. Japanese residents could be put at similar risk if levels of radiation are not checked and rechecked constantly. Meanwhile efforts to find any remaining victims still goes on and the heavy task of cleanup and demolition must be conducted before rebuilding can begin. There is little time for the Japanese people to grieve for the tasks at hand are heavy and the challenges they face are daunting. Our charitable and relief efforts will help them, but there is a feeling and indications suggest they will first and foremost help themselves during this most troubling period. Aside from donations we should all offer our prayers for their immediate and long-term survival and for a lessening of this crisis.

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