March 11, 2016, marks the fifth anniversary of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, the most powerful earthquake ever recorded to have hit Japan.
On that day a massive earthquake, measuring nine on the Richter scale, struck approximately 66 kilometers off the shore of Honshu, the largest island of Japan. Immediately thereafter, it is reported that 11 of Japan’s 57 nuclear power plants shut down automatically. Despite being shut down, the nuclear plants (like all nuclear plants) still required coolant circulation to prevent fuel rods from overheating.
Unfortunately, the subsequent 50-foot tsunami that swept across the Pacific Ocean destroyed the fuel tanks for the backup generator that powered the coolant pumps at Fukushima-Daiichi. Despite attempts to mechanically vent the buildup of superheated excess steam, the total power failure left no option but manual venting, which was not attempted in a timeframe that allowed for radiation levels to remain within a tolerable range. Within four days, three of the six Fukushima-Daiichi reactors experienced catastrophic explosions, with another possible explosion in a fourth.
March 11 is now recognized as a national day of tragedy in Japan. When considering the nuclear meltdown, it is important to bear in mind the natural disaster that catalyzed the industrial catastrophe. Beyond the nuclear ramifications, the natural disaster itself — particularly the double tsunami — claimed more than 27,000 Japanese lives, and caused extensive damage to 202,000 homes and buildings. Communities as far as 20 kilometers away were evacuated, and millions around the world began to fear that in the future a similar scenario could occur elsewhere.
Five years later — as we pause to remember the tragedy of Fukushima — we also reaffirm our commitment to improving knowledge and understanding of nuclear energy among audiences around the world.
In the aftermath of the disaster, Forum on Energy sought to address the immediate concerns and separate rumor from fact in the chaos following an unprecedented nuclear situation. To have achieved partial nuclear restart in such a quick time period, while also implementing incredible safeguards to prevent a repeat of the accident, is a laudable achievement by the government of Japan.
Forum on Energy looks forward optimistically as we continue to monitor progress at Fukushima-Daiichi and shift to examine the future of nuclear energy globally as we continue to overcome the past. In the coming days, be sure to monitor the Forum on Energy Twitter, where we will convene some of the most impactful stories surrounding the Fukushima anniversary.