The devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan and the Pacific Rim are terrible tragedies, and my heart goes out to everyone affected. I have received word via email from a few friends and colleagues that they are okay, and hope to hear likewise from others. I have been blessed, as have other Peace Action folks, to travel to Japan as a guest of our sister peace group Gensuikin, and a number of their leaders, as well as leaders in other peace groups such as Peace Boat, Peace Depot, Gensuikyo and Nihon Hidankyo, have traveled to the US and become close friends as well as colleagues in our struggle for a more peaceful, nuclear-free world.
But another, man-made, disaster, may be unfolding at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Evidently the earthquake and tsunami combined to shut down the main and back-up power supplies to the reactor, causing the cooling system to fail. Slightly (says the Japanese government) radioactive gas was released into the atmosphere to relieve pressure that was building up inside the containment structure. It appears likely that a partial meltdown of the reactor core may have already begun; reports are that the water level in the reactor is below the fuel rods. The government and independent experts have stated that the light-water reactor cannot suffer a catastrophic meltdown or explosion, as in the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl disasters, but “not as bad as TMI or Chernobyl,” even if proven correct, must not be very re-assuring to the Japanese public (it has been reported that an evacuation of the area around the plant was carried out smoothly).
Japan depends on nuclear energy for about 30% of its energy supply, which has long been a concern in an earthquake prone area of the world, in addition to proliferation concerns. Let us hope this tragedy is not as bad as feared, and that it will spur momentum for the country to wean itself from nuclear power.