The nation of Japan has been devastated by an immense natural disaster. On March 11, an 8.9 magnitude earthquake hit the nation hard, unleashing five minutes of unbridled terror. This mega thrust earthquake was only the beginning of a collection of events that would affect the entire world.
The earthquake generated waves that rushed across the Pacific Ocean at over 500 mph and a 23-foot tsunami that pushed aside cars, trains and even airplanes like they were nothing. Once the water came ashore, over 1,000 lives may very well have been claimed instantly. At present, the current death toll is estimated at over 10,000. The tsunami was so powerful that it stretched well across the International Date Line, hitting Hawaii with seven foot waves and reaching as far as California. Preliminary estimates show that the massive quake has made the rotation of the planet 1.8 microseconds faster.
Despite the already chaotic string of events, the situation would get no better. Japan would be mired with numerous aftershocks, with many over magnitude 6 on the Richter scale. The ground in many parts of the country has undergone liquefaction, a process in which the surface basically turns into quicksand.
The power of the earthquakes and subsequent tsunami brought forth another terrifying scenario: the nightmare of possible nuclear meltdowns.
Nuclear reactors are designed with several safety features. If one fails, another goes into effect. However, as the secondary mechanisms activated after the first earthquake, the tsunami caused those to fail. Tertiary mechanisms were ravaged by the aftershocks, therefore leaving the reactors unable to cool their nuclear fuel properly.
When fuel rods are exposed, radioactive material can reach its boiling point, causing a “meltdown” that can find its way out of the reactor and harm the neighboring environment. Radioactive particles can reach the jet stream and be carried east to the United States.
As a result, officials underwent the careful process of releasing radioactive vapor to try and alleviate pressure. The option to flood any reactor in danger with sea water is available, in which the reactor would be permanently shut down.
However, several reactors did have explosions, and soaring amounts of radiation were released. Residents at any power plant in jeopardy were ordered to evacuate, or seal themselves inside if they did not already do so.
Japan is not a stranger to dealing with the aftermath of nuclear radiation. In 1945, the United States became the first nation to use nuclear weaponry in warfare, dropping bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This tactic forced the immediate surrender of Japan and thereby ended World War II.
The situation between Japan and the United States has since become an alliance rather than a bitter rivalry among enemies. U.S. President Barack Obama has pledged the nation’s support to Japan, and urged others around the world to lend a hand as well.
Economic chaos has also been prevalent. The Nikkei Stock Exchange has dropped steadily since the disaster. To help ease the situation, the Bank of Japan put over 15 trillion Yen - or roughly 183 billion dollars in U.S. currency - into the market. Toyota, Honda, and Nissan were forced to suspend operations at their manufacturing plants.
Without a doubt, there is a long hard road to recovery ahead for Japan. However, experts feel it is possible with time.