Japan Nuclear Incident: What Really Happened?

Japan and Earthquakes

To the Japanese, earthquakes are nothing new. The entire land mass that Japan rests on is present in a region that experiences earthquakes each year. This has led them to adopt building architectures that are capable of withstanding earthquakes all the way to 6.0 on the Richter scale. But the earthquake of the magnitude 9.0 that Japan saw on March 11th was something out of the blue. It was the worst earthquake that the industrialized world has ever seen.

This earthquake not only triggered a tsunam,i but also damaged the Fukushima I reactor to such an extent that many were afraid of a possible Chernobyl-like incident, or something even worse.

For those who came in late, here is a brief description of the series of events that has left all countries with nuclear power plants in deep thought about the future of nuclear energy.

On March 11th of 2011, an earthquake of magnitude 9.0 on the Richter scale hit Japan. The earthquake caused damage to the Fukushima nuclear reactors. The damage stopped the power source to the reactors before they could shutdown. As designed, the backup generators kicked in and the reactor proceeded with its shutdown process.

However this earthquake triggered a tsunami that ravaged a huge area of land and made its way to the Fukushima nuclear reactors. The tsunami reached the reactor and damaged the backup power supply before the nuclear reactor shutdown totally.

This was something that was not expected when the reactor was designed, although it was designed to withstand earthquakes up to the magnitude of 8.2. The incomplete shutdown led to the explosion of two reactors (not a nuclear explosion, but an explosion due to the build up of gases inside the reactor).

The damage caused to the nuclear reactor was so bad that the core of the nuclear reactor was exposed in the days that followed. This led to the increase in nuclear radiation level around the surrounding areas.

Japan Nuclear Meltdown

Image Credit: Flickr – Official U.S Navy Imagery

Lessons Learned after the Japanese Nuclear Incident

Tapping energy from the nuclear energy resources is, so far, the best way to tap energy among the non-renewable energy resources (see "Is Nuclear Energy a Renewable Resource?"), but in the event of natural disasters like the one at Japan, things can go wrong and cause damage of a very large degree.

In case of damages to thermal power stations, the damage may happen just to the building, which can be constructed again in a matter of months, but when a nuclear reactor is damaged and the radiation leaks out of the reactor, a few kilometers of land in the surrounding area can become so highly contaminated with radiation that the entire region may be rendered useless for decades to come.

After this incident, various countries that have and are building nuclear power reactors have been exposed to the fact that when it comes to mother nature, anything can happen. Therefore these countries have started to spend more on research and development on making the nuclear reactors safer when disasters like above occur.

Also there is a rise in switching over to renewable energy resources that cause no pollution and in the wake of disasters, only the property is damaged.


1) Fukushima Nuclear Accident (Bravenewclimate.com)

2) The Science Behind Japan's Quake and Tsunami (Live Science)

3) Germany's Costly Decision to Give Up Nuclear Power (Christian Science Monitor)