The nuclear disaster that occurred in Chernobyl on April 26, 1986 continues to be the biggest nuclear accident in history. But what took place in Fukushima Daiichi on March 11, 2011 is a close second. The engineers at the nuclear plant tried but failed to avert the catastrophe. Yet close investigation shows that more could have been done to contain a radiation leak that will last for decades. Many lives could have been saved if it had not been for a fatal chain of errors that ended in nightmare.
That same day, Japan was hit by the fifth worst earthquake ever recorded on the planet and the worst in Japanese history. Sixteen thousand people were killed by the quake and the subsequent tsunami with its ten-meter high waves. The Tsunami was also the worst recorded in Japanese history. Entire towns were swept away as the water pushed inland just 51 minutes after the devastating earthquake.
The day began as any other. The 4.5 million citizens who lived in the thriving coastal community were going about business as usual. Most people in the region make their living by fishing, industry, or agriculture. One of the area’s most visible landmarks on the Pacific coastline is the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant. This plant was one of the largest in the world and had been around for the last 30 years.
Then suddenly without any warning an oceanic earthquake shook the Northeast coast of Japan in the early afternoon. Inside the main control room at the nuclear plant, the quake hit hard, but the team did not see that the real threat was the tsunami that slammed into the plant later. They had no idea what was causing the three nuclear reactors to go out of control and were unable to fix the problem. In just a few minutes, the Fukushima Plant set out on a course that could only end in nuclear disaster.
As soon as the earthquake hit, the supervisor ordered to confirm whether the emergency response had been activated. This system, called SCRAM, is designed to shut down the reactors. A few minutes later, when electricity was restored decisions were made that led to a disastrous chain of events.
Even though a wall that is six meters high protects the nuclear plant, it stood no chance against the giant tsunami. The team in the windowless control room had no idea that when the power went out the second time, it was because the plant was indeed under water.
The devastation caused by the earthquake, the tsunami, and the nuclear disaster caused 16,000 deaths, millions of displaced, and $235 billion in damages.
Find out what happened and how it could have been avoided now.