The last generation nuclear technology was so flawed that the after effects of a tsunami off the Japanese coast in 2011 are still being felt. It wasn’t the earthquake that damaged the plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) but the surge of water that stormed ashore to overwhelm backup systems leading to a meltdown of three reactor cores.
The initial radiation contamination at Fukushima came from the release of highly radioactive gas from the reactor containment buildings. Later elevated levels of radiation were discovered in the ocean water just offshore so there was a known water source. Now, two years later Fukushima is still leaking tons of contaminated water into the environment but this time it is coming from a storage tank, one of many built to contain contaminated water used to keep the melted reactor cool.
The reactor site has been described as being a haunted house since Tepco stopped its operation. There is little human presence on the site. And that’s a good thing because a person standing for an hour next to the leaking storage tank would receive five times the annual safety limit for radiation exposure. And what makes it even more haunting is that things keep happening to worsen the situation.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) uses a rating system (see image below) for nuclear accidents called the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES). INES was developed in 1990. Every nuclear event is rated on a scale from 1 to 7. Levels 1 to 3 are described as incidents. Levels 4 to 7 are termed accidents. Each level is 10 times more severe than the previous level much like the Richter Scale used to measure earthquakes.
Based on these rankings it is interesting to compare Fukushima today with past events:
To give you perspective, an event that leads to a death is a Level 4.
Three Mile Island in 1979 has been ranked a Level 5.
Chernobyl is ranked a Level 7.
The latest Fukushima contaminated water leak is described as a Level 3 event.
For nuclear to have a future the design of these plants and the location selection where they are built requires a great deal more study. There are newer nuclear technologies out there. I refer you to one of many postings that I have written on the subject and invite you to do a categories search on “nuclear energy” to find even more.