The 8.9Rs earthquake that hit Japan on Friday 11th March has created ripples that have been felt across the world. A 30ft high tsunami generated by the shifting offshore tectonic plates swept miles inland, destroying entire communities and dragging incredible numbers of people to their deaths. 1,800 people are known to have died however this number is thought to soar to over ten thousand.
As the tides pull back and the extent of the damage to coastal towns and villages becomes apparent, all eyes are fixated on the nuclear reactors at the Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Fukushima. Since the tsunami on Friday two explosions have been recorded in units one and three at the plant, with pressure building up inside unit two, fuelling fears of a potential meltdown. Engineers have been working around the clock to stem the problem, spraying water directly onto the overheating nuclear rods.
Small amounts of caesium and iodine found in the steam of this third structure suggest that the metal casing of the fuel rods have melted or broken due to overheating. Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) – the operator of the plant – confirmed that on Monday morning a large portion of the fuel rods in unit two had become exposed before seawater could be pumped back in to cover and cool them.
The BBC has since reported that an American warship has detected low levels of radiation 100miles from the nuclear plant, fuelling arguments that the current evacuation zone of 20km is too shallow. 11 of Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors have been closed since Friday’s quake.
In light of the situation in Japan, many regions around the world have been reconsidering their use of nuclear power. Anthony Froggatt, senior research fellow at Chatham House told the BBC: "If a country is considering building a nuclear reactor, it would take a step back and say hold on a minute. What implication will [incidents in Japan] have on designs in the future and therefore economics?"
The Legislative Yuan’s Social Welfare and Environmental Hygiene Committee has approved a motion to call for the suspension of work to Taiwan’s Number 4 Nuclear Power Plant with regard to the current situation in Japan. Should this motion be approved, there may be further issues in terms of violation of contracts, financial liabilities and so forth.
Swiss Energy Minister Doris Leuthard has suspended the approval of three nuclear power plants in Switzerland following the events of the last few days in order to revisit safety standards in the sector.