By Rhea Holleman
On 11 March 2011, the most powerful earthquake that has ever hit Japan, caused an enormous tsunami to hit the coast. Not only did thousands of people die, and did more than a hundred thousand buildings collapse, the tsunami caused so much damage in the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant that nuclear meltdowns occurred.
A nuclear meltdown means that the core of a nuclear reactor has melted, and consequently releases radioactive particles. For 20 km around the Fukushima power plant, an evacuation zone is in effect. People living within a 30 km radius have been advised to move, or to stay indoors and take precautions. Despite the measures the government has taken to protect the safety of its population, some concern remains over the health risks for the residents of Japan and for contamination of its water supplies.
Even though the disaster happened over two years ago, contaminated water that was used to cool the reactors is still leaking out of the storage tanks and into the environment. The radiation levels surrounding the leaked water has been measured to be around 2,200 mSv per hour. In comparison, a typical level of background radiation is about 1-13 mSv per YEAR.
When exposed to a high level of radioactive particles, the chemical bonds in the human body break. The DNA in the cells can be damaged, and the long term risk of cancer is increased. The population in Japan surrounding the power plant, outside of the evacuation zone, may have a 1-2% increase in their risk of getting cancer. Water supplies surrounding the plant have elevated levels of radioactive particles, as have water supplies in Tokyo, though the levels are not as high as to be alarming. Nevertheless, young children are advised not to eat or drink products that are contaminated with radioactive particles over the set limit.
The Fukushima situation as it is now, is manageable; the health risks are not as big as was feared. But should the situation deteriorate, who knows what could happen?