By now, everyone knows that Japan recently suffered a major earthquake registering 9.0 on the Richter scale. The resulting tsunami swallowed whole towns, upending both the island and its people. In parts of Japan, Armageddon came early.
Japan is dependent on nuclear power for nearly a quarter of its electricity. 17 different nuclear power plants house a total of 55 nuclear reactors. The Fukushima power plant houses six of those reactors. It’s here, in Fukushima, that this latest nuclear tragedy continues to unfold—slowly and with no immediate end in sight.
If there’s one word for nuclear, that word would be HOT. Temperatures at the core of a BWR (boiling water reactor) like the ones found at Fukushima typically reach 545 degrees Fahrenheit.
The quake damaged the cooling systems that the plant relies on to control the temperature at the core of the reactors. Approximately 155 miles north of Tokyo, the fear of a nuclear meltdown at Fukushima, along with the potential for a dispersal of radioactive material into the atmosphere, has caused great concern.
The world is holding its collective breath in the hope that the brave worker-heroes who are risking their lives to remain on-site will be able to stave off a disaster of biblical proportion. Meanwhile, a question is being asked by those living in and around nuclear facilities here in the US and elsewhere:
In contrast to Japan, the United States currently uses nuclear power to generate some 20% of its electricity and is home to 104 nuclear reactors located in 65 separate plants scattered throughout 31 states. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission breaks the states up into four separate regions in terms of listing where those plants are located.
Region I (Northeast)
Nuclear Plants: 26
Nuclear Reactors: 17
R&T (Research and Test) Reactors: 24
Region II (Southeast)
Nuclear Plants: 33
Nuclear Reactors: 18
R&T Reactors: 17
Region III (Midwest)
Nuclear Plants: 24
Nuclear Reactors: 16
R&T Reactors: 19
Region IV (West)
Nuclear Plants: 21
Nuclear Reactors: 14
R&T Reactors: 40
What has so many people concerned is that many nuclear plants within the US lie in areas that are earthquake-prone (see map above) and that are near fault lines that could rupture as the result of an earthquake. Should the unthinkable happen, it’s worth asking the question, “Are those plants susceptible to accidents similar to the accidents that happened at the plant in Fukushima?”
It would be irresponsible for me, as a lay person, to draw definitive conclusions with the small amount of data available. It is extremely responsible, however, to paint a picture that hints at the danger that a sizable portion of the US population faces should there be an earthquake-related accident at one of the nuclear facilities in one or more of these earthquake-prone areas.
It’s said that a picture is worth a thousand words. For you folks living in some of the areas highlighted in orange, red, or pink on this map, I’d suggest using some of those words to ask questions of your state and local politicians before it’s too late.
For more Care2 coverage on the Japanese humanitarian disaster, click here.
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Photo credit: Map derived from data found on U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program websites.