As of today, March 25, the official death toll in Japan from the earthquake and tsunami two weeks ago has escalated to more than 10,000. This, as an announcement that water near the Fukushima power reactor measured at 10,000 times more radioactive than normal — and that water actually burned workers wading through it.
Before today, I never realized that radioactive water could burn a person. I guess it just never came up.
“The situation today at the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant is still very serious. We must remain vigilant,” Prime Minister Naoto Kan of Japan said. “We are not in a position where we can be optimistic. We must treat every development with the utmost care.”
And while radioactive water near Fukushima is burning people, the radiation isn’t staying local: two air travelers from Japan were stopped in China when they measured as reading “seriously over the limit” for radiation, according to Chinese customs officials quoted on a story on Yahoo news. The travelers were apparently treated for the radiation–but officials said that the pair wasn’t radioactive enough to affect anyone around them.
Radiation levels measured 30 km away from Fukushima recently exceeded the amount normally experienced in a year (from background radiation from the sun.) And now, disturbingly–although not surprisingly–the Japanese government is urging residents within 30 km of Fukushima to leave. The government claims their recommendations are not because of radiation, but because of the disruption the tsunami has caused residents. To me, it seems a lot more likely that the radiation IS the reason for the recommended evacuation–and that the government just doesn’t want to incite panic. Which is totally understandable.
I love the Japanese culture. And my ten-year-old and I have talked about visiting the country some day. But I can’t help but wonder how far the radiation from Fukushima is going to spread. Radiation is building up in water near the reactor, and water can be pretty hard to contain: it evaporates, it travels through the soil, and it gets into grasses and weeds. Then animals eat those plants and “deposit” the radiation miles away. How long will it take for radiation–even at lower levels–to travel the length of Japan?
Ultimately, we can’t know how bad things will get until the situation at Fukushima is brought under control. As it is, the nuclear reactor overheating and radioactivity problems are still getting worse. And as a person who loves Japan, I’m hoping things will start turning around soon.