More than 400 nuclear reactors operate around the world right now. Thankfully in New Zealand we have none but if you live elsewhere there’s a very good chance that you, your family members or your friends around the world live close enough to one to be directly affected by a disaster like the one that happened at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on March 11, 2011.
We have developed a new interactive map of the world so you can see how close you and your friends are to one of the world’s nuclear reactors. Hundreds of millions of people live in areas that could be heavily contaminated by a nuclear disaster. The map, with data from Nature magazine (1), works with Facebook and Twitter; you can alert others to the risks.
Imagine being caught up in a nuclear disaster. In the Fukushima area on that terrible day last year and the days that followed, the wind is bringing radioactive contamination towards you. What do you do? Phone family and friends? Maybe, if the phone network isn’t overloaded. How about email, Skype or Instant Messenger? Maybe, if the power isn’t out.
You decide to get away as fast as possible. Will the roads be blocked with traffic? You look around your house — at your clothes, your books, your music and movie collections, your computer, at your photograph albums – your precious memories. What about your pets or farm animals? Can you take them or will you have to leave them?
How much will you take and how do you choose? Will you ever return to collect what you leave behind? Or will home be off limits for decades like parts of Fukushima prefecture are? Where will you go? Should you take food and water? Maybe you have small children. What if you don’t have a car? The authorities may ask you to seal yourself and your family inside your home. You may be left for days without supplies; you may run out of food, water and fuel. Officials are providing little or no information. Maybe they’re keeping the truth secret, as they did in Japan. Do you walk with what little you can carry or sit tight and wait to be rescued? Can you stay calm?
These are the heart-wrenching questions that the people of Fukushima had to ask themselves on March 11 and after. It is a testament to their courage that they were able to answer them.
No nuclear reactor is safe. The 60-year history is littered with accidents both large and small. We all know about Fukushima, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island but have you heard how close we have come to disaster in other places?
In Sweden in 2006 - just six years ago - the Forsmark nuclear power plant came perilously close to a catastrophic meltdown when backup systems failed after a simple power blackout. In just the last few weeks, the head of the Fukushima Daini – Fukushima Daiichi’s sister plant – admitted that the plant was “near meltdown” in the hours after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami before the reactor was brought under control.
It’s only with this kind of luck that nuclear power survives. We have to be lucky all the time. We only have to be unlucky once. Fukushima on March 11, 2011 showed again what happens; thousands of people’s lives destroyed and large parts of the environment made off-limits for decades.
So check out the map. Alert your friends and family. When you’ve done that alert your government and tell them that, if they ditch nuclear power and embrace a renewable future, we can take this map down and none of us will ever have to face the terrible decisions the people of Fukushima had to make. No more Fukushimas.
1) Source of map and population data: Declan Butler, "Reactors, residents and risk, Nature". Data contributors, and how data were generated.