From Fukushima to New Mexico

Lessons from a Nuclear Disaster
Jen Richter

On March 11, 2011, a 9.5 magnitude earthquake in the Pacific triggered a tsunami that swept the Eastern coast of Japan.  One of the hardest hit areas was the Fukushima prefecture, which contained two nuclear power plants.  The plant that was hardest hit was the Fukushima Daiichi plant, which was quickly swamped by towering waves that submerged the base of the plant.  This natural event set in motion a nuclear disaster that draws into question the security, engineering, and human elements of implementing and using nuclear technologies in modern society.

This session will examine the ways that nature and science interacted in the aftermath of the Tohoku earthquake. Responses to Fukushima on several different levels, from industry, government, and the public on local, national, and international levels, reveal the tenuous control over nuclear technologies that exists today.  Looking at the solutions devised for containing and tracing the radiation that emitted from the plant, which include elderly scientists willing to sacrifice themselves, and wild monkeys armed with dosimeters, demonstrates how the most high-tech solutions for providing energy can result in the most desperate and low-tech methods.  These methods show the primary weaknesses in discourses that make nuclear energy a necessary part of any modern energy supply, and upset rhetorics that call for increased usage of nuclear power.  They also draw into question recent efforts in the U.S., specifically in New Mexico, to increase and build new nuclear facilities.