Collapse at Fukushima

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The earthquake and tsunami set of a chain of events leading to the complete failure—and perhaps meltdown—of the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.

On March 11, 2011, a massive, 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Japan, violently shaking the island for five minutes and creating a tsunami with waves up to 30 feet high.

While thousands of people died in the tsunami, earthquake-resistant engineering prevented the loss of countless more across the country. Still, the combination of the two events revealed fracture-critical weaknesses in the design of the Fukushima nuclear power stations.

Built to safely survive powerful earthquakes, the Fukushima reactors were still unable to withstand the stress of the record-setting 2011 Sendai earthquake and tsunami. Loss of power to the cooling systems and malfunctioning vents allowed explosive gas to accumulate in the reactor buildings. The blasts that followed made maintaining the already damaged equipment even more difficult. As cooling systems failed and nuclear fuel in the cores heated up, emergency personnel struggled to manage the chain of events that could lead to a total meltdown at Fukushima. On March 15, it remains unclear as to whether meltdown can be prevented.

To learn more about the situation at the Fukushima nuclear plant, check out this Science Buzz post.