By LISA GOODMAN

FLICKR.COM/KONABISH
Inori is the Japanese symbol for prayer. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been affected by the recent disasters in Japan. Many people are still searching for their loved ones.
IMAGE: Flickr.com/KONABISH

On March 11, 2011, Japan encountered its strongest earthquake in recorded history- measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale. Off the northeastern coast of Japan, the earthquake triggered a massive tsunami with waves up to 60 feet high. The waves washed away entire villages, turning houses on their sides and throwing cars on to rooftops.

Adding to the devastation, a nuclear power plant called Fukushima Daiichi suffered damage to several of its reactors after over-heating due to the power outages.  In what is considered the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl, Ukraine, in 1986, the Japanese government evacuated everyone within 12 miles of the power plant. Almost 190,000 people have been forced to flee their homes.  Many of them are now living in temporary shelters such as school gymnasiums.

With the school year about to begin in Japan, life there is uncertain for a lot of families. The Associated Press interviewed Aya Satake, who lives in a town near the evacuation zone with her one-year-old child. She said, “I have a baby and this is really hard on us. I’m afraid of staying here, but I’m also nervous about leaving and starting over in a new place with strangers.”

Aftershocks from the March 11 earthquake continue to disturb Japan. A 7.1 magnitude tremor, which came almost a month later, has made the nuclear reactors more unstable and the efforts to restore electricity and clean drinking water to people increasingly difficult. According to The New York Times, almost half a million people were still without power as of April 9.  It is uncertain how long the road to recovery will take in Japan.

Nuclear Power Questioned
Japan’s nuclear emergency has caused many countries to question the safety of nuclear power plants, and whether or not they should continue to use nuclear power.  Germany has pledged to close all of its nuclear reactors by the year 2020.  Italy and China, among others, have decided to put their nuclear projects on hold until they can determine how safe their nuclear power plants would be. After radioactivity from Japan was detected in low levels across the United States, the Union of Concerned Scientists said it is concerned that nuclear power plants throughout the country are not protected well enough to prevent a similar disaster from happening.

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KEY TERMS

Tsunami (Tsoo-NAH-mee): An unusually large wave made by an earthquake or volcanic eruption under the sea.

Richter Scale: Developed in the 1930’s by U.S. seismologist Charles Richter, this scale measures the intensity of an earthquake from 1 to 10.

Fukushima Daiichi (Foo-koo-shee-mah Dye-EE-chee): Opened in 1971, this nuclear power plant stretches across 860 acres in the towns of Okuma and Futaba, Japan.

Chernobyl (Chor-no-byl): Name of the town and power plant in north-central Ukraine. On April 16, 1986 this was the site of the worst nuclear accident in history.

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EXERCISES

1. Do you think that the United States and other nations should continue to use nuclear power? Why or why not?

2. What do you think a good alternative source of energy would be? Make a chart comparing the positive and negative aspects of nuclear energy with the alternative source that you have chosen.

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Here are some sites that you can reference to learn more about nuclear power and other energy sources:

http://www.eia.doe.gov/kids/

http://www.benefits-of-recycling.com/alternativeenergyforkids.html

http://www.epa.gov/kids/

http://tiki.oneworld.net/energy/energy7.html

IRIN/DIGITALGLOBE
This satellite image shows Minamisoma, Japan after the tsunami came ashore. The town is isolated from emergency relief due to radiation concerns. The New York Times reports that Mayor Sakurai of Minamisoma city (15 miles outside of the nuclear plant) spoke to the international community, “We are left isolated. I beg you, as the mayor of Minamisoma city, to help us.” PHOTO: IRIN/DIGITALGLOBE