Forward Thinking

Faculty Panel Explores Effects of Japan’s Nuclear Disaster

Forward Thinking

On April 12, the same day that the Japanese nuclear crisis was elevated to the highest level on an international scale, the university’s Center for Civic Engagement hosted the panel discussion Japan’s Response to Crisis: A Panel Discussion on Geology, Environment, History and People in Japan. Professor of Biology and panelist Jack Holt explained that a rating of 7 by the International Atomic Energy Agency put the stricken nuclear plant on par with the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, the only other incident to reach the highest rating. That explosion, 25 years ago, released seven tons of radioactive material into the atmosphere. Due to high levels of cancer-causing cesium, the surrounding area is still not livable.

Students, staff and community members attended the panel discussion, which also featured Associate Professor of Mathematical Sciences Tushiro Kubota, Assistant Professor of History Lisong Liu, Associate Professor of Earth & Environmental Sciences Jennifer Elick and Junko Torii of the Susquehanna Valley Japanese Community.

A tsunami caused the nuclear crisis by drowning generators at the Fukushima Nuclear Plant. Following the disaster, different units underwent explosions and fires. Even when boiling-water reactors shut down, residual heat makes them tricky to control, Holt explained.

Despite tremendous health risks, people are still at work there. “They are the real heroes,” he added.

Of course, they are not the only ones impacted. Torii noted that 156,000 people, many evacuees from the nuclear crisis, were still living in shelters, while Holt reported that iodine had been found in Japanese drinking water. Iodine exposure can lead to high incidence of thyroid cancer.

Liu explained that, despite historical discomfort with nuclear power, Japan now relies upon 54 nuclear reactors and one nuclear reprocessing plant for 30 percent of its energy demands. Many question whether nuclear power is worth the risk.

To Holt, nuclear power is a “necessary stopgap” before society weans itself off carbon-based power. The most effective way to decrease the use of nuclear power is by tackling climate change, Holt and Elick suggested. According to Elick, wave, tidal, hydrothermal and geothermal energy are all suitable alternatives for Japan.

Holt shot down the idea that any significant level of radiation from this disaster could have reached the West Coast. Despite the incident’s severity, there is “negligible threat elsewhere,” he said, emphasizing that “we live in a world constantly bombarded.”

On average, a person living in the United States receives 350–400 millirems of radiation per year “from natural sources on earth and elsewhere in the cosmos,” Holt said.

What Susquehanna students should be concerned about is helping Japan. Various campus organizations, including the Center for Civic Engagement, raised funds for disaster relief. “Recovery is going to take years and years and years,” said M. Andy Nagy, former coordinator of residence life for civic engagement. Attendees were invited to join the university community’s ongoing support by donating spare dollars or writing a message to be sent to Japan.

Contributing writers to The ‘Grove section are Charlotte Lotz ‘12, Megan McDermott ‘14 and Karen M. Jones, assistant director of media relations.

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