Fukushima’s Worst-Case Scenarios
Much of what you’ve heard about the nuclear accident is wrong.
The sixth reactor building of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Japan on Feb. 28, 2012, nearly a year after it was destroyed by an earthquake and tsunami.
On a heavily guarded campus east of San Francisco stands Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, one of the U.S. government’s premier scientific research facilities. Hours after a massive earthquake and tsunami struck Japan on March 11, 2011, a team of Livermore scientists mobilized to begin assessing the danger from the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant. The 40-odd team members include physicists, meteorologists, computer modelers, and health specialists. Their specialty is major airborne hazards—toxic matter from chemical fires, ash from erupting volcanoes, or radioactive emissions.
The scientists’ work—secret at the time and barely known to the public even today—had an enormous impact on Japan’s nuclear crisis, averting a potentially disastrous U.S. overreaction. This tale reveals significant new information about the accident's severity and affords a different perspective on events at Fukushima, which have generally been portrayed as a near Armageddon.