Editorial: In the aftermath of Japan’s earthquake, we see that human progress may be hardwired to turn nature's potential for catastrophe into something so much worse.
Is Fukushima the catastrophe of the century? The 21st century has only just begun, and yet it has already had its full share of tragedies: the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami with its 226,000 victims, the 2010 Haiti earthquake that killed 222,500, the 15 million displaced by the 2010 Pakistan floods. Yet not all catastrophes are measured solely by the number of victims, and the disaster currently unfolding in Japan may well claim a uniquely troubling place in history.
What is now happening in Japan is reaching historic proportions as events continue to follow the path of worst-case scenario. On Saturday, the No. 1 reactor (of a total of six reactors) was first rocked by an explosion. The blast blew off the walls and the ceiling, but the confinement system was left undamaged. Then on Monday, the No.3 reactor was shaken by two explosions, which had the same effects and were followed by attempts to cool down the rods with water pumped from the sea. On Tuesday, the No. 2 reactor exploded too, this time causing the containment steel and concrete vessel to crack.
This prompted the plant's operators to evacuate almost all of their 800 workers, a clear sign of how dramatic the situation had become. Left behind was just a skeleton crew, whose heroic courage and sense of sacrifice is now the object of worldwide admiration. Their mission is to fight against the inevitable, which has now occurred at No. 4 reactor, when spent fuel rods exploded and opened two eight meter holes inside a wall. What we are now witnessing is the horrifying spectacle of mankind hopelessly trying to tame what it has built: a source of energy that has been supporting our entire way of life.
Because what makes this disaster so terrifying is the combination of natural catastrophe and human industry. Among these, the nuclear industry is the most dangerous of them all: like Prometheus who stole the fire from the Gods, humans have been playing with the atom without having the full powers to control the process. Nuclear waste -- which needs thousands of years before it becomes harmless -- and unforeseen events are both parts of the same equation. Such ‘disadvantages' have once again been brought to our attention, since they are pushing Japan towards a nuclear hell from which the country is not likely to escape soon.
We now begin to know, to feel, that what is happening at Fukushima is the ultimate proof of the fragility of humankind.
Read the original article in French
Photo - (ssoosay)