The massive failure at Fukushima Dai-ichi’s nuclear plant last week in Japan, brought back bad memories for Bridgeport resident Kimiyo Anceney.
The former Red Cross nurse was raised just outside of Hiroshima where the U.S. had dropped one of two atomic bombs during World War Two.
“My mother was living there at the time,” said Kimiyo, who moved to Bridgeport last year to be near her daughter and two grandchildren. “You forget as a child. I never even thought about it as an adult but now the situation is serious with evacuations.”
Kimiyo was able to get in touch with her two brothers in Japan following her homeland’s 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami on March 11. Luckily, they reported that everything was fine where they are living–two hours away from where the earthquake struck.
The rising death toll stands at more than 7,000 people with upwards of 11,000 missing as of last weekend.
“It’s not like during the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki where there were huge explosions,” said Kimiyo. “This is radiation that you can’t see and it’s almost in a meltdown situation–so it’s very dangerous.”
The Fukushima plant was designed to protect against earthquakes and tsunamis up to 16 feet high. But last week’s tsunami was at least 20 feet high when it struck the plant.
The failure of the complex backup power systems, which were supposed to keep cooling systems operating, allowed uranium to overheat and was a main cause of the crisis.
One of six crippled nuclear reactors were stabilized after fire trucks sprayed water on reactor number 3–the most ravaged and dangerous due to its use of plutonium.
Initially, officials stated that radioactive steam there might have to be released directly into the air or through the suppression pool of water beneath the plant.
Some 100,000 Japanese military units were dispatched to rescue those trapped beneath rubble. However it soon became a recovery mission as the government of Japan determined few could still be alive.
Yet, two people were found alive in wreckage beneath their home in the northeastern city of Ishinomaki nine days after the tsunami.
“The world has become so small,” said Kimiyo. “We can see it happening on the news and people are watching to see how they can help. I am very touched by other nations and so grateful, otherwise the situation would be hopeless.”
Kimiyo, who attends the Family Unification Church, says that the church has been very busy gathering donations to send to Japan.
Although the situation seems to be stabilizing somewhat, officials have reported that radiation levels found in milk 18 miles away from the power plant as well as spinach grown in a neighboring prefecture exceeded levels set by the government.
Japan raised the severity rating of the crisis to level five from four on the seven-level INES international scale, putting it on par with the accident in 1979 at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania.
“I was not aware that we have nuclear plants so close,” said Kimiyo of the Indian Point nuclear power plant located just 23 miles from Fairfield County in Westchester County, N.Y. “But before I moved here I lived in California near nuclear plants.”
The tsunami off the coast of Japan showed effects as far away as Hawaii and the U.S. West Coast with reports of damaged boats and marinas throughout the region.
Earthquake-prone Japan uses nuclear power to generate a third of its electricity, and the crisis has sparked growing international concern about the safety of nuclear power.
In addition to Japan’s earthquake, New Zealand’s quake last month and Chile’s one year ago all occurred along the Ring of Fire that surrounds much of the Pacific Ocean. Scientists believe the U.S. West Coast could be hit next as part of a cluster of earthquakes.
There are 104 nuclear power plants in the United States, with some located dangerously close to earthquake fault lines and coastlines. Although Japan is known for building codes that can withstand earthquakes, nobody was prepared for a tsunami.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission just ranked Indian Point as the reactor with the highest risk of earthquake damage–even higher than the twin reactors in California’s quake zone. Its reactor number three is located on a fault line.
Experts say the plant is also about one mile from the intersection of two faults.
New York Governor Cuomo has ordered a complete safety review of the plant following the accident in Japan.
A new report released by the Union of Concerned Scientists revealed there were 14 ‘near-misses’ at America’s nuclear power plants in the last year alone. As a result, President Obama has ordered a comprehensive review of the nation’s active nuclear power plants.
Australian Prime Minister Gillard has since ruled out the possibility of nuclear power in Australia, German chancellor Merkel announced a three-month halt on plans to extend operations at nuclear power plants, Switzerland has suspended plans to build new nuclear power stations until it has carried out a thorough safety review and the Indian prime minister says his government will make certain all the country’s nuclear plants can withstand tsunamis and earthquakes.
In Connecticut we have several small earthquakes each year, although most are so minimal they are not even felt.
The United States Agency for International Development dispatched firefighters to Japan two days after they returned from an earthquake rescue mission in New Zealand.
The California team was joined by firefighters from Fairfax, Virginia and the United Kingdom.
Additionally, the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation dispatched six search and rescue dogs to look for survivors.
The firefighters and search dogs arrived at the U.S. Misawa Air Base in northern Japan on March 12 where they traveled six hours south in military vehicles to Ofunato City.
Animal rescue groups have also been assisting in the effort to save animals.
But Kimiyo doesn’t believe Japan really wants too may outsiders to assist in the effort.
“I think in Japan they don’t want volunteers because how will they survive? What will they eat?” She says. “If there was a meltdown, Japanese people could come here but the majority of them don’t speak English so they wouldn’t be comfortable–at least not the older people.”
The former nurse added she is very impressed with her people.
“Japanese people are very calm and they understand we are all in the same boat,” she said. “The younger people there have a lot of energy and hope and can encourage the older people who may have lost hope. And I was very impressed with how rescue workers were able to get through the roads to help each other.”
Kimiyo was concerned about the financial markets, which had taken a big hit both in Japan and in the U.S. following the disaster.
“The situation has affected other countries so they are helping out trying to stabilize the markets and get the Yen up,” she said.
Kimiyo added that she heard a good suggestion from a professor. “He said each American city should sponsor a sister city in Japan to send aid. It’s amazing how out of this disaster people are building hope.”
To donate to victims in Japan through the Unification Church contact: www.familyfed.org/members
The Japan Society of Fairfield County:
To help animals victims in Japan: