Kamikaze Heroes

a kamikaze plane during World War II
Not only wars create heroes, but extraordinary times as well.  We admire men who put their own lives at risk to save the lives of other people.  We have seen images of men coming into rescue of someone they don’t even know at times of natural disasters, such as floods, hurricanes or even man-made such as fires  or even terrorist attacks. We hail these men as heroes. Each year CNN select a hero out of ordinary citizens for their not- so- ordinary humanitarian deeds.

Kamikaze warriors were seen during World War II. This was the name given to Japanese pilots performing a suicidal mission. Awaiting certain death they sent their planes plunging into the enemy warships in a hopeless effort to inflict damage to the Allied force. We now stand witness to the birth of modern-day kamikazes.

Nuclear disaster is not a regular occurrence. But it is a catastrophe that can affect a multitude, a holocaust. Radiation is an invisible enemy. Like a plague, it creeps stealthily into your doorstep.  It knows no boundaries. It can annihilate a country or send a generation into oblivion. It should be an accident that must be avoided at all cost.

Chernobyl is by far the worst nuclear accident on the planet. Amid hellish fires and explosions, the plant employees did not run away to save themselves.  Engineers Alexei Ananenko, Valeri Bezpalov and Boris Baranov dived into a heavily radioactive water to open the gates and drain a pool in danger of massive steam explosion, therefore avoiding further ejection of radioactive materials from the reactor. They have survived the task. Unfortunately, all three of them suffered from radiation sickness, with Ananenko and Bezpalov later succumbing to it.
 Anatoli Zakharov, one of the firemen who quelled the blaze that eventful night of April 26, 1986 remembered joking to others, "There must be an incredible amount of radiation here. We'll be lucky if we're all still alive in the morning.” He said the firefighters from the Fire Station No. 2 were aware of the risks."Of course we knew! If we'd followed regulations, we would never have gone near the reactor. But it was a moral obligation—our duty. We were like kamikaze.”
Twenty five years hence another nuclear event is impending in Fukushima, Japan. It is not operator related, but induced by natural calamity. It was a race against the clock. Four reactors were verge of a meltdown. A series of explosions rocked the nuclear station, which has sent ripples of fears around the globe. Radiation level inside and outside the plant was high enough to cause harm to the people exposed to it. Evacuation of residents within a 30 kilometer radius was ordered. Many employees of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the operator of the plant were sent home, yet some remained. Unfazed by the hazards, they have opted to stay to contain the situation. They are our new heroes.
One of  TEPCO’s employees, Michiko Otsuki wrote:
"People have been blaming Tepco but the staff of Tepco have refused to flee, and continue to work even at the peril of their own lives. Please stop attacking us. As a worker at Tepco and a member of the Fukushima No. 2 reactor team, I was dealing with the crisis at the scene until yesterday (Monday 14th March).
"In the midst of the tsunami alarm (last Friday), at 3am in the night when we couldn't even see where we going, we carried on working to restore the reactors from where we were, right by the sea, with the realisation that this could be certain death. The machine that cools the reactor is just by the ocean, and it was wrecked by the tsunami.
"Everyone worked desperately to try and restore it. Fighting fatigue and empty stomachs, we dragged ourselves back to work. There are many who haven't gotten in touch with their family members, but are facing the present situation and working hard. Please remember that. I want this message to reach even just one more person.
"Everyone at the power plant is battling on, without running away. To all the residents (around the plant) who have been alarmed and worried, I am truly, deeply sorry. I am writing my name down, knowing I will be abused and hurt because of this.
"There are people working to protect all of you, even in exchange for their own lives. Watching my co-workers putting their lives on the line without a second thought in this situation, I'm proud to be a member of Tepco, and a member of the team behind Fukushima No.2 reactor. I hope to return to the plant and work for the restoration of the reactor.”

  1. Chernobyl Accident. Wikipedia 
  2. Michiko Otsuki blog "We are not running away: Fukushima worker". The Straits Times 

Fukushima might be worse than Chernobyl

damaged reactors no. 1 and 3 of  Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant

Japan’s nuclear crisis appears to be spiraling out of control. “This is a slow-moving nightmare,” said Dr. Thomas Neff, a physicist and uranium industry analyst at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Emperor Akihito described the crisis in his country as “unprecedented in scale”. The radiation level is increasing day by day. So far 315 thousand residents of Fukushima and nearby areas are spending cold nights at evacuation areas. Should our worst fear realize could this be worse than Chernobyl?

The accident that happened in Chernobyl plant near the town of Pripryat in Ukraine, then part of the USSR on April 26, 1986 is considered the worst accident in nuclear history and is categorized under level 7, the highest on the International Nuclear Event Scale. It occurred because of operator’s error on what was supposed to be a routine system test, a series of mistakes that which have led to the tragedy.

The crisis in Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that is unfolding now is a result of a series of natural disaster, first a magnitude 8.9 earthquake, followed by a raging tsunami. The generators that should have supported the emergency cooling system failed to work after having been immersed in water. This had caused the overheating of the fuel rods.

The containment that is made to protect the core from being exposed to the environment have suffered damages from the explosions in the past few days. Is it still capable of serving its purpose?  Maybe not.

The company that is manufacturing the containment vessel of the reactors is GE .  Dale Bridenbaugh, a former GE electric engineer, revealed in an interview with CNN that he resigned from the company 35 years ago due to safety concerns over the containment design. (Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant's reactors were commissioned from 1971 to 1978. It is one of the oldest nuclear facility in Japan.) 

Graphite which is combustible was responsible for the fire in Chernobyl. Based on the absence of this material on the Japanese reactors experts are saying that there cannot be a repeat of Chernobyl here. Nonetheless, it might not have graphite but it has caesium. This element is highly-pyrophoric. It ignites when combined with water. Hence the chain of violent hydrogen gas explosions that that have caused leakage of radioactive particles into the atmosphere.

The effect of the Chernobyl accident was enormous. According to World Health Organization the radiation release from the Chernobyl accident was 200 times that of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. Large areas of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus had been contaminated with radiation. Moreover, the radioactive fallout extended beyond the borders of the former Soviet Union. Except for the Iberian Peninsula, increased amount of radiation had been detected all over Europe. Over 336,000 people were displaced. Among the 600 emergency workers who mitigated the fire, 134 suffered from Acute Radiation Syndrome (ARS). 28 of the fatalities were attributed to ARS, 2 from the immediate explosion. Increased thyroid cancer incidence was noted. According to the 2006 report of the UN Chernobyl Forum's 'Health' Expert Group about 4000 cases of thyroid cancer were diagnosed in children and adolescents (0–18 years) from1992 to 2000, in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. After the disaster, four square kilometers of pine forest in the immediate vicinity of the reactor turned reddish-brown and died, earning the name of the "Red Forest". Some animals in the worst-hit areas also died or stopped reproducing.

In Chernobyl’s case was only one reactor malfunctioned. At Fukushima plants four reactors are in trouble.  In the advent of simultaneous and complete meltdown of the cores of these reactors, that would be Chernobyl fourfold.  That is simply unimaginable. Let’s cross our fingers it won’t happen.

  1. Caesium. Wikipedia 
  2. Chernobyl Disaster. Wikipedia 
  3. Chernobyl Accident. World Nuclear Association 

Related Articles:

Japan bracing for the worst, a nuclear meltdown

second explosion at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant 

On a televised news conference Prime Minister Naoto Kan described the ongoing crisis in his country as the “the toughest Japan has ever encountered in 65 years since World War II”. Recovery of the nation from the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami is being hampered by a series of nuclear events. On Saturday people were stunned by a blast from unit 1 of Fukishima Daichi nuclear power plant. Apparently, it was a hydrogen explosion that resulted from the effort to reduce pressure from the said reactor vessel. There were also reports of failure of the cooling system of reactors of unit 2 and 3 also. Yesterday news came out of increased radioactivity within the Onagawa nuclear facility, located northeast of Fukushima.

“There is a possibility of a meltdown”, said Toshihiro Bannai,  director of the International Affairs Office of Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety, in a telephone interview with CNN.  

Meltdown is a very serious nuclear accident that happens when a reactor lose its coolant. As a result the core with its fuel rods overheats and liquefies. The melted material could potentially leak into the environment, releasing radioactive substances.  Classic examples of meltdown are the Three Mile Island accident, referred as partial core melt and Chernobyl disaster.

Japan is financially endowed, yet deprived of natural resources.  The nation had no option but to rely on imports. 80 percent of energy supply comes from its foreign partners. But to secure economic stability Japan needed to diversify its sources. Nuclear power seemed an attractive solution. Why? Operational cost of a nuclear plant is less compared to conventional types.1-million kilowatt of the former requires 30 tons of fuel per year versus 1.4 million tons of oil needed to fuel the latter. Aside from that, in contrast to coal, natural gas and crude oil, nuclear plants produce no harmful emissions, such as nitrous oxide, sulfur oxides and carbon dioxide.  Therefore, in the 1960’s Japan began formulating a nuclear program. Tokai nuclear plant was the first, built in 1966. Presently 55 nuclear facilities are scattered all over its territory.

schematic diagram of nuclear power generation

A nuclear reactor is a device that initiates and controls a sustained nuclear chain reaction, while the core of the reactor contains all of the nuclear fuel, such as uranium and generates all of the heat. This heat is used to raise steam, which in turn runs turbines that generates electricity.

Fukushima power plant is equipped with boiling water reactor, a type of light water reactor. It uses normal water that acts as coolant, neutron moderator and steam source for the turbines. The reactors are housed in a containment vessel that separates it  from the outside environment.

During the earthquake on March 11 operating reactors 1, 2, and 3 went into automatic shutdown. In cases like this, the coolant plays an important role in removing the decay heat, produced by the fuel rods.  However, to operate the cooling system power supply is needed. The problem was that the power grid and the generators sustained damage due to the quake and the ensuing tsunami. Batteries were used instead to run the system but it could only last for 8 hours. Precious time was lost before back-up batteries were sent to restore cooling. This was critical to the events that followed.

The following day the government declared a state of emergency at Daiichi unit. Signs of overheating of the reactors were already noted. At Unit 1 the pressure had risen to twice the normal level. Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the six-reactor Daiichi site, also later announced the it had lost its cooling ability at a second reactor there and three units at its nearby Fukushima Daiini site. Authorities have detected increased radioactivity, eight times the normal levels outside the facility and 1,000 times normal inside Unit 1's control room. Hence forced evacuation was ordered from 3 to 10 kilometers of the plant.

Japanese are now working furiously to avert a meltdown. Seawater and boric acid are being injected to the core via a fire pump.  “This is an indication how serious the problem is. The Japanese had to resort to unusual and improvised solutions to cool the reactor core”, says Mark Hibbs, a senior associate at Nuclear Policy Program for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Until now the Japanese are still struggling to control the situation. An explosion, shattering the building of a second reactor was reported today. A huge plume of black smoke rising in the sky was seen from afar.

In worst case scenario, can we see another Chernobyl here? “There can be no Chernobyl-like disaster at the nuclear plant in Japan, since there is no graphite there, so there is nothing to burn there," said Yevgeny Velikhov, a Russian academician from Kurchatovsky Institute 

The world is sharing the fear of the Japanese people. A meltdown could have a global impact. Everyone is watching closely. 


  1. For battered Japan, a new threat: nuclear meltdown. Yahoo news
  2. Meltdown may be occurring at nuclear plant, Japanese official says. LA Times
  3. Meltdown - What it is and is not. Nucleartourist
  4. Nuclear meltdown. Wikipedia 
  5. Chernobyl disaster. Wikipedia
  6. Three Mile Island Accident. Wikipedia 
  7. Why Japan needs nuclear power. Japannuclear
  8. Location of nuclear power plants in Japan. Japannuclear
  9. Nuclear reactors. What is nuclear
  10. Light water reactor. Wikipedia 
  11. Boiling water reactor. NRC 

Related article:

Earthquake and tsunami may cause Japan a nuclear disaster

Friday, March 11, 2011 Tags: , , 2 comments

Earthquake and tsunami may cause Japan a nuclear disaster

Yesterday, at 1446 local time March 11, 2011 the north of Japan was shaken by an 8.9 magnitude earthquake that generated a tsunami, leaving a huge devastation on its path. It has also set off tsunami warnings all over countries of the Pacific Rim, from the Philippines to Alaska and as far away as Chile. 

This was the largest earthquake to have hit Japan in recorded history.  It ranked as the fifth-largest earthquake in the world since 1900 and was nearly 8,000 times stronger than one that devastated Christchurch, New Zealand, last month, scientists said. It had its epicenter at 38.22N and 142.36E at a depth of 15.2 miles, an area in the North Pacific Ocean near the east coast of Honshu, the most populous of the Japanese inlands.

The quake shook dozens of cities and villages along a 2,100-kilometer stretch of coast and In Tokyo, hundreds of miles from the epicenter, all buildings designed to withstand strong earthquakes have swayed.

According to United States Geological Survey (USGS), this earthquake occurred as a result of thrust faulting on or near the subduction zone interface plate boundary between the Pacific and North America plates. At the latitude of this earthquake, the Pacific plate moves approximately westwards with respect to the North America plate at a velocity of 83 mm/yr. The Pacific plate thrusts underneath Japan at the Japan Trench, and dips to the west beneath Eurasia. The location, depth, and focal mechanism of the March 11 earthquake are consistent with the event having occurred as thrust faulting associated with subduction along this plate boundary.
The March 11 earthquake was preceded by a series of large foreshocks over the previous two days, beginning on March 9th with an M 7.2 event approximately 40 km from the March 11 earthquake, and continuing with a further 3 earthquakes greater than M 6 on the same day.
Multiple aftershocks were reported after the initial M8.9 quake on the same day.  Over forty aftershocks of magnitude 5.0 or greater occurred in the few hours after the initial quake. A 6.8M quake was reported this morning, March 12, 2011 and many are still expected according to experts.
The Friday earthquake has triggered a tsunami that reached 10 meter high at Sendai Airport, which is located near the coast of Miyagi prefecture, with waves carrying along a deluge of debris, sweeping aside cars and trucks as if they were toys, flooding farmlands and destroying houses and buildings as they traveled inland. Kyodo news agency also reported a four-meter-(13 ft) high tsunami hitting Iwate Prefecture in Japan. A 0.5-meter (20 in)-high wave hit Japan's northern coast.
Tsunamis can be generated when the sea floor abruptly deforms and vertically displaces the overlying water.  More specifically, a tsunami can be generated when thrust faults, associated with convergent or destructive plate boundaries move abruptly, resulting in water displacement, owing to the vertical component of movement involved. Tsunamis have a small amplitude offshore, and a very long wavelength, forming only a slight swell usually about 300 mm. above the normal sea surface. They only grow in height when they reach the coast. The devastation often comes from a succession of waves, with the first few being relatively small. The waves can propagate across oceans at speeds of 500 miles an hour or greater.
an oil refinery is ablaze in Chiba city

Death toll so far from Friday’s earthquake is 300, but could reach up to a thousand. 6 million people are affected by the power outage. Damages to infrastructure is still unaccounted, but could likely cost Japan billions of dollars . On top of it all, Japan might be facing, the most dangerous consequence of it all, a nuclear calamity. Five nuclear reactors at two power plants lost cooling ability in the aftermath of the earthquake. Radiation level at Fukushima Daiichi power plant radiation levels had jumped 1,000 times normal inside Unit 1 and were measured at eight times normal outside the plant. They expanded an earlier evacuation zone more than threefold, from 3 kilometers to 10 kilometers.

It is hard to contend with the forces of nature. No matter how technologically advanced a country is, cases like this remind us once again that nature is far more superior. It always prevails.

King's Speech 2011 Oscar Best Picture

George VI, the reluctant king

King George VI

The King’s Speech is a critically-acclaimed movie. It has bagged the Best Picture and Best Actor for Colin Firth in the 2011 Academy Awards.

This movie is a historical drama, based on the life on King George VI of the United Kingdom and the British Commonwealth. This is an inspiring story not only for the privileged ones, but also for ordinary people. It shows how even the wealthy and mighty can be also be afflicted with any disorder. The movie focused on the speech problem of the king - a stutter and how he overcame it with the help of a speech therapist, Lionel Logue.

King George VI was born Albert Frederick Arthur George on December 1895 to the then Prince George, who would later become King George and Mary, the Duchess of York (later Queen Mary).  As the second son, he was not expected to inherit the throne.  He always lived by the shadow of his elder brother Edward.

As a royal, he lived a well-endowed life. However, it was also accompanied by tons of pressure. He suffered from a stammer for several years, which he traced back to the pressures of his childhood: his strict father, the repression of his natural left-handedness, a painful treatment with metal splints for his knock-knees, a nanny who favored his elder brother, deliberately pinching Albert at the daily presentations to their parents so he would cry and his parent would not want to see him and the early death of his little brother John.  He developed shyness as a result of his speech difficulty. It also made him appeared less impressive than his elder brother.

In 1920 he met Lady Elizabeth, who was considered a commoner by the British standards. She was initially reluctant to be a member of the royal family, but his determination made her finally agree to it.  They were married on April 26, 1923 at Westminster Abby.  Albert’s marriage to a commoner was a modernizing gesture at that that time. Their union was blessed with two children: Elizabeth and Margaret.

In lieu of his stammer, Albert dreaded public speaking. After a embarrassing speech at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in October 1925 he began to see Lionel Logue, an Australian-born speech therapist. With his professional guidance, coupled with Albert’s determination and patience of the Duchess, his wife he gradually learned to overcome his stutter. In 1927 at the Australia’s Federal parliament he was able to deliver the opening address with only a light hesitation.

When King George V died in 1936, his elder brother ascended the throne as Edward the VIII.  But less than a year later, the new king abdicated the throne to marry his mistress, Wallis Simpson, a two-time divorcee.  Thus Albert became the king, a position he was not ready to accept.  He wept like a child before his mother Queen Mary, the day prior to abdication.

As a King he was credited for restoring the public faith in the monarchy when it was at its low ebb.  He was known to have been closely associated with Prime Minister Chamberlain and Churchill, both with whom he appeared alongside on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. It was described by the John Grigg, a historian, to describe this behavior as “the most unconstitutional act by a British sovereign in the present century.”

King George VI showed exceptional courage during the war when he and his wife resolved to stay in London despite the German bombing raids. It was also during his reign when the British Empire fell apart, eventually forming the Commonwealth of Nations.

On February 6, 1952 at the age of 56, George VI died from coronary thrombosis. He was succeeded by his daughter Elizabeth who became Queen Elizabeth II.

  1. George VI of the United Kingdom. Wikipedia
  2. The King's Speech. Wikipedia