Radiation released into the air by the tsunami-damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant most likely will cause the cancer deaths of about 130 residents of Japan, although the toll could possibly go as high as 1,300, Stanford researchers said Tuesday. The radiation probably will cause about 180 cases of cancer, according to the researchers’ estimates, but the number could go as high as 2,500. Their projections are surprisingly low, perhaps because an estimated 81% of the radiation released in the nuclear disaster was deposited into the ocean.
The nuclear disaster was the result of a magnitude 9 earthquake that struck off the coast of Japan on March 11, 2011. The quake triggered a tsunami that swept over the seawall at Fukushima, 135 miles north of Tokyo, isolating it from the power grid and damaging the backup generators that should have powered cooling pumps in an emergency. Hydrogen explosions in the reactors destroyed containment domes and lack of cooling allowed uranium fuel rods to melt. Both events allowed a massive leak of radioactive gases, including iodine-131, cesium-134 and cesium-137. About 160,000 people living in the region around the plant were evacuated to prevent exposure to radiation. About 600 of them died from fatigue and exposure to the elements, especially among those who were already ill. The event is considered the worst atomic disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
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