FEAR and uncertainty spread faster and farther than any nuclear fallout. To date the crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Japan, laid low by the tsunami of March 11th, seems to have done little if any long-term damage to the environment beyond the plant’s immediate vicinity or to public health. In fits and starts, and with various reverses, the situation at the plant has come closer to being under control.
But the immediate crisis is far from over. The temperature of the three reactors with damaged central cores still fluctuates and water systems for the spent-fuel pools are jury-rigged at best. Contaminated food has been found a disconcertingly long way away, although it seems to be being kept out of the food chain. There are worries about tap water in distant Tokyo.
There will certainly be more durable effects too. Years of clean-up will drag into decades. A permanent exclusion zone could end up stretching beyond the plant’s perimeter. Seriously exposed workers may be at increased risk of cancers for the rest of their lives (which may nevertheless be long). A concern for the long term, like uncertainty and fear, is one of the things that nuclear power invariably brings to discussions of future energy.