Ten years ago next week, in the aftermath of a terrible natural disaster, Japan offered the world a valuable lesson about nuclear power and climate change. Unfortunately, it was not the lesson the world took from it.
The tsunami that tore through coastal Japanese cities in the wake of the Tohoku earthquake on March 11, 2011, was the most powerful tidal wave in three centuries. It killed more than 18,000 people – thousands are still listed as missing – left hundreds of thousands homeless and devastated the lives of countless families.
As that humanitarian crisis was just beginning, the world’s attention turned away from the larger tragedy and focused on the former coal-mining town of Okuma, in Fukushima prefecture, on Japan’s eastern coast.
There, the tsunami had washed over the 40-year-old nuclear plant, flooded its basements and knocked out its backup power, causing the cores to melt down in three of its six reactors.
The meltdown, the ensuing mass evacuation and the lengthy, clumsy operation to stabilize the reactors became a global event that shaped the world’s perception of nuclear power.