In the aftermath of the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on March 11, and in light of the possible radioactive fallout from the nuclear power plants in partial meltdown in Fukushima, Japan, on March 13 the French Embassy advised all French citizens in Japan to leave Tokyo for the next few days. In a communiqué, the embassy warned that fallout could settle on Tokyo in "three to four hours" in a worst case scenario and cause widespread contamination.
The communiqué outlined two possible scenarios: The first, more optimistic, scenario involved controlling the various defective nuclear power plants in Fukushima. "In that case, the risk is of a residual contamination from the controlled release of radioactive gas and poses a negligible risk for the Tokyo region. This scenario is favored by the Japanese authorities and a large number of scientists." However, the second scenario would involve an explosion of the reactor, unleashing a radioactive cloud. "That cloud could arrive in the Tokyo region in a matter of hours depending on the direction and speed of the wind. The risk is of widespread contamination."
The memo went on to say: "The Japanese Weather Report Agency just announced a probable repeat of a magnitude 7 earthquake. The probability is up to 70 percent within three days and 50 percent over the next two days.
"Because of the above (the risk for a strong earthquake and the uncertainty regarding the nuclear situation), it seems reasonable to advise those who do not need to stay around Tokyo to go away from the Kanto region for a few days."
The memo strongly advised all French citizens living close by the nuclear plants "to remain at home (venting systems should be shut down) and to, whenever possible, stock bottles of water and food for many hours. When venturing outside, a breathing mask should be worn."
On the use of potassium iodide tablets as a prophylactic measure, the French embassy wrote: "We remind you that the absorption of iodine is not a benign gesture. Excessive repeated use can be harmful to your health. It is therefore very important to choose carefully the appropriate timing of the absorption when necessary. There again, it is recommended to follow the Japanese authorities recommendations as well as our own recommendations when communicated."
It's ironic that the French are giving such strong advice to their citizens in Japan while the Japanese government has yet to utter such dire warnings for their citizens. France derives 79 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, the highest share in the world. Japan derives 30 percent of its energy from nuclear power.
Here in the United States, we get 20 percent of our electricity from nuclear power. In the aftermath of what appears to be the worst nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant meltdown, the White House has reaffirmed its commitment to nuclear power as a "clean" energy resource that the U.S. should ramp up. President Barack Obama made clear in his State of the Union address that nuclear power was a key facet of a so-called "Clean Energy Standard" which would require power companies to produce 80 percent of their electricity from a variety of sources including nuclear power by 2035.
Obama continues to support nuclear power, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday, even as Germany boldly heeded Japan's tragic wake-up call. Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced that seven German nuclear reactors will be shut during a three-month review of their safety. There are 23 reactors in the United States that are the same model as the General Electric Mark 1 models that are in partial meltdown in Fukushima -- about one in four that are in operation today.
Four reactors in California are on or near earthquake faults, as are others in New York, New Jersey, North Carolina and elsewhere around the country. In addition, geologists warn that there appears to be a strong correlation between earthquake "swarms" and nearby natural gas hydro-fracturing of rock and the subsequent high-pressure reinjection of wastewater deep underground. Hydro-fracturing for natural gas -- or "fracking" -- is an increasingly common if controversial U.S. and global practice.