By Erin Butterfield

Hopefully by now it is common knowledge that on March 11th of this year, an earthquake off the coast of Japan struck and caused mass amounts of devastation. The earthquake caused a tsunami to occur, which hit cities and farmlands everywhere in the northern part of Japan. This natural disaster was recorded as a 9.0 on the Richter scale and was the largest and most devastating earthquake to ever hit the country of Japan.

The aftermath that was most damaging was mainly caused by the explosions and leaks of radioactive gas in three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. It has been reported by a Gunma University professor that radiation levels surpassing 430 times the normal level had been detected in soil around the Fukushima plant. Just a month before, a powerful earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima Daiichi plant just as government regulators approved a 10-year extension for the oldest of the six reactors despite warnings about its safety, which has been a major fault that many people are using to blame the plant.

Because of that, Tokyo Electric spokesman, Naoki Tsunoda, said, “We are committed to carrying out proper inspections in the future. We will study why this has happened and endeavor to inform the public.” Fuel rods that overheated caught fire, which ended in a major release of radioactive material all over Japan. A large amount of nuclear material was found directly in Tokyo’s water, even a month after the earthquake.

The official death toll is over 12,600 with more than 14,700 people missing, but the toll is expected to reach around 20,000 people dead. Aside from the mass amounts of people dead or missing, there are around 240,000 people who have been hurt, evacuated or forced into temporary shelters that are shared between too many people, or even forced onto the streets.

Also, in the past week a Japanese leader called for Prime Minister Naoto Kan to resign, which caused the end of the uneasy political truce that was held after the earthquake and tsunami. Aside from the devastation and damage in Japan, there is also now political damage and turmoil between the major political parties.

On a different note, one major piece of progress that we saw on April 18th is that the Tokyo Electric Power Company has created a plan to bring the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi into a stable state. This plan is said to take nine months to complete, but starting now it will begin to reduce the levels of radioactive material. The next day the plan faced a major obstacle–it is said that the current radiation levels are too high for repair crews to go inside. The Tokyo Electric Power Company is working now to find a way around the high radiation levels, but it looks like the plan will take much longer than a year to have its full effect.

Aside from radiation and physical damage in Japan, the people affected are now experiencing phantom earthquakes and symptoms like earthquake sickness. As of this weekend there have been 400 aftershocks of a magnitude of 5.0 and greater in Japan just in the past month.

“This unprecedented disaster has produced unprecedented cooperation between our countries,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in an interview March 22nd with Japanese public broadcaster NHK. “Our alliance, which was already strong and enduring, has become even more so. The United States has supported Japan’s recovery through humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions.”

Experts have stated that pregnant women and their fetuses and nursing mothers and children face the greatest danger from radioactive iodine, which is taken in by the thyroid gland and can cause thyroid cancer. Radioactive iodine detected in Tokyo’s water supply prompted authorities to warn that infants in and around the radioactive areas should not be given tap water to drink, adding to the anxiety about public safety posed by Japan’s unfolding nuclear crisis. It is hard for citizens to get safe water when they have been evacuated out of their damaged homes and onto the streets. The Japanese Red Cross has stated that “Right now, people need hot showers daily, they need better sanitation systems,” just to start the treatment of the people affected by this devastating radioactive earthquake and tsunami.

What can you do to help? Support organizations like Hands for Japan, or go to http://www.google.com/crisisresponse/japanquake2011.html to donate to places like Japanese Red Cross, UNICEF and Save the Children. Anything that you can do will help in some way, and be appreciated.