This Friday, it will officially have been 5 years since the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami disabled Tepco’s nuclear power plant in Fukushima.

But despite the passing of 5 years, we still don’t really know much damage this disaster really caused. We don’t know what the long-term effects will be on the environment, or on the people of Japan, and both Tepco and the Japanese government have lied to the world about the gravity of the situation.

And the situation is still much more serious than they’ve been letting on. We know that plant is still leaking radiation, we know the ocean and the area surrounding Fukushima is still radioactive, and we know that the nuclear power plant is a flimsy house of cards that could crumble at any moment.

But as bad as the situation was and still is at the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant, believe it or not, it could have been far worse. In fact, Japan’s former Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, admitted that the country came within a “paper thin margin” of an apocalyptic disaster.

In an interview with The Telegraph to mark the fifth anniversary of the tragedy, Naoto Kan described the panic and disarray at the highest levels of the Japanese government as it fought to control multiple meltdowns at thecrippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station.

He said he considered evacuating the capital, Tokyo, along with all other areas within 160 miles of the plant, and declaring martial law. “The future existence of Japan as a whole was at stake,” he said. “Something on that scale, an evacuation of 50 million, it would have been like a losing a huge war.”

Could you imagine? I don’t think an evacuation of 50 million people has ever been attempted before, much less in a country that already has such a high population density. If the worst case scenario had come to pass, it would have been the biggest humanitarian disaster in history, and that’s not counting what the effects would have been outside of Japan. As for what that worst case scenario might have been, Prime Minister Kan explained:

“When we got the report that power had been cut and the coolant had stopped working, that sent a shiver down my spine,” Mr Kan said. “From March 11, when the incident happened, until the 15th, the effects [of radioactive contamination] were expanding geographically.

“From the 16th to the 20th we were able to halt the spread of radiation but the margin left for us was paper-thin. If the [fuel rods] had burnt through [in] all six reactors, that would definitely have affected Tokyo.

“From a very early stage I had a very high concern for Tokyo. I was forming ideas for a Tokyo evacuation plan in my head. In the 1923 earthquake the government ordered martial law – I did think of the possibility of having to set up such emergency law if it really came down to it.

“We were only able to avert a 250-kilometre (160-mile) evacuation zone [around the plant] by a wafer-thin margin, thanks to the efforts of people who risked their lives. Next time, we might not be so lucky.”

This would have spelled the end of Japan as we know it today. It would have also had huge ramification for the rest of the world. For five years we’ve been freaking out about the radioactive pollution that’s spewing out of that plant and into the Pacific Ocean. There’s no telling how screwed up the environment would have been if that plant had completely melted down.

In all likelihood, it would have also been utterly devastating for the global economy, which at the time was still reeling from the crash of 2008. Japan was and still is the world’s third largest economy. There’s a good chance that this disaster would have shattered markets everywhere, and ushered in a global depression. We would still be picking up the pieces today.

And worst of all, that rickety power plant is still sitting there, and Japan is still struggling to make it safe again. As bad as the Fukushima disaster could have been, we’re not out of the woods yet.


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