Deirdre Langeland's Meltdown explores for middle grade readers the harrowing story of the deadly earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown that caused the 2011 Fukushima power plant disaster
On March 11, 2011, the largest earthquake ever measured in Japan occurred off the northeast coast. It triggered a tsunami with a wall of water 128 feet high. The tsunami damaged the nuclear power plant in Fukushima triggering the nightmare scenario--a nuclear meltdown.
For six days, employees at the plant worked to contain the meltdown and disaster workers scoured the surrounding flooded area for survivors.
This book examines the science behind such a massive disaster and looks back at the people who experienced an unprecedented trifecta of destruction. ---from the publisher
208 pages 978-1-62672-700-7 Ages 10-15
Keywords: disasters, earthquake, tsunamis, nuclear power, science, narrative nonfiction, 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old, 13 year old, 14 year old, 15 year old
“Just give me the warm power of the sun
Give me the steady flow of a waterfall
Give me the spirit of living things as they return to clay
Just give me the restless power of the wind
Give me the comforting glow of a wood fire
But please take all your atomic poison power away”
-- John Hall, “Power” (1979)
“All that had been was now no more.”
-- Pearl S. Buck, The Big Wave (1948)
“Like most disasters, the Great Tohoku Earthquake and tsunami came with little warning. There had been foreshocks, smaller earthquakes that shook the countryside for days before the main event, but there’s nothing unusual about earthquakes in Japan. On average, Japan experiences about 2,000 earthquakes that are strong enough to be felt every year. In real time, it’s impossible to know whether an earthquake is its own event or a precursor of something bigger on the way. Only afterward, once the Big One has come and gone, can seismologists go back and see the pattern that led up to it. And so, the millions of residents of Tohoku went about their business that afternoon in March as they had on all the others before.”
MELTDOWN: EARTHQUAKE, TSUNAMI, AND NUCLEAR DISASTER AT FUKUSHIMA is the story of a massive earthquake and tsunami that triggered a massive nuclear disaster. The author recounts events, alternating the history with the harrowing personal narratives of those who experienced or responded to the disaster. Although the meltdown occurred a decade ago, the environmental, economic, and social consequences are ongoing.
The author does a stellar job of explaining earth science, nuclear technology, and construction principles related to what happened. Given this clarity, many readers will ponder the advisability of erecting a string of nuclear power plants in an unstable zone in which natural forces can unleash waves the height of a ten-story building.
In explaining all this to a tween and teen readership, I was particularly impressed by the manner in which the author begins with a basic explanation of atoms, and then moves on to isotopes. She ultimately builds on these explanations to show how shorter-lived radioactive isotopes released during these nuclear disasters can “fool” our bodies and destroy them from the inside.
The text is accompanied by illustrations that illuminate the natural forces central to the narrative, images that help readers grasp the structure and operation of the nuclear plants, and stunning photographs of the disastrous meltdown aftermath.
MELTDOWN is a notable, eye-opening, and frequently jaw-dropping work of narrative nonfiction. The book will be accessible to 10-14 year olds, but will also captivate and concern older teen and adult audiences.
Back in my post-college years, I participated in a successful fight to prevent construction of nuclear power plants on eastern Long Island. Since then, the folly of using nuclear power to boil water, turn a turbine, and create electricity, has been revealed by accidents like those at Fukushima. Nevertheless, the world’s mounting climate change crisis has led to a push for electric-powered vehicles and, in turn, the need to generate more electricity, preferably without fossil fuels. Many are once again advocating increased use of nuclear power plants. This is going to quickly become a significant issue.
How would you like a potential disaster operating in your neighborhood?
“A man named Toru Anzai in the town of Iitate, a full 25 miles northwest of the Fukushima plant, later remembered the explosion at Reactor 4. ‘I heard the sound of the explosion, and the air turned hazy and rust-red. There was also a metallic burning smell, and even indoors my face and exposed skin started to sting. The radiation was very high around that time. My legs felt as though they were sunburned.’ That night, a radiation monitor at the village hall in Iitate registered 44.7 mSv per hour. Remember, the annual limit for radiation exposure for a worker in emergency situations was 250 mSv per year.”
In addition to these deadly and environmentally disastrous mishaps, society must also deal with the vast quantities of spent fuel rods, which remain radioactive for 10,000 years. And civilian nuclear power technology helps enable nuclear weapon-making, making power plants ripe for terrorism threats.
However you slice it, nuclear power is dangerous and costly, and a terrible way to boil water.
Given the disasters at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima, we’d be wise to use other technologies to produce electricity. What might younger generations do to deal with climate change while not enabling potential nuclear disasters? Are there safer and healthier alternatives that will yield sufficient power to meet our needs? This necessary and consequential discussion makes MELTDOWN: EARTHQUAKE, TSUNAMI, AND NUCLEAR DISASTER AT FUKUSHIMA one of the year’s most timely and essential pieces of nonfiction for young people. The quality of the writing and the book making make it one not to be missed.
Recommended by: Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA