On 27 September 2013, Bob Skelton gave a talk as part of the Alumni Festival, entitled Fukushima Today. The event was sold out and very well attended.
Bob is a former industry lecturer and bio-diesel researcher at this department and he started the talk with a basic introduction to fission reactors. He then moved on to describe the effects of the original earthquake on 11 March 2011 on the nuclear power plant in Fukushima and the further effects of the tsunami which followed less than an hour later.
Although the plant coped with the earthquake and started to be shut down in an orderly manner, the 14m tsunami breached the sea wall and led to an escalation of the problem. Bob described the initial response to the disaster and said that after a year, the situation appeared under control, but they are still trying to clean up a vast amount of contaminated material and water. It could be at least 10 years before fuel removal can start and up to 25 years before the site is cleaned up.
Although many people were killed in Japan as a result of the earthquake and tsunami, there have been no deaths directly attributed to radiation from the accident. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has also said that it's unlikely that anyone will suffer longer term direct health effects from radiation.
There is, however, evidence of Post Traumatic Stress, from the accident, the earthquake and the tsunami. Animosity towards power station staff has been reported and it has become hard to recruit staff.
At a wider level, all nuclear reactors in Japan were shut down and other countries have cancelled nuclear expansion. This has consequences for climate change, as the alternative involves far more use of fossil fuels.
After Bob Skelton's talk there was another Alumni Festival event. This was a display of Global Solutions to Global Problems. Alumni were given tours around Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology Laboratories. Talented young researchers were on hand to give alumni a brief overview of the cutting-edge research projects they are involved in and to answer any questions about how this work, tackling highly challenging global problems, is benefiting society as a whole.