Japan has been slow to admit the scale of the meltdown. But now the truth is coming out.
This nation has recovered from worse natural – and manmade – catastrophes. But it is the triple meltdown and its aftermath at the Fukushima nuclear power plant 40km down the coast from Soma that has elevated Japan into unknown, and unknowable, terrain. Across the northeast, millions of people are living with its consequences and searching for a consensus on a safe radiation level that does not exist. Experts give bewilderingly different assessments of its dangers.
On the other side of the nuclear fence are the industry friendly scientists who insist that the crisis is under control and radiation levels are mostly safe. "I believe the government and Tokyo Electric Power [Tepco, the plant's operator] are doing their best," said Naoto Sekimura, vice-dean of the Graduate School of Engineering at the University of Tokyo. Mr Sekimura initially advised residents near the plant that a radioactive disaster was "unlikely" and that they should stay "calm", an assessment he has since had to reverse.
Slowly, steadily, and often well behind the curve, the government has worsened its prognosis of the disaster. Last Friday, scientists affiliated with the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said the plant had released 15,000 terabecquerels of cancer-causing Cesium, equivalent to about 168 times the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the event that ushered in the nuclear age. (Professor Busby says the release is at least 72,000 times worse than Hiroshima).