The aftershocks continue to be felt from the tsunami and worst earthquake in Japan’s history.
Initial reports say that more than 10,000 people could be killed, while The New York Times quoted Prime Minister Naoto Kan telling a news conference late Sunday: “I think that the earthquake, tsunami and the situation at our nuclear reactors makes up the worst crisis in the 65 years since the war. If the nation works together, we will overcome.”
The nuclear reactors, the third and last of the elements Kan mentioned, have the potential for catastrophic damage. As of this afternoon, according to the Times,
Japanese officials struggled on Sunday to contain a quickly escalating nuclear crisis in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake and tsunami, saying they presumed that partial meltdowns had occurred at two crippled reactors, and that they were bracing for a second explosion, even as problems were reported at two more nuclear plants.
That brings the total number of troubled plants to four, including one that is about 75 miles north of Tokyo.
Japan of course had nuclear disaster of a very different sort in August 1945, when the United States dropped bombs first on Hiroshima, then on Nagasaki. These actions ended the Second World War and ushered in the nuclear age in which we now live.
Those looking to learn more about Japan’s worst crisis in the 20th century have plenty to choose from, as this has been one of the most thoroughly explored topics since that fateful day in August.
Here are some of the top ones I’ve read:
I’ve written before about Richard Rhodes’ The Making of the Atomic Bomb, and it’s certainly worth taking the time to dive in and read. This exhaustive look at the people, science and politics around the bomb makes for compelling and disturbing reading.
Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin also won the Pulitzer Prize for American Prometheus, their biography of titanic intellect J. Robert Oppenheimer, widely considered the bomb’s father. This book, which took nearly a quarter century to write, also gives a vivid feel for the technological necessity and moral consequences implied by the book’s title.
John Hersey’s Hiroshima is based on his mammoth article for The New Yorker magazine, and took up the entire issue when it was published-the only time that has ever been done in the magazine’s history.
The piece opens with the following sentence:
At exactly fifteen minutes past eight in the morning on August 6, 1945, Japanese time, at the moment when the atomic bomb flashed above Hiroshima, Miss Toshiko Sasaki, a clerk in the personnel department of the East Asia Tin Works, had just sat down at her place in the plant office and was turning her head to speak to the girl at the next desk.
Hersey’s masterful use of precise and understated detail are on display from the story’s opening words. His invocation of the precise moment at which the blast occurred contrasted with the ordinary routine of daily office life give a haunting introduction into the near indescribable wreckage that followed.
Unfortunately, Japan again is confronting similar levels of devastation. We wish the people in that country well and urge all who can render whatever assistance they can to do so as soon as possible.