In this monthly feature, we span the globe to examine Our Changing Landscape with time series of medium resolution RapidEye satellite imagery. The RapidEye archive dates back to late 2008 and already contains more than 4 billion square kilometers of data. This month, we look at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster that occurred in 2011.
The RapidEye Constellation
RapidEye is a constellation of five 5-meter medium resolution satellites each offering five spectral bands of information. The RapidEye constellation offers a daily revisit time to every location on the planet with a huge footprint that is 77-km wide. The data is priced competitively with a base price of $1.28 per square kilometer for all five spectral bands – academics do receive discounts. RapidEye adds a fifth band, the red edge, to the ‘traditional’ multispectral set of blue, green, red and near-infrared (NIR). The additional spectral data available in the red edge band allows users to extract more useful land ‘information’ than can be from traditional 4-band imagery sources. When RapidEye imagery is ordered as a Level 3A Orthorectified product, images from multiple dates are extremely well registered, making it the ideal data source for Our Changing Landscape.
The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster
We all know the story of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster that befell the Japanese prefecture of Fukushima on March 11, 2011 when a 46-foot tsunami spawned by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake in the Pacific slammed into the power plant. The point of this article is to illustrate the extent of the disaster in and around the nuclear power plant as well as the clean-up process with 5-meter RapidEye imagery. The graphic that is included here is made of imagery from five dates: September 29, 2010; March 12, 2011; December 4, 2011; August 22, 2012; and March 15, 2013. To accompany each of these images, here is a short synopsis of the major events surrounding the nuclear disaster on or as close to the collection day as possible.
September 29, 2010
Unsuspecting local citizens go about their daily activities in the shadow of one of the world’s largest nuclear power plants, haphazardly located literally hundreds of feet from the vulnerable Japanese coastline. The Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant is located on a 86-acre site in the towns of Okuma and Futaba, Japan. When still online, it was one of the 15 largest in the world, generating some 4.7-Gigawatts of power.
March 12, 2011
It’s the day after the huge tsunami slammed into the coast of Japan and the Fukushima Daiichi power plant is offline and in critical condition. The roof of the Unit 1 reactor has been blown off and the walls around the spent fuel rods pool are in ruins. The water level in Unit 2 is falling as seawater is being used to cool the reactor in Unit 1. Residents within 20 kilometers of the plant have been evacuated and radioactive elements, including cesium 137 and iodine 131 have been detected close to the plant.
December 4, 2011
It’s December now, the scene around the Fukushima Daiichi power plant is beginning to quiet down and the clean-up is in full swing. The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) who operated the plant has been asked by the prefecture government to decommission all ten of its local reactors. This month, TEPCO also announces that 150-liters of radioactive wastewater was released into the Pacific Ocean. In some positive news, the Japanese Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, announces that all of the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi site are in a stable state of cold shutdown.
August 22, 2012
More than a year has passed since the disaster and TEPCO is now essentially owned by the Japanese government in a move meant to prevent its bankruptcy. Despite dire warnings from industry experts, the hot summer in Japan passes with no power blackouts or shortages using only 2 of its 50 nuclear reactors. And environmental issues are at the fore fronts of many minds as researchers at the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa release a study showing increased butterfly abnormalities in specimens captured close to the plant from 12% in May 2011 to 28% in September 2011.
March 15, 2013
We are now just over two years out from the tsunami and nuclear disaster that followed, and unfortunately, the story on the ground is much the same. While the clean-up is continuing, the former Fukushima Daiichi power plant is still a vulnerable site as its operators weathered a scare when power was lost to the plant for nearly 30 hours. While the fuel rod ponds remained at safe temperatures, it shows just how unstable this situation is. The Japanese government also adds $7.5-billion to the fund designated to aid victims of the disaster. As of April 2013, the fund stood at more than $22.5 billion which was still not enough according to TEPCO estimates to cover all of the damage claims.
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