Top that off with a volcano erupting and you have a very bad week.
The earthquake and subsequent tsunami caused extensive damage at Japan's nuclear plants, specifically three reactors and they have suffered their third explosion at a reactor.
No one knows exactly what will happen but the world is watching, praying for the people of Japan and praying just as hard that their nuclear crisis doesn't become a worst-case scenario.
Japan’s nuclear crisis verged toward catastrophe on Tuesday after an explosion damaged the vessel containing the nuclear core at one reactor and a fire at another spewed large amounts of radioactive material into the air, according to the statements of Japanese government and industry officials.
In a brief address to the nation at 11 a.m. Tokyo time, Prime Minister Naoto Kan pleaded for calm, but warned that radiation had already spread from the crippled reactors and there was “a very high risk” of further leakage. Fortunately, the prevailing winds were sweeping most of the plume of radioactivity out into the Pacific Ocean, rather than over populated areas.
The sudden turn of events, after an explosion Monday at one reactor and then an early-morning explosion Tuesday at yet another — the third in four days at the plant — already made the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station the worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl reactor disaster a quarter century ago.
In another NYT's piece we see a different problem and concern for the Japanese government and citizens:
Even as workers race to prevent the radioactive cores of the damaged nuclear reactors in Japan from melting down, concerns are growing that nearby pools holding spent fuel rods could pose an even greater danger.
The pools, which sit on the top level of the reactor buildings and keep spent fuel submerged in water, have lost their cooling systems and the Japanese have been unable to take emergency steps because of the multiplying crises.
Experts now fear that the pool containing those rods from the fourth reactor has run dry, allowing the rods to overheat and catch fire. That could spread radioactive materials far and wide in dangerous clouds.
The pools are a worry at the stricken reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant because at least two of the three have lost their roofs in explosions, exposing the spent fuel pools to the atmosphere. By contrast, reactors have strong containment vessels that stand a better chance of bottling up radiation from a meltdown of the fuel in the reactor core.
If any of the spent fuel rods in the pools did indeed catch fire, nuclear experts say, the high heat would loft the radiation in clouds that would spread the radioactivity.
“It’s worse than a meltdown,” said David A. Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer at the Union of Concerned Scientists who worked as an instructor on the kinds of General Electric reactors used in Japan. “The reactor is inside thick walls, and the spent fuel of Reactors 1 and 3 is out in the open.”
Scientific American tells us what a worst case scenario looks like:
"So there's some advantages to the BWR in terms of severe accidents. But one of the disadvantages is that the containment structure is a lightbulb-shaped steel shell that's only about 30 or 40 feet [nine to 12 meters] across—thick steel, but relatively small compared to large, dry containments like TMI. And it doesn't provide as much of an extra layer of defense from reactor accidents as containments like TMI [do]. So there is a great deal of concern that if the core does melt, the containment will not be able to survive. And if the containment doesn't survive, we have a worst-case situation."
And just what is that worst-case scenario? "They're venting in order to keep the containment vessel from failing. But if a core melts, it will slump to the bottom of the reactor vessel, probably melt through the reactor vessel onto the containment floor. It's likely to spread as a molten pool—like lava—to the edge of the steel shell and melt through. That would result in a containment failure in a matter of less than a day. It's good that it's got a better containment system than Chernobyl, but it's not as strong as most of the reactors in this country."
The Guardian reports that nuclear experts are concerned about the level of transparency because experts cannot get their hands, or in this case their eyes, on any radiation readings which leads them believe the Japanese government is covering up the extent of the damage already being suffered.
Nuclear experts have thrown doubt on the accuracy of official information issued about the Fukushima nuclear accident, saying that it followed a pattern of secrecy and cover-ups employed in other nuclear accidents. "It's impossible to get any radiation readings," said John Large, an independent nuclear engineer who has worked for the UK government and been commissioned to report on the accident for Greenpeace International.
"The actions of the Japanese government are completely contrary to their words. They have evacuated 180,000 people but say there is no radiation. They are certain to have readings but we are being told nothing." He said a radiation release was suspected "but at the moment it is impossible to know. It was the same at Chernobyl, where they said there was a bit of a problem and only later did the full extent emerge."
While political pundits are busy playing political games over the use of nuclear power versus other energy sources, Japan is desperately trying to avert another potentially catastrophic event that would compound the the devastation they are already suffering.
A Tiny Miracle
In the midst of disaster, a bright spot occurs when a four-month old infant is found amongst the rubble, alive.
The sound of a baby’s cry amid the rubble seemed so impossible that soldiers searching a tsunami-smashed village dismissed it as a mistake.
But it came again. And they realised they had not been hearing things.
They pulled away wood and slate, dug back thick oozing mud – and there was the child they were to describe as a ‘tiny miracle’.
The four-month-old girl had been swept from her parents’ arms in the shattered village of Ishinomaki when the deadly wave crashed into the family home.
For three days, the child’s frantic family had believed she was lost to them for ever.
But yesterday, for a brief moment, the horrors of the disaster were brightened by one helpless baby’s story of survival.
Soldiers from the Japanese Defence Force had been going from door to door pulling bodies from the devastated homes in Ishinomaki, a coastal town northeast of Sendai.
Most of the victims were elderly, unable to escape the destructive black tide.
But for this precious moment, at least, it was only the child who mattered to the team of civil defence troops who found her.
One of them picked her up in his arms, wrapped her in a blanket which had been handed to him and cradled the child as his colleagues crowded around, not believing that someone as young as this had survived when all hope had been lost.
The tiniest survivor was cold and wet and crying, but she is believed to have suffered no other injuries. Why she did not drown remained a mystery.
But the soldiers were somehow able to trace her overjoyed father, who had been taking refuge in his wrecked home with the rest of his family.
Now that is a feel good moment in the midst of horrific tragedy if I ever heard one.