The tsunami caused the nuclear crisis. In combination with the huge tsunami, the earthquake was a freak unforeseeable event. Fukushima is now a no-go zone. These are three popular misconceptions I have come across recently.
Firstly, the tsunami exacerbated, but did not cause the crisis. The initial earthquake caused explosions in the plant. A Fukushima plant worker, seeing white smoke emerging from the plant, thought, “this is the end”. The damage was so bad the plant was evacuated before the tsunami alert came. When the walls of water eventually rushed in, the plant was already on the way to meltdown.
Secondly, in Japan, shinsai (earthquake-related disaster) are too frequent to be called freaks. Small earthquakes happen everyday and big ones strike every few years (Kobe 1995, Niigata 2004). While the location and timing of earthquakes maybe unpredictable, that they will happen is certain.
Earthquake-triggered tsunamis are rare, but not unforeseeable in Tohoku. They occurred to devastating effect in 1894, 1933 and 1960. The coastline`s towering tsunami defence walls were built for a reason.
There are still 54 nuclear plants in Japan. Their safety is in doubt when you see that the natural disaster of March 11th was not a freak event, but a fact of life in these volcanic islands.
Finally, the danger zone, where radiation levels have a serious effect on your health, is not Fukushima, although it is in Fukushima. This is an important difference. Large parts of Fukushima prefecture are perfectly safe. It`s a huge prefecture with a population of over 2 million; the mountainous areas have radiation levels not much different to Tokyo.