The catchphrase “What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas” does not come to mind when one considers Japan’s current problems with nuclear facilities, particularly the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant. That’s easily understood if one remembers a little-known episode of World War II.
Between 1942-1945, the Japanese launched thousands of mulberry paper balloons carrying incendiary bombs into the atmosphere. The Japanese military was aware that a strong jet stream would carry many of the balloons across the Pacific to the United States. About 300 of the “fusen bakudan” were known to reach the US.
The failure of cooling systems for reactors after the recent earthquake has resulted in fuel rods being exposed. There have been explosions at reactor 1 and 3 at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant. The latter uses a mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel that is a problem because a release of radioactive gases and aerosols could contain highly-toxic material, such as plutonium, americium and curium.
The worst-case scenario at those nuclear plants would be a breach of the containment vessel that could release much more radioactive material than the two chemical explosions at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant. That’s not comforting to those of us who remember the history of the Pacific jet stream carrying balloons from Japan.