Japan’s Nuclear Crisis: Science Fiction Precedents
The recent nuclear issues at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi plant (triggered by the March 11 earthquake-tsunami) are beginning to be compared to the Chernobyl disaster in the Ukrainian SSR in 1986, considered the worst nuclear disaster to date. While leakage amounts are only considered to be one-tenth that of Chernobyl standards, the plant is not expected to be put in full cold shutdown for another nine months, making it possible for much more to leak.
Chernobyl was estimated to have directly killed 31 men, mostly workers inside the reactor, and indirectly as few as 4,000 (WHO) to as many as 200,000 (Greenpeace) or even 985,000 by an independent Russian publication (you can read about that one on your own).
The science fiction precedent, promised in the title of this post? Asimov’s entire Galactic Empire series of novels have, in the background, the point that Earth has been turned radioactive, albeit by nuclear war, but radioactive, nonetheless. Asimov wrote Pebble in the Sky, the first novel to mention this idea, in 1951, at the early height of the Cold War, when nuclear war was certainly a possibility and could destroy the Earth as it was.
While the causes are entirely different, one can see the issues with nuclear reactions. Asimov didn’t mean to scare people, he simply wanted to educate them to the dangers of nuclear physics. Even with the end of the Cold War, the danger still exists.