Deutsche Welle 
December 30, 2011
When the magnitude-9.3 earthquake hit Japan on March 11, it set off a nuclear disaster that will leave Japan suffering for decades from the consequences of meltdowns and radiation exposure.
March’s magnitude 9.3-earthquake was as strong as hundreds of thousands of the explosions caused by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. It triggered a tsunami that covered 470 square kilometers (181 square miles) with rubble and water, while more than 19,000 people died in the flooding or are still missing. Water levels were as high as 16 meters (52 feet) – as high as a four story building.
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, one of the biggest nuclear power plants in Japan and only 240 km northeast of Tokyo, was not built for this kind of catastrophe. The reactor’s walls were only designed to sustain tsunami waves of 5.7 meters. When the 13-meter wave hit the plant, it was completely flooded.
Even a late scramble could not stop the catastrophe. Since emergency power supplies were flooded and seawater pumps were destroyed, the plant’s cooling technology failed. In the aftermath of the earthquake, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) was not able to reactivate the cooling systems. To compound matters, the surrounding streets were impassable and the necessary equipment could not reach Fukushima fast enough.