Photo by Morgan Grana.

About 100 people filled the seats of the Stevenson College Event Center to hear a lecture given by nuclear policy expert Daniel Hirsch on the Fukushima nuclear disaster and its implications for the United States.

Hirsch began his talk with the message that what happened at the Fukushima plant is not an isolated incident.

“In one sense we all live in Fukushima,” said Hirsch. “What happens in one part of the world affects us all.”

The lecture stressed the importance of constantly cooling both the reactor and spent fuel rods, and explained how cooling systems at the Fukushima plant failed after backup power sources were damaged or depleted.

“A nuclear reactor is an absolutely extraordinary machine that actually can’t be turned off,” he said. “If you lose cooling, there’s no way to extract the heat, and radioactivity is released. As long as the reactor is cool and the fuel stays solid, things are relatively safe.”

Hirsch also chronicled the events that led to the Fukushima disaster. The plant’s primary electricity system was disabled by the 8.9-magnitude earthquake that erupted off the coast of Japan, and back-up generators were destroyed by the tsunami that soon followed. Batteries used as a last resort to keep the cooling system running died after eight hours. Footage of the explosions that followed now serve as an iconic image of the Fukushima disaster.

“Dante could never have imagined such an inferno,” Hirsch said, referring to the explosions that destroyed three of Fukusima’s reactors and four of its spent fuel pools.

Debra Ellis, coordinator for residential education at Cowell College, organized the lecture.

Ellis planned the event to provide the campus and greater Santa Cruz community with accurate information regarding the disaster and said she was thrilled with the engagement of the audience.

“It is the responsibility of those of us fortunate enough to be a part of this university to educate ourselves and others about the implications of this event in history,” Ellis said.

Cowell College provost Faye Crosby opened the event by recounting the phone call from her son, a Tokyo lawyer, that awoke her on March 11 to inform her of the disaster. Despite the danger posed to her immediate family, Crosby echoed Hirsch’s words of existing in one world and said this is a personal tragedy for us all.

Hirsch closed by saying that he hopes this disaster will mark the end of the nuclear era:

“It began with Hiroshima and ends with Fukushima.”