Why you should care

Because the effects are still radiating around the globe.

They’re dealing with a wave of despair. People across Japan stopped for a moment of silence today at 2:46 p.m. local time — the exact moment five years ago when a magnitude-9 earthquake struck, followed by a devastating tsunami.

Each day, thousands of workers clad in Tyvek suits and protective masks and armed with radiation monitors are shuttled into the nuclear power plant that melted down. They are there to clean up basements filled with radioactive water and to remove contaminants. The operation is supposed to take a whopping 40 years, but Japan’s Olympics minister has said that he hopes Fukushima Prefecture will be ready to host preliminary matches for the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo.

Teams are still searching for the remains of 2,562 people who went missing that day, and the impact of the meltdown continues to spread: Small amounts of radiation, scientists say, are washing up on American shores.

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