As we mark the 12th anniversary of the Fukushima catastrophe, CND Vice-President Dr Ian Fairlie writes for us on its ongoing impact.
March 11 2023 marks the 12th anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. It is the world’s second worst nuclear accident – only the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear catastrophe in Ukraine was worse.
Japan is the most earthquake prone country in the world with over 1,000 quakes each year. On March 11, 2011 an extremely powerful earthquake occurred about 30 miles off the east coast of Japan. The resulting massive tsunami flooded the Fukushima nuclear power station about 150 miles north of Tokyo. As a result, the three operating reactors had to be shut down, but as their cooling pumps had lost their power sources, the nuclear fuels started to heat up due to radioactive decay.
Radioactive decay cannot be stopped: nuclear power when it goes wrong can be a supremely unforgiving technology. During the week following the earthquake, four explosions and three reactor meltdowns occurred at the Fukushima nuclear plant. These resulted in massive releases of radioactive gases which contaminated large areas of Japan.
In July 2012, the Japanese Parliament established the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC) which reported that the accident was a man-made disaster as it had been entirely foreseeable, and that the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), had failed to meet basic safety requirements such as risk assessment, preparing for containing collateral damage, and developing evacuation plans. In October 2012, TEPCO admitted that it had failed to take necessary measures for fear of inviting lawsuits or provoking protests against its nuclear plants.
Contrary to what most of the world’s media believes, the accident is STILL occurring at Fukushima. Every day about 200 tonnes of water is pumped into the destroyed reactors to keep their radioactive fuels from melting any further than they already have. This water becomes radioactive and has to be collected and stored in over 1,500 tanks at Fukushima. It is a major problem for the Japanese Government and TEPCO: they are desperate to dump this radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean but public opposition remains strong, especially among fisherman.
As a result of the accident, nearly 300 cases of paediatric thyroid cancer have occurred in Fukushima Prefecture. These cancers are very rare: normally only one case would have arisen every two years in Fukushima Prefecture. This epidemic is similar to what happened at Chornobyl where over 6,000 extra cases of paediatric thyroid cancer occurred.
Disturbingly, the Japanese national and Fukushima prefectural governments continue to deny that radiation caused the epidemic of paediatric thyroid cancer. Instead, they claim the sudden increase was due to intensive monitoring. A number of legal cases against TEPCO and the Japanese government are continuing.
However thyroid cancer cases are only one effect. In sum, the health toll from the Fukushima nuclear disaster is grim. See full details here.
Over 160,000 people were evacuated many of them permanently. Many cases of post-trauma stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety disorders arose from the evacuations. Between 2011 and 2015 alone, about 2,000 deaths occurred due to ill-health and suicides from the radiation-related evacuations.
About 12,000 workers were exposed to high levels of radiation, some up to 250 mSv (the current average limit for workers is 20 mSv per year).
It has been estimated that approximately 5,000 fatal cancers from radiation exposures will arise in future. Plus similar (unquantified) numbers of radiogenic strokes, cardio-vascular diseases and hereditary diseases.
Non-health effects include the facts that 8% of Japan (30,000 km2), including parts of Tokyo, were contaminated by radioactivity, and that economic losses have been estimated at between $300 and $500 billion.
Coming to the present, the Japanese government rather incredibly refuses to learn the lessons of this disaster and is pushing ahead with plans for more nuclear reactors.
Sadly – as the philosopher George Santayana observed – those politicians who refuse to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.
The many Japanese people who suffered from this disaster do not deserve to be threatened with yet more nuclear power reactors.