The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) commemorates the 9th anniversary of the Fukushima disaster in Japan, the worst radioactive leak incident since Chernobyl. NFLA sends its sincere regards and sympathy to all those who died in 2011 and for the people still being affected by this disaster.
On March 11th, 2011, following one of the highest recorded earthquakes and a huge tsunami off the north east coast of Japan, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was badly damaged by storm water, leading to meltdowns in the reactors and an explosion spreading radiation out over a wide area. As a result a large area required evacuation and over 160,000 people had to be moved for their own public safety. Most of these people have never returned to their homes.
The ramifications of the Fukushima disaster are still being felt today. There are ongoing delays with safely decommissioning the site. A major and highly alarming issue exists around the contaminated water and radioactive waste on the site. There are also continuing health, environmental and economic implications of the disaster. It is also fair to say the disaster has created ongoing difficulties for the nuclear industry in developing new and cost effective reactors.
NFLA have taken a keen interest in the issues that have arisen from the Fukushima disaster. It held a major conference on the core issues around the disaster for the 5th anniversary (1) and has drafted a plethora of reports and organised many other meetings on these issues. In full cooperation with Green Cross Switzerland, NFLA brought over to the UK Parliament and the Welsh Assembly the former Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who talked to UK politicians and local concerned groups about the acute issues that took place on the 11th March 2011 and subsequent to them. He concluded that, in his view, nuclear power is simply too dangerous to continue to develop. (2) NFLA has also cooperated with other groups in bringing investigative journalists, MEPs and radiation health experts to visit the area. All have come back to report on the considerable human, environmental and economic costs of this disaster. NFLA continues to work with local Japanese groups campaigning on the issue.
NFLA notes some of the following serious issues that remain to be resolved include:
- The safe decommissioning of the site – In its assessment of the disaster, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has said: “The Japanese government and nuclear industry have not solved the many technical, economic, and socio-political challenges brought on by the accident. More worrying, they continue to put special interests ahead of the public interest, exacerbating the challenges and squandering public trust. The longer these issues remain unsolved, the more difficult it will be to restore this trust.” (3) The decommissioning of the site is likely to take many decades to resolve, with concerns that not enough resource is being given to overcome the problems, and great difficulty in finding other locations in Japan for the storage of radioactive waste from the site.
- The alarming issue of what to do with the contaminated water and radioactive waste on the site – A major issue in decommissioning the site is the increased level of contaminated water that has had to be used to cool the stricken plants. There are currently about 18 million tons of treated water in about 1,000 tanks. By the end of 2020, the utility TEPCO plans to secure tanks to store about 1.37 million tons, but it says the tanks will be full by the summer of 2022, according to its estimates. (4) A Japanese Government appointed technical panel has recommended that this huge amount of water should be slowly dumped into the Pacific Ocean, despite the vociferous opposition of local environment, health and fishermen groups. A final decision has not yet been made, but it has had the approval of the IAEA Chief Executive during his visit of the site. (5) For NFLA, dumping such large amounts of tritiated water into the ocean is a dangerous action which could have untold and unknown damage to the marine environment.
- Fukushima clean-up – The Japanese Government has spent huge resources in ‘cleaning’ up the areas contaminated by the disaster, and in recent months has reopened a number of towns that were evacuated in 2011, the latest of which being parts of Futaba, just 4 kms from the plant. ‘The Guardian’ notes that a part of this town recently had a radiation reading of 4.64 microsieverts, meaning a person would reach the annual exposure upper limit of 1 millisievert, as recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection, in just nine days. (6)
- Fukushima and the Tokyo Olympics – Futaba will be one of the towns visited as part of the Tokyo Olympic torch relay in an official strategy that appears to seek to ‘normalise’ the incident. Olympic softball and baseball matches are due to be held in the Fukushima Prefecture. The Japanese Government has threatened to pull all funding to a hibakusha exhibition at the United Nations should the A & H Bomb Sufferers Organisation include references to the Fukushima disaster. (7) This emphasises a growing amount of official attempts to try and suggest there is little now to worry about with Fukushima Daiichi, when clearly there is.
- Ongoing impacts on the health and environment – Finding independent statistics on the health and environmental impacts of the Fukushima disaster is very difficult. The World Health Organisation and the UN body UNSCEAR both argue the health impacts are low. In an assessment by Dr Ian Fairlie he notes that over 160,000 people were evacuated (most of them permanently). In addition there were many cases of post-trauma stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety disorders arising from the evacuations. About 12,000 workers on the site were exposed to high levels of radiation, some as much as 250 mSv. There could be as much as an estimated 5,000 fatal cancers from radiation exposures in the longer term; plus similar (unquantified) numbers of radiogenic strokes, CVS diseases and hereditary diseases. Between 2011 and 2015, there had been about 2,000 deaths from the radiation-related evacuations due to ill-health and suicides. There also remains issues over the number of thyroid cancers derived from the disaster. (8) For the wider environment, despite extensive levels of clean-up, there is a substantial area around the disaster site that remains out of public bounds. It will still take some considerable time to calculate the long-term impacts of the disaster on wildlife and the marine environment
- Economic cost of the disaster – In 2016, the Japanese Government calculated the cost of the disaster to be at almost 22 trillion yen ($188 billion / £144 billion), which was twice as much as the previous estimate of 11 trillion yen ($96 billion / £73 billion). More recent estimates have put the figure even higher—as much as 80 trillion yen ($736 billion / £565 billion) over 40 years – a quite gargantuan figure. (9) It is important to note in Europe, nuclear reactors are only asked to be insured for £1 billion. After that, it is likely to be taxpayer money that will need to cover the costs of an accident.
NFLA Chair, Councillor David Blackburn said:
“The Fukushima disaster, and the wider impacts of the earthquake and disaster, was a devastating tragedy for Japan. While much effort has taken place to resolve the wide level of problems that the nuclear disaster brought to the region, it is still clear much more work needs to be done. NFLA is really alarmed that shortly large amounts of contaminated tritiated water could be dumped in the Pacific Ocean, potentially commencing a dangerous scientific experiment to the marine environment. This is not the right answer for dealing with such a problem. The vast costs of this disaster should be a reminder to all governments who support nuclear power of the huge risks that would be endured if anything went wrong. Fukushima was never expected to happen, but it did. Many thousands of people have endured a difficult decade since it took place. Our thoughts are with them as we call for a new green energy revolution centred on renewable and decentralised energy solutions.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 00 44 (0)161 234 3244.
Notes for Editors:
(1) Beyond Nuclear Conference, March 2016
(2) Notes from Parliamentary seminar, 28th January 2017, with former Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan
(3) Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 11th November 2019
(4) Eleven News Ltd, 16th February 2020
(5) IAEA, 26TH February 2020
(6) The Guardian, 4th March 2020
(7) The Japan Times, 4th March 2020
(8) Dr Ian Fairlie, Summing up the effects of the Fukushima disaster
(9) Japan Centre for Economic Research, 7th March 2019