Fleeing from Fukushima: a nuclear evacuation reality check — Beyond Nuclear International

” (The following is an excerpt from a longer article on the subject of evacuations after severe nuclear accidents. While this section focuses on Fukushima, there are lessons here for all nuclear sites and the likely failure of “on paper” evacuation plans.)

If another severe nuclear accident, such as Windscale (in 1957), Chernobyl (1986) or Fukushima (2011) were to occur, then the most important response, in terms of preventing future cancer epidemics, is evacuation. The other main responses are shelter and stable iodine prophylaxis. Adverse health effects would primarily depend on wind direction and on the nature of the accident.  This article looks primarily at the Fukushima evacuation and its after-effects.

When the Fukushima-Daiichi, Japan nuclear disaster began on March 11, 2011, evacuations were not immediate and some were hampered by the destructive after-effects of the Tsunami and earthquake that precipitated the nuclear crisis.

Once people were evacuated, little, if any, consideration seems to have been given to how long such evacuations would last. For example, the large majority of the 160,000 people who left or were evacuated from Fukushima Prefecture are still living outside the Prefecture. Many are living in makeshift shelters such as shipping containers or prefabricated houses.

At present, the Japanese Government is attempting to force evacuees (by withdrawing state compensation) to return to less contaminated areas, with little success. Currently, seven years after the accident, an area of about 1,000 square kilometers is still subject to evacuation and no entry orders. This compares with the area of 2,700 square kilometers still evacuated and subject to no or restricted entry at Chernobyl, almost 32 years after the accident.

Experience of the Fukushima Evacuation

In 2015 and 2016, I visited Fukushima Prefecture in Japan with international study teams. These study tours were informative as they revealed information about the evacuations that differed from official accounts by TEPCO and the Japanese Government. From many discussions with local mayors, councillors, local health groups and small community groups, the following information was revealed.

The most common figure cited for evacuees is 160,000, of which 80,000 were evacuated by the authorities and the rest left to evacuate on their own, often on foot, cycles and carts. It took about two weeks to evacuate all parts of the initial 20 km (later 30 km) radius evacuation areas around the Fukushima reactors.

The main reason for the delays was that many roads in the Prefecture were jammed with gridlocks which sometimes lasted 24 hours a day, for several days on end on some roads. These traffic jams were partly due to the poor existing road infrastructure and partly due to many road accidents. These jams were of such severity that safety crews for the Fukushima nuclear station had to be moved in and out mostly by helicopter. All public transport by trains and buses ceased. Mobile telephone networks and the internet crashed due to massive demand.

Thousands of people either refused to leave their homelands or returned later. Older farmers often refused to leave their animals behind or be moved from their ancestral lands. In at least a dozen recorded cases, older farmers slaughtered their cow herds rather than leave them behind (dairy cows need to be milked daily): they then committed suicide themselves in several instances.

According to Hachiya et al (2014), the disaster adversely affected the telecommunications system, water supplies, and electricity supplies including radiation monitoring systems. The local hospital system was dysfunctional; hospitals designated as radiation-emergency facilities were unable to operate because of damage from the earthquake and tsunami, and some were located within designated evacuation zones. Emergency personnel, including fire department personnel, were often asked to leave the area.

At hospitals, evacuations were sometimes carried out hurriedly with the unfortunate result that patients died due to intravenous drips being ripped out, medicaments being left behind, the absence of doctors and nurses who had left, and ambulance road accidents. Many hastily-allocated reception centres (often primary schools) were either unable or ill-equipped to deal with seriously ill patients.

Much confusion resulted when school children were being bussed home, while their parents were trying to reach schools to collect their children. Government officials, doctors, nurses, care workers, police, firepersons, ambulance drivers, emergency crews, teachers, and others faced the dilemma of whether to stay at their posts or return to look after their families. In the event, many emergency crews refused to enter evacuation zones for fear of radiation exposure.

Stable iodine was not issued to most people. Official evacuation plans were either non-existent or inadequate and, in the event, next to useless. In many cases, local mayors took the lead and ordered and supervised evacuations in their villages without waiting for orders or in defiance of them. Apparently, the higher up the administrative level, the greater the levels of indecision and lack of responsibility.

In the years after the accident, the longer-lasting effects of the evacuations have become apparent. These include family separations, marital break-ups, widespread depression, and further suicides. These are discussed in a recent publication (Morimatsu et al, 2017) which relates the sad, often eloquent, stories of the Fukushima people. They differ sharply from the accounts disseminated by TEPCO.

Deaths from evacuations at Fukushima

Official Japanese Government data reveal that nearly 2,000 people died from the effects of evacuations necessary to avoid high radiation exposures from the Fukushima disaster, including from suicides.

The uprooting to unfamiliar areas, cutting of family ties, loss of social support networks, disruption, exhaustion, poor physical conditions and disorientation resulted in many people, in particular older people, apparently losing their will to live.

The evacuations also resulted in increased levels of illnesses among evacuees such as hypertension, diabetes mellitus and dyslipidaemia, psychiatric and mental health problems, polycythaemia — a slow growing blood cancer — cardiovascular disease, liver dysfunction, and severe psychological distress.

Increased suicide rates occurred among younger and older people following the Fukushima evacuations, but the trends are unclear. A 2014 Japanese Cabinet Office report stated that, between March 2011 and July 2014, 56 suicides in Fukushima Prefecture were linked to the nuclear accident.

Should evacuations be ordered?

The above account should not be taken as arguments against evacuations as they constitute an important dose-saving and life-saving strategy during emergencies. Instead, the toll from evacuations should be considered part of the overall toll from nuclear accidents.

In future, deaths from evacuation-related ill-heath and suicides should be included in assessments of the fatality numbers from nuclear disasters.

For example, although about 2,000 deaths occurred during and immediately after the evacuations, it can be calculated from UNSCEAR (2013) collective dose estimates that about 5,000 fatal cancers will arise from the radiation exposures at Fukushima, i.e. taking into account the evacuations. Many more fatal cancers would have occurred if the evacuations had not beeCn carried out.

There is an acute planning dilemma here: if evacuations are carried out (even with good planning) then illnesses and deaths will undoubtedly occur. But if they are not carried out, even more people could die. In such situations, it is necessary to identify the real cause of the problem. And here it is the existence of nuclear power plants near large population centres. In such cases, consideration should be given to the early closure of the nuclear power plants, and switching to safer means of electricity generation.


The experiences of Japanese evacuees after Fukushima are distressing to read. Their experiences were terrible, so much so that it requires Governments of large cities with nearby nuclear power plants to reconsider their own situations and to address the question…. what would happen if radioactive fallout heavily contaminated large areas of their city and required millions of residents to leave for long periods of time, for example several decades?

And how long would evacuations need to continue…. weeks, months, years, or decades? The time length of evacuations is usually avoided in the evacuation plans seen so far. In reality, the answer would depend on cesium-137 concentrations in surface soils. The time period could be decades, as the half-life of the principal radionuclide, Cs-137, is 30 years. This raises the possibility of large cities becoming uninhabited ‘ghost’ towns like Tomioka, Okuma, Namie, Futaba, etc in Japan and Pripyat in Ukraine.

This bleak reality is hard to accept or even comprehend. However it is a matter that some governments need to address after Fukushima. It is unsurprising therefore, that after Fukushima, several major European states including Germany and Switzerland have decided to phase out their nuclear reactors. ”

by Dr. Ian Fairlie, Beyond Nuclear International



Experts: Fukushima must do more to reduce radioactive water — U.S. News

Here is a good article written by Mari Yamaguchi that explains the state of contaminated water at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Experts say that the ice wall that was built to keep groundwater from coming into the power plant and becoming contaminated with radioactivity is only half effective. A conventional drainage system also collects water from wells dug around the plant and pumps it out before it becomes contaminated. This water is stored in about 1,000 storage tanks near the facility. Read more about the construction, operation and maintenance costs that are coming out of the taxpayer’s pocket.


Seven Years After: Radioactive debris piling up at Fukushima interim facility — The Asahi Shimbun

” FUTABA, Fukushima Prefecture–Stacks of soil and other waste contaminated by the Fukushima nuclear disaster continue to grow at an interim storage facility here.

Black bags filled with radioactive debris collected during decontamination work in various locations in the prefecture have been brought to the facility since October, when operations started.

Heavy machinery is used to stack the bags, and green sheets now cover some of the piles.

The town of Futaba co-hosts the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. The interim facility is expected to eventually cover about 1,600 hectares of land in Futaba and Okuma, the other co-host of the plant.

The government has acquired 801 hectares as of Jan. 29, and 70 percent of that space is already covered with contaminated debris.

Negotiations between the government and landowners are continuing for the remaining hectares.

The government plans to move the contaminated debris to a final disposal site outside the prefecture by March 2045. However, it has had difficulties finding local governments willing to accept the waste. ”

by Tetsuro Takehana, The Asahi Shimbun


Tepco refused safety agency’s proposal to simulate Fukushima tsunami nine years before meltdown disaster — The Japan Times

” Nine years before the 2011 meltdown crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co. turned down a request from the government’s nuclear watchdog for it to conduct a simulation of powerful tsunami that could hit the plant, a court document showed on Tuesday.

Written testimony was submitted to the Chiba District Court on Nov. 24 by Shuji Kawahara, who was head of a team responsible for quake safety issues at the now-defunct Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) — the predecessor of today’s Nuclear Regulation Authority.

Kawahara’s testimony showed that Tepco may have missed an opportunity to examine the possibility of a tsunami disaster almost a decade before such a crisis came to pass in 2011, when massive waves knocked out critical cooling systems at the Fukushima No. 1 plant.

The testimony was submitted as part of a lawsuit filed by Fukushima evacuees seeking compensation from the utility and the central government.

The crippled plant has spewed a massive amount of radioactive material into its surroundings, forcing numerous residents to temporarily evacuate. Many have completely abandoned their hometowns.

Contacted by The Japan Times, Tepco spokesman Norio Okura declined to comment, saying “the matter is related to the ongoing lawsuit.”

In the court documents, Kawahara maintains that NISA asked Tepco to conduct a tsunami simulation in August 2002, highlighting emails that summarize discussions at NISA-Tepco meetings that were sent to related parties later the same month.

NISA made the request because a government expert committee for quake research published on July 31, 2002, a report warning that a major tsunami event could hit anywhere along the Pacific coast of Japan, Kawahara said in the statement.

The report concluded that a major tsunami could hit somewhere along the coastal areas from Tohoku to Chiba Prefecture, with a probability of 20 percent over the next 30 years.

Tepco representatives visited NISA officials on Aug. 5 to discuss the report. But Tepco officials “resisted for 40 minutes” during the meeting and eventually turned down NISA’s request, according to a copy of Kawahara’s written statement, seen by The Japan Times on Tuesday.

In the statement, Kawahara said he believes Tepco rejected the request because “it would take substantial time and expense to carry out a simulation,” and because there was no evidence strongly suggesting such a quake and tsunami could actually hit the Fukushima plant.

Rejecting the proposal, Tepco officials cited a research paper written by two seismologists who played down the possibility of such a quake-tsunami disaster, according to Kawahara.

NISA didn’t override Tepco’s refusal. Kawahara said he believes NISA’s decision at the time was “justifiable.”

In the spring of 2008, Tepco conducted a simulation and concluded that tsunami as high as 15.7 meters could hit the Fukushima plant. But the firm still did not take action before the 2011 disaster, instead saying the simulation was based on a hypothetical scenario and that there was no evidence suggesting such powerful tsunami would actually engulf the Tohoku region.

In its ruling on Sept. 22, Chiba District Court denied any central government responsibility but ordered Tepco — now Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. — to pay additional compensation of ¥376 million to 42 evacuees. Both Tepco and the plaintiff have appealed to a higher court. ”

by Reiji Yoshida, The Japan Times


Regulator urges Tepco to release treated radioactive water from damaged Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant into the sea — The Japan Times

” A decision should be made sometime this year over whether to release into the sea water containing radioactive tritium from the crisis-hit Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, the chief of Japan’s nuclear regulator said Thursday, emphasizing it would pose no danger to human health.

“We will face a new challenge if a decision (about the release) is not made this year,” Nuclear Regulation Authority Chairman Toyoshi Fuketa told Naraha Mayor Yukiei Matsumoto, referring to the more than 1 million tons of coolant water and groundwater that has accumulated at the crippled facility. Naraha is located close to the Fukushima No.1 plant.

Fuketa said releasing the water into the sea after dilution is the only solution, saying “it is scientifically clear that there will be no impact on marine products or to the environment.”

Currently, Fukushima plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. regularly filters contaminated coolant water and ground water from the damaged plant. The processed water is stored in hundreds of water tanks set up within the plant’s compound.

Dangerous radioactive materials are removed during filtration, but tritium — which is difficult to separate from water but relatively harmless to human health — remains.

“(Tepco) has been building new tanks, but it will eventually run out of land,” an NRA official later told The Japan Times.

With limited storage space for water tanks, observers warn that tritium could start leaking from the Fukushima plant.

The nuclear regulator’s chief underlined the need for the government and Tepco to make a decision quickly, saying, “It will take two or three years to prepare for the water’s release into the sea.”

At other nuclear power plants, water containing tritium is routinely dumped into the sea after it is diluted. The regulator has been calling for the release of the water after diluting it to a density lower than standards set by law.

According to the NRA, an average pressured-water reactor for commercial use in Japan usually dumps 60 trillion becquerels of tritium a year into the sea.

Local fishermen are, however, worried about the negative impact from the water discharge — in particular the effect of groundless rumors regarding the safety of marine life near the Fukushima plant. In the face of their opposition, Tepco has not yet reached a decision on how to deal with the stored water.

At the Fukushima plant contaminated water is building up partly because groundwater is seeping into the reactor buildings and mixing with water that has been made radioactive in the process of cooling the damaged reactors.

According to the NRA, there were 650 water tanks within the compound at the Fukushima No. 1 plant as of last month.

The density of tritium in the water ranges from 1 million to 5 million becquerels per liter. Legal restrictions require a nuclear power plant to dump tritium-tainted water after diluting it to 60,000 becquerels per liter, according to the NRA.

On March 11, 2011, tsunami inundated the six-reactor plant, which is located on ground 10 meters above sea level, and flooded its power supply facilities.

Reactor cooling systems were crippled and the Nos. 1 to 3 reactors suffered fuel meltdowns in the world’s worst nuclear catastrophe since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. ”

by Kyodo, The Japan Times


Koizumi’s nuclear power questions – The Japan Times editorial

” While political repercussions continue over former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s surprise calls for ending nuclear power generation in Japan, what the once popular leader points out are all sensible and legitimate questions about Japan’s energy policy that remain unanswered by members of the Abe administration. Any energy policy that fails to squarely answer the questions posed by Koizumi will not have any credibility.

Koizumi, who kept largely out of the media spotlight after retiring as lawmaker in 2009, has been speaking out in recent months that Japan should end its reliance on nuclear power. He says the Fukushima nuclear disaster changed his perception of nuclear power as a low-cost and safe source of energy and now says, “There is nothing more costly than nuclear power.” He urges the government to divert the massive energy and money needed to maintain nuclear power in Japan into more investments in the development and promotion of renewable energy sources.

Many of his former Liberal Democratic Party colleagues initially tried to dismiss Koizumi as a retired politician who has nothing to do with the party today. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who served in key Cabinet and LDP positions during Koizumi’s 2001-2006 rule, said it is “irresponsible” to commit to ending nuclear energy at this point. Meanwhile, hopes have emerged within the opposition camp that an alliance with Koizumi — who drew strong popular support while in office — on the zero nuclear agenda could provide them with ammunition against the LDP’s dominance in the Diet.

The political ripple effects — and some criticism over his flip-flop after promoting nuclear power while in office — aside, what seems missing in the controversy are discussions on the very real and pressing issues highlighted by Koizumi. He points to poor prospects for finding a permanent storage site for highly radioactive waste after spent fuel is reprocessed. This problem — for which Japan’s nuclear power industry has long been likened to a “condominium without a toilet” — has been set aside since well before the Fukushima crisis.

Abe has told the Diet that a technology has been established to store such waste in geological layers deep underground. Koizumi says the problem is that despite the existence of this technology, the government has been unable for more than a decade to find a candidate site anywhere in Japan. And this technology, Koizumi says, might be problematic in this quake-prone country — a point that Abe conveniently neglects to mention. Given the safety concerns over nuclear power following the triple meltdowns at the Fukushima plant, it is even more doubtful that a candidate site will ever be found, Koizumi says. Thus radioactive waste will continue to pile up as long as nuclear power plants are operated.

Japan’s nuclear fuel cycle program is at a standstill. Completion of a fuel reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, has been delayed for years, and the Monju fast-breeder reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, has been idled for much of the time since a sodium leak and fire in 1995. Meanwhile, storage space for spent nuclear fuel from reactors around the country, and in the Rokkasho complex, is nearly 70 percent full.

As Koizumi points out, the myth that nuclear power is cheaper than other sources of energy is thrown in doubt when the expenses for siting nuclear plants, their future decommissioning and waste disposal are included. And on top of this there is the massive cost of dealing with the aftermath of the Fukushima No. 1 meltdowns, including compensation, which far exceeds the financial capacity of its operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. This is necessitating the injection of a huge amount of taxpayer money.

Abe’s rebuttal is that increased fossil fuel imports for thermal power generation to make up for the nuclear plant shutdowns is costing the nation trillions of yen a year. But his rhetoric does not answer the question whether nuclear power is really the affordable source of energy — as it has long been touted to be by the government — especially after the costs of compensation and decontamination in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear crisis are taken into account.

Abe has vowed to scrap the nuclear phaseout policy of the Democratic Party of Japan-led administration that his LDP ousted from power last year. But the prime minister has yet to present a new vision for the nation’s energy policy — except to say that he would reduce as much as possible Japan’s reliance on nuclear power while maximizing energy-saving efforts and development of alternative energy.

While the future of Japan’s energy policy remains elusive and the Fukushima nuclear crisis is continuing, Abe has been pushing for the sale of Japanese nuclear power plant technology overseas as part of his bid to boost infrastructure exports. When Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and France’s Areva clinched a joint-venture deal in October to build a nuclear power plant with four advanced reactors in Turkey, Abe said Japan “is responsible for helping improve the safety of atomic power in the world by sharing the experience and lessons” from the disaster at the Fukushima plant — whose situation he has described as “under control.”

At home the Abe administration and the LDP are pushing for the restart of some idled nuclear reactors once they have cleared a new set of safety criteria, even though radiation-contaminated water continues to leak from the Fukushima compound nearly 2½ years after the meltdowns.

Abe should lay out a new energy vision that will fully address the doubts about nuclear power raised by Koizumi. His legitimate concerns are likely shared by a large part of the public — a majority of whom, according to media surveys, oppose restart of the idled nuclear reactors. As Koizumi says, only Japan’s political leaders can set the direction for the nation’s energy policy. The Abe administration has an obligation to choose a path that ensures Japan will not have to contend with another nuclear power plant disaster in the future. ”

by The Japan Times