The research team for simplyinfo.org put together an excellent summary report of the status of each unit at Fukushima Daiichi, along with the various decommissioning and cleanup projects, including the frozen ice wall and barrier, radioactive water filtration, muon scans, storage tank farms, evacuation lifts and compensation for Fukushima evacuees, Fukushima-related lawsuits, and radiation exposure and contamination to people, food and the environment.
” Five years ago next month, one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded hit Japan, destroying its long-standing myth of zero-risk nuclear energy. The meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant revealed significant shortcomings in Japan’s safety culture, which the country has since learned from and has been trying to address. Countries charging ahead with nuclear power should heed these lessons to avoid another Fukushima.
In the years since the accident, the Fukushima plant’s damaged reactors have been stabilized through a makeshift water-cooling system, and releases of radioactivity have been greatly reduced. Meanwhile, after decontamination efforts, some of the over 100,000 evacuees have been allowed to return home.
However, despite some notable successes in cleaning up the site, tens of thousands of people are still displaced, work conditions at the plant remain poor, storing the accumulating radioactive water is an ongoing concern, and Japan remains decades away from fully decommissioning the mangled reactors. The total economic damage has been estimated at over $100 billion, and none of the six reactors at Fukushima Daiichi will ever operate again.
There have been no deaths from the effects of the radiation (according to the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, any increase in cancer rates is expected to be too small to detect). On the other hand, forced evacuation is estimated to have played a role in over 1,000 premature deaths, and according to a World Health Organization health risk assessment, as with Chernobyl, the psychological toll of the disaster is a major concern and potentially outweighs other health consequences.
The disaster prompted many other countries to take stock of their own nuclear programs. The take-home lesson for some, including a majority of the Japanese public, was to move away from nuclear power. For example, Germany vowed to phase out all nuclear power by 2022, Italy voted overwhelmingly not to restart its nuclear program, and Switzerland banned the construction of new reactors.
Other nations were hardly slowed in their expansion of nuclear energy. China, India, and Russia lead the way with, all together, more than 40 reactors under construction and over twice as many planned. In their haste, it seems that many of these countries have not absorbed the key lesson from Fukushima: the importance of a rigorous and all-encompassing safety regime.
Before the Disaster
According to a National Academy of Sciences study, prior to the Fukushima accident, Japan’s nuclear regulatory agencies did not seem to have sufficient expertise, authority, resources, or independence to adequately protect public safety. In hindsight, the problem appears to be a classic case of regulatory capture, reinforced by the common practices of amakudari (descent from heaven), referring to retired powerful public officials being hired into private sector jobs, and amaagari (ascent to heaven), referring to private sector experts moving into government-related positions.
Moreover, the regulatory body was housed in the very ministry charged with promoting nuclear energy, which created a potential conflict of interest. (To avoid similar issues, in 1975, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission was split to separate the Nuclear Regulatory Commission from promotional functions.)
An independent regulator is not sufficient, though: a strong culture of safety must also be cultivated throughout the nuclear network—from operators and construction workers up to plant owners—as well as throughout the supply chain. Pride must come not just from the megawatts produced; each entity should prioritize public safety when building or operating nuclear plants and maintain alertness through frequent drills for workers at all levels.
The 2011 meltdown turned a spotlight on the flaws in the safety regime of Tokyo Electric Power Co., the Fukushima Daiichi operator. It had falsified reports and fudged safety-related inspections long before Fukushima; it had also failed to update its seismic and tsunami safety standards. To be sure, it is difficult to prepare for an event that seems nearly impossible, such as an earthquake and tsunami of the magnitude that hit Japan, but a superior safety culture can make a difference—some have argued that that was why the reactors at the Onagawa power station, which were slammed as hard as Fukushima Daiichi, remained intact and were safely shut down.
Since the accident, Japan has taken admirable, although incomplete, steps to set up an independent regulator and to improve its safety culture, including by bringing in respected international advisers. Last year, it began gradually to reactivate some of the country’s functioning reactors. Before Fukushima, the more than 50 reactors had provided Japan with some 30 percent of its electrical power, but all were taken offline in the months after the accident.
Of course, Japan is not alone in facing these types of safety-related problems. After dissolving the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, the United States, the world’s leading producer of nuclear energy, has faced criticism for the amount of influence the industry wields over its rule-making process. South Korea’s nuclear industry, too, has had problems, including a history of falsifying safety documents.
But most worrying are the developing countries entering the huddle. China leads the way, with plans to triple its nuclear-generating capacity by 2020, but its regulator is neither structurally independent nor well staffed. Because an accident has such massive potential for widespread damage, tight quality control is essential. China’s track record in this regard is not promising. For example, in 1987, the crew constructing a nuclear plant near Hong Kong misread blueprints and initially failed to incorporate a large portion of the requisite protective steel, raising questions about competence and oversight.
Some new powers are more prudent, including the United Arab Emirates, which began creating a solid regulatory framework, with a team of international experts to regularly assess the program’s progress, long before its first reactor comes online in 2017.
Others are more cavalier, such as Vietnam, another one-party state with nuclear ambitions and no precedent for any type of independent regulatory entity. Iran, a seismically active country, also has attracted concern over the safety of its current and future reactors and the lack of independence of its regulator, despite the recent nuclear deal with the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, plus Germany). India is another fast-growing nuclear power, with over 25 reactors either under construction or planned. But it is stuck on the question of regulatory independence since a proposed law on regulation, tabled in reaction to the Fukushima disaster, was not passed by the legislature.
Calls for International Atomic Energy Agency reforms that will require more rigorous international safety checks are welcome, but it must not stop there. Generating nuclear energy should be recognized as a serious responsibility, given the scale of damage and suffering when things go wrong—as the world was reminded five years ago. ”
by David Roberts and Norman Neureiter
” The Fukushima prefectural government is maintaining its plan to terminate the free housing program for “voluntary” evacuees from the nuclear disaster despite a barrage of criticism and complaints expressed during an explanatory meeting.
Fukushima officials told the briefing session in Tokyo’s Nakano Ward on Feb. 7 that in April 2017, free housing will no longer be available to people who fled from homes located outside government-designated evacuation zones around the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Instead, the officials said, new assistance measures, including subsidies for moving and rent, will be offered.
Many of the 30 or so people in attendance, including evacuees, blasted the planned measures as insufficient.
“It just sounds like the prefectural government wants to make us return to the area as soon as possible and terminate the assistance,” one of them said. “Even though the nuclear accident has not yet come to an end, how can they say we should go back there?”
According to the prefectural government, about 6,000 households voluntarily evacuated to areas outside Fukushima Prefecture after the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in March 2011. An estimated 5,700 voluntary evacuees were living in Tokyo in January this year.
Based on the Disaster Relief Law, the prefectural government has offered public housing and other free accommodations to nuclear evacuees regardless of whether their original homes were in state-designated evacuation zones.
The government is now moving to lift all evacuation orders around the nuclear plant except for certain areas where radiation levels are expected to remain high.
“We held discussions with the central government while taking the situation into consideration, and the central government agreed to extend the program to March next year,” a prefectural government official told the meeting. “It would be difficult to further extend the period.”
The new measures include up to 100,000 yen ($853) in subsidies for moving expenses, as well as preferential treatment in relocating to prefectural government-run housing.
For low-income households who continue to live in private apartments and other housing as evacuees, the prefecture will cover half the monthly rent up to 30,000 yen for the first year and one-third of the rent up to 20,000 yen for the second year.
“We cannot live with a subsidy of 30,000 yen,” one of the evacuees said at the meeting. “Do they understand the rent in Tokyo?”
A representative of Hinan Seikatsu o Mamoru Kai (group that protects evacuation life), which comprises evacuees living in areas around Tokyo, indicated that the proposed measures would put too much of a financial burden on many of the voluntary evacuees.
“Our biggest difficulty is the housing issue,” he said. “We strongly demand that the prefectural government withdraw the termination of the free housing program.”
Masaaki Matsumoto, chief of the prefectural government’s Evacuees Support Division, defended the plan and said the government does not intend to force evacuees to return home.
“The environment in Fukushima is being prepared for people to live in,” Matsumoto said. “By setting up the subsidy system, we also responded to those who want to continue their evacuation.” ”
by Jun Sato
” KAWAMATA, FUKUSHIMA PREF. – A rice paddy skating rink close to the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant is expected to reopen this month, five years after the public last scudded about on it.
It is located in the Yamakiya district of the town of Kawamata, a settlement in Fukushima Prefecture whose inhabitants remain evacuated over radiation fears.
Yamakiya is only 30 to 40 kilometers from the nuclear plant. It suffered major population loss: 1,185 residents, or 557 households, fled their homes and sought accommodation elsewhere. Kawamata aims to have the evacuation order for the district lifted this spring.
The rink’s reopening has people excited.
“I’m trying to make sure children can skate safely when they come here,” said Hidekazu Ouchi, 67, vice chairman of a skating club that manages the rink. He was speaking as he worked to level out the rice paddy with a blade attached to a power shovel.
Kawamata first created the rink in 1984. It was made every year by allowing water to ice up on 50 acres of paddy left idle after the harvest is over.
Water is sprayed on the land and it ices up in Fukushima’s frigid winter temperatures.
It was used by local schools in particular. In January and February, elementary and junior high schools in the area would head there for physical education classes.
The rink was abandoned after the March 2011 triple meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station forced residents to evacuate the town.
Late last April, however, decontamination work was completed in the area. As radiation levels are now below 1 millisievert, which is the central government’s long-term goal for a person’s annual radiation exposure, the skating club decided to reopen the paddy rink.
“I never thought the rink would be revived,” said a 61-year-old woman who evacuated from the Yamakiya district. “I’m happy.”
But a woman whose children go to local elementary and junior high schools said with a touch of anxiety, “I’m worried about the impact of radiation.”
Having completed weeding the rice field, filling it with water and leveling out the soil, the skating club is now waiting for the water to freeze.
“By bringing back the liveliness to Yamakiya, I’m hoping to see the momentum of reconstruction get rolling,” Ouchi said. ”
” FUKUSHIMA (Jiji Press) — Ahead of the fifth anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear crisis in March 2011, the number of residents of the northeastern Japan prefecture who are still living as evacuees has fallen below 100,000, a survey by the prefectural government revealed Friday.
According to the survey, 56,463 evacuees were staying within Fukushima Prefecture as of the end of December, while 43,497 evacuees were outside the prefecture as of Dec. 10. The whereabouts of 31 evacuees were unknown.
The total figure came to 99,991 in the December survey, down from 121,585 in January last year.
The total peaked at 164,865 in May 2012, two months after Japan’s worst nuclear accident occurred at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s tsunami-crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station. ”
” FUKUSHIMA–Fukushima Prefecture’s population has declined by 5.7 percent since 2010, its largest recorded drop and the cause of a widening gender gap in some areas, according to national census figures announced on Dec. 25.
The population drop is mainly due to ongoing evacuations following the Fukushima nuclear disaster, according to the preliminary figures released by the prefectural government.
The prefecture lost 39,715 men and 75,743 women, a decrease of 4 percent and 7.3 percent from 2010, respectively. The difference is thought to have been caused partly by the majority male presence in reconstruction efforts.
A prefectural government official said the diminishing population is “attributable to a considerable number of people who have evacuated to places outside Fukushima Prefecture.”
On the gap between the male and female populations in some municipalities, the official said, “I assume that most of the workers who relocate themselves to these municipalities for the purpose of carrying out work related to nuclear power plants and reconstruction efforts are male, but many of the evacuees are female.”
The national census figures are the first released by the prefectural government since the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, which triggered the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Fukushima prefecture’s population as of Oct. 1 stood at 1,913,606, down 115,458, or 5.7 percent, from the last census in 2010.
Among the six towns and villages where the entire population has left under evacuation orders, four towns recorded zero inhabitants: Okuma and Futaba, which co-host the nuclear plant, and nearby Tomioka and Namie.
The village of Katsurao had 18 people who have returned to their homes after being evacuated. They are recorded as temporary residents, but the central government is working to make their resettlement permanent. Katsurao’s evacuation order is scheduled to be lifted next spring.
Naraha, where an evacuation order was lifted on Sept. 5, also experienced a massive decrease in its population, with 976 people living in the area, down 6,724 people, or 87.3 percent, from 2010. The figures illustrate the fact that few evacuees have opted to return home.
The town of Hirono, where a large portion of the population is involved in nuclear reactor decommissioning work, tallied a male population of 2,746, up 2.3 percent from 2010. The female population, on the other hand, was about half that figure at 1,577, down 42.3 percent.
The population figures are based on the number of people living in the prefecture as of Oct. 1, irrespective of whether they are registered as local citizens.
In areas where entry is restricted due to high levels of radiation from the nuclear accident, municipal employees and police officers were deployed to survey the population for the census. ”