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


Fukushima government objects against building sarcophagus on Fukushima plant — Fukushima Diary

” Two days before, Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corporation released the new plan on Fukushima plant decommissioning. In this new plan, building a stone coffin to cover the reactor buildings like Chernobyl nuclear power plant was mentioned.

Uchibori, the governor of Fukushima prefecture officially objected to the government of Japan and demanded to remove nuclear fuel debris and dispose it outside of Fukushima plant instead of sarcophagus.

The governor commented building a sacrophagus in Fukushima is “unacceptable”. Fukushima prefecture would have to give up returning the residents and it would also affect the harmful rumor.

Takagi, Senior Vice-Minister of METI and Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corporation apologized and stated they have never considered sarcophagus and will try to complete the removal of all nuclear fuel debris in Fukushima plant. ”

by Iori Mochizuki


Behind the scenes: Waste disposal site a dilemma for Fukushima — The Yomiuri Shimbun

” On Dec. 4, the Fukushima prefectural government notified the national government that it would accept a proposal to dispose of the radioactive designated waste (see below) stored in the prefecture, where a catastrophic accident struck Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant due to the 2011 earthquake. The Fukushima prefectural government’s recent decision signifies a step forward in efforts to rehabilitate the nuclear disaster-hit prefecture. However, the latest move poses a dilemma: In some neighboring prefectures that are home to a large amount of such designated waste, there are persistent calls for their waste to be concentrated in Fukushima Prefecture.

The government’s proposal would entail the use of the Fukushima Eco-tech Clean Center, an existing private-sector disposal plant in the town of Tomioka, to bury a portion of the designated waste stored in the prefecture. The waste subject to this disposal will consist of garbage and other waste material whose radiation levels stand at 100,000 becquerels or less per kilogram.

Two years ago, the national government formally presented the proposal to the Fukushima prefectural government. This coincided with the national government’s move to unveil another plan aimed at building an interim storage facility in the prefecture. This facility would be used to store, for extended periods, garbage whose radioactive levels exceed 100,000 becquerels per kilogram as well as a massive amount of contaminated soil. There has been a constant increase in the amount of contaminated soil as a result of ongoing decontamination work. The interim storage facility is currently being built.

“These facilities are two halves of the same whole,” an Environment Ministry official said. “Both will be indispensable for stably storing a huge amount of radioactive waste.”

The two facilities can be described as “unwanted” by local residents. Still, both will serve to rehabilitate the areas affected by the 2011 nuclear disaster. The interim storage facility is indispensable for decontamination work, while the disposal plant is needed to expedite the return of evacuees to their hometowns.

One example is Naraha, a town that lies adjacent to Tomioka. A road that is used to carry supplies and other necessary materials to the Eco-tech Clean Center disposal plant in Tomioka passes through Naraha.

Therefore, residents and officials in Naraha were among those from whom the national government sought support for its designated waste burial project. At the same time, Naraha needed the facility due to the increase in the number of evacuees returning to the town. Their return means a growth in the amount of garbage from the demolition or repair of their houses.

In the wake of the nuclear disaster, an evacuation directive was issued to residents in most parts of Naraha, but it was lifted in September this year. Progress has since been made in rebuilding the evacuees’ homes so they could return to their hometown. The task of demolishing their houses has been assumed by the Environment Ministry.

According to the ministry, about 1,200 applications for house demolition had been submitted by late November, and approximately 490 houses have been demolished. The ministry hopes to complete housing demolition by the end of fiscal 2016.

The Eco-tech Clean Center plant will be used to dispose of such waste as burned ash from a temporary incinerator that will likely be put to work in November 2016.

“In some areas [of Naraha], there remain stacks of waste lumber at temporary storage sites near residential quarters,” a senior official of the Naraha town government said. “Failing to address this problem could make evacuees reluctant to return home. The disposal plant is highly significant for making progress in post-disaster reconstruction.”

In the wake of the nuclear accident, the government has worked to address waste disposal-related issues, based on the principle that radioactive waste generated in each disaster-hit prefecture should be stored and disposed of within that area. This rule was laid down under the Democratic Party of Japan-led government in November 2011, followed by a Cabinet decision finalizing the principle.

Later, the national government said it would seek to build a new disposal facility in each of five prefectures where a large amount of designated waste matter is stored — Tochigi, Chiba, Ibaraki, Miyagi and Gunma. These prefectures follow Fukushima in the amount of such stored waste. The government also drew up a plan to use existing disposal facilities in Tokyo and five other prefectures to bury the designated waste stored there.

However, little progress has been made in disposal plant construction projects in the five prefectures. To the contrary, even stronger objections were raised to the projects in these areas after the Fukushima prefectural government announced the decision to accept the national government’s proposal.

Attempt to focus burden

Kazuhisa Mikata, mayor of Shioya, Tochigi Prefecture, declared at the Environment Ministry on Dec. 7 that his town would not host a facility to dispose of radioactive waste from the prefecture, which was produced as a result of the 2011 nuclear accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

“I can’t understand it,” replied Shinji Inoue, state minister of the environment. As Inoue was about to leave the room in disgust, Mikata stopped him and said, “Our land was not supposed to be a candidate site from the very beginning.”

Since November last year, Mikata’s opinion that radioactive waste should be collected and disposed of exclusively in areas where it has become difficult for people to live for generations has been posted on the town’s web site. This has been taken to mean that all the radioactive waste should be disposed of in Fukushima Prefecture.

Not many heads of local governments have expressed this view publicly. However, Miyagi Gov. Yoshihiro Murai said at a press conference on Dec. 7, “It would be desirable if all the nuclear waste in the five [affected] prefectures was completely removed from them.”

In Miyagi Prefecture, the city of Kurihara and the towns of Taiwa and Kami were designated as candidate sites for a radioactive waste disposal facility. But the three municipal governments notified the central government on Dec. 13 that they would not become candidate sites to hold the facility.

Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori is wary of such opinions. When he told the central government of his intention to permit the establishment of a disposal facility in the prefecture, Uchibori said, “I would like to confirm here again that radioactive waste in each prefecture should be disposed of locally by the central government.”

Environment Minister Tamayo Marukawa replied, “We’ll uphold a plan to dispose of radioactive waste in each prefecture.”

However, there remain concerns that voices demanding disposal of radioactive waste outside the five prefectures of Tochigi, Chiba, Ibaraki, Miyagi and Gunma could lead to the opinion in the future that all the radioactive waste should be gathered together in Fukushima Prefecture.

Radioactive substances lose radiation gradually as time passes. Indeed, because of the passage of time, some radioactive waste has failed to meet the levels of radioactivity required to be classified as designated waste, which must contain over 8,000 becquerels per kilogram of radioactive substances.

Based on such lower levels of radioactivity and the progress in the disposal of designated waste in Fukushima Prefecture, the central government will continue to try to persuade the five prefectures to accept the establishment of facilities to dispose of radioactive waste in their communities.

“How will the other prefectures react if they are requested to cooperate because Fukushima Prefecture, which suffered most from the nuclear accident, has accepted the establishment of a disposal facility in it?” asked a senior official of the Environment Ministry.

Will they keep refusing the construction of facilities that might cause problems? Next spring marks the fifth anniversary of the nuclear accident. Not much time is left to answer that question.

Designated waste

This government-set designation is applied to waste matter whose radioactive level exceeds 8,000 becquerels per kilogram. Designated waste includes such things as sewer sludge and ash from burned trees and plants. According to the Environment Ministry, a total of about 166,300 tons of designated waste was stored in Tokyo and 11 prefectures, including Fukushima, as of the end of September. The waste in question has been kept in storehouses at sewage disposal facilities. ”


Fukushima may end free housing for voluntary nuclear evacuees in 2017 — The Japan Times

” FUKUSHIMA – The Fukushima Prefectural Government may stop providing free accommodations at the end of March 2017 for people who voluntarily left areas in the prefecture not subject to nuclear evacuation advisories, sources said.

Officials hope to encourage people who evacuated on their own to return home, but the proposed end to the assistance will certainty draw objections from them.

There have been calls in some Fukushima municipalities that are worried about the lack of progress in the return home of evacuees for an end to the support program.

The prefecture will decide after listening to the opinions of local officials later this month, the sources said.

Of about 115,000 people who have taken refuge in and outside the prefecture, some 36,000 are believed to be from areas that are not covered by the central government’s evacuation advisories for radiation from the nuclear crisis that started in 2011.

Many voluntary evacuees are people with children as well as former residents of such areas as the town of Hirono, the village of Kawauchi and the city of Minamisoma, all geographically close to the government-designated evacuation zones.

They sought refuge outside their hometowns mainly due to concerns over exposure to radiation from the reactor meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 plant.

Under the Disaster Relief Act, the prefectural government provides prefabricated temporary housing for nuclear evacuees for free and fully finances their rent for private apartments.

The aid program was originally supposed to run two years, but it was extended by a year twice, with the current version set to expire at the end of next March. For voluntary evacuees, the prefecture hopes to terminate the assistance after another one-year extension, the sources said.

It is looking at continuing the free accommodations for people who fled the designated evacuation areas, the sources said. ”


Radioactive soil stored at Fukushima schools not covered by recent disposal law, has nowhere to go — The Japan Times

” FUKUSHIMA – Radioactive soil currently stored at schools in Fukushima Prefecture is not supposed to be transferred to radioactive waste storage facilities planned to be built near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, Jiji Press learned Tuesday.

This is because decontamination at schools was carried out before a special law on radioactive contamination took effect in January 2012 and thus the Environment Ministry deems tainted soil collected during the work not covered by the law. The central government undertakes or funds decontamination work.

The Fukushima Prefectural Government is arguing that such discrimination is pointless and has repeatedly called on the ministry to create a system that will allow soil contaminated with fallout from the March 2011 nuclear calamity at the power plant to be shipped from schools to the planned interim storage facilities.

“We want the state government to prepare an environment where children can study safely,” a senior Fukushima municipal official said.

But the ministry has not given a clear response. This reluctance may be partly due to concerns over the cost of shipping soil to the facilities to store tainted soil before being finally disposed of at other locations. The cost is to be borne eventually by the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co.

A senior ministry official said it may be unfair to discriminate between radioactive soil collected before and after the law’s effectuation.

In August, the Fukushima Prefectural Government decided to accept the construction of the temporary storage facilities around the nuclear plant.

Hoping to begin radioactive waste shipments to the facilities in January, the central government is working to win the consent of landowners on the construction. ”


Fukushima accepts ‘temporary’ radioactive waste storage — Channel NewsAsia

” TOKYO: The governor of disaster-struck Fukushima agreed on Monday (Sep 1) to accept the “temporary” storage of nuclear waste from the Japanese accident, paving the way for an end to a years-long standoff.

Yuhei Sato has been cajoled and lavished with the promises of subsidies if he accepts a central government plan to build a depot on land near the battered Fukushima Daiichi plant.

“I have made an agonising decision to accept plans to construct temporary storage facilities in order to achieve recovery in the environment as soon as possible,” Sato told central government ministers in Tokyo.

The worst nuclear accident in a generation erupted in March 2011 when a huge tsunami swamped the plant on Japan’s northeast coast, flooding cooling systems and sending reactors into meltdown.

The resulting plumes of radiation contaminated areas far and wide, rendering a swathe of Fukushima uninhabitable, perhaps for generations, and forcing tens of thousands of people from their homes.

Tokyo’s solution has been to try to scrub the radiation from the affected areas, often by lifting topsoil in the hope that contamination levels will go down. This has left the thorny problem of what to do with all the waste, with no community in Japan prepared to accept its permanent storage.

The government’s answer has been to seek a temporary fix while it works on getting a long-term plan in place. While observers have long said the area around Fukushima is the only viable option, people already displaced have seen it as unacceptable because it would in effect finalise the abandonment of their communities.

Sato’s acquiescence came after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government offered subsidies worth more than ¥300 billion (US$2.9 billion), including land rent for the facility location. Under the plan, the government will build storage units on an area of 16 square kilometres near the still-fragile power plant. ”