Nuclear Disaster in Japan


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Lessons from Fukushima, a report on February 28th, 2012  shows that the Fukushima nuclear disaster was caused by the failures of the Japanese government to protect its citizens from nuclear risks and not by the natural disasters of an earthquake and tsunami as the nuclear industry would like us to believe.

Fukushima radiation leaks

UPDATE: August 2013 The Japanese government has announced that radioactive groundwater is leaking from the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

Is the Fukushima plant still leaking radioactive material?

Yes. Efforts to decontaminate highly radioactive water used to cool the reactors and spent nuclear fuel at Fukushima have been fraught with difficulty. Currently, over 280,000 tons of contaminated water are being stored at the plant. An additional 100,000 tons are believed to be flooding the basements of the No. 1 to No. 4 reactor buildings as well as the turbine buildings. TEPCO destroyed an entire nearby forest in order to make room for tanks that will eventually store 700,000 tons of water. TEPCO plans to dump contaminated water into the ocean after reducing its radioactivity. The efficiency of this method for ‘cleaning’ the water is unproven, and its operation has been delayed.

About 400 tons of groundwater flow into the reactor buildings on a daily basis and mixes with the radioactive water. 300 tons of water is believed to be leaking into the ocean every day, enough to fill an Olympic swimming pool in about a week.

Experts warned for ongoing leaks from the plant earlier – based on what?

Large amounts of contaminated water are stored in temporary storage tanks, while the basements of the reactors are flooded with contaminated water as well. Even though TEPCO claimed that all water was contained, it was hard to believe that the reactor basement structures were water tight especially after the large earthquakes. With hundreds of tons of groundwater flowing into the site every day, it was impossible to contain the radioactivity.

At the same time, radioactive cesium levels in most kinds of fish caught off the coast of Fukushima haven't declined in the year following Japan's nuclear disaster, a signal that the seafloor or leakage from the damaged reactors must be continuing to contaminate the waters. Japanese government data shows that 40 percent of bottom-dwelling fish such as cod, flounder and halibut were found to be above the limit for radioactivity in food.

What are the potential consequences of these leaks for the ocean environment?

Large amounts of radioactivity have leaked into the ocean since the start of the accident, which caused spreading of contamination over a wide area. Radioactively contaminated fish and other marine life have been caught even at large distances from the Fukushima nuclear plant.

The ongoing leakages from the Fukushima plant will further contaminate the ocean environment, a catastrophe for the Japanese local fisheries. Some radionuclides accumulate in certain species (e.g. seaweed) or organs from fish, occasionally causing dangerously high levels of radiation in sea products.

Marine sediments are also collecting radioactive contaminants, especially exposing bottom-dwelling fish, shellfish and other organisms on the sea floor to higher levels of contaminants. More monitoring needs to be done to determine the level of contamination on the seafloor. Some of the radionuclides have a long lifetime, and will continue to pose a danger to ocean life for many decades to come.

Greenpeace is still regularly testing fish samples from supermarkets. Testing of oceanic samples gathered by Greenpeace in 2011 showed excessive levels of radioactive cesium in seaweed and fish. TEPCO reported as recently as January 2013, fish caught off the coast of the Fukushima plant measured 254,000 Bq/kg of radioactive cesium, 2,540 times the legal limit for human consumption.

The occurrence of contaminated ocean products will persist, and continued monitoring of seafood especially from the Fukushima area but also at larger distances will remain necessary. Further research needs to be done to map the long-term impacts of the Fukushima leaks into the ocean.

How do the radioactive leaks affect the Japanese fisheries?

The occurrence of contaminated ocean products will persist, and continued monitoring of seafood especially from the Fukushima area but also at larger distances will remain necessary. Japan's government banned commercial fishing in the Fukushima area, and fishermen in the Fukushima area will not be able to restart their business in the near future. Local fishermen are facing an unknown future.

The total cost of damage to the fishing industry is estimated at around 1.26 trillion yen ($12.49 billion).

The uncertainty and stress have become problems. Many former fishermen live in temporary homes next to people they barely know after losing not only their jobs, but also family members. The fishermen of Hisanohama, forced out of work by the disaster, have had no choice but to take the only job available – catching fish for checking of contamination levels in fish just offshore from the destroyed nuclear reactor buildings.

Currently, the fishermen and TEPCO are in dispute over the utility's plans to dump diverted groundwater and later the ‘cleaned’ water from the storage tanks into the sea. The fishermen's opposition to TEPCO’s plans underlines deep distrust across radiation-contaminated areas towards TEPCO and the government after their uncertain response to the disaster, and a lack of clear information about radiation risks since.

What are the potential risks for Japanese and worldwide consumers of Japanese fish products?

The occurrence of contaminated ocean products will persist, and continued monitoring of seafood especially from the Fukushima area but also at larger distances will remain necessary. Further research needs to be done to map the long-term impacts of the Fukushima leaks into the ocean.

Risks for consumers depend on how effective the food monitoring system in Japan is. And this is not as widespread and detailed as it should be. Greenpeace calls upon supermarkets and the government to establish stricter food testing and a system for traceability for fish products.

From April to September 2012, the government tested 114,000 food samples. Of these, 1,394 samples (about one percent) contained more radioactive material than allowed under those standards. Most samples showing excessive contamination are food sourced from forests, rivers and lakes in the Tohoku and northern Kanto regions and from the Pacific Ocean. This includes mushrooms, mountain vegetables, wild game, freshwater fish and bottom fish.


Related information


More information about the reactors involved

Four nuclear power plants located on the eastern coastline close to the epicenter were affected: Onagawa (3 reactors), Fukushima-Daiichi (6 reactors), Fukushima-Daini (4 reactors) and Tokai (1 reactor). These reactors are all using boiling water technology, and enter services in the 1970s and 1980s.

The next nearest nuclear power plant is Kashiwazaki-Kariwa (7 reactors) that sits on the opposite site of Honshu island (the main Japanese island, where Tokyo is), on its western coast.

Fukushima-Daiichi (operated by TEPCO):

  • 1 x 439 MW started in 1970
  • 4 x 760 MW started 1973-1977

Fukushima-Daini (operated by TEPCO):

  • 4 x 1067 MW started 1979-1986

Onagawa (operated by Tohoku):

  • 1 x 498 MW started 1983
  • 2 x 796 MW started 1994 and 2001

Tokai 2 (operated by Japco):

  • 1 x 1060 MW started in 1978

PRIS review of Japanese reactors has more details re operational history etc:

Interactive map by US DOE where you can click through to get lots of technological details:

Japan has 54 rectors in total at 18 power plants, with 47,000 MW of installed capacity. They generated 29 percent of the country’s electricity supply in 2010.