1. How did the Fukushima disaster change Japan as we knew it?
Japanese public has become aware of the severe risks of nuclear power as 230,000 Japanese people are still displaced and others are living in zones contaminated by radionuclides
People in Japan and elsewhere are living in a more contaminated world. Fukushima significantly increased the world’s “background” level of radionuclides: “During the passage of contaminated air masses from Fukushima, airborne 137Cs levels were globally enhanced by 2 to 3 orders of magnitude” (Masson et al., 2011)[i] while the “129I/127I ratio in Fukushima precipitation in March 2011 immediately after the Fukushima accident was more than 3 orders of magnitude higher than the background level of this region page” (Xu et al., 2013, 10851).[ii]
Japanese people are living in radiation-contaminated areas. Japan set its evacuation standard at 20 millisieverts a year while the Soviet Union set their evacuation standard at 5 millisieverts a year, although some people remained within the evacuation zone.
(Chernobyl’s Evacuation Zone was 5 millisieverts a year. Japan has set their evacuation zone at an incredibly high 20 millisieverts per year http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20110610a6.html)
Japan has become a more “closed society” with passage of State Secrets law:
The Mainichi (25, December). As I See It: State secrets law goes into effect, what now? http://mainichi.jp/english/english/perspectives/news/20141225p2a00m0na004000c.html[excerpted] The more one reads the law, the more problems emerge. Twenty-three categories of secrets (55 under the operation guidelines) are named, but it's difficult to draw a clear distinction between secrets and non-secrets. One is left with the impression that information the administration finds inconvenient could be buried. The maximum penalty for leaking secrets is 10 years' imprisonment. Until now under the National Public Service Act, those charged with violating confidentiality requirements faced a maximum penalty of one year in prison, and those charged with leaking defense-related secrets were subject to a maximum of five years in prison, so the penalty has toughened dramatically under the state secrets law. Punishments for those who try to acquire secrets are harsh, too. If authorities determine that one has attempted, conspired to effect, induced or incited information leakages, one can face up to five years in prison.....Others have raised concern that the state secrets law will reduce nuclear reactor safety. E.g. Okuyama, T., & Sunaoshi, H. (2013, December 17). State secrets law raises concern about safety of nuclear power plants. The Asahi Shimbun. Available http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ201312170006
2. What are the long-term implications of the disaster?
Ongoing contamination of ocean, fresh water, and atmosphere. Newer research has documented that 75 percent of the radiation released by the plant into the atmosphere occurred after March 15 because of ongoing melting of hot fuel in the cracked spent fuel pools,[iii] with subsequent episodes of increased atmospheric levels of emissions in November and December of 2011, April of 2012, and September of 2012, after which the researchers discontinued sampling.[iv]
In north east Honshu, property owned by generations of families in Fukushima prefecture was devalued or made uninhabitable by the Fukushima nuclear disaster. As of December 21, 2014, six municipalities near the Daiichi site remain closed because of radiation contamination and more than 120,000 people are still living in temporary shelters (More Radioactive Materials, http://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/english/news/20141221_16.html).
The long term implications of the disaster are not fully understood because information about the scope of damage and contamination are still forthcoming.
Atmospheric contamination continues still with steam emissions still visible as TEPCO injects over 300 tons of fresh water daily to cool melted fuel. This feed and bleed system is contaminating atmosphere but even more importantly it is contributing to the problems of contaminated water at the site.
TEPCO has acknowledged that ground water at the site is encountering highly radioactive melted fuel and that some of that water makes it to the ocean. TEPCO claims to lack knowledge of the specific location of the melted cores – corium – but a diagram released by the Swiss Embassy depicted at least one of the cores as located in the underground river.
The “German Risk Study, Phase B” found that a core meltdown accident could result in complete failures of all structural containment, causing melted fuel to exit the reactor foundation within five days (cited in Bayer, Tromm, & Al-Omari 1989). Moreover, the study found that even in the event of an intact building foundation, passing groundwater would be in direct contact with fuel, causing leaching of fission products. Strontium leaches slower than cesium.
A follow-up German study, “Dispersion of Radionuclides and Radiation Exposure after Leaching by Groundwater of a Solidified Core-Concrete Melt,” predicted that strontium contamination levels would rise exponentially years after a full melt-through located adjacent to a river (Bayer, Tromm, & Al-Omari, 1989).
The German study’s experimental conditions are roughly similar to Daiichi’s site conditions, including groundwater emptying into an adjacent river, whereas Daiichi is physically situated above an underground river emptying into the sea. The study predicted concentrations of Strontium-90 in river water would spike relatively suddenly, but maintain extraordinarily high levels of contamination for years: “The highest radionuclide concentration of approx. 1010 Bq/m3 is reached by Sr-90 after some 5000 days.”
It is noteworthy that TEPCO reported an exponential increase in the Strontium-90 level in ground water beginning in July 2013, with levels continuing to rise steadily through early 2015. In July 2013 water from the well between the ocean and unit 1 measuring a record 5 million Becquerels per liter of radioactive Strontium-90 alone (“Record Strontium-90 Level,” 2014). By February of 2015 TEPCO was reporting even higher levels of Strontium-90 in the same location, with the highest sample measured at 590,000,000 Bq/m3 of Strontium-90 (Fukushima Diary 590,000,000 Bq/m3 of Strontium-90 measured from groundwater of Reactor 2 seaside).
The accident at Daiichi may fit the German melt-through scenario. An exponential increase in the level of Strontium-90 contamination would invalidate models of projected ocean contamination relying on samples collected in 2011.
3. What is the current situation in the Fukushima prefecture? Some reports suggest that the radiation levels there are still high.
Atmospheric, ocean and ground water contamination are ongoing. The Japanese government admits that only 18% of decontamination work planned has been achieved in Itate Japan (Iwata, 2015, March 10 p. A14 in Tainted Fukushima Soil a Lingering Burden WSJ)
Ocean contamination has not ended and there is no end in sight. Strontium is among the long term risks because it is a very significant environmental hazard and bioaccumulates in bones and in the brain.
Rising rates of thyroid cancer already found in Fukushima children.By February of 2014, there were 75 confirmed or suspected thyroid cancer cases among 270,000 Fukushima Prefecture individuals screened, who were 18 or under at the time of the disaster (Nose & Oiwa, 2014). The screening committee claimed the Fukushima disaster was an unlikely cause (“Eight More,” 2014). However, the observed frequency of thyroid cancer and nodules exceeds established incident rates. For example, the prevalence of thyroid nodules in children typically ranges from 0.2-5.0 percent (Gerber & Meyers, 2013), while in Fukushima, 42 percent of 133,000 children were found to have thyroid nodules and cysts (Haworth, 2013). A study measuring thyroid exposure to Iodine-131 conducted between April 12, 2011 and April 16, 2011 and published in Research Reports found “extensive measurements of the exposure to I-131 revealing I-131 activity in the thyroid of 46 out of the 62 residents and evacuees measured” (Tokonammi, Hosoda, Akiba, Sorimachi, Kashiwakura, & Balonov, 2012).
4. Are Fukushima-like disasters still possible in Japan? And what should be done it avoid it?
Japan’s former Prime Minister, Naoto Kan (2013), described the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster as “the most severe accident in the history of mankind.” Although precipitated by natural events, the reactor explosions and subsequent crisis management were human engineered fiascos. This summary conclusion was reached by the National Japanese Diet, who declared in their 2012 official report, “The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission” that human error was, above all else, responsible for the disaster. The report’s chairman, Kiyoshi Kurokawa, introduces findings with these words: “Our report catalogues a multitude of errors and wilful negligence that left the Fukushima plant unprepared for the events of March 2011. And it examines serious deficiencies in the response to the accident by TEPCO, regulators and the government.”
In some ways, nothing has happened to prevent future nuclear accidents. The LDP remains wedded to nuclear power and is pusing for reactor re-starts and for opening the Rokkasho nuclear reprocessing facility, which is located on a fault that may be active.[v]
The conclusion that nuclear power poses catrastrophic risks was Gorbachev noted in his Memoirs that prior to the Chernobyl disaster there had been 151 significant radiation leaks at nuclear power plants around the world.[vi] He warned that one or two more accidents would produce contamination far worse than after a nuclear war.[vii] Russia and parts of Europe remain contaminated from that disaster, with parts of the Bryansk Region of Russia with median radiation levels of Cesium-137 two orders of magnitude higher than current levels of deposition from nuclear weapons fallout.[viii] Chernobyl, Gorbachev wrote, “was a bell calling mankind to understand what kind of age we live in. It made people recognize the danger of careless or even criminal negligent attitudes toward the environment.”[ix]
Nuclear Power is Not Safe and is Truly the Path Toward Our Extinction.
Fukushima from Causing the Ultimate Global Catastrophe http://solartopia.org/mitsuhei-murata-to-prevent-fukushima-from-causing-the-ultimate-global-catastrophe/
[i] Masson, O. et al (2011) Tracking of Airborne Radionuclides from the Damaged Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Reactors by European Networks. Environ. Sci. Technol, 45 (18), 7670−7677. http://nadp.isws.illinois.edu/dl/dgay/Radiation%20Papers/Masson%20et%20al%20Fukashiima%202011.pdf
[ii] Sheng Xu, Stewart P. H. T. Freeman, Xiaolin Hou, Akira Watanabe, Katsuhiko Yamaguchi, and Luyuan Zhang (2013) Iodine Isotopes in Precipitation: Temporal Responses to 129I Emissions from the Fukushima Nuclear Accident. Environmental Science and Technology, 47, 10851-1085.
[iii] Nuclear Watch: New Findings on Fallout (Jan 29 2015). NHK http://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/english/news/features/201501301223.html
[iv] Sheng Xu, Stewart P. H. T. Freeman, Xiaolin Hou, Akira Watanabe, Katsuhiko Yamaguchi, and Luyuan Zhang (2013) Iodine Isotopes in Precipitation: Temporal Responses to 129I Emissions from the Fukushima Nuclear Accident. Environmental Science and Technology, 47, 10851-1085
[v] “Industry Minister to Continue Nuclear Fuel Cycle Policy” (18 January 2013), The Asahi Shimbun, http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ201301180037, date accessed 19 January 2013.
[vi] M. Gorbachev (1995) Memoirs (London: Doubleday), p. 191.
[vii] C. Neef (24 March 2011) “‘This Reactor Model Is No Good’ Documents Show Politburo Skepticism of Chernobyl,” Spiegel, http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/this-reactor-model-is-no-good-documents-show-politburo-skepticism-of-chernobyl-a-752696.html
[viii] V. Ramzaev, H. Yonehara, R. Hille, A. Barkovsky, A. Mishine, S. Sahoo, K. Kurotaki, and M. Uchiyama (2006) “Gamma-Dose Rates from Terrestrial and Chernobyl Inside and Outside Settlements in the Bryansk Region, Russia in 1996–2003,” Journal of Environmental Radioactivity, 85, 205–227, 217.
[ix] Gorbachev, Memoirs, p. 193.