You are here


Fukushima Fallout: Updates from Japan

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Some of these news items are taken from the twice-weekly updates produced by Greenpeace International. You can subscribe to the updates at: or

Public health

Australian public health expert Assoc. Prof. Tilman Ruff has written an important, detailed article, titled 'A Public Health Perspective on the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster', in the Oct−Dec edition of the Asian Perspective journal. It neatly summarises recent (and not-so-recent) research regarding the health effects of ionising radiation and applies that knowledge to the case of Fukushima. We won't attempt to summarise a wide-ranging article here. One point that illustrates the risks: "To provide a perspective on these risks, for a child born in Fukushima in 2011 who was exposed to a total of 100 mSv of additional radiation in its first five years of life, a level tolerated by current Japanese policy, the additional lifetime risk of cancer would be on the order of one in thirty, probably with a similar additional risk of premature cardiovascular death."[1]

Tadamori Oshima, head of the government's task force on disaster reconstruction, says that a target to reduce contamination of land around the Fukushima plant to a level equivalent to annual exposure of 1 mSv may be "informally" relaxed. "After we bring ambient radiation (down) to between 5 to 10 millisieverts and complete the decontamination, we will take thorough measures to manage individuals' dosage and safeguard their health. But a new radiation target would be difficult to publish because it would create a big problem," he said. Radiation levels in the area vary greatly. For example, Tomioka, a township about 12 kms south of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, had ambient radiation levels equivalent to annual doses ranging from 1 to 50 millisieverts by March 2013.[2]

Hot spots

TEPCO said on December 2 it had found radioactive contamination 36,000 times permissible levels in water taken from an observation well. The readings were taken from the well east of reactor #2 and 40 metres from the sea. The contamination measured 1.1 million becquerels per litre. TEPCO says no major changes in the levels of radioactive contamination in the sea have been detected.[3]

TEPCO has also found extremely high radiation levels in an area near a ventilation pipe. TEPCO found the radiation levels − equivalent to exposure levels of up to 25 sieverts per hour − on a duct which connects reactor buildings and the 120-metre-tall ventilation pipe. The estimated radiation level is the highest ever detected outside reactor buildings. A TEPCO official said materials derived from melted nuclear fuel likely entered the piping during venting soon after the accident occurred in March 2011 and have remained there.[4,5]

Water worries

It has emerged that the water storage tanks that have caused so many problems this year were built in part by illegally hired workers. Workers were told to lie about being hired by third party brokers. "Even if we didn't agree with how things were being done, we had to keep quiet and work fast. People didn't have contracts, so when they weren't needed any more, they were cut immediately," said Yoshitatsu Uechi, a former Fukushima worker who lodged a complaint with labour authorities. His account was confirmed by other workers. One said: "Yes, we did a shoddy job. The quality of what we did was low, but what else would you expect? We had to race to finish up the tanks."[6,7]

A panel established by Japan's industry ministry has warned that plans to deal with the water crisis are still inadequate and that space to store contaminated water will run out in within two years if matters are not addressed. The panel made a number of suggestions including the construction of giant tanks and laying asphalt on the site to help prevent rainwater from entering the ground and flowing into the damaged reactor buildings where it is then contaminated. The panel also warned that some water storage tanks have been built on weak ground that could sink and their stability should be addressed.[8]

TEPCO is currently storing 390,000 tons of contaminated water, growing by several hundred tons each day. There is an ongoing discussion about partially decontaminating the water then releasing it into the Pacific Ocean. It is estimated that it will take at least seven years to partially decontaminate the water already being stored.[9]

Evacuees and decontamination

Japan's parliament passed a bill on December 4 extending the length of time victims of the Fukushima disaster have to claim compensation from three to ten years. The new legislation also says that a person can now claim compensation for any health problems resulting from the accident for 20 years after their symptoms appear rather than for 20 years after the accident occurred as was the case previously.[10,11]

Meanwhile, a science and technology ministry screening panel has compiled a plan to set a cap on compensation to residents who face prolonged evacuation, angering evacuees. The panel on disputes for nuclear damage compensation wants to set limits ranging from 10 million yen to 14 million yen ($97,000 to $136,000).[12]

A survey by Japan's Reconstruction Agency of people who were evacuated from two towns close to the Fukushima plant found that 67% of 2,760 households from Okuma and 65% of 1,730 households from Futaba have said they will not return to their homes. Those numbers are up from 42% and 30%, respectively, in a January survey, which used slightly different wording. Those surveyed cited fears about radiation exposure and the length of time the repopulation process was taking. The latest survey found that only 9% of respondents from Okuma and 10% from Futaba said they want to return.[13,14]

Many of those evacuated from towns close to Fukushima are still living in temporary accommodation. Occupancy rates of the temporary housing built in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures in the aftermath of the disaster are at 85%. "We haven't been making progress in building public housing for disaster victims and acquiring land for projects to relocate entire communities," an Iwate housing official said. "Family members live apart and it's no good. Since we can't go back to our hometown, this is like a living hell. Nothing will change even if we complain," said Yoichi Matsumoto, a resident in temporary accommodation in Iwaki. It is not expected that the situation will improve soon. "There is a strong likelihood that it may take five years or more after the quake to see all occupants move out," said an Iwate official.[15]

By the end of October, only 28.5% of houses, 33.2% of roads and 12.3% of forests around the Fukushima plant had been cleaned, according to the Fukushima Department of Environment. The Japanese government has extended the time-frame fpr the clean-up of the exclusion zone around the plant, initially due to be completed by March 2014, until 2017. Officials have cited several difficulties as reasons for pushing back the timetable, including finding space to store contaminated waste. Endo Kouzou, Supervisor for Decontamination Operations at the Fukushima Department of Environment, said: "It is very hard to earn support from locals in terms of where to put the contaminated materials. This is the biggest problem. Another thing is that, despite various decontamination operations, radiation cannot be eliminated once for all."[16]

State secrecy bill

The lower house of Japan's Parliament approved a state secrecy bill on November 27 that imposes stiffer penalties on bureaucrats who leak secrets and journalists who seek them. The bill was approved after hours of delay due to protests by opposition lawmakers. The bill allows heads of ministries and agencies to classify 23 vaguely worded types of information related to defense, diplomacy, counterintelligence and counterterrorism. Critics say it might sway authorities to withhold more information about nuclear power plants. Under the bill, leakers in the government face prison terms of up to 10 years, up from one year now. Journalists who obtain information "inappropriately" or "wrongfully" can get up to five years in prison.[17]

The legislation has triggered protests from Human Rights Watch, the International Federation of Journalists, the Federation of Japanese Newspapers Unions, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations and many other media watchdogs. Academics have signed a petition demanding it be scrapped.

Reporters Without Borders accused Japan of "making investigative journalism illegal". It said in a statement: "How can the government respond to growing demands for transparency from a public outraged by the consequences of the Fukushima nuclear accident if it enacts a law that gives it a free hand to classify any information considered too sensitive as a state secret?"[18]

During deliberations in November, Masako Mori, the minister in charge of the bill, admitted that security information on nuclear power plants could be designated a state secret because the information "might reach terrorists."[17,19]

Residents of Fukushima Prefecture are angry over the railroading of the bill through the lower house. At a public hearing in Fukushima on November 25, all of the seven local residents who were invited to state their opinions voiced opposition to or concerns about the bill.[20]

Elsewhere in Japan

More than 1,900 people have joined a law suit against Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO) demanding the company permanently shut down its Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, western Japan. The suit was filed with the Kyoto District Court last November.[21]

[5] 7 Dec 2013, 'Record outdoor radiation level detected at Fukushima plant',
[7] Antoni Slodkowski, 5 Dec 2013, 'Insight - Fukushima water tanks: leaky and built with illegal labor',
[12] 10 Dec 2013, 'Panel sets limit on compensation to Fukushima evacuees',
[14] 7 Dec 2013, 'Over 60% of evacuees from Fukushima towns don't plan to return home',
[16] 4 Dec 2013, '1,000 days after Fukushima: residents of crisis zone frustrated by slow clean-up',
[17] David McNeill, 26 Nov 2013, 'Japan cracks down on leaks after scandal of Fukushima nuclear power plant',
[18] Justin McCurry, 6 Dec 2013, 'Japan whistleblowers face crackdown under proposed state secrets law',
[19] Mari Yamaguchi, 26 Nov 2013, 'Japan secrecy law stirs fear of limits on freedoms',
[20] 27 Nov 2013, 'Fukushima residents furious at lower house passage of contentious secrecy bill',


Japan's nuclear power restart debates

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Hajime Matsukubo

After the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, the importance of separating nuclear regulation and promotion was highlighted. Therefore the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) was established in September 2012 to regulate nuclear activities. In July 2013, the NRA developed new regulatory requirements that included enhancement of nuclear safety such as severe accident countermeasures. And NRA will conduct compatibility evaluations of all nuclear power plants in Japan. Without NRA authorization, nuclear plants cannot restart operation.

Current status of review

In Japan, there are 48 nuclear power reactors. Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Ohi reactors #3 and #4 commenced periodical inspection from September 2013, so all nuclear power plants in Japan are offline now.

As described in the table below, some nuclear plant operators have applied for compatibility evaluation of new regulatory requirements. Further applications will be submitted upon satisfactory completion of compatibility evaluation.

Nuclear Power Plant

Commercial Operation Began (Reactor Years)

Submission date for compatibility evaluation


Hokkaido Electric Power Co.


1989 (25)



1991 (23)


2009 (5)

Kansai Electric Power Co.


1991 (23)



1993 (21)

Kansai Electric Power Co.


1985 (29)



1985 (29)

Shikoku Electric Power Co.


1994 (20)


Kyushu Electric Power Co.


1984 (30)



1985 (29)

Kyushu Electric Power Co.


1994 (20)



1997 (17)

Tokyo Electric Power Co.


1996 (18)



1997 (17)

Chugoku Electric Power Co.


1989 (25)


Tohoku Electric Power Co.


1995 (19)


Chubu Electric Power Co.


1993 (21)


Japan Atomic Power Co.


1978 (36)


TOHOKU Electric Power Co.


2005 (9)


HOKURIKU Electric Power Co.


2006 (8)


NRA is prioritizing Pressurized Water Reactors (PWR) because it thinks these reactors are safer than Boiling Water Reactors (BWR). Among the PWR reactors, Kyushu Electric Power Co.'s Sendai reactors #1 and #2 went to the top of the queue of the compatibility evaluation process. NRA released a report on 16 July 2014 stating that Sendai reactors #1 and #2 meet new regulatory requirements. NRA has also opened a report for public comment from the scientific and technical point of view until August 15.

NRA chairman Shunichi Tanaka said at a press conference after the release of a report of NRA's evaluation, "assessment does not guarantee safety at the Sendai nuclear power station, it shows only that the plant matches the new regulatory standards". He also said: "restarting the plant depends solely on a consensus of local residents, municipalities, and other parties concerned". Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in response to questions in the Diet in February 2014 that the government will restart nuclear plants whose safety is confirmed by nuclear regulators.

Future situation

NRA's report about the Sendai plant will be given formal approval after the public comment process unless basic defects are found. Even if plant owner Kyushu gets approval, it will need to pass four gateways − NRA's Approval of Construction Plan, NRA's Approval of Operational Safety Program, NRA's Pre-service Inspection, and local governments' approval of restart.

On August 5, Kyushu announced that the submission of the Construction Plan to NRA will be delayed until the end of September. NRA's review process will take some months, so it will be difficult for Kyushu to restart Sendai reactors #1 and #2 this year.

Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Takahama reactors #3 and #4 were thought to be in second place, but it turned out that some months of construction work are required to bolster tsunami defences. So there is no chance of Takahama reactors restarting this year.

Thirteen reactors face important problems such as active earthquake faults or ageing problems and it will be difficult to restart them − TEPCO's Fukushima Daini reactors #1−4, Japan Atomic Power Co.'s Tokai Daini nuclear power station and Tsuruga reactors #1 and #2, Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Mihama reactors #1−3, Chugoku Electric Power Co.'s Shimane reactor #1, Shikoku Electric Power Co.'s Ikata reactor #1, and Kyushu Electric Power Co.'s Genkai reactor #1.

Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Ohi reactors #3 and #4 also have a significant hurdle to overcome − the Fukui district court ruled against restarting these plants on May 21.

Debate on reactor restarts

As mentioned, NRA has assessed just whether the plant matches the new regulatory standards or not, and it will not guarantee safety of nuclear power plant. But the government said the NRA will evaluate safety. So each body sidesteps their responsibility.

How will the government ensure local residents' radiation protection in the case of severe accident? After the Fukushima disaster, NRA widened the emergency preparedness area from an 8−10 km radius to a 30 km radius around the nuclear power plant. But the NRA will not evaluate evacuation plans. Local governments have to take primary responsibility for evacuation plans. These evacuation plans do not address Japanese social reality or the complexities of disasters such as tsunamis, earthquakes and nuclear disasters.

New regulatory requirements are based on the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, but there are still a lot of ambiguities about the disaster. New regulatory requirements do not reflect the latest findings about the disaster.

Citizens' attitudes

A local newspaper, Minami Nippon Shimbun, held an opinion poll in April about the restart of the Sendai Nuclear Power Station in Kagoshima Prefecture, and found that 59.5% of voters "disagree" or "rather disagree" with reactor restarts, whereas 36.8% of voters "agree" or "rather agree". A nationwide poll by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper in July found that 59% of voters "disagree" with reactor restarts, whereas only 23% "agree". These numbers have been consistent since the Fukushima disaster.

Satsuma-Sendai City, the local municipality of Sendai Nuclear Power Station, agrees with its restart but at the adjacent Ichiki-Kushikino City (population: 29,926), more than half of the residents signed a petition against restarting the Sendai reactors. The council of Aira city, located within the 30 km radius of the Sendai Nuclear Power Station, adopted a report against restarting Sendai reactors and calling for them to be decommissioned.

Concluding remarks

It is expected that the NRA will give the approval that Sendai meets new safety standards. But as Chairman Tanaka said, it does not give a guarantee of safety. Evacuation plans, and the safety which is not ensured by the new regulatory standard, are the main battlefields of Sendai Nuclear Power Station. As part of this battle, large meetings will held at Kagoshima Prefecture on August 31 and September 28.

Fukushima Fallout: Updates from Japan

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Nuclear Monitor #791, 18 Sept 2014,

Japan−India Nuclear Cooperation Agreement

NM791.4415 Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe and the Indian prime minister Nrendora Modi discussed a proposed Nuclear Cooperation Agreement during Modi's recent visit to Japan, but the two countries have yet to finalise the agreement. In addition to ongoing work to finalise a Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, the prime ministers affirmed their commitment to work toward India becoming a full member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.1

Negotiations on a Nuclear Cooperation Agreement began in 2010 but they were suspended after the March 2011 Fukushima disaster. The resumption of negotiations was announced during a May 2013 meeting between Abe and India's then prime minister Manmohan Singh.

According to a former Indian ambassador, obstacles include Japan's insistence that no reprocessing of spent fuel would be done in India, and that in the event of a nuclear test by India, the components supplied would be immediately returned to Japan.2

According to Reuters, Japan wants more intrusive inspections of India's nuclear facilities to ensure that spent fuel is not diverted, and explicit Indian guarantees not to conduct nuclear weapons tests.3 Japan wants something stronger than India's self-imposed moratorium on weapons tests. India refuses to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards apply only to that part of the nuclear program that India considers surplus to military ''requirements''. IAEA safeguards inspections in India will at best be tokenistic. For example a leaked IAEA document states: "The frequency and intensity of IAEA inspections shall be kept to the minimum consistent with the aim of improving safeguards." That is standard diplomatic jargon – it means that safeguards will be infrequent or non-existent except in circumstances where the IAEA wants to test novel safeguards technologies or procedures and India agrees to take part.4

It is likely that another complication is India's law regarding nuclear liability. The law does not completely absolve nuclear suppliers of responsibility in the event of nuclear accidents. Nuclear suppliers and their governments are seeking to avoid any liability whatsoever.

355 organisations in 22 countries have signed a petition calling for the Japan−India Nuclear Cooperation Agreement to be scrapped.5






Reactor restart debates

On September 10, Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) announced that it had approved Kyushu Electric Power Company's design and safety features for the two Sendai reactors. Kyushu received draft NRA approval in mid-July. Two smaller regulatory approvals remain before the Sendai plant can restart. The NRA said that it will now review the detailed design and construction of the reactors and related facilities, as well as operational safety programs and procedures for accident responses. These final stages could possibly be completed by the end of the year according to the World Nuclear Association.1

Once those steps are complete, the NRA would be able to issue its final approval for operation. Kyushu would also need to gain approval from political leaders in Kagoshima prefecture − though that is not a legal requirement. The federal government has the final say on whether nuclear power plants operate.1

Greenpeace said: "The decision really means that Kyushu Electric has moved restarting the Sendai reactors forward a bit, but it's still not a restart approval. It doesn't mean the NRA has certified the reactors as safe to operate or that they will restart anytime soon."2

Sendai, at the southern end of the island of Kyushu, is 50 kms from an active volcano. "No-one believes that volcanic risks have been adequately discussed," said Setsuya Nakada, a professor of volcanology at the University of Tokyo, in June.3 The inadequacy of evacuation plans, and the NRA's unwillingness to consider evacuation plans in its reactor restart decisions, is another bone of contention.4

The pro-nuclear governor of the prefecture where the Sendai plant is located and the mayor of Satsumasendai, the plant's host city, are likely to approve the restart of Sendai reactors, but many nearby townships are opposed. More than half of the 30,000 residents in Ichikikushikino, a coastal town 5 kms from the plant, submitted a petition mid-year opposing a restart.5

None of Japan's 48 'operational' reactors are currently operating; none have operated since the Ohi 4 reactor in Fukui prefecture was shut down on September 15 2013. Reactor restart applications for 18 other reactors have been submitted to the NRA.1

A Reuters analysis earlier this year concluded that fewer than one-third, and at most about two-thirds, of the 48 reactors will pass NRA safety checks and clear the other seismological, economic, logistical and political hurdles needed to restart. The analysis was based on questionnaires and interviews with more than a dozen experts and input from the 10 nuclear operators.6

According to Reuters: "Some reactors can essentially be ruled out, like Tepco's Fukushima Daini station, which is well within the Daiichi plant evacuation zone and faces near-universal opposition from a traumatised local population. Also highly unlikely to switch back on is Japan Atomic Power Co's Tsuruga plant west of Tokyo. It sits on an active fault, according to experts commissioned by the NRA. Twelve reactors will reach or exceed the standard life expectancy of 40 years within the next five years, probably sealing their fate in the new, harsher regulatory climate. These include reactor No. 1 at Shikoku Electric's Ikata power station. The outlook is less clear for about a third of the other 48 reactors."6

RBC Capital Markets analysts Fraser Phillips and Patrick Morton argued in June that 28 reactors − just over half − will be online by 2018.7 Similarly, energy industry consultant (and former CEO of Ontario Hydro International) Thomas Drolet, said in February: "I don't believe predictions that most of the 49 reactors will come back. My prediction is that about half of that, about 25, will eventually come back, gradually and carefully over the next five years. The basic rationale for that is some of the reactors, the Mark I BWR, may never get re-permitted in Japan. Secondly, some local governments just don't want them."8

Some government and industry representatives are openly discussing the permanent shut-down of ageing reactors. For example, Yuko Obuchi, the minister for economy, trade and industry, said in early September: "For myself, I would like to proceed with smooth decommissioning (of some plants) and at the same time the restart of nuclear power stations certified as safe."9 Kansai Electric Power Co. is one of the utilities considering that strategy. Kansai is considering decommissioning two ageing reactors at its Mihama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, but is intent on restarting two others at its Takahama plant in the same prefecture.10

Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University's Japan campus, told Reuters in April: "I think the government is incredibly clever by doing the restarts in the most modern, advanced places that have the most local support and are yet far from centres of political activity. Then you use that to create momentum for the agenda of restarting as many reactors as possible."6

Some reports suggest that around a dozen reactors may be permanently shut down because they are either too old or too costly to upgrade.11 Twelve reactors began operation in the 1970s.12 A survey of utilities earlier this year by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper found that there was no near-term likelihood of restarting 30 reactors. Thirteen of those, mainly due to their age, are having particular difficulty in complying with the new standards according to the survey, and are likely to be decommissioned.10

Academics Daniel Aldrich and James Platte noted in an article in August: "By the end of 2020, 13 reactors will have reached the 40-year limit of their operating licenses, and an additional 10 more reactors will be 40 years old by 2025. Unless the NRA begins considering license extensions, it seems reasonable to assume that most of these older reactors will not restart. Thus, one could estimate that 25 to 30 reactors would restart in the next five years or so, and this does not account for newer reactors that the NRA or local governments could declare unfit for restart. While restarting some reactors will help generate revenue for Japan's struggling power utilities, the cost of decommissioning about half of Japan's pre-Fukushima reactor fleet will be significant. Despite the nuclear revival ambitions of the LDP and industrial leaders, Japan's nuclear sector appears to have a long, difficult road ahead of it."13














Fukushima Fallout: Updates from Japan

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Most of these news items are taken from the twice-weekly updates produced by Greenpeace International. You can subscribe to the updates at:

The first batch of 22 nuclear fuel assemblies removed from the reactor #4 storage pool at the Fukushima Daiichi plant have been placed in a more secure storage pool 100 metres away. The assemblies moved to the new location were unused. The next 22 to be removed, however, will be spent fuel. The fuel assemblies are the first of over 1,500 to be removed from the storage pool in work that is expected to take around a year.[2]

TEPCO has announced that it will permanently close the undamaged reactors #5 and #6 at the Fukushima Daiichi plant after a request to do so from Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in September. The reactors were closed for maintenance when the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami hit the plant. TEPCO will not decommission and dismantle the reactors. Instead they will become "test platforms" and used as research facilities to help plan for the removal of fuel from reactors #1, #2, #3 which suffered core meltdowns.[1]

Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority has begun safety assessments of two nuclear reactors at TEPCO's Kashiwazaki-Kariwa power plant this week. There are many issues involved and the process is not expected to run smoothly. There are geological faults below the plant although TEPCO says they are not active. NRA chief Shunichi Tanaka has warned TECPO that the assessment process could be halted if events at the Fukushima Daiichi plant take another turn for the worse. Niigata Prefecture Governor Hirohiko Izumida − who effectively holds a veto over TEPCO's plan to restart reactors at the Kashiwazaki Kariwa plant − said TEPCO must give a fuller account of the Fukushima disaster and address its "institutionalized lying" before it can expect to restart reactors.[1]

Japan's government has proposed a change to its policy towards disposing of nuclear waste. The policy of waiting for towns and cities to volunteer to host final disposal facilities for nuclear waste has failed, with no candidates stepping forward. The policy has been in place for over 10 years. Instead, the government is proposing to draw up a list of candidate sites for storage facilities and then measuring public support in those places.[1]

Government sources have told the Japan Times that plans are being drawn up to purchase 15 square kilometres of land around the Fukushima Daiichi plant to use store radioactive waste from cleanup and decontamination operations. The lack of storage facilities for the waste has meant decontamination efforts have not progressed as quickly as the government would have liked. However, the purchase of the land is expected to affect landowners and may prevent evacuees from eventually returning to their homes. The plan is expected to cost one trillion yen (US$9.84 billion).[2]

Almost eight out of 10 South Koreans have reduced the amount of fish they eat over possible safety concerns associated with a leak of radioactive water from Japan's Fukushima plant, a poll showed Monday. An online poll released by the Korea Rural Economic Institute found that 77.5% of those questioned said they reduced their fish consumption by nearly half since August. Since September, South Korea has blocked all fishery imports from eight prefectures surrounding the Fukushima Daiichi plant.[3,4]

Only one-third of people evacuated from areas near the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant are willing to return to their homes, even if evacuation orders were lifted now. Parts of Minamisoma City, Fukushima Prefecture, are designated evacuation zones. The city and the Reconstruction Agency conducted a survey in August and September of 5,677 households originally from the evacuation region. Among them, 3,543 households, or 62%, responded. When asked if they will return home once the evacuation orders are lifted, 29% said they want to do so, 44% said they are undecided and 26% said they will not go back. When the undecided group was asked what is needed to make a decision, many said information on things such as when schools, hospitals and shops will be reopened. They also want to know when radiation levels will go down and how much decontamination work has been done.[5]

[3] Yonhap, 11 Nov 2013,
[4] Kwanwoo Jun, 14 Nov 2013, 'Fish Is Off the Menu in South Korea Over Radiation Fears',
[5] NHK World, 25 Nov 2013, 'Only a third of evacuees want to return',


Turkish nuclear power project agreement

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

On October 29 the Turkish government signed an agreement with a consortium led by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. to build four nuclear power reactors in the Black Sea city of Sinop at an estimated cost of more than US$22 billion.

The agreement marks Japan's first nuclear plant export since the 2011 Fukushima disaster. The Japanese government hopes that the contract with Turkey will improve Japan's chances in winning competition for nuclear power projects in Vietnam, India and Russia, among other countries. Tokyo's Abe administration has signed nuclear energy agreements with Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, and has agreed to start discussing a nuclear energy agreement with Saudi Arabia as well as resuming talks with India, which were suspended in the aftermath of Fukushima.[1]

Some disaster victims are unhappy with Abe's push for nuclear plant exports while problems continue to mount in Japan. Soichi Saito, a 63-year-old who evacuated from Futaba and heads an association of temporary housing residents in Iwaki, told Asahi Shimbun: "How dare he sell nuclear power plants abroad when he has not been able to bring an accident under control? What does he think of victims of the nuclear disaster?"[1] Even the wife of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has repeatedly urged her husband to stop exporting nuclear technology since the government is struggling to contain the situation at Fukushima.[11]

The Mainichi Shimbun reported on October 14 that about 40% of Japanese nuclear plant equipment exported over the past decade failed to go through national government safety inspections. Inspections of equipment to be exported are only carried out if manufacturers receive loans from the government-affiliated Japan Bank for International Cooperation or take out insurance policies from Nippon Export and Investment Insurance. The Mainichi Shimbun states that this "is in sharp contrast to the requirement that all devices for domestic nuclear power stations be subject to strict government safety inspections."[2]

Among the items exported without inspection are key components such as nuclear reactor pressure vessels, their lids and control rod driving systems. Keio University professor Masaru Kaneko said: "Prime Minister Shinzo Abe claimed in a speech overseas that Japan can provide the world's safest atomic power technology, but how can Japan guarantee the safety of nuclear plant equipment Japanese firms export without a proper system to examine it?"[2]

Opposition to the Japan-Turkey Nuclear Agreement

Japanese NGOs, including the Japan Center for a Sustainable Environment and Society and Friends of the Earth Japan, are promoting petitions calling on the Japan's National Diet not to ratify the Japan-Turkey Nuclear Agreement.

Issues raised by the groups include:

  • Turkey is one of the most earthquake-prone countries in the world.
  • The Japan Atomic Power Company (JAPC) is conducting a geological survey in Sinop, Turkey, but it is the JAPC arguing that fault lines under the Tsuruga nuclear plant in Japan are inactive even though the Nuclear Regulation Authority has determined otherwise.
  • Turkey does not have an independent nuclear regulator, and the Atomic Energy Authority functions both as promoter and regulator.
  • Turkey does not have plans for disposing of radioactive waste.
  • The mayor of Sinop was elected in 2009 on the anti-nuclear platform that rejected the construction of nuclear reactors in terms of their negative effects on the city's tourism industry. Since then, he has continued to express his opposition. Sinop residents have also organised numerous demonstrations against the construction of nuclear reactors.

To sign the petition and for more information visit:

It seems unlikely that the Japanese parliament will consider the Nuclear Agreement before the current session ends on December 6.[10]

Failed nuclear projects in Turkey

World Nuclear News outlines a long history of failed nuclear power projects in Turkey: "Several nuclear power projects have been proposed over the years in Turkey: In 1970 a feasibility study concerned a 300 MWe plant; in 1973 the electricity authority decided to build a 80 MWe demonstration plant but didn't; in 1976 the Akkuyu site on the Mediterranean coast near the port of Mersin was licensed for a nuclear plant. In 1980 an attempt to build several plants failed for lack of government financial guarantee. In 1993 a nuclear plant was included in the country's investment program following a request for preliminary proposals in 1992 but revised tender specifications were not released until December 1996. Bids for a 2000 MWe plant at Akkuyu were received from Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd, Westinghouse & Mitsubishi as well as Framatome & Siemens. Following the final bid deadline in October 1997, the government delayed its decision no less than eight times between June 1998 and April 2000, when plans were abandoned due to economic circumstances."[3]

The pattern persisted in the 2000s. A tender for the construction and operation of a new nuclear power plant ended in September 2008 with only one bid − an expensive Russian offer for four VVER reactors put forward by AtomStroyExport in conjunction with Inter Rao and Park Teknik of Turkey. In late 2009, authorities cancelled the tender process [3] following a successful court challenge against the project launched by the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects.[4]

Akkuya nuclear project

Despite the cancellation of the tender process in 2009, plans for four Russian-built, Russian-financed VVER-1200 reactors are still being pursued, and site preparation has begun at Akkuya. Project partners hope to secure a reactor construction licence in 2014.[5] It is said to be the world's first nuclear power project based on BOO (build-own-operate) principles − under the long-term contract, the Russian company Akkuyu NPP JSC, a subsidiary of Rosatom, will design, construct, operate and decommission the plant, take a 51% stake in the project, and benefit from a guaranteed price for the electricity generated. As at Sinop, there is significant opposition to the Akkuya nuclear project.[6,7,8,9]

In June 2012, energy minister Taner Yildiz said Turkey is "determined to have nuclear power plants" and wants to build "at least 23 nuclear units by the year 2023".[9]

[1] 31 Oct 2013,
[2] 14 Oct 2013, '40% of Japan nuclear tech exported over past decade failed to go through safety check',
[3] WNN, 9 Dec 2009, 'Turkey abandons nuclear bid',
[4] Ozgur Gurbuz, 20 Nov 2009, 'Another setback on Turkey's nuclear dream',
[5] WNN, 3 May 2013, 'First selection of Atmea1 nuclear reactor',
[8] Elisabeth Jeffries, 20 Nov 2013, 'BOO: exploring the model for emerging markets',
[9] John Daly, 21 Nov 2013, 'Foreign Investment Sought for Turkey's First Nuclear Power Plant',
[11] 13 Nov 2013, 'Wife tells Japan Prime Minister to stop exporting nuclear plants',

More information:

Fukushima Fallout − Updates from Japan

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Dodging responsibility for nuclear disasters

Greenpeace reports that the US is offering to provide assistance with ongoing work at Fukushima, in particular the multiple problems with contaminated water, but only if Japan first signs the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC).[1]

According to Dr Rianne Teule, a radiation expert with Greenpeace International: "This is an international treaty that supposedly provides an international regime on nuclear liability − the who-should-pay-for-a-nuclear-accident issue. But the real aim of the CSC, along with other international conventions on nuclear liability, is to protect the nuclear industry. It caps the total compensation available after a nuclear accident at a level much lower than the actual costs. The companies that supply nuclear reactors and other material are exempt, they don't have to pay anything if there is an accident. The operators of nuclear plants are the only ones accountable for paying damages but the CSC protects them too by not requiring them to have enough money or financial security to cover the costs of an accident."[1]

Japan signing the CSC would have two important benefits for the US: it would reduce the chances that General Electric can be sued for damages for the Fukushima accident; and it could secure future business opportunities in Japan for US nuclear suppliers. Dr Teule writes: "The US is not offering help to Japan out of the kindness of its heart, but to give a lifeline to its dying nuclear business. The US has been pushing ratification of the CSC in other countries where they hope to expand their nuclear business, such as India, Canada, Korea."[1]

In September, a freedom of information request lodged by Greenpeace turned up documents from 1960 revealing that nuclear companies pressured the Japan Atomic Energy Commission to make sure they were exempted from all responsibility for a nuclear accident, except in the case of a deliberate act. Greenpeace states: "GE, Hitachi and Toshiba, the big companies that all built reactors at Fukushima based on a flawed GE reactor design, have not paid a cent to help TEPCO and have done little to nothing to help the victims of the disaster. So, Japan's taxpayers have to step in to pay the billions upon billions of yen needed to deal with the industry's gross negligence."[2]

[1] Greenpeace, 5 Nov 2013,
[2] Justin McKeating, 10 Sept 2013, 'Proof that the nuclear industry has been dodging its responsibilities for over 50 years',


Draft legislation targets whistleblowers, media

Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe is planning a new State Secrets Act that could suppress publication and dissemination of information about the Fukushima nuclear disaster and other contentious issues. The Act is being referred to by campaigners as the Fuk-hush-ima Law. A draft of the new law was approved by Cabinet in late October and is likely to be passed in the current Parliamentary session, which ends on December 6, since Abe's Liberal Democratic Party enjoys a majority in both houses of parliament. The law would impose harsh penalties on those who leak secrets, or even try to obtain them. Journalists found to be breaking the law could be sent to prison for five years while government employees releasing secret information could be imprisoned for a decade.[1,2]

Media and legal experts say the law is both broad and vague, giving the Japanese government enormous scope to determine what would actually qualify as a state secret. Furthermore the law makes no provision for any independent review process. The proposed law names four categories of 'special secrets', which would be covered by protection − defense, diplomacy, counter-terrorism and counter-espionage.[1]

Under the new legislation a ministry may classify information for a five-year term with a possibility of prolongation up to 30 years. Extension beyond 30 years would require Cabinet approval. Cabinet added a provision to the draft which gives "utmost considerations" to citizens' right to know and freedom of the press, but critics have dismissed those as window dressing.[3]

Sophia University political science professor Koichi Nakano said: "This may very well be Abe's true intention − cover-up of mistaken state actions regarding the Fukushima disaster and/or the necessity of nuclear power."[4]

In early 2013, Japan fell from 22nd to 53rd place in the Reporters Without Borders' ranking of media freedom. This was attributed to a single factor − the lack of access to information related to the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Many reporters have met with restricted access, lack of transparency and even lawsuits while TEPCO has consistently barred access to documents and to people.[5]

[1] Oliver Tickell, 30 Oct 2013, 'State Secrets Act to supress Fukushima information',
[2] Kiyoshi Takenaka, 24 Oct 2013, 'Factbox: Japan prepares for new law to protect national secrets',
[3] 25 Oct 2013, 'Fuk-'hush'-ima: Japan's new state secrets law gags whistleblowers, raises press freedom fears',
[4] Linda Sieg and Kiyoshi Takenaka, 24 Oct 2013, 'Japan secrecy act stirs fears about press freedom, right to know',
[5] Reporters Without Borders 2013 World Press Freedom Index,,1054.html

Fukushima - Political and public anti-nuclear sentiment in Japan

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green - Nuclear Monitor editor

The pro-nuclear policies of Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have been criticised by four former Prime Ministers.

Junichiro Koizumi told the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo on November 12: "I think we should go to zero now. If we re-start the reactors, all that will result is more nuclear waste." He said the LDP is divided equally between those who want to get rid of nuclear power and those who think it's necessary.[1] "Nobody has had more favourable conditions to achieve a nuclear-free option than Abe," Koizumi said.[2]

Last year, former Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama joined an anti-nuclear protest outside the residence of then Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.[1]

Naoto Kan, the DPJ prime minister when the earthquake and tsunami hit in 2011, told an audience in New York on October 8 that he had been a supporter of nuclear power, but after the Fukushima accident, "I changed my thinking 180-degrees, completely." He said that in the first days of the accident it looked like an "area that included Tokyo" and populated by 50 million people might have to be evacuated. "There is no other disaster that would affect 50 million people − maybe a war," Kan said. "There is only one way to eliminate such accidents, which is to get rid of all nuclear power plants."[1,3,4]

A fourth former prime minister, Morihiro Hosokawa, said in an interview published on November 12 that Abe's nuclear energy policy was a "crime" and that he was willing to campaign against it.[1]

On October 28, Niigata Prefecture Governor Hirohiko Izumida said TEPCO must give a fuller account of the Fukushima disaster and address its "institutionalized lying" before it can expect to restart reactors. Izumida cited TEPCO's belated admission in July − following months of denials − that the Fukushima plant was leaking radioactive substances into the ocean as evidence that TEPCO has not changed. "If they don't do what needs to be done, if they keep skimping on costs and manipulating information, they can never be trusted," he said.[5]

Izumida effectively holds a veto over TEPCO's plan to restart reactors at the Kashiwazaki Kariwa plant, the world's largest. Even if Japan's nuclear safety regulators approve restart plans for Kashiwazaki Kariwa, Izumida can effectively block them because of TEPCO's need to win backing from local officials.

Izumida said he would launch his own commission to investigate the causes and handling of the Fukushima crisis and whether strengthened regulatory safeguards were sufficient to prevent a similar disaster. He warned TEPCO: "If they cooperate with us, we will be able to proceed smoothly. If not, we won't."[5]

Izumida urged Japan's government to strip TEPCO of responsibility for decommissioning the Fukushima plant: "Unless we create a situation where 80-90 percent of their thinking is devoted to nuclear safety, I don't think we can say they have prioritised safety."[5]

Izumida also called on the government to make the 6,000 decommissioning and decontamination workers public employees. "The workers at the plant are risking their health and giving it their all. They are out in the rain. They are out at night," Izumida said. "The government needs to respect their efforts and address the situation."[5]

And in case Izumida's message was lost on TEPCO, he added: "There are three things required of a company that runs nuclear power plants: don't lie, keep your promises and fulfil your social responsibility."

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters on November 12: "It's the government's responsibility to ensure a stable and inexpensive supply of energy. There is no change to our policy of keeping nuclear power to a minimum."[1]

A member of the Upper House of the Japanese Parliament has been reprimanded for handing a letter to Emperor Akihito at an October 31 imperial garden party expressing his anti-nuclear concerns. The Upper House steering committee summoned Taro Yamamoto, who campaigned as an anti-nuclear independent in the July 2013 election, for questioning about the incident.[6] On November 8, Yamamoto was reprimanded by the Upper House and barred from attending events with the imperial family.[7]

Yamamoto said. "I, as an individual, only wanted to tell the emperor the truth about the health hazard posed to children and the workers who are exposed to radiation and being abandoned [at Fukushima]. I wanted to explain the plight of children exposed to radiation released after a nuclear accident and people who are working at the facility in the worst conditions."[6]

In 2011, Yamamoto flew to Saga Prefecture and attempted to break into the governor's office to protest the restart of a nuclear power plant.[8]

Protest marches and actions
An estimated 40,000 people rallied against nuclear power in Tokyo on October 13. The protest was organised by three anti-nuclear groups − the Metropolitan Coalition against Nukes, 'Sayonara Genpatsu 1,000 mannin Action' ('Good-bye to nuclear power through action by 10 million people') and 'Genpatsu wo Nakusu Zenkoku Renrakukai' ('National conference on abolishing nuclear power plants') − to express their opposition to the government's push for reactor restarts. After the rally, protesters marched nearby to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry office as well as the head office of TEPCO.[9,10]

About 600 people attended a march on the evening of Wednesday, October 30. Most of the attendees came straight from their offices. Participants marched nearly 2 kms in the business district and passed by the TEPCO head office. The event organiser's aim was to increase the involvement of office workers, who generally hesitate to join demonstrations, in the anti-nuclear movement.[11]

Many 'Fukushima is Here' photo-actions took place around the world on October 19. For more information visit:

Surveys published in the Asahi and Mainichi newspapers on November 12 found 60% and 54% of respondents respectively agreed that Japan should aim to go nuclear-free. The Asahi newspaper polled 1,751 people by phone on November 9-10, the same days the Mainichi polled 966 people by phone.[1]

Citizens targeted in cyber-attacks

At least 33 groups anti-nuclear citizens groups around Japan have been targeted in a campaign of cyber-attacks since mid-September. They have been on the receiving end of a blizzard of e-mail traffic − more than 2.5 million messages since the attacks began. These are known as 'denial of service' attacks because they aim to obstruct the activities of the targeted organisations. Experts said there was little doubt that a computer program developed exclusively for the purpose was used.[12]

The groups targeted include the Women's Active Museum on War and Peace and the Metropolitan Coalition Against Nukes. One e-mail read: "Unless we kill all of the anti-nuclear believers, world peace will be never achieved."[12]

Lawyer Yuichi Kaido, acting on behalf of citizens groups, said he is considering filing a criminal complaint against the senders of the e-mails on grounds of forcible obstruction of business ... if the perpetrators can be found.[12]

[1] Isabel Reynolds and Takashi Hirokawa, 12 Nov 2013, 'Abe Mentor Koizumi Reignites Post-Fukushima Nuclear Debate',
[2] Ayako Mie, 12 Nov 2013, 'Koizumi calls on Abe to ditch nuclear power',
[3] Karl Grossman, 10 Oct 2013, 'Powerful Presentations on Fukushima and Nuclear Power',
[4] David Biello, 'The Nuclear Odyssey of Naoto Kan, Japan's Prime Minister during Fukushima',
[5] Antoni Slodkowski and Kentaro Hamada, 29 Oct 2013, 'Tepco can't yet be trusted to restart world's biggest nuclear plant: governor',
[6] 1 Nov 2013, 'Anti-nuclear politician under fire for handing letter to emperor'
[7] Elaine Lies, 8 Nov 2013, 'Japan lawmaker reprimanded after emperor letter hits nerve',
[9] 'Thousands mass for antinuclear rally in Tokyo', 13 Oct 2013,
[10] 'Tens of thousands of protesters attend anti-nuclear events in Tokyo', 14 Oct 2013,
[11] 'Office workers march in anti-nuclear demonstration in Tokyo', 31 Oct 2013,
[12] Tatsuya Sudo, 10 Nov 2013, 'Anti-nuclear citizens groups targeted in massive cyber-attack',

(Written by Nuclear Monitor editor Jim Green.)

Fukushima − Exploited workers

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Recent media reports − including a detailed Reuters investigation − have detailed the difficult and sometimes dangerous situation faced by decontamination and decommissioning workers within and beyond the Fukushima Daiichi plant.[1]

Some of the problems arise from the labyrinth of contractors and subcontractors employing a total of about 6,000 people. An estimated 50,000 workers have been involved in the decontamination work since March 2011, and many thousands more will be required in coming years and decades. TEPCO says it has been unable to monitor subcontractors fully. There has been a proliferation of small firms − around 800 companies are active inside the Fukushima plant and hundreds more outside the plant. Legislation regarding Fukushima decontamination work, approved in August 2011, relaxed previous rules and thus contractors have not been required to disclose information on management or undergo screening. Inexperienced companies rushed to bid for contracts and then turned to brokers to round up workers.[1]

Nearly 70% of the clean-up companies surveyed in the first half of 2013 had broken labour regulations, according to a labour ministry report in July. The ministry's Fukushima office received 567 complaints related to working conditions in the decontamination zone in the 12 months year to March 2013; the ministry issued 10 warnings, but no firm was penalised.[1]

For the thousands of non-TEPCO decontamination workers hired by subcontractors, the lure of earning decent money in return for dangerous work has proved an illusion. Once money for accommodation has been subtracted, workers are typically left with a few thousand yen each day (1000 yen = US$10). In some cases, employers withhold danger money.[4]

Workers interviewed by Reuters said wages usually average around US$12 an hour. With poor wages and conditions, there is a deepening shortage of workers, with about 25% more openings than applicants for jobs in Fukushima Prefecture.[1] Seven hundred TEPCO employees have left the company in the past year alone.[2]

Labour brokers have helped to fill the gap, recruiting people whose lives have reached a dead end or who have trouble finding a job outside the disaster zone. This continues the long-standing pattern of cheap labour from itinerant workers known as 'nuclear gypsies'. "Working conditions in the nuclear industry have always been bad," Saburo Murata, deputy director of Osaka's Hannan Chuo Hospital, told Reuters. "Problems with money, outsourced recruitment, lack of proper health insurance − these have existed for decades."[1]

Yousuke Minaguchi, a lawyer who has represented Fukushima workers, says the Japanese government has turned a blind eye to worker exploitation problems: "On the surface, they say it is illegal. But in reality they don't want to do anything. By not punishing anyone, they can keep using a lot of workers cheaply."[1]

The situation has been exploited by yakuza − organised crime syndicates − which have run labour rackets for generations. Nearly 50 gangs, with 1,050 members, operate in Fukushima Prefecture.[1]

Many workers are scared to draw attention to their exploitation for fear of being blacklisted. "Major contractors that run this system think that workers will always be afraid to talk because they are scared to lose their jobs," said Tetsuya Hayashi, a former decontamination worker. "But Japan can't continue to ignore this problem forever."[1]

In some cases, Reuters reported, brokers have 'bought' workers by paying off their debts − the workers are then forced to work for low wages until they pay off their brokers, under conditions that make it hard for them to speak out against abuses.[1]

Yukiteru Naka, a retired General Electric engineer who helped build some of Fukushima Daiichi's reactors, told The Guardian that in the long term, TEPCO will struggle to find enough people with specialist knowledge to see decommissioning through to the end. "There aren't enough trained people at Fukushima Daiichi even now," he said. "For TEPCO, money is the top priority – nuclear technology and safety come second and third. That's why the accident happened. The management insists on keeping the company going. They think about shareholders, bank lenders and the government, but not the people of Fukushima."[3]

Between March 2011 and July 2013, 138 Fukushima workers reached the 100 millisievert (mSv) threshold and thus could no longer be involved in work exposing them to radiation; another 331 had been exposed to between 75 mSv and 100 mSv, meaning their days at the plant are numbered.[4]

Former decontamination worker Watanabe Kai said: "Every penny the company spends in Fukushima is a loss. So the mentality is to save as much as possible, not to ensure good conditions and safety for workers." Justin McCurry and David McNeill note that: "TEPCO's astonishing penny-pinching became evident during the summer of 2013, when the company revealed it was relying on a skeleton crew to monitor a huge plantation of 1,000-ton makeshift water tanks for leaks. Instead of installing gauges, engineers were checking 1,000 tanks visually by standing on top of them."[4,5]

"I'm particularly worried about depression and alcoholism" among decontamination workers said Tanigawa Takeshi, a professor in the department of public health at Ehime University in western Japan. "I've seen high levels of physical distress and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder."[4]

In early November, TEPCO announced that it would implement measures to improve the working environment, including wage increases and improvements to on-site facilities including break rooms, catering, cell phone communications and transportation.[6] Too little, too late?

[1] Antoni Slodkowski and Mari Saito, 25 Oct 2013, 'Special Report - Help wanted in Fukushima: Low pay, high risks and gangsters',
[2] 28 Oct 2013, 'Japanese nuclear watchdog tells Fukushima boss to stop messing up',
[3] Justin McCurry, 16 Oct 2013, 'Plummeting morale at Fukushima Daiichi as nuclear cleanup takes its toll',
[4] Justin McCurry and David McNeill, "Japan's Cut-Price Nuclear Cleanup: TEPCO woes continue amid human error, plummeting morale and worker exodus," The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 11, Issue 43, No. 2, 28 October 2013,
[5] Mari Yamaguchi, 8 Nov 2013, 'Workers Speak Out About Flawed Fukushima Water Tanks',
[6] WNN, 8 Nov 2013, 'Tepco seeks to improve worker welfare',

(Written by Nuclear Monitor editor Jim Green.)


Fukushima Fallout − Crooked clean-up, exasperated evacuees

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green - Nuclear Monitor editor

A 16-member International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) mission has lavished praise on Fukushima clean-up operations but wants authorities to work harder to convince Japanese citizens to accept higher radiation doses.[1] The IAEA was peddling similar lies in July 2011, when IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano said clean-up work was "moving very smoothly".[2]

By contrast, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper has run a series of articles this year under the title 'Crooked Cleanup'.[3] The articles detail a myriad of problems including the involvement of criminal gangs in decontamination work; lax background checks; contractors tipped off about 'surprise' inspections of decontamination work; shoddy work practices such as radioactive debris being dumped in rivers; contractors lying about their decontamination work; Environment Ministry officials failing to act on a flood of complaints about shoddy work; work being concentrated around radiation monitors with little or no work carried out at less proximate locations; and much, much more.

A recent Greenpeace survey found that decontamination work has been effective for houses and many parts of major routes, but some lesser-used public roads still have high contamination levels, as do large areas of farmland and mountain areas. Jan Vande Putte, Greenpeace radiation protection adviser, said the decontaminated houses and roads were like "islands" and "corridors" in an otherwise polluted region. It would be "unrealistic" to ask residents to stay off contaminated roads and farmland, he said.[4] Tomoya Yamauchi, a professor of radiation physics at Kobe University, said he found that some decontaminated road surfaces in Fukushima had readings 18 times the target level because caesium had accumulated in cracks in the asphalt.[12]

Securing sites to store contaminated waste is proving extremely difficult. Citizens and local governments have opposed three-year 'temporary storage sites' which the national government wants to establish pending the construction of a mid-term waste storage facility. An Environment Ministry official said: "Given that no prospects are in sight for building an intermediate storage facility for soil and other waste from the decontamination process, people are distrustful and are concerned that such waste could be left abandoned in these temporary storage sites."[7]

As a result, waste is stored under tarpaulins across much of the Fukushima Prefecture, sometimes close to schools and homes.[5] About 150,000 tons of contaminated waste have been left in the open under tarpaulins − about 30% of all waste from the crisis − due to delays establishing temporary storage sites. A total of 372 temporary storage sites are planned, but so far only 139 have been established.[6]


Some evacuees will have to wait up to three years longer before they can return home as clean-up operations fall behind schedule. The Environment Ministry is revising the timetable for six of 11 municipalities in the exclusion zone. The original plan called for completing all decontamination work by March 2014.[8] Decontamination efforts are on schedule in only four municipalities. "I have run out of patience," farmer Muneo Kanno told the Asahi Shimbun newspaper. "We villagers are brimming with distrust of the central government and are concerned about whether we can eventually return. We are left deprived of our lives, and our return has been kept on hold."[9]

Meanwhile there is an unfolding discussion and debate concerning the likelihood that some evacuees will never be able to return home because of the difficulty of reducing radiation to habitable levels.[10,11]

Even in locations where decontamination operations have been completed, many former residents are reluctant to return. Reasons include concerns over the lack of jobs, services, and infrastructure; agricultural restrictions; houses being torn down because of extensive mildew; the unstable situation at the Fukushima nuclear plant and concerns about the adequacy of decontamination work.[12]

Reuters reported in August that just over 500 of the 3,000 former residents of the town of Kawauchi have returned and the "same pattern has played out across Fukushima as the nuclear accident turned the slow drip of urban flight by younger residents into a torrent, creating a demographic skew that decontamination is unlikely to reverse."[12]

Referring to a man he met during a visit to Japan in 2011, Gregory Jaczko, former chair of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, told an audience in New York on October 8: "There is nothing more challenging than to look into the eyes of a grandfather who no longer sees his children because they had to move on to find jobs. That is the tragedy and human toll that the Fukushima disaster has enacted on nearly 100,000 people in Japan. You cannot put those impacts in dollar terms, but they are very real."[13]

Some ugly victim-blaming is emerging. Nuclear apologist Leslie Corrice says evacuees "don't want to go home because being a Fukushima evacuee is a serious money-making life-style, and they don't want to lose their lucrative income."[14] Likewise, an official from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said some people don't want to return to their former homes because they don't want the compensation money from TEPCO to end. A single mother evacuated from near Kawauchi responded to the official's statement: "There's no jobs, no shops open, nothing. It's become an incredibly difficult place to live and yet they're saying 'You can go home now'. ... It's so unfair to say that. It's not that simple."[12]

[1] 21 Oct 2013, 'IAEA Expert Remediation Mission to Japan Issues Preliminary Report',
[2] Reuters, 25 July 2011, 'Fukushima cleanup going well, according to UN atomic watchdog',
[4] AFP, 10 Oct 2013, 'Fukushima decontamination insufficient: Greenpeace',
[5] 11 Sept 2013,
[6] Japan News, 14 Sept 2013
[7] 11 Sept 2013, 'Ministry angers residents by pushing back Fukushima cleanup',
[8] BBC, 21 Oct 2013,
[9] 11 Sept 2013, 'Ministry angers residents by pushing back Fukushima cleanup',
[10] 12 Nov 2013, 'Fukushima evacuees express anger, resignation at government policy shift',
[11] 4 Nov 2013, 'Debate begins for governments over Ishiba's no-return remark',
[12] Sophie Knight, 14 Aug 2013, 'Insight: Japan's nuclear clean-up: costly, complex and at risk of failing',
[13] David Biello, 'The Nuclear Odyssey of Naoto Kan, Japan's Prime Minister during Fukushima',
[14] 30 Oct 2013, 'The Business of Being a Fukushima Refugee',

More information on the plight of evacuees:


(Written by Nuclear Monitor editor Jim Green.)

Jellyfish shut down Swedish nuclear plant

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

A huge cluster of jellyfish forced the Oskarshamn nuclear plant in Sweden to shut down on 29 September 2013. The jellyfish clogged the pipes that bring in cooling water. It took two days to fix the problem.[1]

Jellyfish have caused problems at many nuclear plants around the world, as have fish and other aquatic life.[3] A few examples:

  • In 2005, one reactor at Oskarshamn was temporarily shut down due to jellyfish.[1]
  • EDF Energy manually shut down the Torness nuclear power plant in Scotland in mid-2011 because jellyfish were obstructing the cooling water intake filters.[3] (In May 2013, the two Torness reactors were temporarily shut down because seaweed blocked the water intake pipe.[4])
  • In 2012 a reactor at the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in California was shut down after sea salp − a gelatinous, jellyfish-like organism − clogged water intake pipes.[2]
  • In July 2009 a reactor in Japan was forced to temporarily shut down due to infiltration of swarms of jellyfish near the plant.[5] Jellyfish disrupted operation of the Shimane nuclear plant in Japan in 1997 and 2011.[6]

Marine biologists warn the jellyfish phenomenon could become more common. Lene Moller, a researcher at the Swedish Institute for the Marine Environment, said: "It's true that there seems to be more and more of these extreme cases of blooming jellyfish. But it's very difficult to say if there are more jellyfish, because there is no historical data."[1]

Increased fishing of jellyfish predators and global warming are contributing to higher jellyfish populations.[3] Monty Graham, co-author of a study on jellyfish blooms published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in June 2011, blames global warming, overfishing, and the nitrification of oceans through fertiliser run-off.[7]

[1] Gary Peach, 1 Oct 2013, 'Wave of jellyfish shuts down Swedish nuke reactor',
[2] Aaron Larson, 1 Oct 2013, 'Nuclear Plant Shut Down Due to Jellyfish',
[3] 'Fire and Jellyfish Threaten Plant Operations', 07/06/2011, POWERnews,
[4] Reuters, 24 May 2013, 'Seaweed stops Scottish EDF nuclear plant',
[5] Monami Thakur, 9 July 2011, 'Millions of Jellyfish Invade Nuclear Reactors in Japan, Israel',
[6] Reuters, 24 June 2011, 'Jellyfish back off at Japan nuclear power plant',
[7] Glenda Kwek, 11 July 2011, 'Jellyfish force shutdown of power plants',

Oskarshamn-1Oskarshamn-2Oskarshamn-3Torness unit ATorness unit BDiablo Canyon 1Diablo Canyon 2Shimane-1Shimane-2

The 2020 Olympics, Fukushima and Trust − M.V. Ramana

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
M.V. Ramana − Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, USA.

The recent leaks from the Fukushima nuclear plant demonstrate that the accident that started on 11 March 2011 is by no means over.

When the announcement about Tokyo being selected for the 2020 Olympics came – after the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a strong pitch to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) – one of my acquaintances on Facebook reacted with a three-letter acronym that is not used in polite language (Hint: the third letter corresponds to a four-letter word that starts as "Fukushima" does!) What else can one say to the kind of assurances that Prime Minister Abe had offered to the IOC. Witness, for example, his answers to questions by Norwegian IOC member Gerhard Heiberg about the recent leaks in Fukushima as well as the 2011 accident. According to Yahoo News, Prime Minister Abe said (in Japanese, of course): "It poses no problem whatsoever. ... There are no health-related problems until now, nor will there be in the future. ... I make the statement to you in the most emphatic and unequivocal way."

This is problematic on so many levels. First, there is little doubt that there will be some health-related problems in the future, for the simple reason that any exposure to radiation comes with an increased probability of developing cancer and similar endpoints. Based on a "comprehensive review of the biology data", the United States National Research Council's Committee to Assess Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation (BEIR Committee) concluded that "the risk would continue in a linear fashion at lower doses without a threshold and that the smallest dose has the potential to cause a small increase in risk to humans".

Estimates of cancer mortality based on early estimates of radiation exposure suggest that there would be something of the order of a thousand victims over the next few decades. Still more would suffer from cancer but are expected to recover due to modern treatment methods. By most standards, cancer incidence, even if successfully treated, should count as a "health-related problem".

Second, the recent spate of leaks at Fukushima demonstrates that the accident that started on 11 March 2011 is by no means over. While the probability of a further large-scale release of radioactivity into the atmosphere has receded, the continued escape of radioactive materials into the soil and the sea means that Fukushima will pose additional hazards to human and marine health. The continued releases also mean that estimates made so far of the likely long-term total health and environmental effects of Fukushima are necessarily incomplete, even if future contributions to the total radiation dose may not – or may – add significantly to the already incurred dose.

Third, it is still unclear whether the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), or the Japanese government, will be able to stop these leaks anytime soon. If the Fukushima reactors had only a few leaks, then it is possible that the problem could be ended if and when they are sealed. However, the plant currently is, in the words of a recent visitor to the site, "like Swiss cheese", i.e., full of holes. And the problem has been ongoing for a while now. The reason for the sudden intervention by the Japanese government, as Jeff Kingston from Temple University in Japan observed, was essentially due to the concern that alarm about Fukushima imperilled Tokyo's Olympic bid as well as Prime Minister Abe's plans to quickly restart nuclear reactors.

It is also unclear how effective the proposed solutions, such as building a frozen wall at the cost of US$470 million, will be over the long term. Not only is the frozen-wall strategy untested on the scale that is being contemplated, it would be vulnerable to loss of power and possibly earthquakes. It is difficult to believe that this complicated scheme would successfully prevent any radioactive materials from ever contaminating the sea, sooner or later. Assessments of the time scale – before the Olympics – for bringing the Fukushima reactors "under control" are likely to be inaccurate.

Fourth, trying to control a hazardous technology such as nuclear power is always linked to the possibility of failures and errors, and events going disastrously wrong. TEPCO's problems offer further evidence for what sociologists like Lee Clarke have argued: often plans for dealing with accidents and emergencies might look good on paper, but could well prove inadequate in the face of an actual accident.

Finally, there is the question of trust. On nuclear issues, there is widespread distrust of Japanese officials, belonging to the nuclear establishment or the government, in that country. A recent poll by the Asahi Shimbun showed that 94% of Japanese believe that the Fukushima accident has not been brought under control. Prime Minister Abe's strong claims about there being no problems at Fukushima, and his emphatic reassurances that there are no health effects only increase the levels of distrust. Regaining that trust is going to take both full transparency and openness as well as a complete overhaul of Japan's "nuclear village". There is little evidence of either of these happening anytime soon.

Reprinted from Economic & Political Weekly, Vol.XLVIII, No.40, 5 October 2013

Fukushima "under control"?

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe assured the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on September 7 that the Fukushima situation − in particular the leakage of contaminated water from holding tanks and the constant flow of contaminated groundwater − was "under control".

A survey by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper found that 76% of Japanese do not believe the Prime Minister contention that the radioactive water problem is under control.[21]

Senior TEPCO official Kazuhiko Yamashita said the water leaks were not under control. "We regard the current situation as not being under control," he said. "Predictable risks are under control, but what cannot be predicted is happening."[1,2]

Shunichi Tanaka, chair of Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), said on September 6 that TEPCO "has not been properly disclosing the situation about the contamination and the levels of contamination." He added: "This has caused confusion domestically and internationally. Because of that, the Japanese government has a sense of crisis and I, personally, feel a little angry about it."[3]

The NRA itself came under criticism on September 30 from a group of intellectuals studying the Fukushima crisis and participating in a review of the NRA's first year of operation.[28] Shuya Nomura, a lawyer who served on a Diet panel that investigated the Fukushima accident, criticised the NRA for its handling of the radioactive water leaks, saying NRA members should go to the plant instead of demanding explanations from TEPCO. Others pressed for reforms of the NRA Secretariat, which is staffed mostly by personnel from the previous, discredited regulator. NRA chair Shunichi Tanaka said he feels the organisation has been given a mandate bigger than its capacity, but that NRA members will try to improve.

Speaking in Tokyo on September 24, Gregory Jaczko, the former chair of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, expressed befuddlement that the issue of contaminated water has only recently come under the spotlight. "This was known from the beginning that there would potentially be these contamination problems," he said. Jaczko said he hopes Japan pours its resources and energy into coming up with ways to function without atomic power: "I think the Japanese people have the ability to do that."[29]

Hiroaki Koide, an associate professor at Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute, said: "I was flabbergasted by Abe's speech. The problem of contaminated water is far from being solved. This problem has been going on all the time since the reactors were destroyed. Contaminated water has been leaking into the ocean ever since."[4] Kiyoshi Kurokawa, a medical doctor who chaired the Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission last year, said: "Japan is clearly living in denial ... Water keeps building up inside the plant, and debris keeps piling up outside of it."[24]

The situation in Fukushima "has never done or will do any damage to Tokyo," the Prime Minister said. But radioactive fallout and contaminated food and water are problems that have been felt in Tokyo and beyond. The Mayor of Tokyo, Naoki Inose, publicly denounced the Prime Minister by saying that the problem of contaminated water leaks was "not necessarily under control" and that: "The government must acknowledge this as a national problem so that we can head toward a real solution."[5]

On October 3, TEPCO announced another leak − this time 430 litres of contaminated water spilt from a tank. TEPCO said the "contaminated water may well have flowed into the sea". On October 4, TEPCO announced yet another problem with its water treatment plant − known as the Advanced Liquid Processing System − resulting in its temporary shut down. The stoppage came just four days after TEPCO got the system up and running after a breakdown when a piece of plastic clogged the machine.[18]

Then on October 6, the NRA announced that pumps used to inject water to cool damaged reactors at Fukushima were hit by a power failure, but a backup system kicked in immediately. A worker conducting system inspections mistakenly pushed a button turning off power to some of the systems in the four reactor buildings.[22] Earlier this year, TEPCO lost power to cool spent fuel rods at Fukushima after a rat tripped an electrical wire.

On October 4, NRA secretary general Katsuhiko Ikeda berated TEPCO over "the inappropriate management of contaminated water", saying the "problems have been caused by a lack of basic checks." He added: "I can't help but say that standards of on-site management are extremely low at Fukushima Daiichi. ... That these leaks occurred due to human error is very regrettable. ... The failure to make rudimentary checks reflects a clear deterioration in the ability to manage the site." Ikeda said the problems at Fukushima raised serious questions about TEPCO's ability to operate its other nuclear plants, like the huge Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant that TEPCO wants to restart.[18,19]

Prime Minister Abe said: "The contaminated water has been contained in an area of the harbour only 0.3 square kilometres big." No it hasn't. There is routine release of contaminated water, in part because the barrier between the 'contained' area and the ocean has openings so it can withstand waves and tidal movements.[6] On July 10, the NRA said it "highly suspected" that the Fukushima plant was leaking contaminated water into the ocean, and TEPCO acknowledged that fact on July 22.[7,8]

US experts urged Japanese authorities to take immediate steps to prevent groundwater contamination two years ago, but their advice was ignored. TEPCO reportedly lobbied against the proposed construction of a barrier – a measure that will now be taken with government funding – because of the high cost.[1]

Princess Takamado – daughter-in-law of the Japanese Emperor – told the IOC: "The Olympic bid has given the young people in the area affected something to dream for, the motivation to move forward with courage ... I know one of the IOC's most important aspects is the legacy a Games leaves. The IOC will certainly remain in the heart of these young people."[9]

Princess Takamado did not explain how newly-built sports stadiums in Tokyo would improve the lives of young people in Fukushima Prefecture, or the lives of the 160,000 evacuees from the nuclear disaster who remain dislocated.

The Prime Minister has contradicted his own statements about Fukushima being "under control" by calling for more foreign assistance dealing with water management and other problems.[23] "My country needs your knowledge and expertise," Abe said on October 6. "We are wide open to receive the most advanced knowledge from overseas to contain the problem."

Former Liberal Democratic Party Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has made a public about-face from his previous embrace of atomic power. In a speech to business executives on October 1, Koizumi said: "There is nothing more costly than nuclear power. Japan should achieve zero nuclear plants and aim for a more sustainable society."[25] He urged the LDP to adopt a no-nukes policy: "We should aim to be nuclear-free. If the Liberal Democratic Party were to adopt a zero-nuclear policy, then we'd see a groundswell of support for getting rid of nuclear energy."[26] A small group of currently-serving LDP politicians is arguing against reactor restarts and calling for improvements in the management of the Fukushima site.[27]

Namie Resolution

The town assembly of nuclear disaster-hit Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, passed a resolution against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on September 20 for declaring the situation "under control." The Namie Town Assembly unanimously passed the resolution stating that there is a "serious problem" with Abe's remarks as they "contradict reality." The resolution states: "The situation has never been 'under control,' nor is the contaminated water 'completely blocked."[9,11]

Regarding Abe's claim that "there are no health-related problems until now, nor will there be in the future," the Namie resolution pointed out that there had been 1,459 deaths related to the triple disasters in Fukushima Prefecture thus far. "We can't help but feel resentment against the government and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co., both of which are disregarding Fukushima Prefecture," the resolution states.

Contaminated fish

Prime Minister Abe's comments to the IOC are contradicted by contaminated fish. Radioactivity levels have been dropping but contaminated fish exceeding safety limits are still being detected.[12,20]

Toshimitsu Konno, a fisherman in Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, responded to the Prime Minister's comments to the IOC meeting: "He must be kidding. We have been tormented by radioactive water precisely because the nuclear plant has not been brought under control."[13]

As the string of scandals surrounding contaminated water unfolded, South Korea greatly expanded bans on fish imports on September 6. A ban on fish imports from Fukushima Prefecture was extended to a further seven prefectures.[14]

South Korean fisheries vice-minister Son Jae-hak said that Japanese authorities had failed to provide timely and detailed information about the water leaks and that the ban would stay in place indefinitely. The fisheries ministry said the ban was necessary "as the government concluded that it is unclear how the incident in Japan will progress in the future and that the information the Japanese government has provided so far is not enough to predict future developments".[15] Among other countries, the US, China, Taiwan and Russia also have fish import bans in place.[16,17]

[1] Justin McCurry, 19 Sept 2013, 'Future of Japan depends on stopping Fukushima leaks, PM tells workers',
[2] TEPCO official denies Abe's claim that nuclear crisis is 'under control', 13 Sept 2013, Asahi Shimbun,
[3] Reuters, 'Fukushima operator slammed', 6 Sept 2013,
[4] AFP, 'Fukushima far from solved, say Abe's Games critics', 10 Sept 2013,
[5] 'Tokyo mayor claims Japan PM lied about Fukushima',
[6] Reiji Yoshida, 10 Sept 2013, 'Abe's assurance to IOC on nuclear plant called into question', The Japan Times,
[9] Peter Lee, 27-29 Sept 2013, 'Did Japan Lie Its Way Into the Olympics?',
[11] 'Namie town assembly protests PM Abe's 'under control' comment', 21 Sept 2013,
[12] 'Radioactive cesium levels drop in Fukushima fish, but strontium remains a mystery', 25 Sept 2013, Asahi Shimbun,
[13] 'Doubt cast on Abe's assurance to IOC about Fukushima leaks', 10 Sept 2013, Asahi Shimbun,
[14] John Hofilena, 30 Sept 2013, 'South Korean minister calls Japan 'immoral' for covering up Fukushima leaks',
[15] Justin McCurry, 7 Sept 2013, 'South Korea bans fish imports from Japan's Fukushima region', The Guardian,
[16] 'Int'l probe can address distrust in Japan's handling of Fukushima situation', 28 Sept 2013,
[17] 'Ban on Japanese fish remains in place due to Fukushima accident', 20 Sept 2013,
[18] Shingo Ito, AFP, 4 Oct 2013, 'Japan nuclear regulator berates Fukushima operator',
[19] Martin Fackler, 4 Oct 2013, 'Company Is Scolded for Mistakes at Fukushima', New York Times,
[20] Alex Roslin, 2 Oct 2013, 'Cancer risk linked to radiation levels in fish species after Fukushima',
[21] Asahi Shimbun, 7 Oct 013,
[22] 'Fukushima worker accidentally switches off cooling pumps', 7 Oct 2013,
[23] 'Japan PM seeks overseas help on Fukushima nuclear plant', 6 Oct 2013,
[24] Martin Fackler, 15 Sept 2013, 'Fukushima disaster deepens with new errors'
[25] Martin Fackler, 2 Oct 2013, 'Former Japanese Leader Declares Opposition to Nuclear Power',
[26] George Nishiyama, 2 Oct 2013, 'Fukushima Watch: Popular Ex-PM Koizumi Comes Out Against Nukes',
[27] Asahi Shimbun, 5 Oct 2013, 'Even in Abe's LDP, anti-nuclear sentiment hard to quell',
[28] NHK World, 1 Oct 2013, 'Nuclear regulator criticized for 'red tape' job', 
[29] Kazuaki Nagata, 24 Sept 2013, 'Ex-top U.S. nuclear regulator counsels end to atomic power'

(Written by Nuclear Monitor editor Jim Green.)


TEPCO continues to pay pro-nuclear village
TEPCO donated tens of millions of yen to a pro-nuclear village government in August despite promising to abolish such payouts to accelerate compensation for victims of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. TEPCO and Tohoku Electric Power Co. paid a combined 200 million yen (US$2 million) to Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture.

"The payment is associated with construction of a nuclear plant, and we believe it is different from a donation," a TEPCO official said. The industry ministry, however, said the payment is "close to a donation."

Masaru Kaneko, a professor of public finance at Keio University, said the government should do something to end such actions by TEPCO: "The provision of this sort of money is abnormal, given that compensation for nuclear disaster victims and containment of contaminated water have stalled and that further hikes in electricity rates have been mentioned."

In May 2012, TEPCO said it would stop making donations to local governments. When TEPCO applied to increase its electricity rates in 2012, the company included the payment to Rokkasho into power generation and other costs used as a basis for calculating the rates. However, the industry ministry refused to include the payment in such costs, saying "it is not essential to supply electricity and is, therefore, close to a donation."

Satoshi Otani, 4 Oct 2013, 'As Fukushima compensation stalls, TEPCO continues to pay pro-nuclear village',



Is Fukushima the new normal for nuclear reactors?

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Benjamin Sovacool − Director, Centre for Energy Technologies, AU-Herning at Aarhus University; Associate Professor, Vermont Law School

The new crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan saw radioactive water leak again from the crippled facility, raising fears that groundwater flowing into the Pacific Ocean could be contaminated.[1] The Japanese government also raised the international incident level – the scale used to assess nuclear accidents – from one to three out of seven. The original nuclear meltdown following the 2011 Japanese earthquake was scaled seven.

Even if Fukushima was ultimately caused by the 2011 earthquake and ensuing tsunami, accidents such as this beg the question: can nuclear energy ever be truly safe? There are three reasons to think that nuclear accidents are common, and could increase – and it's not because of the technology. Let's have a look at the evidence.

Lessons from history

In the early 1980s, Yale sociologist Charles Perrow argued that the partial meltdown of a nuclear reactor at Three Mile Island was a "normal accident".[2] The crux of his argument was that complicated technological systems have unavoidable problems that can't be designed around.

Perrow's argument − still relevant today − rested on three pillars. First, people are fallible, even at nuclear reactors. Operator error is still a very common factor in incidents and accidents.

Second, big accidents almost always have very small beginnings. Nuclear power plants are so complex that relatively simple things — shirt tails, fuses, light bulbs, mice, cats, and candles — can disrupt the entire system.

And finally, many failures are those of organisations more than technology. Given the right event, all these factors can lead to system-wide failure. Perrow concludes that such high-tech, dangerous systems are hopeless and should be abandoned, as the inevitable risks of failure outweigh any conceivable benefits.

Nuclear reactors do have inherent advantages over fossil fuels, but Perrow's argument raises serious questions about nuclear safety.

Never-ending accidents

Even so, Perrow was writing in the 1980s. Surely things have improved since then? Well, perhaps not.

If you consider the full range of incidents and accidents reported on the International Nuclear Event Scale [3], there have been hundreds of events over the past few decades. One peer-reviewed study identified 105 nuclear accidents totalling U$176.9 billion in damages and 4,231 fatalities worldwide from 1952 to 2011.[4] The International Atomic Energy Agency also reports no less than 2,400 separate incidents since the organisation began collecting data in the 1950s.

Most of these incidents involved no major releases of radiation or fatalities. But three emerging trends still cause reason for grave concern.

First, major modern nuclear power accidents are no longer one-off events. Instead, they can span years or even decades, creating a sort of "continuous accident".

The infamous Chernobyl nuclear power accident may have started on April 25 1986, but it continued into the early 1990s. Secrecy, further accidents, and wildfires in the exclusion zone meant that exposure to dangerous levels of radiation weren't controlled immediately.

We can see this same "continuous" trend with the accident at Fukushima. The triple meltdown itself at Fukushima in March 2011 was just the beginning.

In March 2013 a power outage left four underground spent fuel pools without fresh cooling water for several hours. The same month, it surfaced that a TEPCO crew laying down rat-proof netting caused another outage. In April 2013 regulators discovered that thousands of gallons of radioactive water had seeped into the ground from a leaking system of plastic sheeting.

In May, a fire broke out near Fukushima Unit 3 — ostensibly caused by cardboard boxes catching flame. And most recently in August 2013, regulators announced that 300 tons of radioactive water was found leaking from storage tanks.

New designs, new problems

There is some evidence that newer reactor designs and systems are more prone to accidents. Dennis Berry, Director Emeritus of Sandia National Laboratories, explains that the problem with new reactors and accidents is twofold: scenarios arise that are impossible to plan for in simulations, and people make mistakes.[5] As he put it: "Fabrication, construction, operation, and maintenance of new reactors will face a steep learning curve: advanced technologies will have a heightened risk of accidents and mistakes. The technology may be proven, but people are not."

Former nuclear engineer David Lochbaum has noted that almost all serious nu­clear accidents have occurred when operators have little experience with a plant.[6] This makes new systems incredibly risky.

Lochbaum cites numerous historical examples of nuclear reactor accidents, including Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, which suffered accidents immediately or soon after opening. Only Fukushima seems to have defied the trend; it was opened in 1971 and continued operating until the 2011 earthquake.

Electric pressure

The third problem is electric market restructuring. This puts more pressure on nuclear operators to keep costs low, potentially compromising safety.

The problem is, as former Nuclear Regulatory Commission chair Peter Bradford states, "nuclear energy can be cheap, or it can be safe. But it can't be both."[7] And even then, "there's always the possibility somebody will cut a corner".[8]

For example, the pressure to build new generators on existing sites to avoid finding new locations can increase the risk of catastrophe, since there is a greater chance that one accident can affect multiple reactors.

Nuclear waste storage is also becoming more dangerous, with many spent fuel pools packed with more fuel rods to keep costs low, making them hotter and denser.[9] Operators have to add boron to water pool to absorb neutrons, increasing the risk of chain reaction, or criticality, accidents.

The industry has also been trying to tinker with reactor sizes and promote designs that operators have little experience with, making operator training a factor. Some of these new reactor designs use more fuel and create more heat, meaning they have bigger cores containing larger quantities of dangerous fissionable materials, increasing the magnitude of any accident that could occur.

These factors are worrying (to say the least) given the severity of what a single, serious accident can do. Too bad it seems a matter of when, not if, we will see more of them in the future.


Fukushima leaks, lies, cover-ups, Whac-A-Mole

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green - Nuclear Monitor editor

A huge storage tank from which about 300 tons of highly radioactive water leaked at Fukushima may have deteriorated as a result of being moved and reassembled, TEPCO says. The tank was first installed at a different location in June 2011 but, after its foundation was found to have cracked after the tank sank in the ground, it was dismantled and reassembled at its current location where the leak occurred.[1,2]

The leak was rated Level 3 on the International Nuclear Events Scale by Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) − making it the most serious incident since the March 2011 disaster in the NRA's view. Level 3 can be assigned when there is "severe contamination in an area not expected by design, with a low probability of significant public exposure."

Between July 2012 and June 2013, the NRA made recommendations or issued instructions around 10 times to increase patrols and to install more observation cameras and water gauges, among other measures. TEPCO only upped its patrols from once a day to twice a day, and installed more cameras while still leaving blind spots. Since the revelation of the 300-ton leak, TEPCO has said it will increase patrol staff from 10 to 60 people, boost the number of daily patrols to four, and install water gauges in the tanks.[3]

Previously, TEPCO assigned only two workers to inspect 1,000 water tanks, during twice-daily patrols of two hours each. That meant that each worker took only 15 seconds to inspect each tank, and radiation levels were not measured unless a worker suspected something was wrong. Although workers sometimes saw puddles of water, they generally assumed that they were rainwater, which tends to collect near the bases of the tanks.[4,5]

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Toshimitsu Motegi visited Fukushima on August 26 and said: "The major problem lies in that TEPCO failed to manage the tanks properly. ... The urgency of the situation is very high, from here on the government will take charge."[6] He said TEPCO "has been playing a game of Whac-a-Mole with problems at the site."[7]

More than 300,000 tons of contaminated water are being stored at the Fukushima plant, in around 1,000 tanks, with around 400 tons being added every day as water is still being used to cool reactors.

In early September, TEPCO said workers had discovered high levels of radioactivity on three tanks and one pipe. One reading was 1,800 millisieverts per hour (compared to typical background radiation levels of 2−3 millisieverts per year) and another reading was 2,200 millisieverts per hour. It is believed that at least five of the tanks holding contaminated water may have leaked. Officials said that water levels have not dropped in any of the five tanks (whereas the 300-ton leak markedly reduced the level). The tanks were constructed by bolting together sheets of metal, rather than welding them. Welded tanks are more secure but TEPCO chose the bolted type because they are cheaper and faster to construct.[4,10,11,28]

A subcontractor who worked on constructing the tanks said workers were concerned about the integrity of the tanks even as they were constructing them: "We were required to build tanks in succession. We gave priority to making the tanks, rather than quality control. There were fears that toxic water may leak." The life-span of the tanks is only around five years, the subcontractors added, and more contaminated water may leak as they deteriorate.[12,13]

The head of the NRA, Shinichi Tanaka, said there may be no choice but to pump radioactive water from tanks − which are nearing capacity − into the sea but most of the contamination would first be removed. "The situation at Fukushima is changing every day," he said. "Fukushima Daiichi has various risks. The accident has yet to be settled down."[8,9]

Meanwhile, the NRA is urging TEPCO to increase monitoring of seawater to better assess the effects on ocean water as well as fish and other marine life. Shunichi Tanaka said TEPCO's efforts to monitor oceanic radiation levels have been insufficient.[14]

Fishers south of Fukushima Daiichi have not been able to fish commercially since the disaster, while those north of the plant can catch only octopus and whelks. They planned a trial catch in the hope that radiation levels would be low enough to begin sales soon after − but that plan has been aborted in the wake of the recent spills and leaks. Hiroshi Kishi, chair of the Japan Fisheries Co-operative, said: "This has dealt an immeasurable blow to the future of Japan's fishing industry, and we are extremely concerned." Nobuyuki Hatta, director of the Fukushima Prefecture Fisheries Research Centre, said: "People in the fishing business have no choice but to give up. Many have mostly given up already."[15,16,17]


In addition to problems with water tanks, there are ongoing problems with contaminated water in, around and beneath the reactor buildings. On July 10, the NRA announced it "highly suspected" that the plant was leaking contaminated water into the ocean. TEPCO didn't acknowledge what was happening until July 22; a month after initial suspicions were raised.[18,19] The NRA's Shunichi Tanaka said he believed contamination of the sea had been continuing since the March 2011 catastrophe.[20]

In response to the July revelations, Dale Klein, a member of TEPCO's Nuclear Reform Monitoring Committee and former head of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, told TEPCO: "It ... appears that you are not keeping the people of Japan informed. These actions indicate that you don't know what you are doing ... you do not have a plan and that you are not doing all you can to protect the environment and the people." [21]

Barbara Judge, a member of the Nuclear Reform Monitoring Committee and former chair of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, said she was "disappointed and distressed" over the company's lack of disclosure: "I hope that there will be lessons learned from the mishandling of this issue and the next time an issue arises − which inevitably it will because decommissioning is a complicated and difficult process − that the public will be immediately informed about the situation and what TEPCO is planning to do in order to remedy it."[21]

Atsushi Kasai, a former researcher at the Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute, said: "They let people know about the good things and hide the bad things. This culture of cover up hasn't changed since the disaster."[22]

Journalist Mark Willacy described the recurring pattern: "At first TEPCO denies there's a problem at the crippled Fukushima plant. Then it becomes obvious to everyone that there is a problem, so the company then acknowledges the problem and makes it public. And finally one of its hapless officials is sent out to apologise to the cameras."[23]

Still more problems surfaced in August. Three months earlier, TEPCO realised that contaminants apparently leaking from a maze of conduits near the reactors were responsible for a spike in radiation levels in groundwater elsewhere in the plant. TEPCO began to build an underground "wall" created by injected hardening chemicals into the soil but the barrier created a dam and water pooled behind it eventually began to flow over. In August, government officials said they believed 300 tons of the contaminated water was entering the ocean daily.[24] Shinji Kinjo, head of an taskforce, described the situation as an "emergency" and said the discharges exceeded legal limits of radioactivity.[25]

In early September, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government would allocate 47 billion yen (US$470 million) towards dealing with the contaminated water problems, including funding for a massive underground wall of frozen earth around the damaged reactors to contain groundwater flows, and funding to improve a water treatment system meant to reduce radiation levels in the contaminated water.[26]

Mayors from Futaba, Okuma, Tomioka, and Naraha have joined Fukushima Governor Yuhei Sato in formally demanding the decommissioning of all 10 nuclear reactors in Fukushima Prefecture, not just those that were damaged in the 2011 nuclear disaster.[27]

Reactor #3 at Kansai Electric's Oi power plant in Fukui Prefecture has been taken offline for routine maintenance, leaving just one reactor operating in all of Japan: reactor #4 at the same facility. That reactor will go offline on September 15. For the first time in 14 months and only the second time since 1966, Japan will be entirely nuclear free.


Fukushima Tourism Proposal
A group of authors, scholars, academics and architects has put forward a proposal for a new community on the edge of the Fukushima exclusion zone. Tourists would be able to check into hotels constructed to protect guests from elevated levels of radiation. The village would also have restaurants and souvenir shops, as well as a museum dedicated to the impact the disaster has had on local people. Visitors would be taken on a tour of "ground zero" dressed in protective suits and wearing respirators. The group said they got the idea from the growth in so-called "dark tourism" such as Ground Zero in New York or the "killing fields" of Cambodia.
− Julian Ryall, 19 August 2013, The Telegraph,



Nuclear News

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Successful blockade at nuclear weapon base Buchel. On August 11 a group from IKV Pax Christi joined the blockade of the German military base Büchel that hosts US nuclear weapons. Every gate was blocked by non-violent activists from all over the world. Every gate supported the 'Rhythm Beats Bombs' message with musical performances. Krista van Velzen, nuclear disarmament campaigner at IKV Pax Christi, said: 'We join this 24 hour long blockade to show solidarity with the German peace movement. Just as in the Netherlands, Germany hosts 20 American B61 nuclear weapons at the air base. Although the German government said they wanted to send them back, there are still at Büchel, this is the reason why it is necessary to protest.


Hiroshima's Mayor lashes Japan-India atomic courtship. The mayor of Hiroshima, speaking on the 68th anniversary of the nuclear attack on his city, said Japan is wrong to be entertaining prospects of atomic trade with nuclear-armed India. Tokyo and New Delhi agreed in May to pursue arrangements for peaceful nuclear trade. "Even if the nuclear power agreement the Japanese government is negotiating with India promotes their economic relationship, it is likely to hinder nuclear weapons abolition," Mayor Kazumi Matsui said. He pressed his country to strengthen ties with the governments pursuing nuclear weapons abolition. Matsui spoke to a crowd of about 50,000 near the location of the 1945 blast, which killed around 140,000 people.


Tokyo exhibition shows harassment against anti-nuclear movement. Anti-nuclear activists held an exhibition in Tokyo on August 10−11 to highlight the harassment and threats they faced during a period long before the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Letters and postcards sent to the activists in the 1990s and early 2000s were displayed. One postcard simply says, "You are a tick." Some envelopes contained hair, cigarette butts and dead cockroaches. Other letters were filled with obscenities. In 1995, five organisations and 66 individuals asked the Human Rights Protection Committee of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations to take measures against the harassment. By that time, 4,000 of the letters and postcards had been confirmed around the country. Lawyer Yuichi Kaido, one of the organisers of the exhibition, said: "The battle between those supporting the restart of idled nuclear reactors and those against it will be heating up from now on. The obstruction tactics against the anti-nuclear movement that were seen in the past could occur again."


Japanese Peace Boat. The Japanese Peace Boat is travelling around the world with a global call for nuclear weapons abolition through its 6th Global Voyage for a Nuclear-Free World. Eight Hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, accompanied by a Youth Special Communicator for a Nuclear-Free World, are giving testimonies in more than a dozen ports on their way to arrive back in Japan in October. The Peace Boat will be in Mexico on September 21 for the International Day of Peace (Mexico will host the next humanitarian conference on nuclear weapons in February 2014). Updates are posted at and


World Conference against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs. The 2013 World Conference against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs ended successfully on August 9 in Nagasaki with the participation of about 7,000 people including 89 overseas representatives from 20 countries. Conference organisers have historically shied away from debates over nuclear power but that has changed since the 2011 Fukushima disaster. The Declaration of the International Meeting adopted on August 5 in Hiroshima includes the following statement: "The accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant is still in the midst of the crisis. Bringing the situation under control, decommissioning of all nuclear reactors and a fundamental shift to renewable energy resources are keenly called for. Having noted the dangerous relations between nuclear weapons and nuclear power generation, we call for ending all kind of nuclear damage caused by nuclear fuel cycles, and oppose reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel and accumulation of plutonium, as well as military use of nuclear energy. United in one wish for 'no more nuclear victims,' we will develop our campaign together with the movement to break free of nuclear power."


Offshore wind could meet EU electricity needs. The EU's total electricity usage could be met more than four times over by floating offshore wind farms in the deep waters of the North Sea, according to a new report from the European Wind Energy Association. The report claims that if the right policies are put into place now to spur the development and implementation of next-generation floating turbines, total EU offshore wind capacity could reach 150 gigawatts by the year 2030.

Peace Boat Japan