You are here


The economic impacts of the Fukushima disaster

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor

Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has revised the estimated cost of decommissioning the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, and compensating victims of the disaster, to around ¥21.5 trillion (US$187 bn; €175 bn).1

In 2011/12, the estimate was in the range of ¥5 trillion2 to ¥5.8 trillion.3 In November 2012, TEPCO said compensation and clean-up costs could amount to ¥10 trillion.2 In 2013, METI estimated the cost at ¥11 trillion4, comprising ¥5.4 trillion for compensation (now estimated at ¥7.9 trillion), ¥2.5 trillion yen for decontamination work in Fukushima Prefecture (now estimated at ¥4 trillion), ¥1.1 trillion for interim storage facilities for contaminated soil (now estimated at ¥1.6 trillion), and ¥2 trillion for decommissioning the Fukushima Daiichi plant (now estimated at ¥8 trillion).1,5

The current estimate of ¥21.5 trillion is four times greater than the 2011/12 estimates of ¥5‒5.8 trillion, and double the 2012/13 estimates of ¥10‒11 trillion. Further increases are likely. "We don't think it will increase further for some time, but it's possible depending on any changes to the situation," METI chief Hiroshige Seko said on December 9.1 According to Nikkei Asian Review, costs could "surge" if the removal of nuclear fuel fragments from stricken reactors proves more difficult than expected.1

In October 2016, the Japanese government said that expenditure on decommissioning the Fukushima plant would rise from the current figure of ¥80 billion (US$690m) per year to several hundred billion yen (several billion US dollars) per year.6

Indirect costs ‒ fuel imports

In addition to the direct costs discussed above, the Fukushima disaster has resulted in a myriad of indirect costs. While a number of these indirect costs cannot be quantified, it can safely be said that the largest has been the cost of replacing power from Japan's fleet of idled reactors. Replacement power has comprised energy efficiency negawatts, increased use of renewables, and increased use of fossil fuels.

According to METI, fossil fuel import costs to replace power from idled reactors amounted to ¥3.6 trillion (US$31.3 bn) in fiscal year 2013.7 It's a reasonable assumption that comparable costs have been incurred for each of the 5.5 years since the Fukushima disaster. And since nearly all of Japan's reactors remain idle, a reasonable (if arbitrary) assumption is that comparable costs will be incurred for another three years, bringing the total to 8.5 x US$31.3 billion or US$266 billion.

Adding the estimate of US$187 billion in direct costs to the rough estimate of US$266 billion for fuel imports gives a total of US$453 billion. That figure is consistent with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers' (ASME) "rough estimate" in a mid-2012 report of US$500 billion costs from the Fukushima disaster.8 ASME estimated costs for clean-up and decommissioning of the Fukushima plant; clean-up of contaminated lands outside the plant boundary; replacement power costs due to the shutdown of all of Japan's reactors; and compensation for citizens evacuated from contaminated areas. ASME noted that the costs would "substantially increase if nuclear electricity generation continues to be replaced for a long time by other means".

The ASME report concluded: "The major consequences of severe accidents at nuclear plants have been socio-political and economic disruptions inflicting enormous cost to society. In other words, even when there are no discernible radiological public health effects from a nuclear power accident, the observed and potential disruption of the socio-economic fabric of society from a large release of radioactivity is not an acceptable outcome."8

Macroeconomic impacts

METI noted in its April 2014 Strategic Energy Plan that electricity prices have risen as a result of strategies to replace nuclear power in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster: "Six Japanese electric power companies have already revised their electricity prices by a range of 6.2% to 9.8% for regulated sectors. However, actually, the model electricity price for the average household has risen by around 20% across Japan due to the rise in fuel price, etc."7

The 2014 METI report further noted that increased electricity prices have had flow-on effects: "Increases in electricity prices due to various factors have put pressure on the profits of energy intensive industries and small and medium-sized enterprises and are starting to cause adverse effects, including personnel cuts and production transfer to overseas due to deteriorating profitability for domestic business. It is a significant obstacle to expand domestic investment from abroad; it also increases burden against household economy."7

Thus, as the METI report notes, the Fukushima disaster and the subsequent shutdown of all of Japan's reactors have had macroeconomic impacts: "Due to increased imports of fossil fuels, Japan's trade balance in 2011 turned to a deficit for the first time in 31 years. In 2012, the trade deficit expanded, and in 2013, it hit a record high of ¥11.5 trillion. Japan's current account has also been significantly affected by the deterioration in the trade balance. The increased imports of fossil fuels have thus caused problems not only in the field of energy but also at the macroeconomic level."7

Other indirect costs

The Fukushima disaster has cost the tourism industry billions of dollars ‒ perhaps tens of billions. According to an estimate by the Japan National Tourism Organization, 6.2 million tourists visited Japan in 2011 ‒ a 28% drop from the previous year.9

Billions more have been lost in the agricultural and fishing industries. The local fishing industry collapsed as a result of the Fukushima disaster. According to a June 2013 Reuters report, fishing industry losses by that time amounted to ¥1.26 trillion (US$10.9 billion).10

Add these costs to the direct clean-up costs of US$187 billion (almost certain to be upwardly revised ... again), and the rough estimate of US$266 billion for fuel imports, and it's likely that the direct and indirect costs resulting from the Fukushima disaster will exceed US$500 billion.


1. Nikkei Asian Review, 10 Dec 2016, 'Japanese consumers will be paying for Fukushima for decades',

2. AFP, 7 Nov 2012, 'TEPCO says Fukushima clean up, compensation may hit $125 bn',

3. Kyodo, 27 Aug 2014, 'Fukushima nuclear crisis estimated to cost ¥11 trillion: study',

4. Reuters, 28 Nov 2016, 'Fukushima nuclear decommission, compensation costs to almost double: media',

5. Nikkei Asian Review, 9 Dec 2016, 'Fukushima cost estimate set to swell to $188bn',

6. South China Morning Post, 25 Oct 2016, 'Cost to scrap Fukushima nuclear plant massively underestimated, Japanese officials admit',

7. Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, April 2014, Strategic Energy Plan',

8. American Society of Mechanical Engineers, June 2012, 'Forging a New Nuclear Safety Construct: The ASME Presidential Task Force on Response to Japan Nuclear Power Plant Events',

9. Japan Times, 9 March 2012, 'Selling Japan's Food and Tourism after Fukushima',

10. Antoni Slodkowski / Reuters, 3 June 2013, 'Rising radioactive spills leave Fukushima fishermen floundering',

Costing Fukushima morbidity and mortality

The impacts of the Fukushima disaster include ill-health and deaths resulting from radiation exposure and from the evacuation of 160,000 people and the prolonged exclusion from contaminated areas.

Putting a dollar value on ill-health and death is both fraught and arbitrary. With those qualifications, figures used by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) can be used to cost the ill-health and death resulting from the Fukushima disaster.

The NRC, in its own words, "uses the dollar per person-rem conversion in cost-benefit analyses to determine the monetary valuation of the consequences associated with radiological exposure and establishes this factor by multiplying a value of a statistical life coefficient by a nominal risk coefficient."1

The NRC suggests a value of $5,100 per person-rem of radiation exposure (US$510,000 per person-Sievert).1 The UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation estimates radiation exposure from the Fukushima disaster at 48,000 person-Sieverts.2,3 Multiplying the exposure (48,000 person-Sieverts) by the (fraught, arbitrary) NRC figure of US$510,000 per person-Sievert gives a total of US$24.5 billion.

The NRC suggests a figure of US$9 million for each death caused by radiation exposure (in the jargon, US$9 million is the 'value of a statistical life' or VSL).11 A reasonable ball-park estimate is that 5,000 deaths will result from exposure to radiation from the Fukushima disaster (using a Linear No Threshold-derived risk estimate, almost twice the risk estimate used by the NRC).3 Multiplying the US$9 million VSL figure with the estimate of 5,000 deaths gives a figure of US$45 billion.

In addition, there have been ill-health and deaths attributable to the Fukushima disaster but not directly radiation-related, in particular the impacts of the evacuation and prolonged exclusion from contaminated regions. According to reports in early 2014, information compiled by police and local governments found that 1,656 people had died in Fukushima Prefecture as a result of stress and other illnesses caused by the 2011 disaster.4

If we assume that the number of non-radiation-related deaths has risen from 1,656 by early 2014 to, say, 2,000 deaths up to late 2016, and we use the NRC's US$9 million VSL figure, that gives a cost of US$18 billion.

Regardless of those fraught, arbitrary costings of morbidity and mortality, there's no disputing the American Society of Mechanical Engineers' conclusion that the Fukushima disaster has resulted in an "enormous cost to society" and that the "disruption of the socio-economic fabric of society from a large release of radioactivity is not an acceptable outcome".5

1. US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Aug 2015, "Reassessment of NRC's Dollar Per Person-Rem Conversion Factor Policy: Draft Report for Comment",


3. Ian Fairlie, Feb 2014, 'New UNSCEAR Report on Fukushima: Collective Doses',

4. The Times (UK), 21 Feb 2014, 'More Fukushima victims die of stress than were killed in the disaster',

5. American Society of Mechanical Engineers, June 2012, 'Forging a New Nuclear Safety Construct: The ASME Presidential Task Force on Response to Japan Nuclear Power Plant Events',

New studies: How safe is nuclear power?

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

There are two broad methods of assessing the risks of nuclear power reactors. The nuclear industry calculates the probabilities of accident scenarios but these 'probabilistic risk assessments' are flawed and consistently underestimate the true risks, as discussed in Nuclear Monitor #803.1

The second method of assessing reactor risks is to analyze the historical record. One such study, by Thomas Rose and Trevor Sweeting, has recently been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Rose and Sweeting analyze all past core-melt accidents and estimate a failure rate of 1 per 3704 reactor–years.2

The authors state:

"By our calculations, the overall probability of a core-melt accident in the next decade, in a world with 443 reactors, is almost 70%. (Because of statistical uncertainty, however, the probability could range from about 28% to roughly 95%.) The United States, with 104 reactors, has about a 50% probability of experiencing one core-melt accident within the next 25 years."

The authors also analyzed the role that learning from past accidents can play over time, using a much larger database of accidents and not just core-melt accidents, and conclude that few or no learning effects are in evidence. In their words, their statistical analysis finds "a probability for a (minor or major) accident in a nuclear power plant of about 1 in 1000 reactor years and shows no evidence of a learning effect."

Their findings come with caveats. Information is hard to come by, partly because the International Atomic Energy Agency does not publish a full list of International Nuclear Event Scale-rated events. Choices necessarily made by scholars tackling these issues greatly affect the conclusions. For example Rose and Sweeting exclude core-melt accidents in research reactors, they exclude the Windscale / UK 1957 fire on the grounds that it involved a military reactor, and they count Fukushima as one core-melt accident instead of three.

Rose and Sweeting conclude with a parting shot at the IAEA for its indefensible refusal to release data it has at its disposal:

"In conclusion, the number of core-melt accidents that can be expected over time in nuclear power stations is larger than previously expected. To assess the risk of similar events occurring in the future, it is necessary to determine whether nuclear power operators learn from their experiences. Our work shows that it is possible to investigate such learning effects through statistical analysis. Until the IAEA makes the relevant data available, however, the full story of accident probability and learning effects will remain untold."

Scientists for Global Responsibility

A somewhat similar analysis by Spencer Wheatley, Benjamin Sovacool and Didier Sornette has been published by Scientists for Global Responsibility.3 The authors compiled a dataset of 184 events from 1950 to 2014 that resulted in losses of US$20 million (€18m) or more (inflation-adjusted). One of their conclusions is more positive than Rose and Sweeting: they find that the frequency of accidents dropped substantially after Three Mile Island (TMI) and Chernobyl, and has remained relatively constant since.

That is no reasons for complacency as the authors go on to explain:

"This is good news, but not an adequate improvement: the post-TMI distribution is so heavy tailed that the expected severity is mathematically infinite. This is reflected by the fact that the severity of Fukushima is larger than the sum of all remaining events. This point cannot be emphasized enough, as it implies that, if one wants to reduce the total risk level, one needs to effectively exclude the possibility of the most extreme events. Put simply, we need to move to a situation where major nuclear accidents are virtually impossible."

On the basis of their analysis the authors estimate that:

  • one event per year causing damage in excess of US$20 million should be expected.
  • there is at least a 50% probability of a Chernobyl-type event (causing about US$32 billion (€28.7b) in damage costs) happening in the next 30-60 years.
  • there is at least a 50% probability of a Fukushima-type event (US$170 billion, €153b) happening in the next 65-150 years.

They state that while their estimates are highly uncertain, they are much larger than what industry estimates would suggest.

U.S. safety regime flawed

"I am confident that the legacy of Fukushima Daiichi will be a sharper focus on nuclear safety everywhere," said IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano in a March 10 media release. "There is widespread recognition that everything humanly possible must be done to ensure that no such accident ever happens again."4

But the reality doesn't match the rhetoric and the situation in the U.S. provides one example. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has released a report on the failure of the U.S. nuclear power industry to adequately respond to safety flaws in the five years since Fukushima, as well as the failures of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).5

After Fukushima, the NRC set up a task force to analyze what happened at Fukushima and assess how to make U.S. reactors safer. In July 2011, the task force offered a dozen recommendations to help safeguard U.S. nuclear plants in the event of a Fukushima-scale accident. Unfortunately, the NRC has since rejected or significantly weakened many of those recommendations and has yet to fully implement the reforms it did adopt. The UCS report also finds that the NRC abdicated its responsibility as the nation's nuclear watchdog by allowing the industry to routinely rely on voluntary guidelines, which are, by their very nature, unenforceable.

Among many other problems, the NRC decided to continue to allow plant owners to develop their own voluntary plans for managing a core-melt accident, rejecting a task force recommendation to require them to do so. If plans are voluntary, the NRC has no authority to review them or issue citations when they are deficient.

"Once again, the NRC is ignoring a key lesson of the Fukushima accident: Emergency plans are not worth the paper they are printed on unless they are rigorously developed, maintained, periodically tested, and subject to NRC inspection and enforcement," said Edwin Lyman from the UCS. "When it comes to many critical safety measures, the NRC is allowing the industry to regulate itself."

The UCS recommends a revised regulatory framework; expedition of transfer of spent fuel to dry casks; increased emergency planning zone sizes (beyond the current 10-mile radius); increased NRC oversight of operator guidelines instead of voluntary guidelines that are not subject to NRC enforcement; and validation of FLEX strategies that aim to make emergency equipment readily available to reactors during extreme events.


1. 'Nuclear accidents and risk assessments', 7 May 2015, Nuclear Monitor #803,

2. Thomas Rose & Trevor Sweeting, March 2016, 'How safe is nuclear power? A statistical study suggests less than expected', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Volume 72, Issue 2,

3. Spencer Wheatley, Benjamin Sovacool and Didier Sornette, March 2016, 'Statistically assessing of the risks of commercial nuclear energy', Scientists for Global Responsibility Newsletter no.44,

4. Nicole Jawerth, 10 March 2016, 'Five Years After Fukushima: Making Nuclear Power Safer',

5. Union of Concerned Scientists, March 2016, 'Preventing an American Fukushima: Limited Progress Five Years after Japan's Nuclear Power Plant Disaster',

See also: Elliott Negin, 10 March 2016, 'Five Years After Fukushima, U.S. Nuclear Safety Upgrades Lagging',

UCS, March 2016, 'Preventing an American Fukushima (2016)',

Edwin Lyman et al., 2014, 'Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster',

Nuclear accidents and risk assessments

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

A new study published in Physics and Society analyses 174 nuclear accidents between 1946 and 2014 that resulted in loss of human life and/or more than US$50,000 of property damage (in 2013 dollars). The accidents involved nuclear energy at the production/generation, transmission, and distribution phase (nuclear power plants, uranium mines, enrichment/reprocessing/MOX plants, manufacturing plants, transportation by truck or pipeline, etc.)1

The authors − academics Spencer Wheatley, Benjamin Sovacool and Didier Sornette − state that the rate of nuclear accidents meeting their criteria decreased from the late 1970s, decreased further after Chernobyl (April 1986), and since then has been fairly stable at around 0.002 to 0.003 events per plant per year (roughly one accident per year worldwide meeting their criteria). The distribution of damage size dropped after the Three Mile Island accident (March 1979) − the median damage size became approximately 3.5 times smaller.

The worst accidents do not show any clear patterns. The authors note that "the term "dragon-king" has been introduced to refer the situation where extreme events appear that do not belong to the same distribution as their smaller siblings."

Based on their statistical calculations, the authors estimate a 50% chance of a Fukushima event (or larger) in the next 50 years, a Chernobyl event (or larger) in the next 27 years, and a Three Mile Island event (or larger) in the next 10 years. However they note that "there is tremendous estimation uncertainty associated with these estimations."

A more detailed version of the research, along with the list of 174 accidents, will be published at a later date.

Probabilistic risk assessment

Wheatley, Sovacool and Sornette question the accuracy of probabilistic risk assessment (PRA), which requires the definition of failure scenarios to which probabilities and damage values are assigned. They note that statistical/empirical analyses of nuclear accidents have "almost universally" found that PRA "dramatically underestimates the risk of accidents", and they point to research demonstrating that PRAs are "fraught with unrealistic assumptions, severely underestimating the probability of accidents".

Likewise, Princeton University physicist M.V. Ramana challenges "misleading" PRAs such as Areva's estimate for its EPR of one core-damage incident per reactor in 1.6 million years, and Westinghouse's claim that for its AP1000 reactors the core melt frequency is roughly one incident per reactor in two million years.2

Ramana writes:

"There are both empirical and theoretical reasons to doubt these numbers. A 2003 study on the future of nuclear power carried out by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology points out that "uncertainties in PRA methods and data bases make it prudent to keep actual historical risk experience in mind when making judgments about safety." What does history tell us? Globally, there have been close to 15,000 reactor-years of experience, with well-known severe accidents at five commercial power reactors − three of them in Fukushima.

"However, as Thomas Cochran of the Natural Resources Defense Council explained in his recent testimony to the US Senate, depending on how core damage is defined, there are other accidents that should be included. The actuarial frequency of severe accidents may be as high as 1 in 1,400 reactor-years. At that rate, we can expect an accident involving core damage every 1.4 years if nuclear power expands from today's 440 commercial power reactors to the 1,000-reactor scenario laid out in the MIT study. In either case, though, our experience is too limited to make any reliable predictions.

"Theoretically, the probabilistic risk assessment method suffers from a number of problems. Nancy Leveson of MIT and her collaborators have argued that the chain-of-event conception of accidents typically used for such risk assessments cannot account for the indirect, non-linear, and feedback relationships that characterize many accidents in complex systems. These risk assessments do a poor job of modeling human actions and their impact on known, let alone unknown, failure modes."

Ramana notes that conclusions about overall accident probabilities derived from PRAs are "far from dependable". He notes that before the Chernobyl accident, B.A. Semenov, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency's safety division, said that "a serious loss-of-coolant accident is practically impossible" with Chernobyl-type reactors.

Ramana concludes:

"The lesson from the Fukushima, Chernobyl, and Three Mile Island accidents is simply that nuclear power comes with the inevitability of catastrophic accidents. While these may not be frequent in an absolute sense, there are good reasons to believe that they will be far more frequent than quantitative tools such as probabilistic risk assessments predict. Any discussion about the future of nuclear power ought to start with that realization."

The Fukushima disaster illustrated one of the weaknesses of PRAs − the difficulty of modeling common-cause failures. Fukushima illustrated another problem − PRAs do not account for complacency, corruption, slack regulation etc.

He Zuoxiu, a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and researcher at the CAS Institute of Theoretical Physics, wrote in a 2013 article:

"The world's 443 nuclear power plants have been running for a total of 14,767 reactor-years, during which time there have been 23 accidents involving a reactor core melting. That's one major accident every 642 reactor years. But according to the design requirements, an accident of that scale should only happen once every 20,000 reactor years. The actual incidence is 32 times higher than the theory allows.

"Some argue this criticism is unfair. After all, 17 of those 23 accidents were caused by human error − something hard to account for in calculations. But human error is impossible to eliminate, and cannot be ignored when making major policy decisions.

"Even if we set aside the accidents attributed to human error, technical failings have caused core melting once every 2,461 reactor-years. That's still more than eight times the theoretical calculation."


1. Spencer Wheatley, Benjamin Sovacool and Didier Sornette, April 2015, 'Of Disasters and Dragon Kings: A Statistical Analysis of Nuclear Power Incidents & Accidents', Physics and Society,

2. M. V. Ramana, 19 April 2011, 'Beyond our imagination: Fukushima and the problem of assessing risk', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists,

3. He Zuoxiu, 25 Oct 2013, 'Chinese nuclear disaster 'highly probable' by 2030',

What's wrong with nuclear power?

There are many good reasons to oppose the use of nuclear energy. Nuclear power installations are vulnerable for accidents, incidents and attacks. Radioactive material can be disseminated. Radiation is harmfull and can, even in small quantities, be lethal. Contamination with radioactive material can make entire regions uninhabitable for thousands of years.