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Fukushima Fallout: Updates from Japan

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Cabinet accepts nuclear policy guidance document

Decommissioning plans for Tokai Reprocessing Plant
Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant

Japan's intentional plutonium surplus

Slow progress on high-level waste disposal

Trial begins for children of Hibakusha
First court day of TEPCO executives criminal trial

More Fukushima law suits

Mental health afflictions for Fukushima first responders

Radioactive particles in northern Japan

Japan rates severity of Oarai nuclear exposure accident as level 2

Cabinet accepts nuclear policy guidance document

Japan's cabinet approved a draft Basic Concept on Nuclear Energy Use developed by the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) in mid-July.1 The policy derives from expert consultations stretching back two years, and a public consultation phase earlier this year which resulted in 728 comments.1 The draft Basic Concept describes "the need to use nuclear energy in an appropriate manner by thoroughly managing risk under a responsible system", according to the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum.1

The process was a sham. A JAEC committee met on 18 July to discuss the public 728 comments, completed the draft Basic Concept on July 20, and Cabinet approved it the following day.

Meanwhile, the industry ministry has opened discussions on a review of Japan's Strategic Energy Plan.2 And again, it seems the outcome has been predetermined. Industry minister Hiroshige Seko said the plan will remain basically unchanged.2 An overwhelming majority of the members of two bodies considering the Strategic Energy Plan are supportive of current government policy whereas advocates of a shift away from nuclear power and of intensive development of renewable energy account for "a mere handful of their members" according to a recent Asahi Shimbun editorial.2

The current Strategic Energy Plan, approved by the Cabinet in 2014, contains a "deceptive aspect", the Asahi Shimbun editorial noted ‒ the plan says that "Japan will minimize its dependency on nuclear power" but it also defines nuclear power as an "important base-load power source."2 The Abe government is doing its best to promote nuclear power, not to minimize its use.

The Long-Term Energy Supply and Demand Outlook, a document produced by the industry ministry in 2015, is more openly pro-nuclear and assumes that nuclear power will account for about 20‒22% percent of Japan's total electricity supply by 2030.2 That figure translates to around 30 operating reactors.

Only five power reactors are currently operating ‒ Sendai 1 and 2, Takahama 3 and 4, and Ikata 3.3 Another five will restart by March 2019 according to the latest estimate by Japan's Institute of Energy Economics.3 The Institute has dramatically lowered its expectations for reactor restarts: in its previous outlook, it anticipated that 19 reactors would be operating by March 2018.3

The 20‒22% target by 2030 may not be attainable, no matter how hard the government pushes.

1. World Nuclear News, 25 July 2017, 'Japan accepts nuclear policy guidance document',

2. Asahi Shimbun, 14 Aug 2017, 'Editorial: Phasing out nuclear power a must for Japan's new energy plan',

3. World Nuclear News, 3 Aug 2017, 'Japan to benefit from reactor restarts, says IEEJ',

Decommissioning plans for Tokai Reprocessing Plant

The Japan Atomic Energy Agency applied to the Nuclear Regulation Authority on June 30 for approval of its plans for decommissioning the Tokai Reprocessing Plant. The plant is located in Tokai Village, Ibaraki Prefecture. It was test operated in 1977, and began full operation in 1981, but its utilization rate stagnated. It processed a total of 1,140 tons of spent nuclear fuel (equal to 5.4 years of its claimed processing capacity). The decision to decommission the plant was made in 2014.

The decommissioning will take about 70 years to complete, at a total cost of about ¥1 trillion (US$9.1 billion; €7.8 billion) plus additional costs for waste disposal. That is over five times the cost of its construction, which was about ¥190 billion.

Furthermore, the vitrification of high-level wastes has continued to be fraught with problems, resulting in delays. In addition, the plant is storing 265 spent fuel assemblies from the Fugen Prototype Advanced Thermal Reactor in a pool. Those are to be shipped to France, but that has yet to be actualized.

Citizens Nuclear Information Center, July/August 2017, Nuke Info Tokyo No. 179,

Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant

The 800 tons/year Rokkasho reprocessing plant has been repeatedly delayed and cost estimates have been repeatedly revised upwards. Currently, the cost estimate is ¥2.94 trillion (US$26.8 billion; €22.8 billion) and start-up is anticipated in 2018.

World Nuclear Association, 31 July 2017, 'Japan's Nuclear Fuel Cycle',

Japan's intentional plutonium surplus

Alan J. Kuperman ‒ associate professor and coordinator of the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project ( at the University of Texas, Austin ‒ writes in an opinion piece published by Kyodo News:

"Japan owns nearly 50 tons of separated plutonium. That is enough for over 5,000 nuclear weapons. Yet Japan has no feasible peaceful use for most of this material. This raises an obvious question: How did a country that forswears nuclear arms come to possess more weapons-usable plutonium than most countries that do have nuclear arsenals?

"Some argue it is the unforeseen consequence of unexpected events, such as the failure of Japan's experimental Monju breeder reactor, or the Fukushima accident that compelled Japan to shut down traditional nuclear power plants. ...

"But that is false. Japan's massive accumulation of nuclear weapons-usable plutonium was foreseen three decades ago. In testimony submitted to the U.S. Congress in March 1988, and published that year, Dr. Milton Hoenig of the Nuclear Control Institute ‒ where I worked at the time ‒ documented how Japan's planned separation of plutonium from spent fuel greatly exceeded its planned recycling of such plutonium in fresh fuel. The inevitable result, he predicted, was that Japan would accumulate enormous amounts of separated plutonium. ...

"The hard truth is that creation of a plutonium surplus was not an accident but the inevitable consequence of Japanese nuclear policy that the U.S. government acquiesced to in 1988. Why did Japan intentionally acquire a stockpile of plutonium sufficient for thousands of nuclear weapons? Neighboring countries suspect it is to provide Japan the option of quickly assembling a large nuclear arsenal. Not surprisingly, both China and South Korea are now pursuing options to separate more plutonium from their own spent nuclear fuel.

"Three urgent steps are necessary to avert this latent regional arms race. First, Japan should terminate its Rokkasho plant, which is an economic, environmental, and security disaster. The last thing Japan needs is more surplus plutonium. Second, the United States and Japan should seize the opportunity of their expiring 1988 deal to renegotiate new terms restricting plutonium separation, which could also serve as a model for ongoing U.S.-South Korea nuclear negotiations.

"Finally, innovative thinking is needed to shrink Japan's plutonium stockpile. In light of the worldwide failure of breeder reactors, and post-Fukushima constraints on traditional reactors, most of Japan's plutonium will never become fuel. Instead, it should be disposed of as waste. The U.S. government has recently made a similar decision, abandoning plans to use recovered weapons plutonium in fuel and instead intending to bury it. U.S.-Japan collaboration to dispose of surplus plutonium in a safe, secure and economical manner could help make up for the misguided bilateral decisions that created this problem 30 years ago."

Alan J. Kuperman, 17 Aug 2017, 'Opinion: Japan's intentional plutonium surplus',

Slow progress on high-level waste disposal

On 28 July 2017, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan (NUMO) published a 'Nationwide Map of Scientific Features for Geological Disposal' of high-level nuclear waste, categorizing all areas in Japan into four categories: (1) areas with unfavorable geological features such as volcanoes and active geological faults, (2) unfavorable areas endowed with natural resources, (3) areas with a good chance of having favorable characteristics and (4) areas with a good chance of having favorable characteristics and also favorable from the viewpoint of transportation.1

Areas that might be suitable account for roughly 65% percent of the nation's land and cover more than 80% of the nation's 1,800 municipalities. Areas that might be suitable and also lie within 20 km from a coastline (thus facilitating transportation) cover 30% percent of Japan's land and about 900 municipalities.2

NUMO said that publication of the map is the "first step on the long road toward the decision of the site."1 NUMO expects site selection from about 2025, with repository operation from about 2035.3 Of course, that timeline is unrealistic. Japan Times suggested a timeframe of 50 years and said that the METI bureaucrats and nuclear industry executives will be long dead before the project reaches fruition.4

Getting local governments to offer land for disposal sites is going to be "very difficult" as Japan Times noted, even though participation comes with rewards: ¥2 billion for an initial two-year data study and ¥7 billion for a follow-up study.4 Previous attempts to bribe local communities to offer land for evaluation for a dump failed ‒ one mayor expressed interest in 2007, and was removed from office in the next election.5

The total cost of the waste repository project is estimated at approximately ¥3.7 trillion (US$34 bn; €28.5 bn), excluding financial compensation paid to local communities.3,6 This will be met by funds accumulated at 0.2 yen/kWh from electricity utilities and paid to NUMO, World Nuclear News reported.3 But by 2015, only ¥1 trillion had been collected ‒ a little more than a quarter of the estimated requirement.3

There has been little public discussion about what happens to spent nuclear fuel if reprocessing is abandoned, though a "feasibility study" reportedly began in April 2017.5

1. Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan (NUMO), 28 July 2017, 'On the publication of the "Nationwide Map of Scientific Features for Geological Disposal"',

2. Japan Times, 3 Aug 2017, 'Finding sites to bury high-level radioactive waste',

3. World Nuclear News, 28 July 2017, 'Japan maps potential repository areas',

4. Philip Brasor, 12 Aug 2017, 'METI seeks to pass nuclear buck with release of waste disposal map',

5. Mari Yamaguchi / AP, 15 July 2017, 'Underground lab tackles trouble-plagued nuclear waste issue',

6. Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan (NUMO), 'Questions and Answers for NUMO's Geological Disposal Program',, accessed 30 Aug 2017

Trial begins for children of Hibakusha

The first round of oral proceedings got underway in the Class Action Suit Seeking Assistance for Second Generation Hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) on May 9 in the Hiroshima District Court and on June 5 in the Nagasaki District Court. The suit, lodged by 47 plaintiffs, seeks a token payment as compensation for mental suffering incurred by second-generation hibakusha. This sum is not intended as compensation for damages, but to make it clear to society through the lawsuit that the problem exists. There are 300,000 to 500,000 second-generation hibakusha living throughout Japan, and they have to live with uncertainty over the genetic effects of atomic bomb radiation. In the first round of oral proceedings in both district courts, the plaintiffs described their health concerns and actual health damage, seeking a ruling that would lead to legal assistance, while the state sought to have their request dismissed.

Citizens Nuclear Information Center, July/August 2017, Nuke Info Tokyo No. 179,

First court day of TEPCO executives criminal trial

The first day of the court case against former TEPCO executives Tsunehisa Katsumata, Ichiro Takekuro and Sakae Muto for professional negligence leading to fatalities was held on 30 June 2017 in Tokyo District Court.

Prosecutors had twice decided against charges against any TEPCO executives but a citizen's panel ‒ which has the power to review judicial decisions ‒ overturned the decision and charges were laid early last year.

Prosecutors will argue that before the March 2011 Fukushima disaster, the executives had seen internal reports and simulations warning of the risk of a major earthquake in the region triggering a massive tsunami.

Kazuki Homori, lawyer for the Fukushima plaintiffs, said: "Through this trial, several of TEPCO's internal documents regarding tsunami countermeasures that had not been released before will be made public. It is amazing and disgraceful that while so much important evidence on TEPCO's tsunami countermeasures exists and moreover that they agreed to have it examined at a criminal trial, this evidence has thus far been hidden at all costs from civil trials."

He said the "future direction of this trial will be noteworthy if only as an important case regarding how the judiciary can fulfil its function of acting as a restraining influence on the national government's pro-nuclear policies."

Kazuki Homori, July/August 2017, 'First court day of TEPCO executives criminal trial', Nuke Info Tokyo No. 179,

Rachel Mealey, 30 June 2017, 'Former TEPCO bosses to face trial over deadly Fukushima nuclear disaster',

More Fukushima law suits

TEPCO said on 24 August 2017 that it has been sued by 157 individuals in a court in the US for US$5 billion in damages over the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.1 The plaintiffs include crew members on board the USS Ronald Reagan during the 2011 disaster. The suit, filed on August 18 with the Southern District Court in California, was the second one lodged in the US following a similar suit filed in 2013 which currently has 239 registered plaintiffs.

As reported in Nuclear Monitor #840, a local court in central Japan ruled in March 2017 that the Japanese government and TEPCO were liable for negligence in the Fukushima disaster and shall pay a total of ¥38.6m (US$351,000) to 62 Fukushima evacuees.2 The court ruling sets an important precedent. It is the first of about 30 lawsuits to be brought by almost 12,000 Fukushima evacuees in 18 prefectures.

1. Xinhua, 24 Aug 2017, 'Japan's TEPCO sued by U.S. residents over Fukushima nuclear disaster',

2. Nuclear Monitor #840, 21 March 2017, 'One step forward, one step back for Fukushima evacuees',

Mental health afflictions for Fukushima first responders

Japan Times on 2 September 2017 published a detailed report on the mental health problems facing first responders to the March 2011 Fukushima disaster. A study of some 1,500 workers found that all had experienced a variety of stressors relating to their direct experiences of the disasters, losses of loved ones and the backlash from a disgruntled public, in particular from the 160,000 Fukushima evacuees (reflecting a tendency in Japan to associate both CEOs and their foot soldiers alike with the company they work for, making them collectively responsible).

According to the study's lead researcher Jun Shigemura, 29.5% of workers at the Fukushima plant subsequently displayed symptoms of high post-traumatic stress responses, including flashbacks and avoidance of reminders of the events they went through.

If the Chernobyl experience is repeated, mental health problems will afflict Fukushima first responders for decades to come. Studies have shown that mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and suicide ideation, were still high and remained the most prevalent problem for the Chernobyl cleanup workers even 20 years after the disaster. "So I think we can say with some confidence that the Fukushima workers also carry a very high risk of developing long-term mental health issues," Shigemura said.

Fukushima plant worker stressors:

Work-related experience:

‒ Earthquakes and tsunami

‒ Plant explosions

‒ Radiation exposure

‒ Extreme overwork

‒ Worker shortage

Survivor experience:

‒ Mandatory evacuation

‒ Property loss

‒ Family dispersion

Grief — loss of:

‒ Colleagues

‒ Family members

‒ Friends

Social backlash:

‒ Public criticism

‒ Discrimination

‒ Harassment

‒ Guilt as "perpetrators" of a nuclear accident

Rob Gilhooly, 2 Sept 2017, 'Battling nuclear demons: Mental health issues haunt those who were the first line of defense after 3/11',


Radioactive particles in northern Japan

The scientific journal Science of the Total Environment has published a peer-reviewed article entitled co-authored by Dr. Marco Kaltofen, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), and Arnie Gundersen, Fairewinds Energy Education. The article details the analysis of radioactively hot particles collected in Japan following the Fukushima Daiichi meltdowns. Based on 415 samples of radioactive dust from Japan, the US, and Canada, the study identified a statistically meaningful number of samples that were considerably more radioactive than current radiation models anticipated. If ingested, these more radioactive particles increase the risk of suffering future health problems.

Fairewinds, 27 July 2017,

Japan rates severity of Oarai nuclear exposure accident as INES Level 2

Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority has provisionally assessed the severity of a 6 June 2017 accident as level 2 on the zero-to-seven International Nuclear Events Scale.1,2 The accident at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency's (JAEA) Oarai Research and Development Center in Ibaraki Prefecture left five workers internally exposed to radiation.

On June 6, a worker opened a container in a storage room at the facility and a plastic bag inside the container ruptured, releasing plutonium and uranium powder samples. Tests found small amounts of radioactive materials ‒ plutonium and americium ‒ in the urine of five workers, confirming they suffered internal radiation exposure. It was estimated that one of the workers will be internally exposed to a radiation dose of 100‒200 millisieverts over 50 years as a result of the accident1 ‒ but other reports suggest a far greater dose of 12,000 mSv over 50 years for the most heavily contaminated worker.3

JAEA said the release was of "Pu oxide, U oxide and others used in experiments, etc. for developing fast reactor nuclear fuel".4 Curiously, JAEA said it would "like to refrain from public disclosure" of other substances "from the viewpoint of nuclear non-proliferation."4

The ruptured container wasn't the only inappropriately stored material. According to information submitted to the Nuclear Regulation Authority by the JAEA Oarai Research and Development Center, nuclear materials cited as being inappropriately stored in cells and gloveboxes etc. comprised 2,207 samples ‒ some stored for several decades.4

The Citizens Nuclear Information Center said:4

"An important reason for the implementation of this task is found in the problems uncovered for the first time by a safety inspection last year. In the safety inspection carried out with respect to JAEA's Nuclear Science Research Institute (Tokai Village) in the third quarter of fiscal year 2016, it was discovered that, in violation of classifications provided in the safety regulations, nuclear fuel materials had been cited as being "in use" and stored in cells and gloveboxes for long periods of time.

"As a result, NRA instigated checks through safety inspections on the possibility that there might be similar violations at other nuclear-related facilities, including other JAEA facilities. According to NRA materials of February 2017, a total of ten facilities engaging in reprocessing, processing and use of nuclear fuels had been carrying out inappropriate long-term storage of nuclear fuel materials ..."

"This inappropriate long-term storage problem clearly shows, if one looks back at the historical series of organizations – the Nuclear Safety Commission, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency and the NRA, that for 30 years or more none of these organizations made any public announcements on the issue, or knew what was happening and simply turned a blind eye. The regulatory organizations' neglect thus far and the defensive awareness that they do not want this to be aired in public has undoubtedly been one of the remote causes of the accident at Oarai."

Japan Times listed some other accidents:3

  • March 1997: Radioactive material leaked after a fire and explosion at the Ibaraki branch of now-defunct Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corp., later absorbed by Japan Atomic Energy Agency. Thirty-seven employees were exposed.
  • September 1999: A self-sustaining chain reaction was triggered by the use of mixing buckets at uranium processing firm JCO Co. in the village of Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture. The accident eventually killed two of three exposed employees, after tainting more than 600 residents.
  • June 2006: A suspected case of plutonium inhalation occurred at Japan Nuclear Fuel's reprocessing plant in the village of Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, but a check for internal exposure turns out negative.
  • July 2008: A worker at Global Nuclear Fuel Japan Co. was exposed to uranium in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, followed by the exposure of four workers to a uranium-tainted liquid a month later.
  • March 2011: Three workers stepped into a puddle during the meltdown crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, exposing two to high radiation doses.
  • May 2013: Thirty-four researchers at JAEA's Japan Proton Accelerator Research Complex in Tokai were exposed to an exotic soup of isotopes during an experiment.

1. 2 Aug 2017, 'Japan rates severity of June nuclear exposure accident as level 2',

2. Ed Lyman, 9 June 2017, 'Increase in Cancer Risk for Japanese Workers Accidentally Exposed to Plutonium',

3. 8 June 2017, 'Ibaraki plutonium exposures baffle Japanese nuclear experts',

4. CNIC, July/August 2017, 'Disturbing Plutonium Exposure Accident', Nuke Info Tokyo No. 179,

Fukushima Bill

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Shaun Burnie ‒ senior nuclear specialist with Greenpeace Germany, Tokyo.

Six years after Japan's Fukushima nuclear accident, three global nuclear corporations are fighting for their very survival. The bankruptcy filing by Westinghouse Electric Co. and its parent company Toshiba Corp. preparing to post losses of ¥1 trillion (US$9 billion), is a defining moment in the global decline of the nuclear power industry.

However, whereas the final financial meltdown of Westinghouse and Toshiba will likely be measured in a few tens of billions of dollars, those losses are but a fraction of what Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) is looking at as a result of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

If the latest estimates for the cost of cleaning up the Fukushima plant prove accurate, Tepco faces the equivalent of a Toshiba meltdown every year until 2087. In November 2016, the Japanese Government announced a revised estimate for the Fukushima nuclear accident (decommissioning, decontamination, waste management and compensation) of ¥21.5 trillion (US$193 billion) – a doubling of their estimate in 2013.

But the credibility of the government's numbers has been questioned all along, given that the actual 'decommissioning' of the Fukushima plant and its three melted reactors is entering into an engineering unknown.

This questioning was borne out by the November doubling of cost estimates after only several years into the accident, when there is every prospect Tepco will be cleaning up Fukushima well into next century.

And sure enough, a new assessment published in early March from the Japan Institute for Economic Research, estimates that total costs for decommissioning, decontamination and compensation as a result of the Fukushima atomic disaster could range between ¥50‒70 trillion (US$449‒628 billion).

If confirmed over the coming years, it will be the most expensive industrial accident in history with even greater implications for the people and energy future of Japan.

Rather than admit that the Fukushima accident is effectively the end of Tepco as a nuclear generating company, the outline of a restructuring plan was announced in late March.

Tepco Holdings, the entity established to manage the destroyed nuclear site, and the Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corporation (NDF) are seeking ways to sustain the utility in the years ahead, confronted as they are with escalating Fukushima costs and electricity market reform.

The NDF, originally established by the Government in 2011 to oversee compensation payments and to secure electricity supply, had its scope broadened in 2014 to oversee decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi plant on the Pacific Ocean coast north of Tokyo.

The latest restructuring plan is intended to find a way forward for Tepco by securing a future for its nuclear, transmission and distribution businesses. If possible in combination with other energy companies in Japan.

But the plan, already received less than warmly by other utilities rightly concerned at being burdened with Tepco's liabilities, is premised on Fukushima cost estimates of ¥21.5 trillion, not ¥50‒70 trillion.

To date Tepco's Fukushima costs have been covered by interest-free government loans, with ¥6 trillion (US$57 billion) already paid out. Since 2012 Tepco's electricity ratepayers have paid ¥2.4 trillion to cover nuclear-related costs, including the Fukushima accident site.

That is nothing compared to the costs looming over future decades and beyond and it comes at a time when Tepco and other electric utilities are under commercial pressure as never before. The commercial pressure comes from electricity market reform that since April 2016 allowed consumers to switch from the monopoly utilities to independent power providers. In the ten months to February 2017, the main electric utilities lost 2.5 million customers, with Tepco alone losing more than 1.44 million. Hence, profits have fallen off a cliff.

Prior to the deregulation of the retail electricity market, Tepco had 22 million customers. As the Tepco president observed late last year: "The number (of customers leaving Tepco) is changing every day as the liberalization continues … We will of course need to think of ways to counter that competition."

Countering that competition shouldn't mean rigging the market, yet Tepco and the other utilities intend to try and retain their decades long dominance of electricity by retaining control over access to the grid. This is a concerted push back against the growth of renewable energy.

Current plans to open the grid to competition in 2020, so called legal unbundling, are essential to wrest control from the big utilities. The message of unbundling and independence, however, doesn't seem to have reached the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) that oversees the electricity industry.

Current plans would allow Tepco to establish separate legal entities: Tepco Fuel & Power (thermal power generation), Tepco Energy Partner (power distribution) and Tepco Power Grid (power transmission). Tepco Holdings will retain their stock and control their management, meaning the same monopoly will retain control of the grid. Where Tepco leads, the other nine electric utilities aim to follow.

Leaving the grid effectively still under the control of the traditional utilities will throw up a major obstacle to large scale expansion of renewable energy sources from new companies. Such businesses will be 'curtailed' or stopped from supplying electricity to the grid when the large utilities decide it's necessary, justified for example to maintain the stability of the grid.

The fact that 'curtailment' will be permitted in many regions without financial compensation piles further pain onto new entrants to the electricity market, and by extension consumers.

Further, METI plans to spread the escalating costs of Fukushima so that other utilities and new power companies pay a proportion of compensation costs. METI's justification for charging customers of new energy companies is that they benefited from nuclear power before the market opened up.

The need to find someone else to pay for Tepco's mess is underscored by the breakdown of the Fukushima disaster cost estimate in November.

When put at an estimated ¥22 trillion, ¥16 trillion is supposed to be covered by Tepco. The Ministry of Finance is to offer ¥2 trillion for decontamination, and the remaining ¥4 trillion is to be provided by other power companies and new electricity providers.

The question is how does Tepco cover its share of the costs when it's losing customers and its only remaining nuclear plant in Japan, Kashiwazaki Kariwa (the world's largest), has no prospect of restarting operation due to local opposition?

What happens when Fukushima costs rise to the levels projected of ¥50‒70 trillion?

The policy measures being put in place by Tepco, other utilities and the government suggests that they know what is coming and their solution for paying for the world's most costly industrial accident will be sticking both hands into the public purse.

Reprinted from Asia Times, 31 March 2017,

One step forward, one step back for Fukushima evacuees

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor

On March 17, the Maebashi District Court in Gunma Prefecture awarded ¥38.6m (US$342,000) to 62 Fukushima evacuees, far below the ¥1.5 billion the group had sought.1,2

The court ruled that negligence by the state contributed to the nuclear disaster and that the government should have used its regulatory powers to force TEPCO, who were also held liable in the court ruling, to take adequate preventive measures.2

The plaintiffs based their claim on a 2002 report by the government's Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion, which estimated that there was a 20% chance of a magnitude-8 earthquake occurring and triggering a powerful tsunami within the next 30 years. Citing the 2002 report, the Maebashi Court said "TEPCO was capable of foreseeing … that a large tsunami posed a risk to the facility and could possibly flood its premises and damage safety equipment, such as the backup power generators."3 The Court said TEPCO had put economic expediency ahead of safety.4

The plaintiffs further argued that TEPCO should have taken precautionary measures, including the building of breakwaters, based on calculations in a 2008 internal TEPCO report 'Tsunami Measures Unavoidable' that showed waves of over 10 meters could hit the Fukushima Daiichi plant.3

The suit was filed in the Maebashi District Court on behalf of 137 evacuees, including both forced and 'voluntary' evacuees. Only 62 were awarded damages, and they were awarded only a small fraction of the damages sought.1

Takehiro Matsuta, 38, one of the plaintiffs, said: "The ruling was one big step for my family, for those who evacuated from Fukushima to Gunma, and for tens of thousands of earthquake victims nationwide." But he called the payout "disappointing" as his child, who was three years old at the time of the nuclear disaster, was not granted compensation. "My wife and I are struggling every day, but it's my child who suffers the most."3

Koichi Muramatsu, a plaintiff in another suit, said: "The money is not a problem. Even if it's ¥1,000 or ¥2,000, it's fine. We just want the government to admit their responsibility. Our ultimate goal is to make the government admit their responsibility and remind them not to repeat the same accident."1

A TEPCO spokesperson said: "We again apologize from the bottom of our hearts for giving great troubles and concerns to the residents of Fukushima and other people in society by causing the accident of the nuclear power station of our company. Regarding today's judgment given at the Maebashi local court today, we would like to consider how to respond to this after examining the content of the judgment."1

Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority said it will hold an emergency meeting and will "weigh a response after having read the ruling closely".4

Azby Brown from the Kanazawa Institute of Technology, and a volunteer with the independent radiation-monitoring group Safecast, said he expected the government and TEPCO to appeal the court ruling "and for this to drag on for years."1

The court ruling sets an important precedent. It is the first of about 30 lawsuits to be brought by close to 12,000 former Fukushima residents in 18 prefectures.1,2

Efforts to restore community life failing

The number of evacuees (forced and 'voluntary') from the Fukushima nuclear disaster peaked at 164,865 in May 2012. By May 2016, the number was 84,289.5

In early March 2017, officials said about 80,000 people were still dislocated. But the number is greater if including those who have permanently settled elsewhere. Japanese public broadcaster NHK noted that the estimate of 80,000 evacuees includes 17,781 residents of five municipalities near the Fukushima plant ‒ but that number swells to 42,030 if including people who moved into public housing or acquired new homes in other areas.7

A total of 35,503 evacuees from the prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima were still living in temporary makeshift homes as of January 2017.8

Efforts to restore community life in numerous towns are failing. In five municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture ‒ Tamura, Minamisoma, Kawauchi, Katsurao, and Naraha ‒ only 13% of evacuees have returned home after evacuation orders were lifted partly or entirely from April 2014 through July 2016.9 As of January 2017, only about 2,500 people out of a combined population of around 19,460 had returned.9

Of the 11 municipalities within the originally designated evacuation area, five have seen evacuation orders fully or partially lifted since April 2014.10 Evacuation orders will soon be lifted for four more municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture ‒ Namie, Kawamata, Iitate, and Tomioka. About 32,000 residents will be affected but the same pattern is likely to be repeated: only a small percentage will return.11 Reasons cited for the reluctance to return to these municipalities include concerns over the lack of medical services, safety concerns regarding nuclear power and radiation, and the lack of shops, public transportation and other services essential to everyday life.10

Mainichi Japan reported in September 2016 that only 28% of school-children are attending their original schools in five towns and villages in Fukushima Prefecture following the lifting of evacuation orders ‒ and some of those children face long commutes to travel from their current accommodation to their old schools.12 The children attended temporary schools at evacuation sites after the March 2011 triple-disaster. With the closure of the temporary schools, the three options are returning to their hometowns, commuting to their former schools, or attending schools at evacuation sites.

'Difficult to return' zones

Areas still subject to restrictions are divided into three zones: 'difficult to return' zones (annual radiation doses exceeding 50 millisieverts / year), 'restricted residency' zones (20‒50 mSv/year) and 'evacuation order cancellation preparation' zones (<20 mSv/year). The national government aims to end all restrictions in the latter two categories as soon as possible.

About 24,000 people were evacuated from zones now classified as 'difficult to return'. The government intends to pay for the decontamination of certain areas within these zones (perhaps as little as 5% of the area) so former residents can return.11Mainichi Japan reported in December 2016 that the government planned to allocated ¥30 billion (US$267m; €248m) to partially decontaminate these zones, once again transferring TEPCO's responsibilities onto taxpayers.13 The Citizens Nuclear Information Center noted that the policy runs against the basic law that demands that decontamination be performed at the expense of the entity that caused the contamination.14

Restrictions will likely remain in the difficult-to-return zones for another five years or so13 ‒ and presumably for longer in areas where no attempt is made at decontamination.

Housing assistance gap and gender gap

Fukushima Prefecture is set to terminate its free housing service to thousands of voluntary evacuees at the end of March 2017. As of October 2016, 26,600 people were receiving Fukushima Prefecture's free housing service under the Disaster Relief Act after they voluntarily evacuated from the nuclear disaster.15 A little more than half of them are now living outside the Prefecture.

Nine of Japan's 47 prefectures are planning to provide some assistance to support voluntary evacuees.15 However the level of assistance will vary greatly; some will be generously supported, some will receive little and others none at all. Evacuees faced dislocation after the Fukushima disaster, they face dislocation as the Fukushima Prefecture's support comes to an end at the end of March, and they will face further dislocation as support from other prefectures is wound down.

Voluntary isn't really the word: none of the 'voluntary' evacuees wanted to evacuate. In many cases, they were parents ‒ usually mothers ‒ who weren't prepared to allow their children to be exposed to Fukushima radiation. As Kendra Ulrich from Greenpeace Japan notes:16

"Fukushima-impacted women were faced with significantly greater obstacles in coping with the impacts of the disaster according to their own wishes due to a yawning gender gap in Japanese society. In fact, in the most recent ranking of the 34 OECD countries on gender wage gap, Japan was one of the bottom three with only South Korea and Estonia ranking lower.

"Despite these financial and social barriers, many women separated from or even divorced husbands who chose to stay in the contaminated region. They evacuated with only their children, in an effort to protect them.

"But they continue to face a greater risk of poverty and are more vulnerable to financial pressures. And it is just these financial vulnerabilities that the Abe Government is exploiting now. Thousands of Fukushima survivors from outside the designated zones will be stripped of their housing support in March 2017.

"The government is also moving forward with lifting evacuation orders in some of the more heavily contaminated areas in March and April of this year, even though radiation levels still far exceed long-term decontamination targets. Those from areas where orders are lifted will lose compensation payments next year.

"According to the most recent government data from October 2016, thousands of those losing housing support this month had nowhere else to go. They are at risk of homelessness. This means that some people may be forced to return to contaminated areas, even though they do not want to."


1. Motoko Rich, 17 March 2017, 'Japanese Government and Utility Are Found Negligent in Nuclear Disaster',

2. Justin McCurry, 17 March 2017, 'Japanese government liable for negligence in Fukushima disaster',

3. Daisuke Kikuchi, 17 March 2017, 'In first, government and Tepco found liable for Fukushima disaster',

4. Nikkei Asian Review, 18 March 2017, 'Ruling against Tepco sets high bar for nuclear safety',

5. Fukushima Prefecture, 5 Dec 2016, 'Steps for Revitalization in Fukushima',

7. NHK, 13 March 2017, 'Evacuees not Counted by Fukushima Govt.',

8. Jiji Press, 11 March 2017, '35,000 evacuees still in temporary housing',

9. Mainichi Japan, 29 Jan 2017, 'Only 13% of evacuees in 5 Fukushima municipalities have returned home as of Jan.',

10. Jiji Press, 13 March 2017, 'Another reduction coming for Fukushima nuclear evacuation area',

11. Chikako Kawahara and Osamu Uchiyama, 28 Feb 2017, 'SIX YEARS AFTER: 4 more districts in Fukushima set to be declared safe to return to', The Asahi Shimbun,

12. Mainichi Japan, 10 Sept 2016, 'Only 28% of Fukushima children returning to former schools',

13. Mainichi Japan, 19 Dec 2016, 'Public funds earmarked to decontaminate Fukushima's 'difficult-to-return' zone',

14. CNIC, 2 Feb 2017, 'Difficult-to-return Zone to Be Decontaminated at National Expense', Nuke Info Tokyo No.176,

15. Mainichi Japan, 6 Jan 2017, 'Voluntary nuclear evacuees to face housing assistance gap',

16. Kendra Ulrich, 7 March 2017, 'Fukushima nuclear disaster and the violation of women's and children's human rights',

Fukushima lessons learned? The US National Academies of Science panel replicates the same collusion that led to the disaster

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

In March 2012, a panel was put together for a study by the National Academies of Sciences (NAS) to examine the lessons learned from the Fukushima accident. The study, entitled “Project on Lessons Learned from the Fukushima Nuclear Accident for Improving Safety and Security of U.S. Nuclear Plants,” was recommended by the Blue Ribbon Commission, mandated by the United States Congress, and sponsored by the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission. As of December 2012, three meetings have been held to discuss and examine the causes of the Fukushima disaster, with a particular emphasis on safety systems and regulations.

The first meeting, held on July 18th and 19th 2012, introduced the provisional panel, which was challenged almost immediately given that many members of the panel had a pronounced pronuclear bias and would be unable to provide accurate assessments of the current safety culture. On July 17th, 2012, 15 national organizations including NIRS, 25 state organizations, and 47 individuals submitted a letter (1) to the NAS expressing these concerns. One reason these concerns were so pressing was due to a report filed issued by the Japanese Diet in Mid-July 2012 on the Fukushima accident. (2) 
Within this report from the Japanese Diet much of the blame for the accident was placed on a “collusive relationship” between the industry and regulators. This relationship ultimately led to a betrayal of the public’s right to be safe. The NAS panel selection appeared to be replicating the same disastrous Japanese pattern of collusion. 

The letter added that a major problem with the panel’s conflict and bias would be revealed when they would be unable to provide an accurate self-assessment of agency conduct and actions. Involved in this assessment would be the key players in the nuclear industry. Those players are the federal agencies, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy; the industry and other advocacy groups such as Institute on Nuclear Power Operations, Nuclear Energy Institute, the American Nuclear Society, and the Health Physics Society. In the U.S., as in Japan, there is a very symbiotic relationship between federal agencies and nuclear industry advocacy groups. Several members of the panel were directly involved with or associated with the entities mentioned above, causing the concerns about self-assessment, bias and conflict. The groups writing the letter were also concerned that the panel was completely devoid of nuclear critics, which would lead to an unbalanced view on safety issues and concerns. 
This meeting, as with the others that followed, provided very little in the way of ensuring that bias and conflict would not be an issue. This panel is yet another example that the nuclear industry has a powerful and dangerous stranglehold on the National Academy of Sciences, and can impede crucial safety improvements by packing a panel with pro-nuclear enthusiasts, rather than with individuals and scientists who can make changes for public good and protection. 



In Japan, a mothers' movement against nuclear power

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Yes Magazine

The Fukushima disaster has brought a powerful new demographic to Japan's anti-nuclear movement: mothers. On the one-year anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Japanese women in New York city gathered for a rally they called Pregnant With Fear of radiation.

Protestors wore fake pregnant bellies, or carried posters with images of pregnant women wearing face masks.

Well aware that fetuses, children under five, and woman are at the greatest risk from radiation exposure, mothers have emerged as a powerful voice in Japan’s growing anti-nuclear movement.

To call attention to their message, the mothers have organized marches, petitioned government officials, fasted, and held months-long sit-ins in public locations. They regularly wear symbols of maternity and motherhood in deliberately confrontational ways.

The mothers call for action on multiple fronts. Most immediately, they demand the evacuation of all the families of Fukushima, where radiation emissions continue. They ask for tougher safety standards for food and drink in Japan, and an end to the practice of spreading and burning radioactive rubble from the contaminated zone throughout the country’s various prefectures. And, to prevent future disasters, they call for the permanent closure of all nuclear power plants in Japan and throughout the world.

“I couldn’t wait anymore for someone else to take action.”
The rise of maternal anti-nuclear activism in Japan began shortly after the March 11, 2011 disaster, when the hundreds of thousands of residents of Fukushima living outside the 20-kilometer evacuation zone were told it was safe to stay. Soon after the plant failed, the Japanese government raised the maximum limit of radiation considered safe, from 1mSv (millisievert) prior to March 11 to 20mSv. This new measure exposed (and exposes) the people of Fukushima to doses 20 times higher than is normally considered safe.

The families of Fukushima whom the government did not evacuate face a hard choice: leave of their own accord and abandon their homes and jobs (while continuing to be responsible to pay taxes, rents, and/or mortgages), or remain in Fukushima and expose their families to dangerous levels of radiation?

According to mother and activist Kaori Izumi, gender plays into responses to this precarious situation. Often, mothers and women want to leave Fukushima and protect their kids, while men tend to accept the line, from the government and the utility, Tepco, that “all is safe.” This can lead to conflict in a culture where women are taught not to challenge their husbands or government, figures of authority. 

Many worried mothers leave Fukushima with their children while fathers remain behind. “Often husbands don’t want to support two households and they tell the wives to come back to Fukushima, or they’ll stop sending them money,” says Izumi. “As a result, we’re seeing an increase in divorce rates.”

Izumi recounts her own story as a mother-activist. “I was not an activist before Fukushima. I’m a social scientist by training. I kept waiting for someone else to do something, to act, to challenge the government and Tepco for these crimes. Then I couldn’t wait anymore for someone else to take action. I had to do something.”

So, Izumi hit the streets, and during protest rallies, met other mothers working for justice. She brought several lawsuits against the nuclear industry at her own expense. She also organized a vacation program to house Fukushima families during school breaks, so children can gain some relief from radiation exposure—even if only for short periods. Now, she heads up a group working to permanently shut down the Tomari nuclear plant.

Radiation, rubble, and relocation
Tomoi Zeimer, a Japanese mother living in New York City, and her two sisters in Osaka (both of them also mothers), began anti-nuclear activism after Prime Minister Noda’s requirement that prefectures throughout Japan accept and incinerate radioactive rubble so that all of Japan would “share the pain” of Fukushima. In response to Noda’s decision, Zeimer began a petition campaign to stop the spreading of radioactive rubble. Mothers delivered this petition on November 2, 2011 to Japanese consulates across the globe.

As the spreading of rubble continues, more and more women throughout the world have joined the fight. There is a map showing the current status of the rubble spreading and burning (1)

Many activist mothers worry about their children’s health and feel they must leave the country. Ikuko Nitta left Fukushima the day after the disaster at her 12-year-old son’s insistence; they moved to Wakayama, believing it to be safe. When Wakayama agreed to accept rubble and incinerate it, Nitta began to make plans to move to Canada. When she recently tested her children’s radiation levels, her son tested positive for Cesium 137. Where the contamination came from, Nitta does not know, as they left Fukushima so quickly and she monitors the children’s food very carefully.

Cathy Iwane, a Wakayama mother who led the recent fight to stop the spreading of rubble to Wakayama, plans to immigrate to the United States. While she despairs about the Wakayama decision and worries about the children of Japan, she says the bonds she’s formed with women across the world, who support Japanese anti-nuclear activism, fill her with hope.

“I won’t give up,” Iwane says. “Not ever.”

An opportunity
The movement isn’t confined to Japan’s borders. In September, 2011, a group of Japanese mothers, including Sachiko Sato, an organic farmer who traveled with her youngest two children) Kaori Izumi, and Aileen Mioko Smith came to New York City to protest Prime Minister Noda’s participation in the UN summit on nuclear safety. “How can you talk about safety?” Sachiko shouted to Noda outside the UN. “You don’t even take care of the children of Fukushima.”

Sachiko, Izumi, and Smith spoke at various anti-nuclear events throughout the New York City area during their visit, urging American citizens to learn a lesson from the disaster in Japan. At one event, Smith stated, “Many Americans live far too close to nuclear power plants that sit on earthquake fault lines (2), Indian Point in Buchanan, New York, only thirty or so miles from New York City, as well as those on the coast in California. Americans must learn from the Fukushima disaster. You must shut down your own plants, 23 of which are the same design as the Fukushima reactors, GE Mark I. Yes, it can happen here.” 

In October 2011, hundreds of mothers in Japan began a protest in Tokyo at the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry. The protest lasted 10 months and 10 days (the length of time a pregnancy lasts under Japan’s traditional lunar calendar).

Smith, who is executive director of Green Action, an anti-nuclear NGO based in Kyoto, says the Fukushima accident offers a chance to put an end to nuclear power. Most of Japan’s nuclear reactors were taken offline after the disaster; as of this writing, only one nuclear power plant remains online.

Smith says, “For the first time in 30 years, we have a real opportunity” to shut down nuclear reactors in Japan for good.

Heidi Hutner wrote this article for YES! Magazine (3), a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Heidi is a professor of sustainability, English, and women's studies at Stony Brook University, where she writes, speaks, and teaches about the environment and gender. Her forthcoming book is entitled, Polluting Mama: An Ecofeminist Cultural Memoir (Demeter, 2012). 

Reprinted, by author's permission from:



Fukushima Radioactive Fallout Confirmed in U.S. Food Chain

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Kimberly Roberson

The U.S. rainy season of 2011 extended to June, making it unusually long and troubling for many experts and citizens due to Fukushima Daiichi’s triple nuclear meltdowns which began in March. These catastrophic events widely dispersed airborne dust contaminated with radioactive particles over much of the country. When inhaled or ingested these particles can have negative effects on human health that are different from those caused by external or uniform radiation fields, such as from cosmic radiation from air flights (although the Food and Drug administration continues to pretend otherwise). Hawaii and the West coast were the first states to receive radioactive fallout from Japan.

While media and elected officials have remained mostly silent on the issue, concerned experts and citizens have continued to probe. Radiation from Fukushima has been found in U.S. topsoil, rainwater, groundwater, milk, fish, and several varieties of produce as reported by the University of California Berkeley School of Nuclear Engineers (UCBSNE) radiation testing team. Cesium-137, Iodine-131, Strontium-90, Xenon have been detected at several sampling stations throughout the Bay Area beginning late March of 2011. In addition, California Bluefin tuna, almonds, pistachios and oranges have been found to contain measurable amounts of radiation from Fukushima. Cal State Long Beach researchers studied kelp beds spanning the state’s coastline and sampled elevated levels of Iodine- 131 at several sites tested (they are currently looking to expand funding to test for longer-lived Cesium-137). Though the levels of radioactive particles detected by the UCBSNE team in California food and water may appear to be low, chronic exposure to low levels of radiation can be as damaging, or more so, per unit dose, than a single exposure to a high level of radiation.

It has been reported that from March 21 to mid-July of 2011 that 27.1 peta becquerels of cesium 137 was dumped by Tokyo Electric and Power Company (TEPCO) from Fukushima Daiichi into the Pacific ocean. One peta becquerel is a million billion bequerels, or 10 to the power of 15. This is twenty times the amount originally estimated by TEPCO. Yet the FDA has not placed a ban on any north Pacific seafood, and continues to allow an open trade policy on Japanese food imports.

Exposure to these radionuclides is known to cause cancers, heart disease, and other serious illness. Transgenerational DNA damage is a long-term consequence of exposure to radiation from nuclear power production and accidents, with women and children being particularly at risk. When radioactive substances are absorbed in the body they tend to accumulate in specific organs by a process known as selective reuptake. Female children are up to seven times more likely to develop cancer from radioactive cesium than men due to radioactive Cesium-134 and 137 reuptake by the ovaries. Strontium-90 is mistaken for calcium and absorbed by bones and iodine 131 and 129 are attracted to the thyroid, to name but a few. 

A second wave of humanitarian and environmental crisis is currently underway in Japan. The government there has undertaken a massive incineration plan involving tens of millions of tons of earthquake and tsunami wreckage. Their plan involves mulching debris, some of which is contaminated with radiation and much with industrial toxins, and burning it in municipal incinerators already established around the country. It is not known if special equipment and scrubbers are being used in the process. The burn is being carried by the jet stream across the northern hemisphere to the U.S. for the rainy season of 2012, posing a continued threat to the food supply. The California Central Valley grows more than 450 varieties of produce, dairy, wine and an estimated 80% of U.S. lettuce, spinach, and produce. Radionuclides are absorbed by topsoil as are potassium and magnesium and the food chain does not differentiate the healthy from the hazardous. The cycle continues for hundreds of years in some cases, which is what has happened in Europe due to Chernobyl (sheep grazing land in parts of the United Kingdom are still off limits 26 years after that catastrophe began). 

Concerned citizens are working in Southern California to ensure that another Fukushima does not happen. The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) is currently closed as safe energy activists continue to monitor safety concerns. SONGS has one of the worst operating records in the U.S. and sits on a beach atop an active earthquake fault, within miles of the California Central Valley. California’s other nuclear reactor nearby is Diablo Canyon. It returned to full operation on June 26, 2012 after a three-month emergency shutdown caused by a large jellyfish blocking an outfall pipe.

A petition asking for food monitoring of U.S. food and imports from Japan has been circulating since April 1, 2011. A second, more detailed petition is about to be launched which will address the amount of radioactive Cesium currently allowed in the U.S. food, milk and water supply: 1,200 becquerels per kilogram in the U.S., vs. Japan’s limit set at 100. Under the existing regulation food and beverage unfit for human consumption in Japan can now be legally exported and consumed in the U.S.

The food monitoring and anti-incineration petitions, interviews and articles can be found at

UC Berkeley School of Nuclear Engineering website, The French Nuclear Safety Institute, Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN), NIRS Mary Olson, Diet for the Atomic Age.
~ By Kimberly Roberson,;


Low-Dose Radiation Impact -- New analysis takes "Radiation is good for you" head-on and says "No"

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Moller and Mousseau

Anders Møller and timothy Mousseau are a research team routinely looking at the impact of radiation from both chernobyl and Fukushima on plants and animals (see radiation Shorts in this issue for further coverage). their considerable and growing body of work has turned up questions about variability in radiation impact on different species. this year, in part to provide baseline information on this issue of variability, the two turned their considerable quantitative skills to the question of whether 1000-fold differences in ambient levels of radiation around our planet, due to differences in elements in the soil and rocks at these locations have impacted evolutionary processes in plants and animals. In addition, the two squarely ask: if there is any impact, is it harmful or beneficial? 

"The flipside of negative fitness consequences is evolutionary adaptation to radiation...Here we suggest that the documented consequences of naturally increased levels of background radiation have important implications for hormesis. In particular, we would expect that radiation hormetic effects should be found in areas with higher levels of natural background radiation because of adaptation to such enhanced levels of radiation, and we predict that on average radiation should have positive effects on the wellbeing of humans and other organisms if hormesis operates at naturally occurring low-dose radiation." 

Since industry-paid experts persist in bringing forward hormesis (the notion that some radiation exposure can be good for you), this study provides a powerful reply not from cells in a dish in a laboratory, but from nature, and over the timescale where one would expect to be able to measure the benefits if they are there--evolutionary time.

Variations in natural background radiation result from variation in radioactivity in Earth's rocks and soils, either due to geological processes or, and in some cases, large extraterrestrial impacts. In this study the authors are explicitly not looking at sites with radioactivity from atomic military or industrial activity.

"The effects of natural variation in background radioactivity on humans, animals and other organisms"published in November 2012, is a "meta-analysis" in which Møller and Mousseau identified about 5000 previously published papers on this subject, and from these selected 46 to apply statistical analysis. Spanning multiple continents, many species and a variety of focal points of research, the two conclude that natural low-level radioactivity is damaging, even in the long time frames in which adaptation is possible. This finding is important since contamination from human atomic activities (nearly all within the 20th and 21st centuries) has not had sufficient time to produce the long-term consequences that radiation-induced selection on the study sites, where evolutionary time frame has passed.

"...this review attempts to provide baseline information concerning the potential consequences of nuclear accidents like those at Chernobyl and Fukushima."

Møller and Mousseau expressly looked for, but did not find, positive effects from radiation in 46 studies that looked at a control population and a population exposed to elevated radiation where the levels of radiation were monitored in both groups. The studies varied in focal point but included including findings on rates of mutation, DNA repair, physiology, morphology, disease rates, shifts in immunological function, sex ratio and fecundity in human beings, other animals, plants and fungi. The statistical analysis made possible from aggregating the populations across 46 studies is very powerful and enabled very clear findings that were not due to "random chance" (i.e. statistically significant) in every dimension examined, and those findings are that radiation causes harm, even at very low levels, and even over very long periods of time when any adaptation that was going to happen would have happened.

Because claims of hormesis from industry employed experts are again becoming a drumbeat, we offer this lengthy excerpt from Møller and Mousseau:

“Hormesis is defined as a beneficial effect of normal background radiation on life-history traits such as fecundity and longevity compared to levels achieved in the complete absence of radiation (reviews in Kondo, 1993; Luckey, 1991). If hormetic effects of radiation on fitness exist, we should expect that the optimal level of radiation should increase with background radiation level. If hormesis has evolved as a consequence of local adaptation to specific levels of radiation, we might even find that all populations should perform best at some local level of radiation; exceeding their performance in the absence of radiation. The latter scenario would suggest that fitness should be independent of level of natural background radiation. In either case we should not expect to find increased mutation rates, impaired immune function, increased incidence of disease and increased mortality in areas with higher levels of normal background radiation. Our findings are clearly inconsistent with a general role for hormesis in adaptation to elevated levels of natural background radiation.”

Indeed, across the 46 studies included, the authors found elevated rates of deleterious mutation, aberrant morphology, and disease (including cancer in humans) resulting from multiple measurable impacts of radiation, including impaired immuno-function and reduced rates of DNA repair. The pair chose to exclude radon exposure, explaining that there is a large literature that could dilute the studies of other types of exposure, and radon studies are reviewed elsewhere. Interestingly, the authors do note cases of radiation resistance--reduced rates of damage--which is differentiated from hormesis. The theory of hormesis is that radiation confers benefit. The discussion of resistance to radiation focuses on lower animal/bacteria and likely increased resistance to oxidation. Plants, where one might assume to see greater adaptation, actually show the highest level of harm from growing in more radioactive soils. The authors do note, however, that "there is no evidence of radio-tolerance or radioresistance in humans."

Paper reviewed here:
Anders P. Møller, Timothy A. Mousseau. the effects of natural variation in background radioactivity on humans, animals and other organisms. Biological Reviews,2012

Other reporting on this study:
Science Daily reports University of South Carolina. "Even lowlevel radioactivity is damaging, scientists conclude."ScienceDaily,13 Nov. 2012. Web. 2 Dec. 2012.
Archive of the studies underlying this paper: 
Archive of Møller and Mousseau (et al) papers on Chernobyl:
Initial study of Fukushima by Møller and Mousseau


NAIIC report: Fukushima manmade; minor loca due to earthquake

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
WISE Amsterdam

Early July the National Diet of Japan published the official report of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC). The report states that although triggered by the earthquake and tsunami, the March 11, 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant cannot be regarded as a natural disaster but a "profoundly manmade disaster". Evidence that the reactors were severely damaged before the tsunami hit the coast is mounting.

"The earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011 were natural disasters of a mag-nitude that shocked the entire world. Although triggered by these cataclysmic events, the subsequent accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant cannot be regarded as a natural disaster. It was a profoundly manmade disaster – that could and should have been foreseen and prevented. And its effects could have been mitigated by a more effective human response."  

These are the first lines of the 'Message of the Chairman' in the official report of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC). On October 30, 2011, the NAIIC Act (officially, the Act regarding Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission) was enacted, creating an independent commission to investigate the Fukushima accident with the authority to request documents and request the legislative branch to use its investigative powers to obtain any necessary documents or evidence required. This was the first independent commission created in the history of Japan’s constitutional government.

The report (published early July by National Diet of Japan) reveals several chronic issues and contradicts reports by the Japanese government and Tepco. But as always it was cherrypicking for different players. While the general public opinion said the accidents was 'handmade', the nuclear industry PR did not hesitate to show that it was a 'Japa-nese accident': Japanese culture was the main culprit, implying the causes of the accident were solely Japanese and nuclear power as such has nothing to do with it. In the July 5, World Nuclear News report on the NAIIC-report, is not once mentioned that the earthquake was an important factor in how the ac-cident started: "Japanese culture itself" was the culprit. 

And indeed the collusion between the Japanese government and Tepco is an important factor why the plant was so vulnerable. But that is only partly to blame on 'Japanese culture'. But, as the UK daily The Guardian points out (July 6) by claiming the disaster was 'made in Japan', the official report reinforces, yet does not explain, unhelpful stereotypes. Bringing out the "made in Japan" argument is not helpful. It panders 
to the uniqueness idea and does not explain, but rather reinforces, existing stereotypes. Moreover, the supposedly Japanese qualities that the report outlines, such as obedience, reluctance to question authority, "sticking with the program" and insularity, are not at all unique to Japan, but are universal qualities in all societies. Putting a cultural gloss on the critical investigative report sends a confusing message to the global community particularly when it comes from a country that is a world leader in technological sophistication.

It is almost inherent of the nuclear industry to have close ties with regulators. For instance in the Netherlands, regulating and promoting nuclear power were placed under the same Ministry in 2010. Or, internationally the IAEA's main task is to promote nuclear power ('The Agency shall seek to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy') while at the same time monitoring safeguards and enhancing 'standards of safety for protection of health and minimization of danger to life and property'. But even important: it is obvious that nuclear po-wer thrives in countries with exactly that same 'culture': a centralised society, with the tendecy to critize alternative views, suppress dissent, and maintain 'reflexive obedience'; and a government bodies relying too much on assurances and complacency than true oversight. 

Record radiation detected at Fukushima reactor. 
Tepco said record amounts of radiation had been detected in the basement of
reactor number 1 on June 28, further hampering clean-up operations. Tepco took samples from the basement after lowering a camera and surveying instruments through a drain hole in the basement ceiling. Radiation levels above radioactive water in the basement reached up to 10,300 millisievert an hour, a dose that will kill humans within a short time after making them sick within minutes. The annual allowed dose for workers at the stricken site is reached in only 20 seconds.
AFP, 28 June 2012

LOCA result of earthquake
Another finding, not frequently mentioned in headlines, and contrary to all previous statements by Tepco and the Japanese government is the fact that the Fukushima-reactors were already severely damaged after the earthquake and before the tsunami hit the Japanese east-coast. A Loss-Of-Coolant-Accident (LOCA) was in progress. The Nuclear Monitor published about it several times (for the first time in the May 27, 2011 issue), but now the official report confirms this. What is important to realise (and what the NAIIC-report –or at least the executive English summary- fails to mention) is that although the earthquake was 9.0 magnitude, the epicentre was 110 miles (172 km) out at sea.

The accident is clearly attributable to the natural phenomena: the earthquake and resulting tsunami. Yet a number of important factors relating to how the accident actually evolved remain unknown, mainly because much of the critical equipment and piping relevant to the accident are inside the reactor con-tainment facility and are thus beyond the reach of inspection or verification for many years to come.

In spite of this, Tepco specified in its interim investigation report that equipment providing key safety features was not damaged by the earthquake, and that the main cause of the accident was the tsunami. Included in the report was a disclaimer that the report is based on findings “to the extent confirmed.” The government also wrote a similar accident report that was submitted to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

However, the report states, "it is impossible to limit the direct cause of the accident to the tsunami without substantive evidence." The Commission believes that this is an attempt by Tepco to avoid responsibility by putting all the blame on the unexpected (the tsunami), as Tepco wrote in their midterm report, and not on the more foreseeable earthquake.

Although there were a number of external power lines to the plant, there were only two source stations, and both were put out of commission by the earthquake, resulting in a loss of external power to all the units. The diesel generators and other internal power equipment, including the power distribution buses, were all located within or nearby the plant, and were inundated by the tsuna-mi that struck soon after. The assumptions about a normal station blackout (SBO) did not include the loss of DC power, yet this is exactly what occurred. (DC is the abbreviation for 'direct cur-rent', which is a type of electrical current that travels through a circuit in only one direction. AC stands for 'alternating current', which is an electrical current that frequently reverses direction.)

Investigate and verify causes
The Commission conducted its investigations and hearings carefully, 'conscious of not jumping to conclusions based on preordained policy'. The Commission recognizes the need for the regulators and Tepco to investigate and verify causes of the accident based on the following facts: 

  1. The emergency shut-down feature, or SCRAM (Rapid shutdown of a nuclear reactor where fission is halted by inserting control rods into the core), went into operation at Units 1, 2 and 3 immediately after the commencement of the seismic activity. Strong tremors at the facility began 30 seconds after the SCRAM and the plant shook hard for more than 50 seconds. That does not mean, however, that the nuclear reactors were incapable of being impacted by the seismic movements. It is thought that the ground motion from the earthquake was strong enough to cause damage to some key safety features, because seismic backchecks against the earthquake design basis and anti-seismic reinforcement had not been done.
  2. The reactor pressure and water levels make it obvious that a massive loss of coolant (LOCA) did not occur in the time period between the earthquake and the tsunami. However -as has been published by the Japan Nuclear Energy Safety Organization (JNES) in the “Tech-nical Findings” composed by NISA- a minor LOCA, from a crack in the piping and a subsequent leak of coolant would not affect the water level or pressure of a reactor, and could have occurred without being apparent to operators. If this kind of minor LOCA were to remain uncontrolled for 10 hours, tens of tons of coolant would be lost and lead to core damage or core melt.
  3. The government-run investigation committee’s interim report, NISA’s “Technical Findings,” and specifically Tepco’s interim report, all concluded that the loss of emergency AC power -that definitely impacted the progres-sion of the accident- “was caused by the flooding from the tsunami.” Tepco’s report says the first wave of the tsunami reached the site at 15:27 and the second at 15:35. However, these are the times when the wave gauge set 1.5km offshore detected the waves, not the times of when the tsunami hit the plant. This suggests that at least the loss of emergency power supply A at Unit 1 might not have been caused by flooding. Based on this, some basic questions need to be logically explained before making a final determination that flooding was the cause of the station blackout.
  4. Several Tepco vendor workers who were working on the fourth floor of the nuclear reactor building at Unit 1 at the time of the earthquake witnessed a wa-ter leak on the same floor, which houses two large tanks for the isolation conden-ser (IC) and the piping for IC. The Com-mission believes that this was not due to water sloshing out of the spent fuel pool on the fifth floor. However, since we cannot go inside the facility and per-form an on-site inspection, the source of the water remains unconfirmed. 
  5. The isolation condensers (A and B2 systems) of Unit 1 were shut down automatically at 14:52, but the operator of Unit 1 manually stopped both IC systems 11 minutes later. TEPCO has consistently maintained that the explanation for the manual suspension was that “it was judged that the per hour reactor coolant temperature excursion rate could not be kept within 55 degrees (Celsius), which is the benchmark provided by the operational manual.” The government led investigation report, as well as the government’s report to IAEA, states the same reason. However, according to several workers involved in the manual suspension of IC who responded to our investigation, they stopped IC to check whether coolant was leaking from IC and other pipes because the reactor pressure was falling rapidly. While the operator’s explanations are reasonable and appropriate, TEPCO’s explanation is irrational.
  6. There is no evidence that the safety relief (SR) valve was opened at Unit 1, though this should have taken place in the case of an accident. (Such records are available for Units 2 and 3.) We found that the sound of the SR valve opening for Unit 2 was heard at the Central Control Room and at Unit 2, but no one working at Unit 1 heard the sound of the Unit 1 SR valve opening. It is therefore a possibility that the SR valve might not have worked in Unit 1. In this case, a minor LOCA caused by the seismic motion could have taken place in Unit 1.

In short: The damage to Unit 1 was caused not only by the tsunami but also by the earthquake, a conclusion made after considering the facts that: 1) the largest tremor hit after the automatic shutdown; 2) JNES confirmed the possibility of a small-scale LOCA; 3) the Unit 1 operators were concerned about leakage of coolant from the valve, and 4) the safety relief valve was not operating.
Additionally, there were two causes for the loss of external power, both earthquake-related: there was no diver-sity or independence in the earthquake-resistant external power systems, and the Shin-Fukushima transformer station was not earthquake resistant.

Development of civil society
The 'Message of the chairman' in the report ends with a message for change: "The consequences of negligence at Fukushima stand out as catastrophic, but the mindset that supported it can be found across Japan. In recognizing that fact, each of us should reflect on our responsibility as individuals in a democratic society. As the first investigative commission to be empowered by the legislature and independent of the bureaucracy, we hope this initiative can contribute to the development of Japan’s civil society."
Well, despite the hundred of thousand protesting the restart of nuclear reactors and trying to build a civil society, Japanese government gave the permission for the restart of the Ohi-reactors. That decision denied the fact that all ele-ments of this catastrophe are still present in Japanese society: the tendency of relying too much on assurances and complacency than true oversight (as in many societies) as well as the chance of earthquakes.

The executive summary of the NAIIC-report is available at:
Contact: Citizens' Nuclear Information Center (CNIC), Akebonobashi Co-op, 2F-B, 8-5, Sumiyoshi-chp, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 162-0065, Japan.
Tel: +81-3-3357-3800
Email: cnic[at]


Did Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima kill nuclear power?

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green – Nuclear Monitor editor

Several experts have recently commented on the impacts of nuclear disasters on the growth of nuclear power ‒ all of them downplaying the impact of accidents and emphasizing economics instead.

Commenting on the March 1979 Three Mile Island accident, Amory Lovins from the Rocky Mountain Institute writes:1

"Three months earlier, on Christmas Day 1978, Business Week's scathing 10-page cover story described how nuclear power's US sales had collapsed ‒ and it faced in Europe and Japan "the most serious crisis in its 30-year history" ‒ for lack of a market. US orders had plummeted from 41 in 1973 to zero in 1978; 40 per cent of their cancellations occurred before 1979, leaving many others teetering on the brink and cancelled soon thereafter. Similarly, orders in the past decade so dwindled that global nuclear capacity shrank in two of the three years before the Fukushima disaster.

"The nuclear industry blames Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima for scaring off the public. But capital markets had already fled to better returns and lower risks in renewable competitors that got [US]$380bn of investment last year (more than 10 times nuclear's), produce more electricity, and enjoy public enthusiasm. Any remaining pockets of nuclear enthusiasm rely on theology not economics and on conscripted not voluntary investment."

Physicist Frank von Hippel commented on the Chernobyl disaster in Scientific American:2

"Superficially, it is reasonable to leap to the conclusion that fear generated by the Chernobyl disaster turned the public against nuclear power ‒ so strongly that even now, three decades later, there is serious doubt that it will ever be a major alternative to climate-threatening fossil fuels. In the 15 years before the Chernobyl accident, an average of about 20 new nuclear power reactors came online each year. Five years after the accident, the average had dropped to four a year. But the full story is more complex."

von Hippel notes that widespread public concern was not the only reason for the sharp drop in nuclear construction post-Chernobyl:

"Such worries contributed to the drop in new plant construction post-Chernobyl, but there were other reasons. One was that the growth of electric power consumption in developed countries slowed dramatically at around the same time because the price of electricity stopped falling. In 1974 the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission was projecting that the U.S. would require the equivalent of 3,000 large nuclear power reactors by 2016. Today it would take just 500 such plants to generate as much electricity as we consume on average ‒ although more capacity would be required for times of peak consumption.

"Another factor is that, contrary to the claims of boosters in the 1950s that nuclear power would be "too cheap to meter," it is quite expensive. Fuel costs are low, but construction costs are huge, especially in North America and Europe ‒ [US]$6 billion to $12 billion per reactor. This expense has been driven in part by more stringent safety standards but also by the fact that, with fewer plants being built, there are fewer construction workers qualified to build them, resulting in costly construction delays for corrections of mistakes. …

"On the scale needed to shift human energy use away from fossil fuels, therefore, nuclear power has become a helpful but relatively marginal player. Chernobyl damaged its prospects, but it was not the only reason for the technology's decline."

Peter Bradford, a former member of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, recently wrote in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:3

"Fukushima did not undermine a budding nuclear renaissance. For economic reasons, there was none. The 30-plus reactors that had applied for licenses in the United States in 2008-09 had shrunk by two-thirds before March 2011. The cost overruns at Olkiluoto and Flamanville were well underway and owed nothing to events in Japan. But Fukushima did tilt many nations away from the needed governmental benevolence sharply."

Projections for global nuclear growth have fallen sharply since Fukushima ‒ the IAEA's current 'low' estimate for nuclear capacity in 2030 is down 29.5% from the pre-Fukushima low estimate, while the high estimate for 2030 is down 21%4 ‒ but as the above authors point out, Fukushima isn't the only reason for the retreat.

Lovins is a nuclear critic whereas von Hippel and Bradford are nuclear-neutrals. How do nuclear advocates explain the stagnation of nuclear power and the failure of the nuclear renaissance to materialize? There are plenty of explanations, including blaming (or crediting) anti-nuclear campaigners ‒ often dramatically overemphasizing the impact of anti-nuclear campaigners. Many of the explanations emphasize economics and boil down to the failure of governments to provide sufficient subsidies. Some explanations concentrate on the difficulty of financing capital costs.

Former World Nuclear Association executive Steve Kidd is one of a small number of nuclear advocates who speaks openly and honestly. Kidd writes:5

"[T]here is no unique financing mechanism that the relevant institutions can come up with to rescue a nuclear project that has questionable returns or too high a degree of risk for investors. This is the real problem: nuclear projects have largely become too expensive and risky to offer lenders the degree of assurance they require. ... Even with government incentives such as loan guarantees, fixed electricity prices and certain power offtake, nuclear projects today struggle to make economic sense, at least in the developed world. ... World interest rates are currently low, which removes one disadvantage of capital intensive projects. These low rates indicate that there is funding available but a possible shortage of viable projects."

A recent column in the Financial Times illustrates how safety concerns and economics have come together in the mess that is the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR):6

"When French and German scientists began in the mid-1990s to design a new reactor, they were also seeking to engineer public opinion. The fruit of their work, the European Pressurised Reactor, was designed to be safer than any that had gone before. ... It is those very safety features, say critics, that are responsible for making the EPR, in the words of Greenwich University energy expert Steve Thomas, "a bastard to build". Projects to construct EPRs in France and Finland have been fraught with difficulty, although another in China appears to be progressing better. ...

"Today, the Finnish plant on Olkiluoto Island is nine years behind schedule and €5.2bn over budget. The project is led by Finnish utility TVO, which has fallen out so badly over costs with main contractor Areva that the two companies have gone to court. The protracted difficulties in Finland helped bring Areva to its knees, prompting January's plan to sell its reactor business to EDF. This has added more stress to EDF, whose finance director Thomas Piquemal resigned this month, saying Hinkley Point could sink the company. ...

"The sheer bulk required by the EPR's design also caused problems once a project to build one in France finally got under way after the avidly pro-nuclear Nicolas Sarkozy replaced Mr Chirac as president in 2007. The project at Flamanville on the Channel coast is, unlike its Finnish cousin, led by EDF. But it has fared little better. It is six years behind schedule and €7.2bn over budget."

The U.S. has been spared the EPR fiasco. A total of seven EPRs were planned at six sites in the U.S.7 Four EPR construction licence applications were submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) but all four applications have been abandoned or suspended. In February 2015, Areva asked the NRC to suspend work on EPR design certification until further notice.8

But nuclear power's economic problems are just as acute in the U.S. A recent article in Power Magazine quoted New York Times reporter Eduardo Porter saying that "nuclear energy is toast" and is "dropping dramatically as a share of global electricity", and nuclear economics are "dismal".9

A recent article published by the U.S. Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers asks whether nuclear power's 'death spiral' has begun in the U.S.10 It begins: "U.S. nuclear power plant operators are fighting a war on two fronts: Crashing prices for natural gas and accelerating market penetration of renewable energy have both contributed to dramatic drops in wholesale power price levels ‒ in some states, they've fallen by more than two-thirds over the past decade. This has left nuclear power, whose operating costs are pretty much fixed, with few options other than surrender."

The IEEE article quotes former NRC chair Gregory Jaczko: "It's been a widely held belief that nuclear is incredibly cheap to operate. That was the case 10 years ago, when nuclear plants were cash cows. That's not the case today, especially as the plants age."


1. Amory Lovins, 21 March 2016, 'Capital markets had already fled from nuclear',

2. Frank von Hippel, 1 April 2016, 'Chernobyl Didn't Kill Nuclear Power',

3. Peter A. Bradford, 20 March 2016, 'When the Unthinkable is Deemed Impossible: Reflecting on Fukushima',

4. IAEA series: 'Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power Estimates',

5. Steve Kidd, 11 June 2015, 'Nuclear myths – is the industry also guilty?',

6. Tom Burgis, Kiran Stacey and Michael Stothard, 20 March 2016, 'EDF's nuclear troubles rooted in caution',

7. Beyond Nuclear, February 2015, 'Epic Fail: Électricité de France and the “Evolutionary Power Reactor”',

8. World Nuclear News, 6 March 2015, 'US EPR plans suspended',

9. Aaron Larson, 23 March 2016, 'Is Nuclear Energy "Toast"?',

10. Peter Fairley, 25 Mar 2016, 'Has U.S. Nuclear Power's Death Spiral Begun?',

Japan Diary: Fukushima women

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Mary Olsen – Nuclear Information & Resource Service.

Early March 2016 – I am here in Japan with Arnie Gundersen from Fairewinds Energy Education (, and after leaving Fukushima Prefecture we have begun our speaking tour. People who have fled Fukushima turn up at our events, and side-gatherings are organized for me to meet with mothers and grandmothers who have moved out of contaminated areas. These meetings are called Tea Parties and are somewhat of a snowball! Word is spreading. I have met with Moms in Fukushima City, near Okayama, Onomichi, Kyoto, Maizuru, Osaka, and now in Tokyo ...often a Mom says a friend of hers met with me already.

These refugees from TEPCO's radioactivity are often in conflict. Many have left family members behind, in some cases suffering ridicule and derision from their relatives for leaving. There is a choice-point now that they have left; do they now fade into anonymity? Or do they stand up to say "see me" and fight for justice. Many are engaged in legal battles to win compensation. Some are now effectively homeless and relying on the help of service organizations, churches and help from family. Many are women whose husbands do not support their choice to move their children to less contaminated areas. Divorce due to Fukushima Daiichi is not uncommon.

In the field of physics they say that the act of viewing an event changes it. Here I will tell you that being seen, witnessed, also changes events. These two: seeing, and being seen, are not the same. A large part of what I can offer the radiation refugees is the simple act of being their witness. I met a representative of a service organization that has done interviews with families that were directly exposed when Fukushima Daiichi 1, 2 and 3 melted down ... and by contamination since 2011. When the report comes out, it will say that 80% of the large number of families they have spoken to have health problems. When this report becomes available, we will share it. For now, I will simply say: cancer is not the only harm that comes from radiation exposure.

For me, as a woman who suffered an acute radiation exposure at work at the age of 25 (1984), this is not news. This trip has been a personal gift to me insofar as I have never talked about the immediate and near-term problems I suffered after my exposure, but listening to these women I often say "Yes, that happened to me too. I understand."

Immediate harm includes decimation of the digestive tract, immune system, sensory function (primarily eyes but also sometimes taste and smell), reproductive function and physical depression. Some report becoming reactive to chemicals – something I experienced too. I have heard many reports of joint pain and a startling number of reports of spontaneous bone fracture. There are the nose-bleeds and headaches. It is also typical for people to be consumed by deep, tragic regret and/or rage. In Japan these last are clothed in daily decorum. And yes, thyroid cancer (in all ages) is appearing.

Yes, these symptoms all have multiple causations, but there is a pattern; and those suffering unequivocally know that they did not suffer these problems prior to exposure. The good news is that often these immediate non-cancer problems can reverse if the body is allowed to recover. A physician, one of the few here in Japan openly diagnosing radiation-related illnesses reports that when people move to safer zones, they are improving.

"You are the first person who has come to talk to me about radiation, and how to protect myself." I hear these words from a woman evacuated from her home in Namie, as we leave a Temporary Housing community room near Koriyama. It is nearly incomprehensible to me that I am the first person to talk with these women about the danger of radiation, and small ways they can reduce their exposures. Then, I remember: the invisibility of radioactivity is so convenient.

I meet this small group of women almost five years since they were forced to immediately leave their homes, many with only the clothes they were wearing. None of these women had any idea when they left that five years later they would still not be home. Most are allowed to visit their homes up to 30 times a year, but some of these visits are only for a few minutes because the radiation level remains high. The levels of contamination are a patchwork; some property has lower levels and one of my new friends spends a couple of afternoons a month at home.

Of 12 women I am meeting with, one has been officially informed that she can never go back, the level of radioactivity around her home exceeds any official plan to remediate. She sits quiet, it is apparent that her experience is quite different from the women who believe that the day will come when they can return. I am silently relieved that these women are grandmother-aged ... but I know that some areas are soon to be officially declared "OK" and that families with children are expected to return. If they do not, they will lose what benefits and support have been available to them ... but there is also no-one who would buy their homes. Really a bind.

One woman told me she has moved seven times in these five years. Her husband has died during that time, her children have moved away and she is alone now.

Where are the men? Many have died (those gathered are in their 60's and older). Some were already gone in 2011, and others are here, but prefer to hang together outdoors smoking. The Tea Party is a support group for women. Sometimes a guy will come, but not today.

I want to tell them that I do not think they should go to their house ... even if they are told their house is "OK." But there are many places here, in unrestricted areas of the Prefecture, where our monitoring team has seen levels 50 and 80 times usual background for this area ... and particles that are "through the roof" hot ... I am faced once again with depth of incomprehension that a nuclear meltdown's impacts produce. So, I say nothing.

Radiation reloaded: Ecological impacts of the Fukushima disaster

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Kendra Ulrich from Greenpeace Japan has written a detailed report on radioactive contamination from the Fukushima disaster, documenting the radioactive contamination of forests, rivers, floodplains and estuaries of Fukushima Prefecture, as well as the contamination of wildlife.1

Ulrich exposes flawed assumptions by the International Atomic Energy Agency:

"The IAEA has declared that there will likely be no impacts on wildlife from Fukushima-derived radiation – while also admitting that they did not consider ecosystems or populations, but rather focused narrowly on individuals. Further, it states that its methodology was based on that proposed by the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP), whose models are largely base upon individuals in laboratory or controlled environment studies.

"However, in recent years the French government-affiliated Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN), in its studies of wildlife in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, has found that animals in these natural conditions could be significantly more sensitive to chronic low-dose exposure to man-made radiation than they are in laboratory or controlled environment experiments. It was suggested that this could be due to a number of factors, including, but not limited to, increased stressors and length of exposure times. In fact, IRSN found that wildlife could be up to eight times in more sensitive in natural contaminated ecosystems."

The report is based on a large body of independent scientific research in impacted areas in the Fukushima region, as well as investigations by Greenpeace radiation specialists over the past five years. It draws on research regarding the ecosystem impacts of the Chernobyl disaster and the 1957 Kyshtym / Mayak disaster in the Soviet Union (which involved a chemical explosion in a liquid radioactive waste tank, spreading radionuclides over a wide area).

The report states that studies after the Chernobyl and Kyshtym disasters revealed evidence in contaminated forest systems of a gradual increase in the concentrations of radiocaesium in above-ground plant structures after five years. Uptake via root systems exceeded returns to the forest floor via leaching and litterfall, until a sort of equilibrium was reached. The same phenomenon may play out in Fukushima Prefecture. Declining radiation levels may plateau (or even rise), followed by a very slow decline as long-lived radionuclides decay (for example caesium-137 has a half-life of 30 years).

The greatest enemy of the clean-up efforts in Fukushima Prefecture is gravity. The topography of Fukushima prefecture is characterized by steep slopes, foothills, and flat coastal flood plains. The upper regions are covered in forests and plantations – interspersed with rice paddies, homes and other agricultural fields. Over 70% of Fukushima prefecture is forested, and these areas cannot be decontaminated. Ulrich writes:

"Its climate is highly erosive, with typhoons in the fall and snowmelt in the spring. During significant rainfall events, typhoons, and spring snowmelt, the stocks of radiocaesium in forests, hillslopes and floodplains can be remobilized and contaminate areas downstream – including those that did not receive fallout from the radioactive plumes, as well as areas that have already been decontaminated."

Thus there is an element of futility to the clean-up efforts:

"Over the past four years, a massively expensive and labor-intensive decontamination effort has been underway in the much of the heavily contaminated areas. Workers scrub down buildings, sidewalks, and roads, and remove enormous amounts of contaminated surface soil and debris – which is then packed into bags roughly a m3 in size and piled into up in mountains of temporary radioactive waste storage sites scattered throughout the prefecture. Forests are "decontaminated" in 20-meter strips along roads and around homes in an effort to lower radiation doses. Yet, due to the complexities of these ecosystems and the transfer of radiation within them, this effort is more symbolic than effectual. As such, despite the admirable and dedicated work of the decontamination workers, their heroic efforts in the Fukushima-impacted areas have yielded limited success."

Some of the specific impacts uncovered in the five years since the Fukushima disaster include:

  • high radiation concentrations in new leaves, and at least in the case of cedar, in pollen;
  • apparent increases in growth mutations of fir trees with rising radiation levels;
  • heritable mutations in pale blue grass butterfly populations and DNA-damaged worms in highly contaminated areas, as well as apparent reduced fertility in barn swallows;
  • decreases in the abundance of 57 bird species with higher radiation levels over a four year study;
  • high levels of caesium contamination in commercially important freshwater fish; and
  • radiological contamination of one of the most important ecosystems – coastal estuaries.

There's a saying that old atomic bomb test sites never die. The same could be said of severe nuclear accident sites. Ulrich concludes:

"Unfortunately, the crux of the nuclear contamination issue – from Kyshtym to Chernobyl to Fukushima – is this: when a major radiological disaster happens and impacts vast tracts of land, it cannot be 'cleaned up' or 'fixed.'"

Other reports released by Greenpeace

Greenpeace has released several other important reports to mark the Chernobyl and Fukushima anniversaries. Nuclear Scars: The Lasting Legacies of Chernobyl and Fukushima is a 50-page report summarizing the myriad social and environmental effects of the disasters.2 It's well worth a read and will serve as a useful reference document.

The Nuclear Scars report comments on testing conducted by Greenpeace in Ukraine. Of 50 milk samples collected last year from three villages in the Rivne region of Ukraine, located approximately 200 km from Chernobyl, 92% contained caesium-137 at levels above the limit set for consumption by adults in Ukraine, and all were substantially above the lower limit set for children. Samples of mushrooms had caesium-137 levels well above the Ukrainian limit for human consumption. Forty-two percent of grain samples from the Kyiv region, 50 km from Chernobyl, had strontium-90 levels above the Ukrainian limit for human consumption. Seventy-five percent of wood samples from the Kyiv region had strontium-90 levels above the Ukrainian limit for firewood.

Greenpeace has commissioned a number of other reports which have been released recently:

  • David Boilley, a nuclear physicist and chairman of Association pour le Contrôle de la Radioactivité dans l'Ouest, reviewed current research into the contamination from the Fukushima disaster.3
  • A team of scientists led by Prof. Omelianets, Principal Scientist for the Laboratory of Medical Demography at the National Research Centre for Radiation Medicine of National Academy of Medical Sciences of Ukraine, reviewed the published national and international scientific data and research on the health impacts from the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters.4
  • Prof. Valerii Kashparov, the Director of the Ukrainian Institute of Agricultural Radiology of the National University of Life and Environmental Sciences of Ukraine, and his team reviewed the published scientific research on the extent of Chernobyl's contamination 30 years later.5

Nuclear disasters and sociopolitical change

Greenpeace's Nuclear Scars report comments on the broader political ramifications of the Fukushima disaster, noting that it "triggered many Japanese citizens to rethink their once deferential relationship with state and expert authorities. Fukushima has, in effect, changed the social relationships of Japanese society. This new distrust in authorities has spurred 'bottom-up' responses, including citizen-led science challenging government policies and protesting against government policies. When citizens lose faith in government expertise, they develop other means to protect their lives and health. Following Fukushima, Japanese citizens developed their own technical capacity to assess government safety reassurance, including learning to monitor, share and understand the risk of radiation levels in food and communities. This 'scientific citizenship' is a direct response to the Fukushima disaster. Simply put, due to distrust in government, citizens have come together to develop tools and community networks to protect their health and avoid radiation exposure."2

Naoto Kan, Japan's Prime Minister at the time of the Fukushima disaster, has recently commented on the potential for far more radical changes in the social relationships of Japanese society.6 Reflecting on the first few days of the Fukushima disaster, Kan said:

"From a very early stage I had a very high concern for Tokyo. I was forming ideas for a Tokyo evacuation plan in my head. In the 1923 earthquake the government ordered martial law – I did think of the possibility of having to set up such emergency law if it really came down to it. We were only able to avert a 250-kilometre evacuation zone by a wafer-thin margin, thanks to the efforts of people who risked their lives. Next time, we might not be so lucky."

"The future existence of Japan as a whole was at stake," Kan said. "Something on that scale, an evacuation of 50 million, it would have been like a losing a huge war."6

Mikhail Gorbachev, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union at the time of the Chernobyl disaster, attributes the collapse of the Soviet Union in part to the nuclear disaster. He said, "even more than my launch of perestroika, [Chernobyl] was perhaps the real cause of the collapse of the Soviet Union five years later. Indeed, the Chernobyl catastrophe was an historic turning point: there was the era before the disaster, and there is the very different era that has followed."7


1. Kendra Ulrich, March 2016, "Radiation Reloaded: Ecological Impacts of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident – 5 years on",

2. Greenpeace, 2016, 'Nuclear scars: The Lasting Legacies of Chernobyl and Fukushima',

3. Boilley, D. 2016. Fukushima five years later: back to normal?


4. Omelianets, N., Prysyazhnyuk, A., Loganovsky, L., Stepanova, E., Igumnov, S., Bazyka, D. 2016. 'Health Effects of Chernobyl and Fukushima: 30 and 5 years down the line'.

5. Kashparov, V., Levchuk, S., Khomutynyn, I. & Morozova, V. 2016. Chernobyl: 30 Years of Radioactive Contamination Legacy.

6. Andrew Gilligan, 4 March 2016, 'Fukushima: Tokyo was on the brink of nuclear catastrophe, admits former prime minister',

7. Mikhail Gorbachev, 14 April 2006, 'Turning Point at Chernobyl',


Fukushima Reflections: Looking back, looking forward

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Robert Jacobs has a short but powerful piece in the Asia-Pacific Journal on the topic of 'forgetting Fukushima':1

"Forgetting begins with lies. In Fukushima the lies began with TEPCO (the owner of the power plants) denying that there were any meltdowns when they knew there were three. They knew they had at least one full meltdown by the end of the first day, less than 12 hours after the site was struck by a powerful earthquake knocking out the electrical power. TEPCO continued to tell this lie for three months, even after hundreds of thousands of people had been forced to or voluntarily evacuated. Just last week TEPCO admitted that it was aware of the meltdowns much earlier, or to put it bluntly, it continued to hide the fact that it had been lying for five years. ...

"The most powerful legacy of Chernobyl, besides its long-lived radiation, is the widespread use of the word "radiophobia" by nuclear industry apologists to describe the public response to large releases of radiation: fear. Look for this word and sentiment in the many articles being published this month about Fukushima. When you see it, or read the claim that more people were harmed at Fukushima by their own irrational fears than by radiation, you are seeing the work of forgetting turn its cruel wheels. Behind those wheels are the shattered lives and emotional wellbeing of hundreds of thousands of people whose communities were destroyed, and whose families were ripped apart by the Fukushima disaster. People whose anxieties will rise every time they or their children run a high fever, or suffer a nosebleed or test positively for cancer. People whose suffering – at no fault of their own – is becoming invisible.

"Soon when we talk about Fukushima we will reduce the human impact to a quibbling over numbers: how many cases of thyroid cancer, how many confirmed illnesses. Lost-hidden-forgotten will be the hundreds of thousands of people forced to flee their homes, in many cases permanently, and try to rebuild their shattered lives. Public relations professionals and industry scientists will say that these people did this to themselves. And the curtain will draw ever downward as we forget them. This is the tradition of nuclear forgetting.

"[W]e should not allow our gaze to remain fixed on the nuclear plants, we must learn to see the deep wounds to society that are left to heal in darkness. We must learn to bring the whole of the population and ecosystem that suffer from radiological disasters into the light of our awareness and concerns. We must grieve for all that has been lost and we must hold government and the TEPCO Corporation responsible for assisting those whose lives have been shattered."

The full article is online.1

TEPCO – a company rooted firmly in denial

Mark Willacy, an Australian journalist and author of the book Fukushima: Japan's Tsunami and the Inside Story of the Nuclear Meltdowns, writes:2

"TEPCO modelled a large offshore earthquake and predicted that it could spawn waves as high as 15.7 metres (about the exact height of the ones that did cripple the plant). But TEPCO would hide its report and do nothing. "Taking extra safety measures would have been interpreted as TEPCO being worried about a tsunami. If we had built seawalls in front of the plant ... it would've made [local residents] worry," TEPCO's Junichi Matsumoto told me.

"I was stunned. Here was one of the nuclear company's top brass telling me they knew a big tsunami could strike, but that they had done nothing about it because they didn't want to spook people living near the plant. Now these people were among Fukushima's 150,000 "nuclear refugees", forced to evacuate their homes for tiny makeshift shelters many kilometres inland.

"I came to believe TEPCO was a company rooted firmly in denial. I would lose count of the number of times a conga line of TEPCO officials would shuffle into a press conference, apologise to the people of Japan for what had happened and then bow deeply. It was too little, too late.

"Last month three former TEPCO executives were charged with negligence over the Fukushima meltdowns. But it only happened after a citizen's panel ruled they should faced trial. Until that point prosecutors had twice dismissed the idea of indicting anyone."

Bottomless depths of corruption

Few people or organizations can say they paid sufficient attention to the corruption in Japan's nuclear industry in the years before the Fukushima disaster. The Tokyo-based Citizens Nuclear Information Center (CNIC) is an honorable exception. Here is a brief excerpt from a 2007 CNIC article titled Nuclear State and Industry: Bottomless Depths of Corruption.3

"A web of falsification and deception in Japan's electric power industry was uncovered late in 2006. On 30 March 2007, all 12 power companies submitted reports to the government. Their reports, covering nuclear, fossil fuel and hydroelectric power stations, identified a colossal 10,646 irregularities. Of those, 455 cases involved nuclear power plants, including 230 at Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and 123 at Chubu Electric.

"On April 6th, power companies submitted reports to the Nuclear Industrial and Safety Agency (NISA) explaining how they propose to prevent such problems arising in future. NISA responded on April 20th by announcing administrative proceedings against four companies in relation to seven reactors. The penalty imposed is that the companies must alter their safety provisions. NISA has not demanded that reactors be shut down, nor has it suspended any licenses. With such lenient treatment as this, one can hardly expect that such problems will not arise in future.

"A previous TEPCO scandal came to light in August 2002 when a whistleblower revealed that the company had falsified inspection records and concealed problems at its nuclear power plants. Thereafter, similar problems were discovered at plants belonging to other power companies. On that occasion TEPCO was forced to close down all 17 of its nuclear reactors. Four directors accepted responsibility by resigning and the company promised to work to recover public trust. This time there is little evidence of contrition.

"During the 2002 scandal, the discovery of corruption in the government's periodic inspections showed the hollowness of Japan's nuclear safety system. This time the Minister for Economy Trade and Industry directed that a thorough investigation be carried out to "uncover the truth with no concealment". However, by rights, these problems should have been identified at the time of the 2002 scandal. The root of the problem is that the government, the power companies and the plant makers are all in bed together. What we are seeing once again is the true nature of Japan's nuclear club. ...

"Can we be sure that there are no more incidents to be uncovered? Certainly not. NISA admitted as much during a meeting with politicians and citizens groups on April 13th. It seems that the depths of corruption in Japan's nuclear industry are unfathomable. ...

"It has become clear that we cannot trust the regulator any more than the companies, but even if it wanted to, NISA does not have the ability to properly check what is going on. When representatives of CNIC and other NGOs visited NISA on April 13th, NISA showed not the slightest sign of remorse. The fact that it is located within the Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry, which also has the role of promoting nuclear power, does not help of course."

A U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission report said of the fatal 1999 criticality accident at Tokai-mura: "The NRC staff agrees with the Government of Japan's conclusion that the general root causes of the accident were: (1) inadequate regulatory oversight; (2) lack of an appropriate safety culture; and (3) inadequate worker training and qualification."4 Sound familiar?

CNIC's highly informative English-language newsletters, pre- and post-Fukushima, are online at

Here is a list of some of CNIC's pre-Fukushima articles:


1. Robert Jacobs, 1 March 2016, "On Forgetting Fukushima", The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 14, Issue 5, No. 1,

2. Mark Willacy, 10 March 2016, 'The ghosts of Fukushima',

3. Yukio Yamaguchi, 11 May 2007, 'Nuclear State and Industry: Bottomless Depths of Corruption', Nuke Info Tokyo 118,

4. U.S. NRC, 'NRC Review of the Tokai-mura Criticality Accident',

2016: A special year for anti-nuclear campaigns

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Peer de Rijk, Director of WISE

The year 2016 will be special for all those fighting anti-nuclear campaigns. The 11th of March will be the fifth anniversary of the Fukushima disaster, and the 26th of April will be the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster.

Many groups and people are already preparing activities, publications and actions to mark these anniversaries. We invite artists, journalists, teachers, photographers, musicians, scientists, researchers, filmmakers, politicians, activists and concerned citizens to share with us their ideas and plans. We will start working on the best possible overview of what will be happening around the world.

We hope to help activists and local organizers by bringing ideas and networks together. If for instance a group in France invites a speaker from Japan and we know a group in the UK also wants to have a Japanese speaker, we hope to be able to connect the dots and improve efficiency and make best use of limited resources.

Please share with us your ideas, questions, requests and plans.

− Peer de Rijk, Director WISE


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