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Fukushima Fallout: Updates from Japan

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green - Nuclear Monitor editor

Reactor restarts

There were 54 reactors operating before Fukushima, reduced to 43 with the permanent shutdown of the six Fukushima Daiichi reactors and five others. Of the 43 'operable' reactors, the Sendai 1 reactor restarted on August 11 but the outlook for Japan's nuclear power industry remains bleak according to a Reuters analysis.1 The analysis was based on reactor inspection data from the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), court rulings, and interviews with local authorities, utilities and energy experts. Reuters predicts the of the 42 operable-but-not-operating reactors, seven will restart in the next few years (half the number predicted in a similar survey last year), nine are unlikely to ever restart, and the fate of the remaining 26 is uncertain. Former World Nuclear Industry Association executive Steve Kidd said in June 2015 that if "more than half of the 43 operable units return to service, it may be regarded as a good result."2

TEPCO's plan to restart reactors at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa − the largest nuclear power plant in the world (seven reactors, 8.2 gigawatts) − remains stalled due to local opposition led by Niigata Governor Hirohiko Izumida. On August 24, after meeting with NRA chair Shunichi Tanaka, Izumida repeated his stance that a full investigation is needed into the Fukushima disaster before restarts can be considered. He is calling for the NRA to reinstate the use of an emergency response system known as SPEEDI, used to predict the spread of radiation and to facilitate evacuation planning in the event of an accident.3 In October 2013, Izumida said TEPCO must address its "institutionalized lying" before it can expect to restart reactors.4

Decontamination and waste

The clean-up of sites contaminated by radioactive fallout from the Fukushima disaster is proceeding slowly and has a long way to go. In some regions, radiation doses rise again after decontamination because little or no effort has been made to decontaminate surrounding forests, and radioactive materials are transported from the forests by wind and rain.5

Plans to dispose of the vast amounts of contaminated material from decontamination operations continue to face obstacles. Across the entire evacuation zone, workers have already filled 2.9 million bags.6 The government plans to build landfill facilities for final disposal of radioactive waste in five prefectures − Tochigi, Miyagi, Chiba, Gunma and Ibaraki prefectures − which lack the capacity to dispose of such waste at existing facilities.7

On August 29, about 2,700 residents of Shioya, Tochigi Prefecture, gathered to oppose the government's plan to dispose of waste near the town. In Tochigi, waste is currently stored at about 170 different locations on a temporary basis.7 On September 1, residents of three Miyagi Prefecture towns barred the entry of Environment Ministry officials seeking to carry out survey work for waste disposal.8 People in the towns of Kami, Kurihara and Taiwa stalled the officials' plan to conduct geological surveys, holding banners and signs and yelling "Protect children's future!" and "Get lost!" Plans to start surveys near the towns have been stalled since October 2014, when Environment Ministry officials began visiting them.

Two towns in the Futaba area, Okuma and Futaba, have agreed to accept interim storage facilities, and the shipment of radioactive wastes into the area has begun. But there has been almost no progress acquiring land for this, however, and difficulties are expected in negotiations with land owners.5


In mid-2015 Greenpeace conducted a radiation survey and sampling program in the district of Iitate, which covers more than 200 square kilometers north-west of the Fukushima nuclear plant. Even after decontamination, radiation levels are higher than background in some areas, with typical readings equating to annual doses of 10 mSv/year.9

Jan Vande Putte, radiation specialist with Greenpeace Belgium, said: "Prime Minister Abe would like the people of Japan to believe that they are decontaminating vast areas of Fukushima to levels safe enough for people to live in. The reality is that this is a policy doomed to failure. The forests of Iitate are a vast stock of radioactivity that will remain both a direct hazard and source of potential recontamination for hundreds of years. It's impossible to decontaminate."9

Despite the clean-up efforts, only about one-fifth of the 6,200 displaced residents of Iitate are willing to return, according to a recent survey by town officials. The mayor of Iitate, Norio Kanno, admits that farmers will probably not be allowed to grow food in Iitate for many years to come but says the town is drawing up plans to help them switch to flowers and other crops not for human consumption.6

Among regions where the entire population was forced to evacuate after the nuclear disaster in March 2011, Naraha is the first town to allow all of its residents to return permanently. In early September 2015, the government lifted the evacuation order for the town, but only about 10% of 7,368 registered residents are expected to return.10

Resettlement of evacuees

A Cabinet resolution − 'Towards Acceleration of Fukushima's Recovery from the Nuclear Accident' − was passed on June 12, as was a plan to accelerate clean-up work in contaminated zones. The government's plan would allow two-thirds of evacuees to return by March 2017, the sixth anniversary of the disaster.6

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on June 12: "There is no revitalization of Japan without the reconstruction of Fukushima. It is our responsibility to ensure that the over 110,000 people who are still living as evacuees as a result of the nuclear disaster return to their hometowns as quickly as possible and start new lives."11 Abe pointed to the lifting of evacuation orders for Tamura City and Kawauchi Village, and some progress towards the establishment of interim radioactive waste storage facilities. Nevertheless, he said, "there are still many issues that we must address before we can achieve true reconstruction."

On the basis of the June 12 government announcements, three days later the Fukushima Prefecture mapped out a policy of ending the provision of free temporary housing and privately leased housing by March 2017. TEPCO announced on June 17 that it plans to end compensation for psychological damage to residents of the areas for which evacuation orders had been lifted by March 2018.12

Thus evacuees are facing another injustice. Those relying on subsidised accommodation and compensation payments will have no choice but to return to their previous homes − in areas that are still contaminated and are largely bereft of industry, infrastructure and services.

As the Tokyo-based Citizens Nuclear Information Center noted, the government is "attempting to further strengthen policies of effectively abandoning people to their own devices under the nice-sounding names of 'new life support' and 'support for independence and rebuilding of businesses, livelihoods and lives.'"12


More than 10,000 citizens (mostly evacuees) have joined at least 20 class-action lawsuits against the government and TEPCO. Many are seeking more compensation so they can afford to choose whether to return to their former home-towns or to build new lives elsewhere.6

"This is likely to become a long battle where lawsuits go on for several decades or half a century," said Shunichi Teranishi, a professor emeritus of environmental economics at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo.13

In May, the Federation of Nuclear Accident Victims' Organizations was founded. It consists of 13 organizations, including 10 groups throughout Japan and three observer groups. The Federation says its goals are to "obtain an apology to the victims from TEPCO and Japan's government," to "ensure the victims are completely compensated and can recover their lives and livelihoods," as well as "implementation of detailed medical examinations for the victims, with medical security and reduction of exposure levels," and "pursuit of responsibility for the accident."14

The biggest class action, with 4,000 plaintiffs, seeks to hold TEPCO's liable by proving negligence under Japan's civil law, rather than simply proving harm and seeking compensation.13

Another lawsuit involves 534 residents of Minamisoma City, Fukushima Prefecture, who are challenging the legality of the 20 mSv/year radiation dose limit. The government is encouraging resettlement of areas where annual doses are expected to fall below that level, which is 20 times greater than the pre-Fukushima limit of 1 mSv/year from anthropogenic sources (and about 10 times greater than typical background levels).15

Japanese authorities said in late July that they would move forward with cases against three former TEPCO executives. Prosecutors had twice rejected requests to indict the executives, but a review board overruled their decision and ordered that charges be brought. "We had given up hope that there would be a criminal trial," said Ruiko Muto, who leads the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Plaintiffs Group, an umbrella organization representing about 15,000 people, including residents displaced by the accident and their supporters.16

The three executives are Tsunehisa Katsumata, 75, the chair of TEPCO at the time of the accident, and two former heads of the utility's nuclear division, Sakae Muto, 65, and Ichiro Takekuro, 69. They will be charged with professional negligence resulting in death. A first trial is not expected to start until 2016 at the earliest. The forced disclosure of an internal 2008 TEPCO may affect the lawsuits. The report called for TEPCO to prepare for a worse tsunami than it previously assumed, based on experts' views. The internal document stated: "Considering that it is difficult to completely reject the opinions given thus far of academic experts on earthquakes and tsunami, as well as the expertise of the (government's) Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion, it is unavoidable to have tsunami countermeasures that assume a higher tsunami than at present."13

In another lawsuit, Toshiba Corp., Hitachi Ltd. and General Electric Co. face a claim in the Tokyo District Court lodged by citizens trying to hold them to account for the Fukushima disaster. The manufacturers deny any legal obligation, citing legislation which gives manufacturers immunity from compensation claims, but plaintiffs claim that the law violates the Constitution and is therefore invalid. Under the product liability law and other laws, plaintiffs are demanding a token payment of ¥100 each.7


1. Kentaro Hamada and Aaron Sheldrick / Reuters, 1 Sept 2015, 'Japan nuclear power outlook bleak despite first reactor restart',

For details on the 42 operable-but-not-operating reactors, see Kentaro Hamada and Aaron Sheldrick, 31 Aug 2015, 'FACTBOX − Outlook for Japan nuclear reactor restarts',

2. Steve Kidd, 24 June 2015, 'Japan – what is the future for nuclear power?', Nuclear Engineering International,

3. 24 Aug 2015, 'Tepco bid to restart Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant stymied by governor',

4. Antoni Slodkowski and Kentaro Hamada, 29 Oct 2013, 'Tepco can't yet be trusted to restart world's biggest nuclear plant: governor',

5. Akira Hino, 2 June 2015, 'Fukushima's Educational Facilities', Nuke Info Tokyo No. 166 (May/June 2015),

6. Martin Fackler, 8 Aug 2015, '4 Years After Fukushima Nuclear Calamity, Japanese Divided on Whether to Return',

7. 29 Aug 2015, 'Tochigi town residents rally against selection as candidate site for final disposal of radiation-tainted waste',

8. 1 Sept 2015, 'Miyagi residents physically block officials from surveying proposed nuke waste dump sites',

9. Greenpeace, 21 July 2015, 'Greenpeace investigation exposes failure of Fukushima decontamination program',

10. ABC, 5 Sept 2015, 'Fukushima: Japan lifts evacuation order for radiation-hit Naraha town four years after nuclear disaster',

11. 12 June 2015, 'Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters',

12. CNIC, 6 Aug 2015, 'Accelerated Resident Repatriation Policy', News Watch 167 July/Aug 2015 -Nuke Info Tokyo No. 167,

13. Kentaro Hamada, 17 Aug 2015, 'Fukushima operator's mounting legal woes to fuel nuclear opposition',

14. CNIC, 6 Aug 2015, 'Establishment of the Federation of Nuclear Accident Victims' Organizations', News Watch 167 July/Aug 2015 -Nuke Info Tokyo No. 167,

15. CNIC, 6 Aug 2015, 'Minamisoma Residents File Lawsuit Requesting Lifting of Evacuation Encouragement Points be Rescinded', News Watch 167 July/Aug 2015 -Nuke Info Tokyo No. 167,

16. Jonathan Soble, 31 July 2015, '3 Former Executives to Be Prosecuted in Fukushima Nuclear Disaster',