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Fukushima Fallout ‒ Updates from Japan

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Seven years after the Fukushima disaster, an estimated 50,000 of the 160,000 evacuees remain dislocated. Six reactors are operating (compared to the pre-Fukushima fleet of 54), and 14 reactors have been permanently shut-down since the Fukushima disaster (including the six Fukushima Daiichi reactors). Decontamination of Fukushima Prefecture is slow and partial. Decommissioning the Fukushima Daiichi reactor plant will take decades. Official estimates of the clean-up and compensation costs stand at US$202 billion and will rise further.

50,000 Fukushima residents still displaced

Some 73,000 people ‒ two-thirds (50,000) of them former Fukushima Prefecture residents ‒ remain displaced on the seventh anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, according to the Reconstruction Agency. About 53,000 people are living in prefabricated temporary housing, municipality-funded private residences, or welfare facilities. Nearly 20,000 are staying with relatives or friends.

Although roads, railways and homes have been rebuilt in the stricken Tohoku region, the outflow of population continues from devastated areas, particularly from coastal communities. Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures ‒ the three hardest-hit prefectures ‒ saw a combined decline in population of 250,000, compared with pre-disaster levels.

In Fukushima Prefecture, the evacuation order for four municipalities that were exposed to high levels of radiation from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant accident was lifted about a year ago. But not many residents are returning to live in their hometowns.

Asahi Shimbun, 11 March 2018, 'Over 70,000 still living elsewhere from 2011 quake and tsunami',

NHK, 7 March 2018, 'Evacuees from 2011 disaster number over 73,000',

Japanese government agrees to recommendations on the rights of evacuees

The Japanese government announced in early March that it had accepted all recommendations made at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on the rights of evacuees from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident. The decision is a victory for the human rights of tens of thousands of evacuees, and civil society that have been working at the UNHRC and demanding that Japan accept and comply with UN principles. The decision means that the Japanese government must immediately change its unacceptable policies, said Greenpeace.

"I cautiously welcome the Japanese government's acceptance of the UN recommendations. The government may believe that an insincere acceptance is sufficient. They are wrong to think so – and we are determined to hold them to account to implement the necessary changes that the UN members states are demanding," said Yuichi Kaido, a lawyer for multiple Fukushima accident lawsuits against TEPCO and the Japanese government.

Greenpeace radiation survey results published recently showed high levels of radiation in Iitate and Namie that make it unsafe for citizens to return before mid-century, and even more severe contamination in the exclusion zone of Namie. High radiation levels in Obori would mean you would reach exposure of 1 millisievert (mSv) in just 16 days.

The lifting of evacuation orders in areas heavily contaminated by the nuclear accident, which far exceed the international standard of 1 mSv/year for the general public, raise multiple human rights issues. Housing support is due to end in March 2019 for survivors from these areas. The Japanese government also ended housing support for so-called 'self evacuees' from other than evacuation order zone in March 2017, and removed as many as 29,000 of these evacuees from official records. This amounts to economic coercion where survivors may be forced to return to the contaminated areas against their wishes due to economic pressure. This clearly contravenes multiple human rights treaties to which Japan is party.

Greenpeace Japan, 8 March 2018, 'Japanese government accepts United Nations Fukushima recommendations - current policies now must change to stop violation of evacuee human rights',

Water worries

A costly "ice wall" is failing to keep groundwater from seeping into the stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, data from operator Tokyo Electric Power Co shows. When the ice wall was announced in 2013, TEPCO assured skeptics that it would limit the flow of groundwater into the plant's basements, where it mixes with highly radioactive debris from the site's reactors, to "nearly nothing."

However, since the ice wall became fully operational at the end of August 2017, an average of 141 metric tonnes a day of water has seeped into the reactor and turbine areas, more than the average of 132 metric tonnes a day during the prior nine months, a Reuters analysis of the TEPCO data showed.

A government-commissioned panel offered a mixed assessment of the ice wall, saying it was partially effective but more steps were needed.

The groundwater seepage has delayed TEPCO's clean-up at the site and may undermine the entire decommissioning process for the plant.

Though called an ice wall, TEPCO has attempted to create something more like a frozen soil barrier. Using 34.5 billion yen (US$324 million) in public funds, TEPCO sunk about 1,500 tubes filled with brine to a depth of 30 meters (100 feet) in a 1.5-kilometre (1-mile) perimeter around four of the plant's reactors. It then cools the brine to minus 30 degrees Celsius (minus 22 Fahrenheit). The aim is to freeze the soil into a solid mass that blocks groundwater flowing from the hills west of the plant to the coast.

Other water control measures have been more successful. TEPCO says a combination of drains, pumps and the ice wall has cut water flows by three-quarters, from 490 tons a day during the December 2015 to February 2016 period to an average of 110 tons a day for December 2017 to February 2018.

The continuing seepage has created vast amounts of toxic water that TEPCO must pump out, decontaminate and store in tanks at Fukushima that now number 1,000, holding 1 million tonnes. TEPCO says it will run out of space by early 2021 and must decide how to cope with the growing volume of water stored on site. The purification process removes 62 radioactive elements from the contaminated water but it leaves tritium, a mildly radioactive element that is difficult to separate from water. A government-commissioned taskforce is examining five options for disposing of the tritium-laced water, including ocean releases, though no decision has been made.

Abridged from: Aaron Sheldrick and Malcolm Foster, 8 March 2018, 'Tepco's 'ice wall' fails to freeze Fukushima's toxic water buildup',

Legal fallout

Legal fallout from the March 2011 accident at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station continues, as dozens of lawsuits and injunctions make their way through Japan's judicial system. The final rulings could have a profound impact on the government's energy policy and approach to risk mitigation.

Court cases stemming from the meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi can be divided broadly into two categories. In the first are efforts to assign responsibility for the accident, including one high-profile criminal case and numerous civil suits by victims seeking damages from the government and owner-operator Tokyo Electric Power Company. The second group consists of lawsuits and injunctions aimed at blocking or shutting down operations at plants other than Fukushima Daiichi (whose reactors have been decommissioned) on the grounds that they pose a grave safety threat.

Shizume Saiji / Nippon, 12 March 2018, 'Nuclear Power Facing a Tsunami of Litigation',

Firm admits nuclear waste data falsification

Sixteen pieces of data relating to the underground disposal of highly radioactive waste, which scandal-hit Kobe Steel Ltd. and a subsidiary analyzed at the request of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA), were falsified, forged or flawed in other ways, the nuclear research organization said.1,2

The tests are designed to examine what happens to metal cladding tubes that had previously contained spent nuclear fuel when they are disposed of deep underground, including possible corrosion and by-products of gas, according to the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA). A report the NRA received from the JAEA said that figures in the original data and those in reports submitted by Kobe subsidiary Kobelco did not match. Furthermore, some original data could not be located.

The NRA outsourced the testing to the JAEA in fiscal 2012 through fiscal 2014 at a cost of about 600 million yen (US$5.59 million). Kobelco was subcontracted to undertake some of the tests for about 50 million yen.

Kobe Steel admitted in October 2017 to rewriting inspection certificates for some of its products and other misconduct.3 Deliveries to nuclear power facilities were affected by these scandals. One case involved replacement pipes that were scheduled to be used in a heat exchanger of a residual heat removal system at Fukushima Daini Unit 3. Another involved centrifuge parts that had not yet been used at the Rokkasho uranium enrichment plant.

1. Mainichi Japan, 7 March 2018, 'Kobe Steel also falsified data on analyses of burying radioactive waste',

2. Masanobu Higashiyama, 15 Feb 2018, 'Kobe Steel firm suspected of nuclear waste data falsification',

3. Citizens Nuclear Information Center, Nuke Info Tokyo No.181 Nov./Dec. 2017,

Stop public funds for Japanese nuclear plant in Wales

Horizon Nuclear Power, a wholly owned subsidiary of Japanese electronics giant Hitachi Ltd., is attempting to construct a 2.7 gigawatt nuclear power plant in Wylfa, on the scenic and historic island, Anglesey, Wales, in the UK. The project cannot proceed without public financial support, and the Japanese government is orchestrating an "all-Japan" support system to secure its financing, backed up by public money.

Friends of the Earth Japan is working with local groups in Wales to stop the nuclear project and calls on individuals and organizations around the world to sign the petition posted at