The Fukushima disaster: A “Nuclear War without a War”

Written by Roberta Fasanelli

The 5th Anniversary of the Tragedy

Not many days are passed since the 5th (sad) anniversary of the Fukushima disaster.
For almost six minutes on March 11, 2011, the 9.0 magnitude earthquake, the worst to ever hit Japan and the second one only after Chernobyl, rocked the country and caused, with the subsequent tsunami, the destruction of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
The quake was so strong that it permanently moved Japan's main island, Honshu, more than two meters to the east and it raised huge waves up to 40 meters high.

In November 2011, the Japanese Science Ministry reported that long-lived radioactive cesium had contaminated 30,000 sq. km of the land surface of Japan and all of the land within 20 km of the destroyed nuclear power plant were declared too radioactive for human habitation.
So, all persons living in these areas were evacuated and the regions were declared to be permanent “exclusion” zones.
The Fukushima catastrophe released a large amount of radioactivity, that are still present today,  into the environment: into the air, into the sea, and the ground. 
And this represents many economic costs and loss of resources, in concrete terms.
In fact, it is estimated that the abandoned cities, towns, agricultural lands, businesses, homes and property located within the roughly 800 sq. km of the exclusion zones caused a total economic loss range from 250 - 500 billion American dollars!

Just to let you understand: since the Fukushima disaster produced the largest discharge of radioactive material into the Pacific Ocean in history, fishing continues to be banned off the coast of Fukushima, where 40% of bottom dwelling fish (sole, halibut, cod) were recently found to have radioactive cesium levels higher than current Japanese regulatory limits. 
And fishing is one of the most profitable economic activities in Japan.

A Nuclear War without a War

The economic crisis after the Fukushima disaster in Japan has been described as “a nuclear war without a war”. 
In the words of renowned novelist Haruki Murakami:
“This time no one dropped a bomb on us. We set the stage, we committed the crime with our  own hands, we are destroying our own lands, and we are destroying our own lives.”
For the human costs, in September 2012, Fukushima officials stated that almost 200.000 people lost their homes and virtually all their possessions. 
Most have received only a small compensation to cover their costs of living as evacuees, but many are forced to make mortgage payments on the homes they left inside the exclusion zones. 
And five years after the disaster, tens of thousands still live in temporary housing only intended to last 24 months. Most of those who remain are elderly, with few options to move away.

Even more troublesome, the nuclear plant has yet to stop producing dangerous nuclear waste: its operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), currently circulates water through the three melted units to keep them cool, still generating a relentless supply of radioactive watTo make matters worse, groundwater flowing from a hill behind the crippled plant now mixes with radioactive materials before heading into the Japanese sea.

"There's still an enormous amount of radioactivity there which is not controlled, in liquid form, slowly moving into the ocean," said Greenpeace Japan campaigner Jan Vande Putte, "And that's very dangerous for the future."

The Japanese Consensus on the Presence of the Nuclear Energy in the Territory

It is not hard to believe that now the Japanese consensus on the presence of nuclear energy in the country fell down disastrously after the earthquake.

As the data show, prior to the disaster, around 70% of people supported nuclear energy, according to an official poll. 
That level dropped to below 36% after the Fukushima meltdown, with opposition to nuclear energy growing to up to 50 or even 70%, according to polls by Japanese media.

Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan, in office during the crisis (8th June 2010 - 30th August 2011), is one of the highest-profile voices to come out against nuclear power, calling repeatedly on the government to change its course.
"The safest nuclear policy is not to have any plants at all”, he told a parliamentary panel in 2012. 

While the move back towards nuclear power has been justified on the grounds of the huge cost of importing fossil fuel energy, campaigners expressed disappointment that alternative options weren't explored.

"Renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and thermal have so much potential here”, said Ai Kashiwagi, member of Greenpeace Japan. 
But the debate among scientists about the advantages that nuclear energy can offer, and its probable importance in the future, still goes on nowadays. 
Energy experts across the spectrum are urging caution and patience in considering the implications for nuclear energy in the United States and internationally. 
In particular, many energy and climate change experts note that we should not so readily dismiss nuclear power as an option for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and meeting rising global energy demand.

In the words of the International Energy Agency Chief, Nobuo Tanaka:

“While I understand the public’s fear, I am concerned given the important role of nuclear power. I encourage patience until more information is gathered for a full review so we can learn the lessons.”
And he added: ”The cost of fighting against global warming will increase, that is sure. I think it is very difficult to fight global warming, even impossible, without using nuclear power.”

Thousands of bags of radiation contaminated soil and debris wait to be processed, inside the exclusion zone close to the devastated Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant on February 26, 2016.

A giant, 780-meter sea wall under construction near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is designed to prevent contaminated water on the site from seeping into the ocean. 
The Australian issue

In October 2011 it was formally confirmed to the Australian parliament that not only was Australian uranium routinely sold to TEPCO but that a load of that was fuelling the Fukushima complex at the time of the disaster. 

Australian radioactive rocks were the source of Fukushima’s fallout.

In September 2011, the UN secretary-general called on Australia to conduct “an in-depth assessment of the net cost impact of the impacts of mining fissionable material on local communities and ecosystems”.

This has never happened. It needs to, and Australia’s uranium sector deserves some long overdue scrutiny. And the last check-out dates back to 2003.

Recent years have seen fewer political constraints but a dramatic decline in the price and production of uranium and in the popularity of nuclear power following Fukushima.

So, we can state that Australia’s uranium sector is high risk and low return.

It leaves polluted mine sites and home and drives nuclear risk and insecurity abroad. And it fuelled Fukushima – a profound environmental, economic and human disaster that continues to negatively impact lives in Japan and far beyond.

The Fukushima Lesson
“For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.” (Richard Feynman)
Although the Great East Japan earthquake and the following tsunami triggered it, the key causes of the nuclear accident lie in the institutional failures of political influence and industry-led regulation. 
It was a failure of human institutions to acknowledge real reactor risks, a failure to establish and enforce appropriate nuclear safety standards and a failure to ultimately protect the public and the environment.

The memorial of the Fukushima accident offers a unique opportunity to ask ourselves what the tragedy has taught us, as citizens of the World:

1. The Fukushima nuclear accident marks the end of the ‘nuclear safety’ paradigm. 
We can conclude that ‘nuclear safety’ does not exist in reality.
2. The Fukushima nuclear accident exposes the deep and systemic failure of the very institutions that are supposed to control nuclear power and protect people from its accidents.

Although a significant nuclear accident has occurred approximately once every decade, the nuclear industry continues to rely on the same risk models and supposedly extremely low probabilities of disasters, justifying the continued operation of reactors in Japan and worldwide.


“For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.”

This statement is by one of the leading physicists of the past century, Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman, written in 1987 in his minority report for a commission investigating the tragic disaster of the Challenger space shuttle. 
His analysis has astonishing parallels to the nuclear industry. 
He explains how the socio-economic influences of modern society led to a massive gap between official predictions and real-world risks of disastrous accidents of complex technologies. 

He notes the fact that, if things go well and accidents do not happen for a while, there is an inevitable watering down of regulation and precautionary principles.
He also calls for the consideration of alternative technologies to do the job.
It took two lethal disasters to phase out the expensive and accident-prone space shuttles. Now, we are living through the second major nuclear reactor disaster in history. 
We have a responsibility to use this critically important moment to finally switch to a safe and affordable supply of electricity and renewable energy. 
All the worlds’ reactors can be replaced within two decades.
In the meantime, we can learn from Fukushima that nuclear power can never be safe. 

If there is yet another major nuclear accident, the people who will suffer can be given better protection if we hold the nuclear industry and regulators fully accountable and liable. 
We must put the nuclear regime under close public scrutiny and require transparency. 

But again, while doing so, we have to phase out dangerous nuclear power entirely, and do so as soon as possible.