Fukushima: Counting the costs

When a tsunami hit the eastern coast of Japan in 2011, news outlets were filled with images of the damage to the Fukushima nuclear plant. Four years on, Will Simpson looks at the legacy of waste it’s left behind

This article was taken from Issue 77

The events that led up to the Fukushima disaster of 2011 are well known but they bear restating. On 11 March that year, a 9.0 earthquake occurred just 70 kilometres (km) off the Japanese coastline, resulting in a tsunami hitting the country’s eastern seaboard. Waves measuring up to 15 metres flooded the four-decade old Fukushima nuclear facility. The plant shut down three of its six reactors, and it was estimated that 70 per cent of one and a third of another had melted, releasing radioactive isotopes into the atmosphere. Although a complete meltdown was avoided, it was still the most significant nuclear incident since Chernobyl in 1986. The Japanese government imposed a 20-km exclusion zone around the plant, which displaced over 150,000 people. 

Once immediate danger of complete meltdown passed and the situation had been brought under control, attention turned to the cleanup. Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which ran Fukushima, announced a ‘roadmap towards restoration’, around a month after the tsunami. Since then, it has been revised twice, in July 2012 and June 2013. Japan’s Atomic Energy Commission estimated that it would take up to 30 years to fully decommission all the reactors. Many observers have suggested that it will be even longer before the site can be deemed ‘safe’ once more. 

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