State of Nuclear Emergency Still in Effect, Deaths and Health Damages Unaccounted for, Pacific Wastewater Dumping Planned
By Mari Inoue
Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster
Twelve years have passed since the beginning of the ongoing Fukushima Daiichi triple nuclear reactor disaster. It started on March 11, 2011, after the Great East Japan Earthquake hit the area, damaging the electric supply to the reactors’ cooling systems. Subsequent 14-meter-high tsunamis swept over the facility’s 10-meter-high seawall, destroying the emergency generators, and causing a ‘station blackout.’ Consequently, the facility lost its ability to cool the reactors’ cores in Units 1, 2, and 3.
Declaration of Nuclear Emergency
A state of nuclear emergency was declared the evening of March 11. The Prime Minister’s office initially announced that no radiation was leaking from the facility and that residents should stay home and not evacuate. After losing ability to cool the three nuclear reactors’ cores, a triple nuclear meltdown occurred. There were hydrogen explosions at reactors. A large amount of radioactivity began being released into the environment. More than 160,000 Fukushima residents were forced to evacuate from their hometowns.
Due to radioactive releases from the three crippled reactors, the Japanese government expanded the evacuation zone to about a 12.5-mile radius. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Committee (NRC) and State Department recommended U.S. citizens in Japan to evacuate within a 50 mile radius of Fukushima Daiichi.
Twenty mSv-per-year Standard
Japan’s evacuation zones were established based on an external radiation exposure level of 20mSv (a millisievert is a measure of health risk from ionizing radiation) per year. This is a threshold 20 times higher than both Japan’s pre-Fukushima disaster national standard for the public and the international standard (set by the International Commission on Radiological Protection). Japan continues to ignore international radiation protection principles.
Poor Regulation and Collusion
In July 2012, the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission chartered by the Diet, Japan’s Parliament, concluded that the nuclear disaster was a human-made disaster caused by poor regulation and collusion between the government, the reactor’s owner Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), and Japan’s nuclear regulator. The Commission accused TEPCO and regulators at the nuclear industrial safety agency of failing to take adequate safety measures, despite authoritative evidence and warnings from eminent seismologists that the area was susceptible to powerful earthquakes and tsunamis.
Twelve Years Later
The state of nuclear emergency is still in effect. Tens of thousands of Fukushima residents are still displaced. The government lifted evacuation orders for many districts in Fukushima and terminated housing assistance and other benefits for evacuees. As of December 2022, 338 Fukushima children (who were 18 or younger in 2011) were diagnosed with thyroid cancer. This is alarming, because pediatric thyroid cancer cases in Japan were only 1 or 2 per million before the disaster.
As of June 2022, the official number of the so-called “disaster-related deaths” in Fukushima Prefecture had reached 2,333. These deaths refer to those who died due to the aggravation of injuries caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake or due to the physical burden of evacuation life. This figure is much higher than those of Miyagi Prefecture (930 deaths) and Iwate Prefecture (470 deaths), which were also heavily impacted by the earthquake and tsunamis.
Criminal Case Against TEPCO Executives
In 2012, a group of nearly 15,000 Fukushima residents sought criminal prosecution of those responsible for the nuclear disaster. Accordingly, three former TEPCO executives, including the chairman and VPs, were indicted in 2016. In September 2019, the Tokyo District Court concluded that there was insufficient evidence to convict them. The case was appealed. In January 2023, the Tokyo High Court upheld acquittal of those executives, finding them not guilty of professional negligence resulting in deaths and injuries on the grounds that they could not have predicted the tsunami that damaged the nuclear reactor.
Civil Suit Victory Against TEPCO Executives
A civil case was filed in Tokyo in 2012 by TEPCO shareholders since the disaster caused a huge financial loss to the company. In July 2022, the Tokyo District Court ordered the above three former executives and former President of TEPCO to pay 13 trillion yen ($95 billion) in damages to compensate shareholders, but not the victims. This ruling marks the first time a court has found former executives responsible for the nuclear disaster.
Million Metric Tons into the Pacific
On April 13, 2021, the Japanese government announced that it will start discharging more than 1.3 million metric tons of radioactive “treated” wastewater from Fukushima Daiichi into the Pacific starting in Spring of 2023. The dumping will continue for three decades or more. The “treated” water contains radioactive isotopes due to being used to cool the highly radioactive melted cores of the three nuclear reactors. Tritium and carbon-14 cannot be filtered out at all. [Editor’s Note: TEPCO acknowledged over 75% of the wastewater was not successfully filtered and still contained over 60 hazardous radioactive materials including strontium-90, cesium-137, and cobalt-60.]
Independent human rights experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council have expressed deep regret at Japan’s decision. Fukushima residents, fisheries associations, most of Fukushima’s districts, and many anti-nuclear groups in and outside Japan expressed their opposition to the plan. Henry Puna, Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum calls for Japan to hold off on any such release.
Global Action to Oppose Dumping Plan
Groups are holding a global action to halt Japan’s outrageous plan to dump radioactive water into the Pacific. Check mp-nuclear-free.com to join.
— Mari Inoue is a lawyer and activist based in New York City, born and raised in Tokyo, and co-founder of Manhattan Project for a Nuclear-Free World (mp-nuclear-free.com).