— Ecologist: Fukushima catastrophe unfolds … key facts and figures for an unhappy sixth anniversary

From the Ecologist

L’ACROnique de Fukushima & Hervé Courtois
10th March 2017

IAEA technicians examine Unit 4 of TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, the only one of four reactors to be stabilised - because it was defuelled at the time of the earthquake and tsunami. Photo: IAEA Imagebank via Flickr (CC BY-SA).

IAEA technicians examine Unit 4 of TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, the only one of four reactors to be stabilised – because it was defuelled at the time of the earthquake and tsunami. Photo: IAEA Imagebank via Flickr (CC BY-SA).

The 2011 Fukushima catastrophe is an ongoing disaster whose end only gets more remote as time passes. The government is desperate to get evacuees back into their homes for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but the problems on the ground, and in the breached reactor vessels, are only getting more serious and costly, as unbelievable volumes of radiation contaminate land, air and ocean.

If Fukushima taught us one thing it is that people should not expect the government to protect them – nor will corporations be held responsible in time of nuclear disaster.

Six years after the catastrophe at Fukushima, the situation is still far from being resolved, still ongoing.

Three reactor core meltdowns still releasing radioactive nanoparticles into the open skies, contaminated water is still leaking continuously into the Pacific ocean, and partially decontaminated water is being dumped into the ocean.

All available information and figures are controlled by Tepco and the Japanese government, with no independent party allowed to verify the veracity of the given information.

A massive public relations campaign of disinformation and denial is under way, to brainwash the Japanese population and the whole world that everything is now under control and OK. Systematic denial of the radiation risks for the people’s health is the rule, economics being the Japanese government priority, not public health protection.

Evacuated persons are coerced to return to live with high radiation in their previously evacuated townships so that Japan may seem safe, clean and beautiful to welcome the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

If Fukushima taught us one thing it is that people should not expect the government to protect them – nor will corporations be held responsible in time of nuclear disaster.

This article that follows is based on officially released data by Tepco and the Japanese government. All the figures and claims should therefore be taken with a pinch of salt. Always bear in mind that the officially released information does not really teach us the essential truths about the still ongoing catastrophe, and about its victims getting more abandoned than ever.

As we approach the sixth anniversary of the disaster, here are some key figures as they appear in the media and official sites.

Reactor status

The main aim of the work is to secure the damaged reactors which are still threatening. In the vicinity, the dose rates are such that the attendance time must be very limited, which complicates the work. See the latest official Tepco document with dose rates.

Reactor #4

The reactor vessel was empty on March 11 2011, and there was no melting of the core, but a hydrogen explosion destroyed the reactor building. Since December 2014, the reactor fuel pool has been emptied and the work is stopped.

Reactor #3

There was a core meltdown and a hydrogen explosion destroyed the reactor building. All debris from the upper part were removed using remotely operated gear. A new building that will cover the whole and allow to empty the fuel pool is being assembled.

The dose rate is so high that the work is more complex than expected and the site has fallen behind.

Reactor #2

There was a core meltdown, but the reactor building is whole. Tepco did not begin to remove the spent fuel from the pool, but attempted to locate the corium, this mixture of molten fuel and debris, by various means.

The dose rates inside the building are such that it is impossible to work on it. In the containment, record levels were observed. Even the robots that were sent there did not resist long.

Reactor #1

There was a core meltdown and a hydrogen explosion destroyed the reactor building. This building was covered with a new structure in 2011, which was completely dismantled in November 2016.

Tepco will begin to remove the debris from the upper part of the reactor and then rebuild a new structure to empty the fuel pool.

Contaminated water

Tepco injects 72, 108 and 72 m3 of water per day into reactors 1, 2 and 3 to cool the corium. This makes a total of 252 m3 / d. This water is strongly contaminated and infiltrates into the basements of the reactor and turbine buildings where it mixes with the ground water that floods these basements.

To reduce radioactive groundwater leakage into the sea, Tepco pump water upstream before that water is contaminated by the reactors and then rejects it directly into the ocean. It has also built a barrier along the shoreline and pumped groundwater at the foot of the reactors.

Part of this water is partially decontaminated and dumped into the ocean. Another part, too contaminated, is mixed with the water pumped in the basements of the reactors to be put in tanks after treatment, waiting for a better solution.

As a result, Tepco is pumping 135 m3 of contaminated water into the basements of the reactors and turbine buildings daily, in addition to the one it injects for cooling and 62 m3 of groundwater. A total of 197 m3 is accumulated daily in tanks after treatment. It is more when it is raining, or even more during the typhoons.

Tepco announced that it had already processed 1,730,390 m3 of contaminated water, which generated 597 m3 of radioactive sludge. Part of this is used for cooling and the rest is stored in tanks. According to the company, the stock of treated or partially treated water amounts to 937,375 cubic meters, to which must be added the 52,200 cubic meters of water in the basements of the reactor and turbine buildings. There are nearly a thousand tanks to keep this water that occupy almost the entire plant site.

Since March 2016, Tepco has been trying to freeze the ground around the damaged reactors to reduce infiltration and dispersal of polluted water, but this is not as effective as expected. The Nuclear Regulatory Authority, the NRA, seriously doubts the effectiveness of this technique, which it now considers as secondary.

It can be seen on this graph, where the drop in the volumes of water to be stored each day is not very high. The ice does not take place, where the underground currents are strongest. Official data on freezing of the ground. About half of the workers on the site are there because of the contaminated water.

Workers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

From March 11, 2011, to March 31, 2016, 46,956 workers were exposed to ionizing radiation at the site of Fukushima Daiichi, including 42,244 subcontracted workers. It is the subcontracted workers who take the highest doses, with an average of between 0.51 and 0.56 mSv per month between January and February 2016. It is between 0.18 and 0.22 for employees of Tepco.

There are also 1,203 people who have a higher limit to continue entering the site. Their average cumulative dose since the beginning of the accident is 36.49 mSv and the maximum value of 102.69 mSv.

On April 1, 2016, all measures were reset. Thus, 174 workers who have exceeded the dose limit will be able to return. Since that date, up to 31 December 2016, 14,643 workers have been exposed to ionizing radiation at the site of Fukushima Daiichi, of which 13,027 are subcontracted workers (89%). Subcontracted workers take the highest doses. Among them, it is not known how many were already exposed to radiation before April 1, 2016.

There were workers of Brazilian origin who did not speak good Japanese and did not always understand the instructions of radiation protection. The Embassy of Brazil reacted and protested.

While progress has been made in working conditions on the site, with the construction of a building dedicated to reception and rest, equipped with a canteen and a mini market, there are still problems thanks to cascade subcontracting.

Three workers had their cancer recognized as occupational disease: two leukemias and one thyroid cancer. One filed a complaint against Tepco and Kyûshû Electric. There are 15 cancers in all of these workers, including eight cases of leukemia.

Radioactive pollution mapping

The latest aerial mapping of radioactive pollution around the Fukushima Daiichi plant dates from 2015 and is available online on the dedicated site.

This new map shows the areas still evacuated and an average decrease of 65% of the ambient dose rate compared to what was measured in autumn 2011. The radioactive decay is responsible for a drop of 53%. The remainder is due to the leaching of soils and, in some places, to decontamination work.

Map of the Fukushima 'zones', September 2016.

Map of the Fukushima ‘zones’


The decontamination of evacuated areas is the responsibility of the government. Elsewhere, where the external exposure could exceed 1 mSv / year, it is the municipalities that have to deal with it.

In the evacuated areas, decontamination work is officially completed, except for so-called difficult return zones. This means that decontamination has been carried out in homes and their gardens, along roads, on agricultural land and over 20 m in the forest bordering these areas.

In non-evacuated areas, 104 townships were affected, but with the natural decline in radioactivity, the number became now 94. A map is given on page 14 of this document. In Fukushima, 15 out of 36 municipalities have been completed.

The other prefectures concerned are Iwaté, Miyagi, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Saïtama and Chiba. The number of townships where work was completed is on page 15 of the same document. It should be noted that a township in Tochigi prefecture has still not established a decontamination program.

Radioactive waste

According to official data, there are 7,467,880 bags of contaminated soil from decontamination work in evacuated areas (one bag is approximately 1 m3), and in non-evacuated areas, 5,740,858 m³ of contaminated soil spread over 146,489 sites.

For the interim storage facility, which is expected to contain approximately 22 million cubic meters of waste over 1,600 ha or 16 km2 around the Fukushima Daiichi plant for a maximum of 30 years, the government signed a contract with only 633 landowners (26.8%), for a total area of 287 ha (or 2.87 km2), or just 17.9% of the total area.

The authorities want to reuse these soils when they have fallen below the limit of 8,000 Bq / kg for cesium.

Displaced persons

Japan conducts a census of its population every five years. The last two took place in 2010, just before the disaster and in 2015. As of October 1, 2015, the population of Fukushima province decreased by 5.7% compared to 2010 (115,000 fewer people) Miyagi of 0.6% and that of Iwate of 3.8%.

This census is based on the persons actually present and not on the registered persons. Thus, in the townships of Namie, Futaba, Okuma and Tomioka there is zero inhabitant.

The population of Kawauchi, where the evacuation order was partially lifted in 2014, the population decreased by 28.3%. In Naraha, where the evacuation order was fully lifted in September 2015, the population decreased by 87.3%.

Some townships hosting displaced persons have seen their population increase.

In all of Japan, the number of inhabitants decreased by 0.7% (- 947,000) in five years and was 127.11 million by 1 October 2015. The number of inhabitants increased in Tokyo (+2.7%), Saïtama and Aïchi prefectures. The biggest decline was in Akita prefecture (-5.8%), which was not affected by the triple disaster. Fukushima prefecture has the second biggest drop, with -5.7%.

In Fukushima, there are still officially 84,289 displaced persons, 40,405 of them residing outside the prefecture.

The evacuation order was lifted in five townships, but only 13% of the persons concerned have returned. It should also be lifted at the end of March 2017 in a part of Iitate and Kawamata.

Health impact

With regard to thyroid cancers: the total is 184 potential cases of which 145 are confirmed after surgery.

The number of disaster-related deaths due to worsening living conditions (worsening of disease, suicides, etc) is 2,099 at Fukushima, as of 28 November 2016.

Cost of the disaster

Official figures on the cost of the disaster were revised upwards in December 2016 to ¥21.5 trillion (€175 billion). This includes the dismantling of the Fukushima dai-ichi reactors, worth ¥8 billion (€65 billion), ¥7,900 billion (€64 billion) for compensation, nearly ¥4,000 billion (€32.5 billion) for decontamination and ¥1,600 billion (€13 billion) for the temporary storage facility for radioactive waste.

This sum does not include the cost of storing the waste resulting from the dismantling of the damaged power station or the creation of a decontaminated block in the so-called ‘difficult return’ areas whose sole purpose is the non-disappearance of the villages concerned.

TEPCo has already received a total of ¥7,006.9 billion (€57.3 billion) in advance for compensation. This money is loaned without interest.

The government still holds 50.1% of the shares of TEPCo. It had to start selling shares from April 2017, but will have to maintain control over the company to avoid its bankruptcy.

Japan’s other nuclear reactors

Of the 54 nuclear reactors operating before the nuclear disaster, six were partially or completely destroyed at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Six others, too old, were stopped definitively. So there are only 42 nuclear reactors left in Japan.

Only 26 of them have applied for restart authorization and only 12 reactors have been granted a restart authorization. Two reactors at the Sendai power station in Kagoshima prefecture generate electricity to power the grid. A third is in operation at the Ikata power station in Ehime prefecture, both in southern Japan.



This article was originally published in French by L’ACROnique de Fukushima here. It is translated and introduced by Hervé Courtois (D’un Renard) and originally published on Nuclear News.