The Fukushima Report

After three and a half years, what's going on in Fukushima?

My name is Sayoko and I'm Japanese. I was born and raised in Osaka, and attend school in New York. On March 31 in 2011, a radioactive isotope cesium from the Fukushima nuclear disaster was found in Higashi Osaka City. That's 21.1 kilometers from my grandmother's house, and from where I and thousands of others were and are schooled. It's less than the distance from Times Square to JFK Airport in New York.

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Japan is a beautiful country. It's heartbreaking to see the damage and destruction done: environment, economic, political, and social.

One-month prior to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, a friend gave birth to a beautiful baby boy named Zen. Her family was living in Tokyo, but subsequently moved to New York. She and her husband were concerned about radioactive contamination. It's certainly an extreme case, but it illustrates the point that we can't know the the long term effects of the Fukushima disaster. 

My friend was worried because children are much more vulnerable to radiation exposure. Before the Chernobyl accident in 1986, the number of children diagnosed with thyroid cancer in Belarus was 21 in between 1966 and 1985. In two decades after the disaster the number increased to 1,106 in between 1987 and 2000.

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Approximately 154,000 people were evacuated from Fukushima after the accident according to Japan's Ministry of the Environment. On December 28 in 2011, the municipality of Fukushima Prefecture announced a plan to cut financial aid for refugees and start build housing in Fukushima. Would you want to live in Fukushima with your small children? 

The decommissioning plan of Fukushima by Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) takes at least 40 years to complete. After four decades, baby Zen will be a mature middle-aged man. Perhaps he might be married and have children himself.

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In the 40 years, Japan needs to handle problems such as containing radioactive water, decontamination of soil, cleaning up and securing reactor buildings, removal of molten core from the reactors and storing them securely, monitoring radiation levels in food to protect citizens, supporting Fukushima victims who have lost their homes, lands, businesses and communities, etc. 

The Japanese government has claimed the situation is under control, but it's not. It is clear the problem is far too large for a single company or even country to handle and needs an international alliance of experts with the resources to find solutions.

Is nuclear energy is clean and affordable? Is the risk and cost worth it? When there's accident, who suffers the fallout and absorbs the cost?

I was ignorant about nuclear energy industry before starting this project. Japan is constantly hit by earthquakes, typhoons and active volcanos. It is not a suitable place for nuclear plants. And with climate change, more and more natural disasters are expected to affect Japan.

One would think that Japan had more than sufficient cause to permanently shut down nuclear plants and move toward the development of alternative energies. The disaster could have harnessed the best aspects of the Japanese character to build new technologies and industries. Unfortunately, that's not the case. 

All Japan's 48 reactors are currently inoperative. This September, Japan's nuclear regulator gave it's preliminary approval to restart the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant. Authorities claim the plant meets the new standards put in place since the Fukushima disaster. Of greatest concern is that the plant is only about 30 miles away from active volcano Sakurajima. Experts say a lack of information and inadequate evacuation plans caused many residents in Fukushima to be exposed to unnecessary amounts of radiation.

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These decisions are made by a small group of people who obviously value short-term financial gain than humanity and communities. The Japanese public is against it. It has enormous risk not just to Japan, but for the whole planet.

Is Japan capable of handling another disaster like Fukushima? What would happen if yet another disaster struck Fukushima?

Humanity as whole must tackle this problem immediately, both to resolve the ongoing contamination and prevent it from happening again. My friend and her family were fortunate enough to be able to afford to relocate to oversea, but how many people don't have that option? What if there was no place to go?

This is not just Japan's problem. It's a global problem.

This world is not just for us, but also for the future generations. We can't force the future generations to pay the price for our oversights and lack of resolve. We are responsible to stay strong and make the right decisions to sustain the world.

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Sources

The full source list is available at The Fukushima Report website.

  1. Yamazaki, Hideo. 福島第一原発事故で放出された放射性物質の海洋底質への移行と蓄積. Published November 16, 2012. Accessed April 1, 2014.

  2. Malko, Mikhail V. Chernobyl Radiation-induced Thyroid Cancers in Belarus. Published July 2, 2011. Accessed April 1, 2014.

  3. Tokyo Electric Power Company. The Future Action Plans. Published March 2012. Accessed April 1, 2014.