What have we learned in the four years since the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan?

Generations of family photos are left behind by the residents that abandoned this home due to radiation evacuation orders in the town of Namie, Feb. 23, 2015. Namie is one of many Japanese towns that were devastated by the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear triple disaster that hit Japan on March 11, 2011. The quake and tsunami killed at least 182 people in Namie alone; 33 people are still missing. Photo: ALBERT SIEGEL-McClatchy

Today marks the fourth anniversary of the devastating Great Japan East Earthquake and subsequent tsunami that killed many thousands of people, with thousands still missing, and triggered a triple-meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant. A reported 250,000 people still remain displaced, with the Fukushima prefecture officially stating that over 118,000 Fukushima people are still in refuge. And the thousands that lived in areas radioactively contaminated by the nuclear disaster will likely never return to their homes. All of Japan’s nuclear reactors remain offline and the debate about the country’s nuclear future continues.

The extremely complicated issues were summarized in a recent piece in the East Asia Forum – containing the massive amounts of radioactive waste, determining how Japan will safely produce enough electricity, dealing with contaminated topsoil, whether and how to revive agricultural production in fallout-impacted areas and if that happens, how to prove to consumers that produce or seafood is “safe,” weighing the health risks associated with returning to contaminated areas, especially for families with children, the many aspects associated with rebuilding communities and grappling with “emergency preparedness” given the concerns about future earthquakes and natural disasters.

But how is Japan’s disaster playing out here in the U.S.? That, too, is a complicated question and likely depends on who you ask. Despite the economic hit Japan’s economy has taken because of Fukushima’s aftermath and the staggering cost figures associated with the decades-long, arduous stabilization of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear facility, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, who appears to be living in a nuclear fantasyland, is still calling for 100 more reactors to come online (while once again blasting wind turbines that don’t cause meltdowns or have the ability to contaminate huge swaths of land) and is concerned about “excessive and unnecessary regulations” when it comes to the fate of our country’s nuclear reactor fleet.

But in reality, the so-called “nuclear renaissance” is no more and Fukushima had a lot to do with it. So some lessons were learned: nuclear power can have devastating consequences with the potential to affect an entire country’s economy and wreak havoc on its people. And therefore, isn’t the best choice for providing a low-carbon, safe and affordable energy future.

A sign over the evacuated town of Futaba reads "Nuclear power: the energy for a bright future." The town has decided to remove the signs. Picture: Yoshikazu Tsuno.

Here in the Southeast, we are unfortunately the home to all five of the country’s under-construction nuclear reactors. The Toshiba-Westinghouse AP1000 reactors are under construction at both Southern Company’s Plant Vogtle in Georgia and SCANA’s V.C. Summer Plant in South Carolina. The 20th Century’s last old reactor — TVA’s Watts Bar 2 – has been under construction in Tennessee since the early 1970s, and unfortunately neither TVA nor the NRC has learned the lessons from Fukushima given seismic and flooding risks at this location, which we feel are being ignored in order to expedite licensing. Other than our region, what is the common denominator for all these projects? All five are over budget and delayed.

Watts Bar 2 has specific ties to Fukushima, especially in terms of seismic and flooding risks. This is all discussed in our recent contention that we filed with the NRC and we now wait to see what that regulator decides.

Please come to your own conclusions on whether lessons were learned or not by reviewing the resources below. Hopefully, our decision makers and regulators will do the same and realize that we have other energy choices that don’t sometimes pose irreversible and overwhelming risks.

Additional resources:

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Great blog post, SACE. We’re proud to be partners with you.

Comment by Becky Rafter on March 11, 2015 12:36 pm

Thank you Becky and all at Georgia WAND. To help build support for people who are affected by the expansion of and disasters related to the nuclear industry, Georgia WAND and Nuclear Watch South will be delivering the following letter to the Japanese Consulate General in Atlanta, Georgia, this afternoon.

Comment by Sara Barczak on March 11, 2015 1:02 pm

Thanks for this thoughtful blog and for SACE’s diligence in working from a public interest perspective on new reactor projects in the southeastern US. SACE is so correct that in addition to the on-going harmful effects of the Fukushima disaster that “the so-called “nuclear renaissance” is no more and Fukushima had a lot to do with it.” The nuclear industry has tried to run but Fukushima and massive cost overruns and big schedule delays have hit the new reactor projects in TN, SC and GA, spelling doom for more large new reactors and imaginary “small modular reactors.”

Tom Clements, SRS Watch, Columbia, SC

Comment by Tom Clements on March 11, 2015 4:23 pm

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