Fukushima, five years on

By John Mecklin | March 10, 2016

Fukushima has joined the pantheon of nuclear place names widely enough known to evoke dread simply by their utterance or publication. Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and of course Hiroshima and Nagasaki signify not just the frightening specter of overwhelming power married to an invisible menace—radiation—but more to the point, they are associated with mankind’s failure to control that combination of power and menace. On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 8.9 earthquake centered off the northeast coast of Japan caused a tsunami, approximately 15 meters in height, that swamped the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, cutting off electricity and causing a station blackout that cut power to the cooling system for reactors there. For weeks, it was unclear whether three melted nuclear cores and associated used nuclear fuel storage pools could be effectively cooled and radiation releases from them controlled.

Now, five years after the accident, Fukushima is recognized around the world as a symbol, but the meaning of the nuclear accident that happened there continues to be debated, in Japan and globally. Massive amounts of contaminated water remain under the stricken reactor site and in some 1,000 storage tanks on it; large areas of the surrounding countryside remain contaminated; the problem of dealing with three melted reactor cores has yet to be resolved. Even so, Japan has begun to restart some of the fleet of nuclear reactors that it shut down in the wake of the Fukushima accident amid early governmental suggestions that the country would permanently forgo nuclear power. The reaction to the Fukushima catastrophe has been contradictory in the rest of the world, as well. In the immediate wake of the accident, Germany announced it would close its nuclear power sector, and it has stuck to that course. The United States made some efforts toward applying the lessons of Fukushima to US nuclear power regulations, but whether the reforms were substantive or symbolic remains a matter of opinion. And as some climate scientists call for increased use of nuclear power in the fight against climate change, many nations around the world—most notably China, which is building 26 new nuclear power plants and has plans for more—are taking steps to massively expand nuclear power generation.

Given the disparate reactions the Fukushima disaster has evoked, the Bulletin invited a wide range of nuclear power experts to comment on the meaning of the events of five years ago. These commentaries will be published in the weeks after this fifth anniversary of the Fukushima disaster, in hopes of sparking renewed discussion about lessons that have or have not been learned and applied to the continuing task of improving the safety of nuclear power around the world.

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Tadahiro Katsuta, Meiji University, Associate professor, EXPERT COMMENTARY

The Fukushima accident has not served as a wake-up call in Japan

The Japanese government insists that nuclear safety has been enhanced after the Fukushima accident due to the enforcement of new regulatory standards, which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has referred to as the world's best, and the new nuclear safety regulatory regime. However, the government has yet to confront the intrinsic risks of nuclear power and continues to avoid discussing its distorted policy of promoting nuclear power.

For many years, Japan was the only country without a safety goal for its nuclear power sector. After the Fukushima accident, the country did finally set a safety goal: "The amount of radioactive materials released to the environment in a severe accident must be less than 100 tera-becquerel." On the contrary, the amount of a large-scale release is not a criterion in the United States. Instead, the country has established that nuclear power use should not lead to a significant increase in social risk, and that radiation-induced cancer mortality risk should not exceed 0.1 percent of the total of all cancer mortality risks. The Japanese government is purposely not providing specific descriptions of the life-threatening risks of nuclear energy, in order to avoid public backlash.

Also, local governments that have agreed to let nuclear power plants be located in their jurisdiction can receive large subsidies from the government, based on a nuclear power plant's operating performance. Although most of the nuclear power plants are shut down at present, the Japanese government has continued to give subsidies. By changing the subsidy system, the national government has maintained local governments’ economic dependency, as if continuing to give them drugs to keep them hooked. In other words, local governments which receive subsidies cannot afford to break away from the nuclear power, even if they fear it.

Ironically, right here in Japan, the Fukushima accident has not served as a "wake-up call" that makes the government or the nuclear industry pay attention to nuclear risks.

Peter A. Bradford, , adjunct professor, Vermont Law School, and former Nuclear Regulatory Commission member, EXPERT COMMENTARY

When the unthinkable is deemed impossible: Reflecting on Fukushima

Nuclear power requires obedience, as well as massive subsidy and the suppression of competition from other forms of low-carbon energy. These are not attractive platform planks in market-oriented democracies, so subterfuge in the service of political clout is also needed.

Abhorrent prerequisites need not lead to political defeat these days. Raise enough money. Scare enough people. Demonize and hamstring enough alternatives. Hornswoggle enough regulators. Procure celebrity endorsements. Rhapsodize new designs transcending today’s shortcomings. Just don’t make fools of your backers, or befoul their living rooms.

That is where Fukushima fits in. A few times in the six-decade history of nuclear power, some event once deemed impossible has taken place—shifting the ground under politicians and investors and forcing the abandonment of plants well along or already built.

Fukushima did not undermine a budding nuclear renaissance. For economic reasons, there was none. The 30-plus reactors that had applied for licenses in the United States in 2008-09 had shrunk by two-thirds before March 2011. The cost overruns at Olkiluoto and Flammanville were well underway and owed nothing to events in Japan. But Fukushima did tilt many nations away from the needed governmental benevolence sharply. Here’s why.

The accident involved a number of events once deemed by regulators to be impossible, or at least too unlikely to require countermeasures. Regulators in Japan and elsewhere had been asked, sometimes repeatedly, to require measures in contemplation of these events. At one time or another, they had declined to do so. 

All of the following virtually impossible events happened over a stretch of a few days: 

  • A level 9.0 earthquake off that particular stretch of Japanese coast
  • Followed by a tsunami with a height exceeding 10 meters
  • Followed by an extended loss of offsite power and the lengthy failure of multiple diesel generators
  • Leading to a loss of cooling capability in three reactors and therefore to extensive multiple-core melting
  • Which generated enough hydrogen to lead to hydrogen explosions
  • And failures of three containments
  • And releases of a large amount of radiation from the site
  • Requiring evacuations more than 10 miles from the reactors (i.e. beyond the emergency planning zones) as well as
  • The need for evacuation during ongoing independent natural disasters (the earthquake and the tsunami), which vastly complicated both the accident response and the evacuations.

Here is what the world beheld as the accident unfolded:

  • The permanent destruction of some one percent of the world’s nuclear capacity live on worldwide television;
  • The destruction of the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the world’s fourth largest utility, which has since existed as a ward of the Japanese state;
  • Health effects due to radiation and other stressors (such as the evacuations) of undetermined magnitude, but significantly mitigated by the fact that the wind blew mostly out to sea in the days following the accident;
  • Evacuation of some 164,000 people (79,000 mandatory), 100,000 of whom have not returned home nearly five years later;
  • Discussion of the evacuation of Tokyo—at 38 million people the world’s most populous metropolitan area—were the wind to shift;
  • Land and ocean contamination;
  • A highly contaminated site with water flow issues still not under control;
  • The failure and abolition of a once highly respected regulatory regime;
  • The closing of all 54 of Japan’s nuclear plants, with only a few having resumed operation as of now and 10 considered permanently closed;
  • Damages exceeding $100 billion, not counting food exports and tourism;
  • Major loss of confidence in the Japanese government, voted out of office a few months later;
  • Decisions to exit nuclear power in Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, and Taiwan;
  • Reductions and slowdowns in some other nuclear programs;
  • Reluctance of legislatures to vote needed financial support.

So, as events deemed impossible in one decade come once again to terrify the next, one almost rational step at a time, Fukushima shows on a larger scale the lesson first taught at Three Mile Island—just how much damage events ruled out by regulators can do in a little time. While rising nuclear construction and operating costs coupled with falling costs of alternatives are at the root of nuclear power’s current difficulties, Fukushima definitely impedes the customary rescue attempts.

Ed Lyman, Global Security Program, Union of Concerned Scientists, senior scientist, EXPERT COMMENTARY

The US response to Fukushima: “Defense-in-depth” or “defense-in-shallowness”?

How can the nuclear establishment prevent another accident like Fukushima Daiichi—or worse—from occurring? The United States and many other countries have been struggling with this question ever since the crisis began in March 2011, but there is no simple answer. One of the chief lessons of Fukushima is that overconfidence in the ability to predict the occurrence of highly uncertain but catastrophic events can lead to disaster. This problem can be addressed through robust “defense-in-depth;” that is, employing additional layers of safety to compensate for uncertainties. Defense-in-depth is not new to the nuclear industry, but Fukushima showed that the standard defenses were not sufficiently deep. However, beyond the general dictum that nuclear plants must be prepared for the unexpected, there is a divergence of views internationally about “how prepared is prepared enough.”

The crux of the disagreement is how wide safety margins should be and how many additional layers of protection are necessary to adequately assure that nuclear plants can cope with “beyond-design-basis” events. (By definition, beyond-design-basis events, like the huge earthquake and tsunami that triggered the three Fukushima Daiichi meltdowns, are more severe than the “design basis” events reactors were engineered to withstand.) Studies have shown that most nuclear reactors in the United States could be struck by natural disasters like earthquakes or floods exceeding their current design bases. But even those new estimates have uncertainties, and that causes more complications.

For instance, if the best estimate for the height of a flood is 10 meters, should one design protection for that level or for, say, a 15-meter flood, given the uncertainties that plague attempts to predict the weather over decades? 

One obstacle to greater defense-in-depth is that some nuclear plant owners, already under great financial stress in some countries like the United States because of competition from cheap natural gas, are not inclined to spend a lot of money to protect against events that they believe are highly unlikely to occur. To save money, they are willing to gamble even with highly uncertain odds.

The approaches taken by the French nuclear regulator, Autorité de Sûrété Nucléaire (ASN), and the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), clearly illustrate differences in philosophy. ASN is requiring nuclear plants to install a “hardened safety core” of backup equipment that is qualified to withstand beyond-design-basis events. Since this equipment will be more robust than the nuclear plants themselves, there is a greater likelihood that it will be available when it is truly needed.

In contrast, the NRC is allowing nuclear plant owners to rely on portable emergency equipment that could be less robust than the nuclear plants themselves, but that is intended to be more flexible. While greater flexibility has its advantages, this strategy, known as FLEX, simply does not provide the level of protection against beyond-design-basis accidents that is needed to prevent an American Fukushima with high confidence. 

A recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) assesses the state of reactor safety in the United States five years after the Fukushima accident, and examines the shortcomings of the FLEX program. The report also discusses a number of important safety recommendations that the NRC considered and rejected during this period. One key recommendation that ended up in the NRC’s wastebasket was a proposal by the NRC’s own Near Term Task Force to revise its faulty framework for regulating beyond-design-basis accidents. Despite a 2013 NRC staff assessment that “there should be no implication that the Fukushima accident and associated consequences could or would have been completely avoided assuming Japan had the same regulatory framework [as the United States] prior to the accident,” the NRC commissioners have concluded the agency’s current framework is just fine. In UCS’s view, this attitude is typical of the complacency of the global nuclear establishment that helped pave the way for Fukushima. We hope that a future NRC will finally undertake all the reforms necessary to ensure that an accident like Fukushima does not happen here.

Kennette Benedict, adjunct professor, Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago, Bulletin senior adviser, EXPERT COMMENTARY

The fire that won't go out

The effects of the disaster on March 11, 2011 at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station are continuous and far-reaching. Although decontamination efforts continue, reports of increased thyroid cancer suggest that the health of children has been compromised by the dispersal of radioactive material across a wide region after the hydrogen explosions at the power plants. Communities and families in the evacuation zone around the power plant have been torn apart as more than 100,000 people have been forced to leave their homes. 

Food supplies in this rich agricultural region have been compromised, and wildlife and other vegetation in the region have been affected. The fisheries in Fukushima bay are contaminated by the continuous flow of radioactive ground water beneath and past the damaged reactors into the ocean and have been shut down. 

Finally, public trust in government, corporate leadership, and even medical experts in Japan has been profoundly damaged. All told, Japan is paying a very high price for the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power disaster. 

And the disaster is by no means over. Decommissioning the plant has not even begun, because plant officials have not been able to locate the damaged cores in the reactors; radiation is much too high for workers to enter the damaged reactor housing, and robots designed for the task keep breaking down because of the very high radiation levels. Even attempts to stop the flow of ground water under the radioactive cores by chemically freezing the earth have not yet succeeded. Current estimates are that it may take as long as 50 to 75 years and more than $250 billion to decommission the damaged power plant and clean up the area.

What is being learned from this very expensive experiment in nuclear power production?  First, the “myth of absolute safety” entangled Japanese industry and government officials in a mind-set, leading them to overlook evidence about the dangers to the plant from tsunamis. It prevented them from making plants safer, from adopting policies of “continuous improvement,” because nuclear power was thought to be absolutely safe.

Second, this disaster provides further evidence that “normal accidents” can be expected as the result of interactions between human beings and complex technologies. In other words, no matter how safe the design, the combination of human operators and external events with very complex technologies is bound to produce disasters. 

Third, although the probability of nuclear accidents is thought to be very low, the consequences are extraordinarily and devastatingly high. The disruption to individual health, to families, to communities, to energy supplies, to economies and to societies has long-lasting effects. 

Finally, the products of nuclear fission, including melted fuel as well as other radiation-contaminated materials, will require continuous care and storage for tens of thousands of years. The question is whether any society has the capacity to safely deal with this fire that will not go out.

Kay Kitazawa, the Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation's Independent Investigation Commission on the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident, staff director, EXPERT COMMENTARY

The mistrust remains

Mistrust of the nuclear industry is deep-rooted in Japan. This sentiment had been discernible in public opinion over several decades prior to March 11, 2011. A series of accidents, one of which was serious, occurred at several nuclear reactors in the 1990s. Additionally, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), operator of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, systematically mishandled inspection, repair, and maintenance records for its reactors between 2000 and 2002. An engineer-turned-whistleblower even revealed that prolonged mismanagement allowed TEPCO to foster a corporate culture in which reporting problems to regulatory authorities or local governments was not considered obligatory, as long as they were determined in-house to be unimportant. The nuclear industry’s negative image as secretive and untrustworthy was lingering, well before the Fukushima accident happened.

But during the 2011 crisis, TEPCO was hardly alone in its failure to communicate. The Nuclear Industry and Safety Agency (NISA) and the Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC)—the two government authorities charged with managing and coordinating an official response to a nuclear accident at the time—were both seemingly powerless to assuage public anxieties as the disaster unfolded. After announcing the possibility of a meltdown on March 12, for example, NISA later watered down and backtracked from its earlier position. Nuclear engineers and radiologists were also unable to address the public’s uncertainty. The official position was so opaque regarding the risks of a meltdown that a consensus among scientists could not be reached. This paralysis and disagreement in turn left the Japanese public reliant on contradictory opinions from TV experts and rapidly spreading online rumors for their information. People understandably became disillusioned with the inability of TEPCO and the Japanese government to manage the crisis and the whole nuclear community’s failure to provide the public with adequate and timely information.

Outside experts had long argued that the fuel core of the reactor began melting within hours of being struck by the tsunami, and TEPCO executives were recorded in a video conference call mentioning the possibility of a meltdown in Unit One and Unit Three as early as the third day of the crisis. Yet TEPCO failed to acknowledge the meltdown publicly for two months, explaining the delay as being due to their unclear internal regulations regarding when a meltdown should be declared. On February 26, 2016, after almost five years of denials, the company admitted that it did in fact have an internal manual of regulations during the crisis, which, if it had been followed, required them to announce earlier that a nuclear meltdown was occurring. TEPCO only revealed the manual’s existence following persistent pressure from the Niigata prefectural government to look again. Discovery of the manual further damages this already-blighted company’s credibility. The company was undeniably overwhelmed by the combination of a once-in-several-centuries natural disaster and a nuclear accident on an unprecedented scale. Nevertheless, TEPCO should have been more cooperative in gathering and disclosing information, rather than steadfastly avoiding this responsibility to the public.

Distrust of the industry and regulators remains, and it is making the debate over nuclear policies more complex and divisive. Japan faces a number of nuclear-related challenges, from Fukushima Daiichi’s decommissioning and the decontamination of the surrounding areas to research into the long-term health effects of low-dose radiation exposure. Measures must simultaneously be taken to ensure national energy security, reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and dispose of existing nuclear material. All these efforts will entail risks; without adequate trust-building efforts, Japan, as a society, will not be able to properly evaluate whether such risks the can ever be justified by the returns of nuclear energy. Proper assessments will require rebuilding a measure of confidence in Japan’s institutions. Communication by business and government fosters the public trust that is indispensable to the policy-making process.

Jeff Terry, Illinois Institute of Technology, physics professor,

The Fukushima lesson: Fear or science?

At this fifth anniversary of the Tohuku earthquake and tsunami that triggered the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors, it is important to critically look at what went wrong and what went right. The reactors at the Daiichi plant did a very good job of protecting lives; Stanford University researchers John E. Ten Hoeve and Mark Z. Jacobson have estimated the number of cancer-related mortalities (130) and morbidities (180) due to radiation exposure. Additionally, the bravery of the Fukushima workers (the Fukushima 50) who fought to protect the public must also be noted. The reactors certainly failed to protect property, as a significant portion of the area around the plants remains evacuated. There was also a failure in the safety culture in the nuclear industry in Japan. It is important to recognize all of these contributions to both the cause and mitigation of the accident at Fukushima Daiichi.

The official report of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission stated that there was a mindset that allowed Japan’s nuclear industry “to avoid absorbing the critical lessons learned from Three Mile Island and Chernobyl; and how it became accepted practice to resist regulatory pressure and cover up small-scale accidents.” This is a critical failure of the industry and one that was not unknown. Reports on the 1999 criticality accident at the Tokai-mura fuel cycle facility clearly call out that the “root causes of the accident were: (1) inadequate regulatory oversight; (2) lack of an appropriate safety culture; and (3) inadequate worker training and qualification.” In the intervening 11 years, not enough was done to learn in the regulatory environment in Japan. Fukushima led to a revamping of the regulatory environment in Japan, including the formation of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) in September 2012. Early reports indicate that the NRA is successfully revamping the safety culture in Japan.

The reactors at Fukushima Daiichi, designed in the 1960s, failed under extreme circumstances, and those failures led to the evacuation of a large area of land, much of which will remain off-limits for the foreseeable future. Can the protection of property be improved? New reactor designs such as Westinghouse’s AP1000 would have fared much better, even in the regulatory environment of Japan. Going forward, the nuclear industry would be wise to start building more reactors that rely on passive safety. Few can argue that this isn’t the direction being taken by most reactor vendors. While the loss of property is certainly a consequence one wants to avoid, these early reactors were still very successful in saving the lives of the populace.

The Fukushima reactors protected the public so well from the radiation that, as the data provided by Ten Hove and Jacobson show, evacuation procedures need to be reevaluated. If we assume that 130 fatalities from radiation exposure are to be expected over a period of decades, and given the 600 deaths that occurred in the immediate evacuation, sheltering in place must be given more consideration in future incidents. Fear by the authorities cannot drive mass evacuation of the public. Both Fukushima and Hurricane Katrina showed that the elderly are impacted to a greater degree by such large incidents. The science of evacuation must be the subject of greater study to help determine best practices on where and when to evacuate. Blanket exclusion zones based on distance are almost certainly the worst way to determine who should be evacuated during a nuclear incident.

In spite of the danger to themselves, the workers at Fukushima did an incredible job under trying circumstances in mitigating the effects of the meltdowns. There were failures at Fukushima Daiichi that the industry must rectify, one of the best-known being the failure of the safety culture in Japan. The NRA is demonstrating improvement in this safety culture. Regulators are going to have to revisit the evacuation process in the event of a nuclear event because the accidents develop slowly, and the reactors do a very good job of protecting lives. New reactors must retain this demonstrated ability to protect lives and significantly improve the ability to protect property.

As we reach the five-year mark, the events at Fukushima Daiichi continue to affect humanity’s ability to combat climate change. The nuclear industry has to continue to demonstrate that it is learning from the past in order to improve our future. This learning must be implemented even when it is counter to what has always been done. Analysis of accidents has always been used to improve engineering in aerospace, civil works, medicine, etc.; the same is to be expected in the nuclear field. This only occurs if science wins out over fear. Unfortunately, it is still unclear if fear or science will be the lasting outcome of the meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi.

Charles Perrow, visiting professor, Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University, emeritus professor of sociology, Yale University,

Fukushima: a lesson for the industry?

The Fukushima disaster of five years ago has not dissuaded several countries from building nuclear power plants; 67 plants are currently under construction around the world. Fukushima was a very rare event and as such may have reassured builders of new plants. The huge earthquake followed by a gigantic tsunami was indeed a rare occurrence, and the poisoning of the ocean with tons of radioactive water every day is especially unexpected. Knowing of an underground river at the site, the Japanese constructed a diversion far up the slope, but the earthquake removed the diversion, and now we have a large river running under the site, picking up the radiation from the melted cores before going to the ocean.  A rapid rise in the death of fish and other marine life along the west coast of the US and Canada is thought to be the result of the radioactive material from the river. It will go on for several decades.          

But much of the damage was quite predictable. In contrast to a nearby nuclear power plant (Onagawa) that was built on a high hill and was unscathed, at Fukushima they leveled much of its hill to be closer to the source of cooling water, the ocean. Though the owners were warned about flooding danger, the Fukushima site with its 6 plants was built with little protection from flooding, and its plants had the emergency generators in the basement. But all nuclear plants are built at the edge of lakes, rivers, or oceans, and thus subject to flooding in our new climate. 

Fukushima is also not unique in the cozy relationship between the Japanese regulators and the plant’s owners, so thoroughly denounced by a Japanese parliamentary investigatory committee. Even President Obama has denounced the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the United States for being too close to the industry. Attempts to close the Indian River plant near New York City for numerous violations and for leaking deadly tritium into the Hudson River have failed. Even when nuclear plants are behaving safely, it has been found in Germany, France, and the United States that living close to the plant increases the chance of childhood leukemia. The plants have to regularly release some poisonous gas.

The United States, some experts claim, has censored information about nuclear failures at Three Mile Island and the weapons processing plants—for example, by settling damage claims of citizens under nondisclosure agreements. But the Japanese have gone further, passing a secrecy bill in 2015 that provides for a prison sentence for publishing information the government has not approved of about nuclear  plants. Though there is evidence of thyroid cancers among the young that are 600 times the normal amount expected, the government will not openly address the issue. Evidence of a larger “cancer epidemic” in Japan comes from non-nationals. It is hard to see China being any more open than Japan. Therefore, Fukushima and its governance problems are far from unique.

Why has the expansion of a costly and dangerous technology occurred when renewable sources are inexpensive and efficiency measures so effective, especially for developing countries? I would suggest that since wind and solar are cheap, mass produced, decentralized solutions, neither is likely to interest giant corporations such as Toshiba (Westinghouse), General Electric or Areva, who find nuclear construction so profitable. Nor can government agencies handling wind and solar expect to be as powerful as the nuclear wings of the US Energy and Defense Departments. 

Can we expect new nuclear plants, with untested safety features and possibly untrained operators, located in some cases in countries with little experience with technologically sophisticated tasks, to do better than Japan?

Tatsujiro Suzuki, Nagasaki University, director, Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition,

Unresolved issues remain

Even five years after the accident in 2011, the Fukushima nuclear accident is not totally over. I have three major comments on the current situation.

Decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. There has been a significant progress in decommissioning process of the plant, such as removing the spent fuel from Unit 4 and construction of a “frozen wall” as one of the key measures to prevent further migration of contaminated water underground. However, the situation is still far from “under control,” as prime minister has contended since September 2013. Significant risk associated with contamination still remains, and the progress in investigation of “melted core debris” is very slow. There is still a risk that a large earthquake and tsunami or a large typhoon could hit again. The health and safety of local workers are sources of concern, too. Most importantly, the issue of transparency still remains. The Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC), of which I was a member at the time, recommended in December 2011 that a venue for regular and close communication between the Tokyo Electric Power Co., the government and local citizens be established, and that an independent third party be appointed to monitor and make recommendations for the decommissioning process. Neither one of these recommendations was realized. Transparency of the whole process should be improved further.

Decontamination and recovering areas of Fukushima prefecture. Fortunately, because of decontamination efforts and the natural decay of radioactivity, the radiation level in the evacuated area has declined significantly. It is expected that residents may be able to come back sooner than expected in some areas. But at the same time, there are areas where you cannot expect a decline in radiation level for 20 to 30 years, or possibly longer. The government should make every effort to provide adequate support for those who may not be able to come back for such a long time. Interim storage and final disposal of a huge quantity of contaminated land is another serious source of social concern. Unfortunately, citizen participation in the decision-making process in Japan is not a well established practice, and so far the decisions by the government are made without much consultation with the public. A more open decision-making process seems essential to recover the public trust.

Compensation and welfare of evacuated people. Finally, it is time to reevaluate the compensation plan for people evacuated from the Fukushima area, as some may be able to come back, but some may refuse to come back to the original homeland even if the radiation risk can be said to be “acceptable.” In Fukushima, there have been more deaths due to indirect causes, such as “stress,” than to the earthquake and tsunami. Here, lack of trust in scientific information on radiation risk is a serious source of concern. It is essential to establish an independent and trustworthy organization for scientific information.

As long as these three issues remain unresolved, the Fukushima accident will never be over.

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