By Professor Koide Hiroaki
The original Japanese text is available here.
What was the Fukushima Nuclear Accident?
On March 11, 20011, the Tokyo Electric Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant was assaulted by a severe earthquake and tsunami, leading to a total power outage. Experts had been agreed that total outage would be the likeliest cause of a catastrophic incident. And just as anticipated, the reactors of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant suffered meltdowns and released enormous quantities of radioactive materials into the surrounding environment. According to the report submitted by the Japanese government to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), this accident released 1.5×1016 becquerels (Bq) of cesium 137 into the atmosphere—the equivalent of 168 Hiroshima bombs. One Hiroshima bomb’s worth of radioactivity is already terrifying, but we have the Japanese government acknowledging that the Fukushima disaster released 168 times the radioactivity of that explosion into the atmosphere.16
The cores of reactors 1, 2, and 3 melted down. The amount of cesium 137 contained in those cores adds up to 7×10^17 Bq, or 8000 Hiroshima bombs’ worth. Of that total, the amount released into the atmosphere was the equivalent of 168 bombs, and combined with releases into the sea, the total release of cesium 137 into the environment to date must be approximately equivalent to 1000 Hiroshima bombs. In other words, most of the radioactive material in those cores remains in the damaged reactor buildings. If the cores were to melt any further, there would be more releases into the environment. It is in order to prevent this that even now, nearly 8 years after the accident, water continues to be aimed by guesswork in the direction where the cores might be located. And because of this, several hundred tons of contaminated waste water are accumulating each day. Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) has constructed over 1000 tanks on site to store this water, but the total volume now exceeds one million tons. Space is limited, and there is a limit as well to the number of tanks that can be constructed. Tepco will be compelled to release these waters into the sea in the near future.
Obstacles to containing the disaster
Of course, the greatest priority is to secure the melted cores in as safe a condition as possible, but even with the passage of nearly eight years, neither their location nor their condition has been ascertained.17 The reason is that it is impossible to access those sites. Had this accident occurred at a thermal power plant, the problem would have been simple. In the beginning, there might have been fires burning over several days, but once they died down, it would have been possible to go to the site, investigate, repair, and restart operations. In the case of a nuclear power plant, however, anyone approaching the site would die. The government and Tepco have attempted to send in robots, but robots do not stand up well to radiation. The reason is that once their microchips are exposed, their programs get rewritten. Accordingly, almost all the robots sent in to date have failed to return.
Reactor 2 Interior Probe, Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station: 1. Reactor pressure vessel 2. Melted fuel debris? 3. Tubing attached to camera 4.Primary containment vessel
“The melted core has fallen through the pedestal and out of the reactor pressure vessel. It cannot be retrieved. One hundred years from now, this accident will still not have been contained.” –Koide Hiroaki Source
Toward the end of January 2017, Tepco inserted a device resembling a remote-controlled endoscope into the concrete platform (pedestal) under the reactor pressure vessel. A large hole that had opened up in the steel scaffolding used by workers during maintenance, located directly under the pressure vessel, made it possible to ascertain the following: the fuel core had melted through the pressure vessel and fallen further down. The investigation yielded something even more important, however. For human beings, exposure to 8 sieverts (Sv) will result in certain death. The area directly under the pressure vessel measured 20 Sv/hour, but along the way, levels as high as 530 or 650 Sv were detected. These measurements, moreover, were found not inside the cylindrical pedestal, but between the wall of the pedestal and the wall of the containment structure. Tepco and the government had scripted a scenario wherein most of the melted core had been deposited, dumpling-like, inside the pedestal, to be retrieved and sealed inside a containment structure in the course of 30-40 years. According to this scenario, the conclusion of this process would signify the achievement of containment. In reality, however, the melted nuclear fuel had flowed out of the pedestal and scattered all around. Forced to rewrite their “roadmap,” the government and Tepco began talking about making an opening on the side of the containment structure through which the melted fuel could be grasped and removed. That, however, is an impossibility. It would entail severe worker exposure.18
From the beginning, I have maintained that the only option is to construct a sarcophagus, covering the plant, as was done at the Chernobyl site in the former Soviet Union. That sarcophagus deteriorated to such an extent in 30 years’ time as to require coverage by a second sarcophagus, put in place in November 2016. The second sarcophagus is expected to last for 100 years. We do not yet know what measures will be available at that point. No one who is alive today can expect to see the containment of the Chernobyl disaster. All the more so in the case of Fukushima: the containment of this disaster will not have been achieved even after all who are alive today have died. Moreover, even if it were hypothetically possible to seal the molten core inside the containment structure, that will not mean that the radioactivity will have vanished. Indeed, it would be necessary to protect any such structure for hundreds of thousands to a million years.
Imaging the aerial method of fuel debris retrieval at Fukushima Daiichi: Since it can not be helped, “Aerial Construction Method” to open a hole from the side of the containment vessel to take out the melted core is proposed, but it becomes a tremendous radiation exposure work. 1. Reactor pressure vessel 2. Primary containment vessel 3. Melted-through nuclear fuel (debris) a. Water flooding method of retrieval rejected b. Remotely controlled drills and lasers to scrape off debris bit by bit under continuous spray of water Source
Declaration of a Nuclear Emergency: The human consequences
Tragedy continues to unfold in the environs of the plant. On the day of the disaster, the government issued a Declaration of a Nuclear Emergency, and mandatory evacuation zones were expanded, beginning at 3 kilometers from the plant, then 10, then 20. Residents in those areas had to leave their homes, taking only what they could carry. Livestock and pets were abandoned. That is not all. Iitate Village, located 40-50 kilometers away from Fukushima Daiichi, received no warnings or instructions immediately after the accident, but one month later, because of extreme contamination, the entire village was ordered to evacuate.
What do we mean when we talk about happiness? For many people, happiness likely supposes uneventful days, one unfolding after the other, in the company of family, friends, neighbors, lovers. This is what was ruptured, one day, without warning. Evacuees first went to centers, such as gymnasiums, then to cramped temporary housing, then to “reconstruction” housing or public housing temporarily “declared” to be evacuee quarters. Family members with shared lives until then were scattered apart. Their livelihood destroyed, people have been taking their own lives out of despair.
This is not all. Even outside the mandatory evacuation zones, there emerged vast contaminated areas that by all rights should have been designated “radiation control zones.”19 These are areas where only radiation workers, those who earn their living by handling radiation, are permitted entry. And even those workers, once they enter a control zone, are not permitted to drink water or eat food. Naturally, it is forbidden to sleep. There are no toilets. The government, on the grounds that an emergency situation prevails, has scrapped the usual regulations and abandoned several million people to live in contaminated areas. These people, including infants, drink the water, eat, and sleep in those areas. They have of course been burdened with the risks associated with exposure. And thus abandoned, they are all surely subject to anxiety. Some, seeking to avoid exposure, gave up their jobs and evacuated with their entire families. Others, wishing to protect at least their children from exposure, have split up, with fathers staying behind to pursue their jobs in contaminated areas and mothers leaving with their children. But this has damaged household stability and wrecked family relationships. Staying in contaminated areas hurts the body, but evacuation crushes the soul. These abandoned people have been living in anguish every day for nearly eight years.
On top of this, in March of 2017, the government instructed those it had once ordered to leave, or those who had left of their own volition, to return to those contaminated areas so long as the radiation levels did not exceed 20 millisieverts/year (mSv). The housing assistance it had offered these people, however unsatisfactory, was terminated. This has inevitably meant that some people are forced to return. In Fukushima today, reconstruction is considered the highest priority. If people feel no choice but to live there, then of course, reconstruction becomes desirable. They cannot tolerate living in fear day after day. They would like to forget about the contamination, and fortunately or not, radioactivity is invisible. The central and local governments take active measures to make them forget. Anyone voicing concern or referring to contamination is subject to criticism: they are obstructing reconstruction.
20 mSv per year is the level of exposure permitted only for radiation workers, such as I once was. It is hard to forgive the fact that this level is now being imposed on people who derive no benefit from exposure. Moreover, infants and children, who are especially sensitive to radiation, have no responsibility for the recklessness of Japanese nuclear policy, let alone for the Fukushima disaster. It is not permissible to apply occupational levels of exposure to them. The government of Japan, however, says nothing can be done given the Declaration of a Nuclear Emergency. We can understand an emergency lasting for one day, a whole week, one month, or depending on the circumstances, even for one year. But in fact, the Declaration of a Nuclear Emergency has not been rescinded even after nearly eight years have passed. The government is eager to make people forget about the Fukushima disaster. Media have fallen silent. Most Japanese have been driven to forget that conditions are such that make it impossible to rescind the Declaration even while the regulations that should prevail have been scrapped. The principal culprit in radioactive contamination is cesium 137, with a half-life of 30 years. Even after the passage of 100 years, it will have diminished by only one-tenth. In point of fact, even after 100 years, Japan will be in a state of nuclear emergency.
Holding the Olympic Games in a state of nuclear emergency
The Olympic games have always been used to display national might. In recent years, they have become tools for businesses, especially construction companies, which create, and then destroy, large public structures, leading to a colossally wasteful society from which they derive stupendous profit. What is important now is for the state to mobilize all its resources so that the Declaration of a Nuclear Emergency can be rescinded as soon as possible. The priority should be to give relief to those who continue to suffer from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and at the very least, to protect children, who are blameless, from exposure. The greater the risks facing a society, the more those in power seek to avert peoples’ eyes. The mass media will try to whip up Olympic fever, and there will come a time when those who oppose the Olympics will be denounced as traitors. So it was during World War II: the media broadcast only the proclamations from Imperial Headquarters, and virtually all citizens cooperated in the war effort. The more you thought yourself an upstanding Japanese, the more likely you were to condemn your fellow citizens as traitors. If, however, this is a country that chooses to prioritize the Olympic games over the blameless citizens it has abandoned, then I shall gladly become a traitor.
The Fukushima disaster will proceed in 100-year increments, freighted with enormous tragedies. Casting sidelong glances at the vast numbers of victims, the perpetrators, including Tepco, government officials, scholars, and the media, have utterly failed to take responsibility. Not a single one has been punished.20 Taking advantage of this, they are trying to restart the reactors that are currently stopped and to export them overseas. The Tokyo Olympics will take place in a state of nuclear emergency. Those countries and the people who participate will, on the one hand, themselves risk exposure, and, on the other, become accomplices to the crimes of this nation.
August 23, 2018
Let me begin by thanking colleagues at APJ-Japan Focus—Gavan McCormack, Satoko Norimatsu, and Mark Selden—for their encouragement in pursuing this translation. I am grateful to Eiichiro Ochiai and Bo Jacobs, whose work can also be found on this site, for their patient responses to my questions. Koide Hiroaki likewise responded generously. Errors that remain are my own (NF).
Koide Hiroaki wrote the original text in response to a request by Ms. Kusumoto Junko, who translated, printed, and shipped it along with her own statement to the various national Olympic committees. I am grateful to her for these actions. I also thank Mr. Koide for permission to produce this translation.
“The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Is a Serious Crime.” Interview with Koide Hiroaki by Katsuya Hirano and Hirotaka Kasai. APJ-Japan Focus, Vol 14, Issue 6:2, March 15, 2016.
”Save the Town”: Insolvable Dilemmas of Fukushima’s “Return Policy.” Interview with Namie Town Mayor Baba Tamotsu by Katsuya Hirano with Yoshihira Amaya and Yoh Kawano. APJ-Japan Focus, Vol. 16, Issue 3:2, February 1, 2018.
David McNeill and Paul Jobin, Japan’s 3.11 Triple Disaster: Introduction to a Special Issue 特集 3.11. APJ-Japan Focus, Vol 12, Issue 7:1, February 16, 2014.
Notes are by the translator.
Much of the following account draws on Koide’s multiple public lectures and interviews as well as author interview on July 22, 2018. For the college years, see especially the evocative essay, “Sōmatō no yō ni meguru omoide” [Like memories swirling on a revolving lantern], Narisuna No. 201 (September 2005), available here.
Of course, it was US President Dwight Eisenhower who launched the strategic dream of “peaceful uses” with its special implications for Japan with his “Atoms for Peace” speech before the UN General Assembly on December 8, 1953, not three months before the fateful Castle Bravo shot on Bikini atoll on March 1, 1954. See Yuki Tanaka and Peter Kuznick’s “Japan, the Atomic Bomb, and the ‘Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Power,’” APJ-Japan Focus (May 2, 2011) and Ran Zwigenberg, “The Coming of a Second Sun”: The 1956 Atoms for Peace Exhibit in Hiroshima and Japan’s Embrace of Nuclear Power,” APJ-Japan Focus (February 4, 2012).
Even while acknowledging its importance: see interview, “Koide Hiroaki-san ni kiku: ‘Genshiryoku mura’ de wa naku ‘genshiryoku mafia’ da” [Mr. Koide Hiroaki’s views: It’s not a “nuclear village” but a “nuclear mafia”] (March 24, 2015).
The relative poverty of the areas where nuclear power plants have been constructed is an integral aspect of siting considerations. Koide is acutely sensitive to these and other discriminatory practices. “Remote,” in any case, is an exquisitely relative designation in a country as small and densely populated as Japan. See here for a series of four maps of Japan, showing nuclear power stations in relation to major cities. If circles with a 20 km radius (12 miles) are drawn around each plant, major cities fall outside their perimeters. But the situation changes drastically if the circle is expanded to 100 kms (62 miles). Double that, to 200 kms (124 miles), and virtually all of Japan, never mind major cities, will be covered by overlapping circles.
As of April 2018, the Kyoto University Institute for Integrated Radiation and Nuclear Science (Kyoto Daigaku Fukugō Genshiryoku Kagaku Kenkyūsho).
Koide moreover considers the Kumatori site as having been acquired by deception, inasmuch as Kyoto University signed an official agreement guaranteeing the impossible: that no radioactive materials would be released into the air or in the effluent discharged from the Institute.
See, for instance, “Tōdai nara katsudō dekinakatta; Kyōdai Koide jokyō ga konshun taishoku” [I couldn’t have sustained my activities at Todai; Kyodai assistant professor Koide retiring this spring], Sunday Mainichi, March 15, 2018; and “Koide Hiroaki Kyōdai jokyō teinen intabyū [Koide Hiroaki, Kyoto University assistant professor, retirement intervew], Tokyo Shimbun, March 23, 2015, available here.
Text of speech, delivered in English, here.
Mainichi report, beginning with actual Board of Audit accounting from October 2018.
See “Japan’s Olympics Chief Faces Corruption Charges in France,” New York Times, January 11, 2019.
“Radiation Doses Underestimated in Study of City in Fukushima,” Asahi Shimbun, January 9, 2019. See also “Journal flags articles about radiation exposure following Fukushima disaster” in Retraction Watch; and especially, Shin-ichi Kurokawa and Akemi Shima, “A Glass Badge Study That Failed and Betrayed Residents: A Study with Seven Violations of Ethical Guidelines Can Be No Basis for Government Policies,” Kagaku, Vol. 89:2, February 2019.
“Shinsaigo ‘hōshasen niko-niko shiteiru hito ni eikyō nai’ Yamashita Nagasaki-dai kyōju ‘shinkoku na kanōsei’ kenkai kiroku” [“No radiation effects on people who keep smiling” post-earthquake: Record of “serious possibility” noted by Nagasaki University Professor Yamashita], Tokyo Shimbun, January 28, 2019.
“Kantei ni ‘ekigaku chōsa fuyō’ Fukushima gempatsu jiko de Hōiken riji” [“No epidemiological study necessary”: Director of NIRS to Prime Minister’s Office following Fukushima nuclear accident], Tokyo Shimbun, February 18, 2019.
“‘Seika rirē’yūchi ni hisaichi Fukushima no jūmin ga hiyayaka na wake” [Why the disaster-afflicted residents of Fukushima are cool to hosting the ‘Olympic torch’ relay], Shūkan Kinyōbi (October 31, 2018). See also her “Follow Up on Thyroid Cancer! Patient Group Voices Opposition to Scaling Down the Fukushima Prefectural Health Survey,” APJ-Japan Focus (January 15, 2017).
Cesium 137, with a half-life of approximately 30 years, is a major source of long-term contamination after atmospheric nuclear weapons tests and nuclear power plant accidents. It has been the principal radionuclide of concern in Fukushima. The comparative calculation given here is based on Fukushima estimates released by the Japanese Government in its June 2011 “Report by the Japanese Government to the IAEA Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety—The Accident at TEPCO’s Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations” (see here for whole report with links to subsequent revisions and here for Chapter VI, “Discharge of Radioactive Materials to the Environment”),. The information on releases appears in table form as part of an August 26, 2011 Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) “News Release” on “Tokyo Denryoku Kabushikigaisha Fukushima Daiichi Genshiryoku Hatsudensho oyobi Hiroshima ni tōka sareta genshibakudan kara hōshutsu sareta hōshaseibushutsu ni kansuru shisanchi ni tsuite” [On the estimates of radioactive materials released by Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station and the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima] (see here). For its estimates of radionuclides released into the atmosphere by the Hiroshima bomb, this report cites the UNSCEAR [United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation] 2000 Report to the General Assembly with Scientific Annexes: “Sources and Effects of Ionizing Radiation,” Annex C, “Exposures to the Public from Man-made Sources of Radiation.” The reference is surely to Table 9 (p. 213), “Radionuclides produced and globally dispersed in atmospheric nuclear testing,” wherein the radionuclides are listed in identical order as the METI chart on Hiroshima, minus, of course, plutonium 239, 240, and 241 (the Hiroshima bomb, unlike Nagasaki, was a uranium weapon).
On 13 February 2019, Tepco released photos showing first contact with melted fuel debris in unit 2. See here.
See “Important Stories of Decommissioning 2018” by the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, METI, for the government account of the roadmap, especially pages 20-24 on fuel retrieval.
Standards for such designation vary from country to country and within agencies of a given country. Koide’s discussion here is based on the standard of 40,000 Bq/m2 as the threshold of contamination, above which an area should be designated a control zone according to Japanese law.
There are currently more than 30 civil cases winding their way through the courts, but only one criminal proceeding in Tokyo District Course, with three former Tepco executives as defendants, charged with professional negligence resulting in death and injury. Since public prosecutors had twice declined to indict, the criminal charges and the trial came about only through the tenacity of a citizens’ group and a little-known system of judicial inquest, somewhat comparable to the US grand jury system minus prosecutorial involvement. See “Five-year prison terms sought for former TEPCO executives,” Asahi Shimbun, December 26, 2018.