Phannisa Nirattiwongsakorn and Teng Heong Ng
If you had an arsenal of armed thermonuclear hydrogen bombs in your basement, would you put a few under-maintained nuclear reactors in your living room? Japan, a country sitting right in the middle of the Ring of Fire experiencing over 5,000 earthquakes per year, has said yes to the question for over 60 years (Japan Metrological Agency, n.d.). A bastion of nuclear power advocates, 27% of the country is powered by nuclear reactors (Plummer, 2015). Safe, clean and efficient, both the government and the public seem to agree beyond any shade of doubt that nuclear power is the optimal solution to satiate the country’s ever growing thirst for energy. That is until Fukushima Daiichi happened. An earthquake as powerful as 30,000 atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima set in motion a series of hazards that changed how the country thinks about its resilience forever. Japan has survived both severe natural and man-caused disasters, the 1995 Kobe Earthquake and World War II. This has forged a strong social resilience for the country. Nonetheless, 3-11 holds a key difference to disasters in the past; whereas you can rebuild from earthquakes, tsunami or even a full-scale war, the extent of impacts from a nuclear meltdown is very much unknown. The country was left scrambling for answers; its people questions the once seemingly immutable assumption that Japan needs nuclear power.
The magnitude of natural hazard risk is a combination of natural hazards, exposure, and vulnerabilities (John Randolph, 2014). In the context of Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant accident, the crisis was the implications of unprecedented earthquake and tsunami, exposure to enormous number of human, and a series of human errors in decision making.
This article first revisits what are the tragedies in the “Awareness” section. Furthermore, the “Understanding” section discusses why and how the crisis happened. Next, analysis from government body and community are included in the “Analysis”. Lastly, “Strategies” consists of approaches of government and society to adapt and recover from the disaster.
A 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck Tohoku Region pacific coast on Friday, March 11th 2011 at 2:46pm, 231 miles from the northeast of Tokyo and 14.9 mi below the seabed (Hollnagel &Fujita, 2012; “2011 Japan Earthquake,” 2016). The rare double quake lasted 3 minutes (“Fukushima accident,” 2016). It was the fourth largest earthquake since 1900 in the world and the largest in Japan history (“2011 Japan Earthquake,” 2016). Figure 1 shows the location of the earthquake, Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, Fukushima Daini nuclear plant, and area impacted by tsunami (yellow zone) (Tabuchi & Wald, 2011).
The earthquake triggered a 30 feet tsunami that heightened into a massive 133-feet wave above sea level, equivalent to 11-storey building when it hit the land. The tsunami engulfed over 3mi of inland as shown in the yellow zone in Figure 1. According to the Reconstruction Agency of Japan, there were a total of 15,893 people died, 2565 missing, 6152 were injured as of December 10, 2015. Also, 121,782 buildings were fully damaged, 278 049 buildings were half-damaged, and 726,110 buildings were partly-destroyed. Figure 2 shows the travel time of tsunami from its epicenter reported by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agencies (Becky Oskin, 2015).
Yukiya Amano, the director general of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) commented in The Fukushima Daiichi Accident Report (2014) that the nuclear plant accident triggered by the tsunami was the worst since the Chernobyl tragedies in 1986. Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi Reactors No.1, NO.2, and No.3 experienced core melt down after electricity were shut down by earthquake and back-up diesel generators were flooded by tsunami(Hollnagel and Fujita, 2012). Within a few days, Reactor No.1, No.2, No.3, and No.4 were exploded due to hydrogen leakage (Hollnagel and Fujita, 2012). The series of incidents released immense radioactive materials. Figure 3 shows the location and condition of reactors before and after the hydrogen explosion at Fukushima Daiichi (James Conca, 2016).
As of March 13, 2011, approximately 180,000 people living within 6.2 mi of Fukushima Daini nuclear plant and 12.4 mi of Fukushima Daiichi were evacuated (“2011 Japan earthquake,” 2016). Figure 4 shows data provided by the government of Fukushima prefecture about the number of evacuees from Fukushima prefecture to other prefectures as of February 2014 (Situation of the…,”n.d.). Despite no death caused by radiation sickness, 1656 deaths (90% were 66 years old or older) were related to “physical and mental stress stemming from long stays at shelters, a lack of initial care as a result of hospitals being disabled by the disaster, and suicides” (“Fukushima stress death…,” 2014). The figure surpassed the death toll directly caused by the actual earthquake and tsunami events. On March 14, 2011, part of Tokyo and eight prefectures experienced rolling blackouts that affected up to 45 million people (“2011 Japan earthquake,” 2016). The World Bank estimated the triple disasters as the priciest in world history with $235 billion of economic lost (“Great East Japan …,” ).
The TEPCO Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant accident was mainly caused by a series of mismanagement of nuclear plant: under-qualified nuclear plant, subpar tsunami risk mitigation and response, and absence of alternative and strategy for station power outage.
First of all, TEPCO and Japanese government have been ignoring warnings from various prominent parties about the risk of natural hazards to the nuclear plant and adopt no action to improve the standard and quality of the nuclear plant. U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) in 1970s warned Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant that was built in 1960s about the meltdown of General Electric reactors they were using could cause eruptions and radiation leakage. Yet, no action has been taken to resolve the threats (Kaufmann and Paciakova, 2011). In addition, Kunihiko Shimazaki, a former professor from the department of seismology of the University of Tokyo warned about a potential tsunami threat to the nuclear plant 10 years before the crisis. He predicted a tsunami that is twice taller than the 17-feet tsunami estimated by TEPCO has 20 percent chance of occurring in 30 years nearby the coast of Fukushima (“State ignored prediction…,” 2016). The tsunami wall designed for the nuclear plant was only 18.7 feet high (Hollnagel & Fujita, 2012). However, a meeting minutes on February 19, 2004 by the committee of Central Disaster Prevention Council (CDPC) of the Cabinet Office revealed that the committee regarded the warning as “too speculative” (Martin Fackler, 2012). Mr. Shimazaki further commented that his advice was disregarded to avoid spending money on upgrading the plant. Moreover, four precedent cases of atomic power plants impacted by earthquakes happened between 2005 and 2007 in Onagawa, Shika, Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, and Kushiwazaki (Kaufmann and Paciakova, 2011). TEPCO and government overlooked the warning and previous cases of nuclear plants failures to act timely on preventing the catastrophe.
In addition to overlooking warnings and previous examples of natural hazard risks, TEPCO also fabricated information to hide under-qualified condition of the nuclear plant. In 2002, TEPCO admitted falsification of safety records of containment vessel between 1991 and 1992 and reactor shroud over several decades (Shirouzu and Tudor, 2011). Furthermore, pipe in the nuclear plant was found not examined for 28 years after five employees were dead from superheated steam from a punctured pipe(Kaufmann and Paciakova, 2011). In 2003, TEPCO concealed data about cracks in reactors by forbidding inspector from visiting reactors. TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant was damaged by earthquake in 2007 and radiation contaminated the Sea of Japan. The company first denied the truth and later acknowledge nuclear leakage.
Other than forging safety inspection data, TEPCO also failed miserably in tsunami mitigation preparation and emergency response. Reactors were resilient to seismic activities but defenseless to tsunami (“Fukushima accident,” 2016). Reactors 1, 2, and 3 of Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant were among the eleven operating reactors from four nuclear plant that were successfully shut down during the earthquake. Immediately, Fukushima Daiichi switched to power generators to run the Residual Heat Removal (RHR) system cooling pumps. However, the tsunami flooded 12 out of 13 back-up generators in the underground and disabled the reactor cooling and water circulation functions. Alternatively, the nuclear plant opted electricity truck as the last resort of electricity supply. However, the cable of the two electricity trucks available on site were destructed by the hydrogen explosion (Hollnagel & Fujita, 2012).Meanwhile, accessibility of electricity truck to the plant became a huge challenged when roads were destroyed by tsunami(“Fukushima accident, 2016). Later, TEPCO’s attempt to transport electricity truck by helicopter was also in vain due to heavy weight of the truck (Hollnagel & Fujita, 2012). The commissioner of the Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC) later acknowledge that they eliminated possibility of Station Blackout (SBO) despite working group of NSC reminded them about the risks(Hollnagel & Fujita, 2012).Therefore, they had no alternative plan for power plant blackout.
Japan government has initiated Recovery Agency and the Road to Recovery project. One of the projects focus on monitoring the radiation dose within 80 km radius from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant. The Figure 5 below shows the average radiation air dose in September 2015 at 1m height from the ground surface within 90 km radius from the Fukushima Daiichi has dropped by 65% compared to air dose recorded in November 2011(“Basic information on…, n.d.). In addition, the Reconstruction Agency also installed dosimeter to monitor radiation dosage in 3036 public facilities in the Fukushima prefecture to measure radiation dosage on 24-hour basis as shown in Figure 6(“Basic information on…, n.d.). As of November 17,2015, the air dose rate in the cities of Japan have decreased to level lower than in city of Shanghai, China (see Figure 7) (“Basic information on…, n.d.). Figure 8 shows green area as zone ready to lifting of evacuation order with annual radiation dosage rate lower than 20 mSv (“Basic information on…, n.d.). For instance, evacuation order was lifted for part of Tamura City and Kawauchi Village 3 years after the crisis and Naraha Town 4 years after the crisis. The orange area are zone that has radiation dosage over 20 mSv, and red area are zone that has radiation dosage exceeds 50 mSV and will not recover to safe level within 6 years period.
Other than constant examination of air radiation dosage, the government also set high standard inspect food safety from radiation risk. The Japan government conducted food safety inspections based on the strictest level of standard limits compared to European Union and United States for radioactive substances in food (see Figure 9)(“Basic information on…, n.d.). In Fukushima prefecture, government collected samples of brown rice, fruits, vegetables, livestock, cultivated mushrooms, wild edible plants, and fishery product to inspects contains of radionuclides (“Basic information on…, n.d.). Figure 10 shows as of October 31, 2015, wild edible plant and mushrooms as well as fishery products still exceeded the safety standard limits. The prefecture requested municipalities to restrict distribution of those products in the market(“Basic information on…, n.d.).
The recovery effort from Fukushima crisis are not solely coming from the top government level but also from the bottom community. A collaboration between Miyagi University, local people and an architecture consultant company called MIT to conduct post-disaster site analysis in the district of Utatsu, Miyagi (“Japan MIT 3/11…,” 2011). The group conducted slope analysis, developed safe evacuation route to school (evacuation shelter), and implemented risk zone assessment. The project conducted a slope analysis by categorizing the area into 6 smaller section (A – F) as shown in Figure 11 (YiYun Lim, 2011). Figure 12 shows analysis of each section with detail description about the surface, height, slope shape, vegetation, and erosion situation. The analysis is effective to identify landscape changes and damages impacted by the earthquake and tsunami.
Other than slope analysis, the group also conducted transect analysis on the possible evacuation route from the dangerous shoreline called the cove to elevated ground located at the middle school Figure 13 (Florence Doughty, 2011). The Figure 14 shows gradient of building destruction (Complete destruction, partial destruction, or no destruction) along the route according to the height and location (Florence Doughty, 2011). It also conducted cross section analysis to identify the height of damage in specific areas (see Figure 15) (Florence Doughty, 2011).In addition, the collaboration also derived 3 phases for debris management, local economy revitalization, community center construction, ecological safety assessment, and restructuring landscape (see Figure 16)(Shiozaki & Heredia, 2011).
The Reconstruction Agency developed a resilience plan for Fukushima called New Tohoku or New Northeastern Region. The goals of the plan are rebuilding a strong local communities, support new facilities such as new community spaces to strengthen public engagement. The community space also served as a meeting place for disaster affected businesses to convene and discuss new business initiatives. Also, the reconstruction efforts aims to revitalize cities in Tohoku that face multiple challenges such as infrastructure recovery from disaster as well as aging population and decline economies.
The very first steps of recovery by Reconstruction Agency is the removal of debris. As of March 2015, 231 municipalities in 12 prefectures have successfully removed the disaster debris as shown in Figure 17(“The road to …,” n.d.). Furthermore, the Reconstruction Agency also scheduled to complete 27000 public houses and private land properties each in Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima prefectures by March 31, 2016(see Figure 18)(“The road to …,” n.d.). In addition, the national and local government also assists 90% of the residents in the disaster-affected area to relocate at higher ground near their hometown (“The road to …,” n.d.). The government also created a Group Subsidy Plant to assist revitalization of local economy through development of commercial zone, shopping district and new industries in the region (“The road to …,” n.d.). 44.8% of the businesses that join the program manage to regain pre-disaster sales volume(“The road to …,” n.d.). The government also provide mental and physical health support until the evacuees recover to live normal lives(“The road to …,” n.d.). The New Tohoku plan also take the reconstruction as an opportunity to focus on sustainable development by investing in clean energy such as offshore wind turbine and solar panel at the Fukushima Airport(“The road to …,” n.d.).
Meanwhile, local communities in the disaster-affected area also took initiatives in the recovery process by re-landscaping affected area, revitalizing agricultural industry, and promoting local fisheries. In the district of Utatsu, Isatomae Elementary School became an evacuation shelter for communities to take shower, dine, sleep, and gather during the 3/11 crisis)(“Kitsune Bamba,” n.d.).Kitsune Bamba is a project that creates a new community center to transit and absorb these temporary function of the elementary school (“Kitsune Bamba,” n.d.). Figure 19 shows the location of the school and Kitsune Bamba(“Kitsune Bamba,” n.d.). The new center provides services such as health clinic, elderly center, children homework support, and entertainment(see Figure 20)(“Kitsune Bamba,” n.d.). The project also develops green spaces around the area to encourage community spending time around the area (“Kitsune Bamba,” n.d.).
Other than the relandscaping project, farmers from Fukushima adopt new farming techniques and supply high quality produce to food cart in Tokyo to recover public trust and revitalize agriculture industry (“Tomorrow”, 2016). Hiroshi Otoki, a farmer from Fukushima tested radioactive substances in produce from his greenhouse farm on a weekly basis to ensure food safety. Other farmers also utilized potassium fertilizer, a new technique to reduce Cesium-137 in the soil. Food carts using Fukushima crops are opened in Tokyo to promote their high quality products and gain back their customers.
Moreover, the locals also create a website to promote local fishery cuisines. It aims to rebuild public trust towards local fishery product safety and promote local economy. Figure 21 shows website features local women cooking recipes using seafood from the Tohoku region(“Tohoku seaside kitchen,” n.d.).
In face of the historic disaster, international media and foreigners are impressed by how efficient, orderly, and calm Japanese in recovery response. Unlike other countries where looting, riot, and outburst of anger could be common after disaster, the Japanese victims remained exceptionally calm and self-organized. They orderly waited in long lines for many hours to receive ration food (see Figure 22) (Daily Mail Reporter, 2011). Figure 23 shows Great Kanto highway damaged by the earthquake was reconstructed within six days and reopened to traffic (Mail Foreign Service, 2011). Moreover, 250 retirees formed a volunteer group to work in the radiation contaminated nuclear plant (Lah, 2011). Kazuko Sasaki, 69, the co-founder of the group commented that they are taking the responsibilities since their generation promoted nuclear plant (Lah, 2011).
Jeffrey Kinston, a scholar from Temple University dedicated this extraordinary performance to Japanese’s culture and upbringing that value group welfare over individual interests (Kyung Lah, 2011). Glenda Roberts, an anthropology professor at Tokyo’s Waseda University, commented that westerner might think social conformist as too passive but “it takes a lot of strength to stay calm in the face of terror” (Daily Mail Reporter, 2011). The relationship between local cultures and victim’s response towards disaster is an interesting topic that worth further studies.
Even though Japan is now resilient thanks to a lot of new initiatives, controversies ensue between the government and its people. While the public sentiment are against nuclear power, the government insists upon using it. Figure 24 shows thousands of people took part in a rally in Tokyo on March 8, 2015 against nuclear plant (Brad Plummer, 2015). Before disaster, Japan relies on nuclear plant for 27% of electricity supply (Plummer, 2015). After shutdown of all nuclear plants, the government substituted nuclear energy by importing coal, oil, and natural gases (Plummer, 2015). Last year, first nuclear reactor at Sendai plant by Kyushu Electric Power is restarted since the crisis (Justin McCurry, 2015). By 2030, Japan government aims to reopen the rest of the nuclear plant and provide 23% of electricity in the nation by 2030 (Plumer, 2015). This move is seen not only as economically but politically motivated. It is hardly a coincidence that all Japan’s nuclear power plants are manufactured by US firms, with France lining up to present its state-of-the-art nuclear power plants that it claims is safer than those of the US (Gagliardi et al, 2015). But the political gains may come with a hefty price. If Japan reactivates its nuclear power plants, it risks incurring further public distrusts. If it does not, it has to resort to coal and natural gases and deal with the pollution that comes with them since wind and solar energy is out of question due to its geography. In the long run, technology might allow such cleaner solution but for now the energy conundrum remains with the island country. Either way, Japan needs to take a look at its hazard mitigation plan and see if the countermeasures are sufficient in case something happens to its 21 remaining nuclear power plants.
The triple disasters: 9.0 magnitude earthquake, 133-feet tsunami, and radiation leakage of Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident caused devastating social, environmental, and economics impacts to Japan. The nuclear disaster is the results of subpar quality nuclear plant, TEPCO’s dishonest management, and ruthless disaster mitigation response. In order to ensure public safety, the government initiated Reconstruction Agency to constantly monitors radiation dosage in the air and in food products. The communities also led local initiatives to conduct post-disaster site analysis. In addition, the government established New Tohoku program to revitalize the economies in the area. The communities also contributed in recovery process by participating in re-building community, stimulating agriculture industries, and restoring public trust towards local fisheries products.
2011 Japan earthquake – tsunami fast facts. (2016, March 14). CNN. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/17/world/asia/japan-earthquake—tsunami-fast-facts/
Amano, Y. (2014). The Fukushima Daiichi accident. International Atomic Energy Agency. Retrieved from http://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/Publications/PDF/Pub1710-ReportByTheDG-Web.pdf
Basic information on radiation risk. (n.d.)Reconstruction Agency. Retrieved from http://www.reconstruction.go.jp/english/topics/RR/index.html
Conca, J. (2016, March 10). After Five Years, What Is The Cost Of Fukushima?. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2016/03/10/after-five-years-what-is-the-cost-of-fukushima/#5f1b8d516016
Daily Mail Reporter. (2011, March 15). No looting, just keeping calm and carrying on: Ordinary Japanese try to get back to normality. Daily Mail. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1366532/Japan-tsunami-earthquake-Keeping-calm-carrying-normality.html
Doughty, F. (2011). Cove to school transect analysis. Retrieved from http://japan3-11.mit.edu/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/08_Minamisanriku-Transects-SchoolCove2.pdf
Fackler, M. (March 9,2012). Nuclear disaster in Japan was avoidable, critics contend. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/10/world/asia/critics-say-japan-ignored-warnings-of-nuclear-disaster.html?_r=0
Fukushima accident. (2016, April). World Nuclear Association. Retrieved from http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/safety-and-security/safety-of-plants/fukushima-accident.aspx
Fukushima stress deaths top 3/11 toll. (2014, February 20). The Japan Times. Retrieved from http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/02/20/national/post-quake-illnesses-kill-more-in-fukushima-than-2011-disaster/#.Vx1_NGetqJB
Gagliardi, M. (Director), & Reinhold, C., & D’Emilia, P. (Writers). (2015). Fukushima: A Nuclear Story [Motion picture on Streaming]. Matteo Gagliardi: Teatro Promo Studio.
Hollnagel, E. &Fujita, Y. (May, 2012). The Fukushima disaster – systemic failures as the lack of resilience. Nuclear Engineering and Technology, 45(1), 13-20.
Japan MIT 3/11 Initiative. (2011). Retrieved from http://japan311.scripts.mit.edu/wp/?page_id=20
Japan Metrological Agency. (n.d.). About Earthquakes. Retrieved May 02, 2016, from http://www.jma.go.jp/jma/kishou/know/faq/faq7.html (Translated from Japanese)
Kaufmann, D & Penciakova, V. (2011, March 16). Japan’s triple disaster: governance and the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crises. Brookings. Retrieved from http://www.brookings.edu/research/opinions/2011/03/16-japan-disaster-kaufmann
Kitsune Bamba. (n.d.). Retreived from http://japan3-11.mit.edu/wpcontent/uploads/2011/08/08_Minamisanriku-SiteAnalysis-Kitsune.pdf
Lah, K. (2011). Amid disaster, Japan’s societal mores remain strong. CNN. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/asiapcf/03/16/japan.cultural.order/
Lah, K. (2011). Japanese seniors volunteer for Fukushima ‘suicide corps’. CNN. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/asiapcf/05/31/japan.nuclear.suicide/
Lim, Y. (2011). Slopes of Utatsu. Retrieved from http://japan3-11.mit.edu/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/08_Minamisanriku-Transects-Slopes.pdf
Mail Foreign Service. (2011, March 23). The Japanese road repaired sixdays after it was destroyed by quake. Daily Mail. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1369307/Japan-tsunami-earthquake-Road-repaired-SIX-days-destroyed.html
McCurry, J. (2015, August 11). Japan restarts first nuclear reactor since Fukushima disaster. The guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/aug/11/japan-restarts-first-nuclear-reactor-fukushima-disaster
Oskin, B. (2015, May 7). Japan earthquake & tsunami of 2011: facts and information. Live Science. Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/39110-japan-2011-earthquake-tsunami-facts.html
Plumer, B. (2015, August15). Why Japan is bringing back nuclear power — four years after Fukushima. Retrieved from http://www.vox.com/2015/8/12/9143265/japan-nuclear-restart-fukushima
Tabuchi, H & Wald, M.L. (2011, March 12). Japanese scramble to avert meltdowns as nuclear crisis deepens after quake. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/13/world/asia/13nuclear.html
Shiozaki, Y. & Heridia, A. (2011). Re-manufacturing landscape. Retrieved from http://japan3-11.mit.edu/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/08_Minamisanriku-SiteAnalysis-PilgrimageRestor.pdf
Shirouzo, N & Tudor, A. (2011, March 15).Crisis revives doubts on regulation. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748703363904576200533746195522
Situation of the evacuees. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://fukushimaontheglobe.com/the-earthquake-and-the-nuclear-accident/situation-of-the-evacuees
State ignored predictions 10 years before 3/11 tsunami, says seismologist. (2016, March 23). The Japan Times. Retrieved from http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/03/23/national/state-ignored-predictions-10-years-311-tsunami-says-seismologist/
Tohoku Seaside Kitchen. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.nhk.or.jp/japan311/ts-kitchen/index.html
The road to recovery. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.reconstruction.go.jp/english/topics/Progress_to_date/index.html