Fukushima: Emergency Planning? Failing Grade

Today – March 11, 2015 – marks the 4th anniversary of the ongoing nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan. There is so much one could say about this horrific accident.

One could speak at length about collusion between nuclear regulators & industry – and how this collusion exists not just in Japan, but worldwide.

How the sea wall built to protect the site was not improved in spite of the fact that the deficiency was known about for years before the accident, & never rectified (considerable detail about failures on the part of TEPCO & the Japanese regulator laid out in this very thorough, very readable report commissioned by the Japanese parliament).

One could discuss reactor cores & how far away “hot particles” were found.

Or the daily-daily-daily ongoing release of tons of contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean, causing who knows what unthinkable damage to all the life in that precious, irreplaceable body of water.

Or, perhaps, the huge piles of contaminated soils & debris being collected & stored in plastic bags (one related photo here) – bags with pretty short half-lives, you might say; soon enough, no doubt, to re-release the contaminants & re-contaminate earth, water & air) – or in some cases, debris incinerated & thus dispersed hither & yon on air currents (& via bodies of water).

The scope of this disaster, in other words, is nothing short of massive.

Let’s talk instead about the people of Japan.

& how emergency preparedness failed utterly to … prepare them.

Toshimitsu Homma of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency stated in April 2013 at an international conference on Emergency Management (held in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada) that the most important lesson of Fukushima was that before the accident, “There was an implicit assumption that such a severe accident could not happen and thus insufficient attention was paid to such an accident by authorities.”

The “planning” for a real-life accident was not, shall we just politely say, realistic or, to use a term so frequently used by the nuclear industry, robust.

First, there were delays in ordering evacuations, and information provided was sketchy and minimal. Many people were evacuated into areas where the winds were carrying the worst contamination. Information was not provided in timely or helpful fashion, and many were left to “shelter in place” and then later advised to evacuate. Many people died in hospitals.

From The official report of The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission: “A total of 146,520 residents were evacuated as a result of the government’s evacuation orders. However, many residents in the plant’s vacinity evacuated without accurate information. Unaware of the severity of the accident, they planned to be away only for a few days and evacuated with only the barest necessities. Evacuation orders were repeatedly revised as the evacuation zones expanded from the original 3-kilometer radius to 10 kilometers and later, 20 kilometers, all in one day. Each time the evacuation zone expanded, the residents were required to relocate. Some evacuees were unaware that they had been relocated to sites with high levels of radiation. Hospitals and nursing homes in the 20-kilometer zone struggled to secure evacuation transportation and find accommodations; 60 patients died in March from complications related to the evacuation. Frustration among the residents increased.

On March 15, residents in the zone between 20 and 30 kilometers from the plant were ordered to shelter-in-place. Since the order lasted for several weeks, these residents suffered greatly from a lack of communication and necessities. As a result, the shelter-in-place order was then revised to voluntary evacuation. Again, information on the basis for revising the evacuation order was sadly lacking, and residents found themselves having to make evacuation decisions without the necessary facts. The Commission concludes that the gov ernment effectively abandoned their responsibility for public safety.” END QUOTE

People had not been provided with potassium iodide (called KI) pills ahead of time, or if pills were available, the order to take them was not given. (There is some scandal over some university people getting KI, but not sharing the pills with other citizens.)

The amount of falling between the cracks, miscommunication, failure to follow chain of command, delays, lack of transparency, failure to give accurate & timely information about evacuation? All of these were over the top.

The fallout since?

  • Families have been broken apart in a multitude of ways
  • Communities destroyed
  • People have been lied to about contamination levels
  • Health effects have been minimized & lied about
  • Children are being diagnosed with thyroid cancer (108, last I heard)
  • Workers are/have been exposed to high levels of radiation (and/or lied to)
  • Radioactive contamination is here, there & everywhere
  • 120,000 people are still living in temporary housing
  • Clean-up is being rushed so people can be told their homes are now “safe” to return to
  • Compensation programs are being manipulated
  • People are being discouraged from speaking out – even jailed for doing so, I’ve heard.


(Absurdly, TEPCO is doing just fine!)

Not a pretty picture.

But a disaster economically, environmentally/ecologically ... and also a huge personal disaster for hundreds of thousands of people. Realistically, the entire country of Japan.

All these people, people like you & me, ill-prepared for disaster on such a huge scale.

Beyond our imagining, really.

In Durham Region (the entire Greater Toronto Area, in fact), we are similarly ill-prepared for a nuclear disaster.

A dizzying number of government departments (federal, provincial & municipal/regional) have a finger in the nuclear preparedness pie. (Have a look at what may be only a partial list here ).

To even the most un-trained eye, this list represents a daunting number of possible cracks for essential responses, communication & actions to fall between.

Simply mind-boggling.

Nuclear emergency exercises? Take a look at the previous post for an expert take on the real value of these expensive gatherings – designed to make the industry & responders appear ready for disaster, when in actual fact they are merely occasions for figuring out whether everyone has the right phone number to call.

Since March 11, 2011 & the frightening wake-up call of that massive accident, several countries have run, not walked, away from nuclear energy, Germany being one outstanding example.

“We want to end the use of nuclear energy and reach the age of renewable energy as fast as possible. It’s over. Fukushima has forever changed the way we define risk in Germany,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said.

In Switzerland, post-Fukushima, nuclear emergency planning has been upgraded to reflect the real-life possibility of a severe accident (instead of planning only for an event of minor severity), and pre-distribution of KI pills is being extended to everyone within 50 kilometres of their nuclear plants.

Here in Ontario, there is far too much complacency about nuclear safety & the real risks inherent in nuclear energy production. Complacency & lack of transparency are a dangerous combination.

Boxer Mike Tyson once said “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”

A nuclear accident in Durham Region – so close to the large population centre that is the Greater Toronto Area – would be a horrific punch in the face.

We need more robust nuclear emergency planning – now.

Before an accident happens.


March 11, 2015.

Fukushima – 4 Years: Information Resources

Ten Lessons from Fukushima – brand-new booklet/project from Peace Boat group in Japan

Beyond NuclearFukushima Four Years On: will it happen here?

Beyond Nuclear Thunderbird newsletter on Fukushima

Fukushima Meltdown 4 Years Later2 videos on Fairewinds Energy Education site

More Fukushima info on Fairewinds site

Health Consequences after Fukushima Accident (+ other info) – 13-minute conversation with Dr. Ian Fairlie 

Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) information on Fukushima 

Quotations about emergency planning

The official report of The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (National Diet of Japan) – Executive Summary (88 pages; so worth reading! 88 pages sounds daunting but truthfully, there are many blank pages in the actual layout. Includes surveys of people & workers; so poignant to hear their voices explaining their experiences & frustrations).

The State of Affairs and Ongoing Challenges of the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster  (Citizens Commission on Nuclear Energy, Tokyo, Japan)

UN’s UNSCEAR Fukushima Radiation Report Blasted by IPPNW’s Alex Rosen (if you do a search you can also find video on this)  --- UNSCEAR = United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation; IPPNW = International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.

Books to Check Out:

Strong in the Rain – Surviving Japan’s Earthquake, Tsunami, and Fukushima Nuclear Disaster, by Lucy Birmingham & David McNeill.

Fukushima – The Story of a Nuclear Disaster, by David Lochbaum, Edwin Lyman, Susan Q. Stranahan and the Union of Concerned Scientists.  [later posting here has a ton of info from the book]

** so many videos/YouTubes one can see too, of course…

5 recent ones: