Still Picking Up the Pieces: The Two Year Anniversary of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster

Fukushima disaster Today is the second anniversary of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster that occurred in northeast Japan following a magnitude-9 earthquake on March 11, 2011. The earthquake, which developed on the ocean floor just off the coast of the country, generated a large tsunami which struck the power plant and took out the backup generators required to cool three of its six nuclear reactors. Without the generators needed to cool the intensely hot reactors, the three functioning reactors experienced fuel melting, hydrogen explosions, and release of radioactive material. While there were no immediate deaths, the release of radioactive nuclear material into the atmosphere rendered an area of about 20 kilometers around the plant uninhabitable, and due to prevailing northern winds, ground and sea water, crops, and air up to 40 kilometers north of the plant were also found to be contaminated.

This resulted in the evacuation of approximately 100,000 Japanese from their homes and a vehement sentiment of “anti-nuclearism” amongst Japanese across the country. While TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company), the company that manages the plant, maintained that the meltdown was the result of an unprecedented natural disaster, it has been found in subsequent analysis that the disaster could have been prevented had the company followed international best practices and standards.

In light of these findings many Japanese demanded a national review of nuclear power plant safety procedures and even the complete eradication of the Japanese nuclear program. Two years later, many Japanese have been able to return to their homes but countless more remain displaced and disillusioned with the government’s efforts to resolve the post-disaster crisis. The clean-up in the area around the plant is still in progress and some estimate that it may take up to a decade to remove the dangerous radioactive material and up to 40 years to fully decommission the plant.

In regard to international nuclear power, Japan and other nuclear nations have taken many lessons-learned from the disaster. Some of these lessons include the importance of safe storage of spent fuel, maintaining operability of backup generators, increased explosion safeguards, factoring natural disasters into reactor safety, and stricter NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) regulations overall. The United States in particular has used these lessons-learned to examine its own nuclear power safety; they have prompted U.S. nuclear officials to closely examine Diablo Canyon, an American nuclear power plant located on the coast of California in San Luis Obispo County. Due to its proximity to a major fault line as well as the ocean, officials have begun implementing new safety procedures at this location to mitigate the risk of a second Fukushima Daiichi incident on U.S. soil.

For more information on the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster, refer to some of these documents from the HSDL collection:

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