Environmental Impact of Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant Disaster

By Ian Teñido

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The Nuclear technology has invariably been linked to life threatening outcomes as well as environmental destruction when a fault occurs in its processes and this was confirmed in March 2011 when Fukushima Nuclear Disaster happened. After the Great East Earthquake occurred at 2:46pm on March 11th 2011, it recorded a magnitude of 9.0. Consequentially, it resulted into a wide scale damage to the northern part of Japan with a full impact experienced in Fukushima. The earthquake and the resulting tsunami resulted into a worst nuclear accident that took after the Chernobyl nuclear accident. Located in the coast of Pacific Ocean, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was hugely damaged by the earthquake and tsunami. The facilities at the plant including the piping equipment, the power supply system as well as the backup were destroyed. Following this destruction, radioactive materials leaked out starting the next morning where they were found at the main gate of the power plant.

The Dysfunctional cooling system made steam to fill the entire building and a huge amount of radioactive materials had scattered in the environment through the vent system that is meant to reduce pressure within the system. According to estimates made by TEPCO, 770,000 TBq of radioactive materials were released into the air. This amount is estimated to be only 20% of Chernobyl accident and later on in April, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency raised the rate of the disaster to level 7 from level 5. Eventually, the government of Japan issued evacuation orders for those living within a radius of 3 km and was extended to 20 km.

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Nuclear faults, normally, have devastating impacts on life and the general environment at large. Its impact lasts for decades or even centuries. The environmental impacts at Fukushima are expected to last for decades to centuries. According to the newly Greenpeace Japan report on the disaster, its impact on the environment is estimated to last for centuries. The long-lived radiations get absorbed into the animal and plant tissues and bio accumulate through food webs and food chains and finally get emptied into the ocean by flooding, snowmelt and typhoons. The environmental impacts of the disaster that are already becoming apparent include:

  • High levels of cesium in most important freshwater fish
  • Radiological contamination of the estuaries ecosystem
  • Decrease in the abundance of 57 bird species
  • High concentration of radiation in new leaves of cedar and pollen
  • Increased mutations of growth in fir trees
  • Heritable mutations depicted in pale-blue grass butterfly and DNA-damaged worms

After the disaster, nearly 100,000 people were evacuated and to date, there is completely no site of Fukushima communities. The community life was completely disrupted and no one is willing to get back. Greenpeace Japan conducted a study on the contamination of forested areas in Iitate district and the outcome indicates that there is contamination on mountain watersheds that finally enter the coastal ecosystem. The Abukuma River which flows through Fukushima and is estimated to discharge 111 TBq of 137Cs as well as 44TBq of 134 Cs for the next 100 years. Along the coastline of Fukushima, Greenpeace Japan is continuing to make explorations to make new environmental impact discoveries. It seems that the environmental impact are a mix of staggered impacts as well as one off impacts, all of which directly impact the life of humans and the environment in general not only at Fukushima but also in the communities living in distant regions that will have to interact with the contaminated ocean waters.

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Reference

Funabashi, H. (2012). Why the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster is a Man-made Calamity. International Journal of Japanese Sociology, 21(1), 65-75.

Shah, H. & Rallapali, R. (2013). Fukushima Daiichi-2011: Nuclear disaster: Lessons learned: Where we stand in India. International Journal of Health System and Disaster Management, 1(3), 135.

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