Monday

17th Feb 2020

Opinion

Fukushima one year on - lessons learnt?

  • "The nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima is far from over" (Photo: US Navy)

On 11 March last year, a massive earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, resulting in thousands of tragic deaths, and causing a nuclear disaster.

While global attention has long since shifted elsewhere, the nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima is far from over. This is the nature of nuclear accidents: they leave a long-lasting radioactive legacy.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or join as a group

One year on, the situation is not 'under control'. The announcement by the Japanese government that the damaged reactors were in a state of 'cold shutdown' was met with scepticism and anger from a concerned public – and with disbelief amongst nuclear experts.

As the recent rise in temperature in reactor 2 has shown, the Fukushima facility remains unstable and highly vulnerable to a new earthquake. Meanwhile, it has been estimated that "cleaning up" the disaster will take a hundreds-strong workforce decades to complete.

Beyond the reactors themselves, and the arbitrary 20km 'exclusion zone', the surrounding area in Fukushima province and beyond will suffer from radioactive contamination for generations to come.

To give a concrete example: the amount of radioactive caesium 137 (which has a half life of around 30 years) released during the Fukushima disaster was 168 times that released by the Hiroshima bomb.

It has been estimated that deaths, due to radiation exposure in the region, could run into the thousands.

Fukushima, like Chernobyl twenty five years before it, has shown us that while the likelihood of a nuclear disaster occurring may be low, the potential impact is enormous.

The inherent risk in the use of nuclear energy, as well as the related proliferation of nuclear technologies, can and does have disastrous consequences. The only certain way to eliminate this potentially devastating risk is to phase out nuclear power altogether.

Some countries appear to have learnt this lesson. In Germany, the government changed course in the aftermath of Fukushima and decided to go ahead with a previously-agreed phase out of nuclear power. Many scenarios now foresee Germany sourcing 100% of its power needs from renewables by 2030. Meanwhile, Italian citizens voted overwhelmingly against plans to go nuclear with a 90% majority.

The same is not yet true in Japan. Although only 3 out of its 54 nuclear reactors are online and generating power, whilst the Japanese authorities conduct 'stress tests', the government hopes to reopen almost all of these and prolong the working life of a number of its ageing reactors by to up to 60 years.

The Japanese public have made their opposition clear however. Opinion polls consistently show a strong majority of the population is now against nuclear power. Local grassroots movements opposing nuclear power have been springing up across Japan. Mayors and governors in fear of losing their power tend to follow the majority of their citizens.

Elsewhere, in the UK and Finland for example, nuclear new build remains high on the agenda however.

The European-level response has been to undertake stress tests on nuclear reactors across the European Union. However, these stress tests appear to be little more than a PR exercise to encourage public acceptance in order to allow the nuclear industry to continue with business as usual. They fail to assess the full risks of nuclear power, ignoring crucial factors like fires, human failures, degradation of essential infrastructure or the impact of an airplane crash.

Fukushima showed us that nuclear remains a high risk technology and that the reassurances of the nuclear industry cannot be relied on. However, nuclear also fails to make the grade in economic terms.

As we have seen with the two new nuclear reactors under construction in Europe, the already prohibitive upfront constructions costs have been grossly underestimated. The EPR reactors under construction in Finland and France are both around 100% over budget, with the end date for construction being constantly postponed.

The hidden costs of nuclear - such as waste disposal, insurance and decommissioning - are also huge, and it is the public that ends up footing the bill. Surely it makes more sense to invest billions in genuinely sustainable and low risk technologies?

One year on from Fukushima, we should not wait for another disaster to finally convince us to give up on nuclear power.

The writer is co-president of the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament. She visited Japan and Fukushima in January of this year.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

EU: Japanese nuclear accident will affect UN climate talks

The crisis at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant will have a major impact on global climate talks, a senior EU official has said, adding that the 27-member bloc will now study low-nuclear energy solutions more closely.

Lessons from Fukushima for EU energy policy

Five years on from the Fukushima disaster, Japan, the UK, and other EU states should commemorate victims by opting for safe and renewable energy over the genie's bottle of nuclear power.

The last best chance for Donbas and peace in Europe?

At the Munich Security Conference this weekend, the Euro-Atlantic Security Leaders Group (EASLG) will publish Twelve Steps Toward Greater Security in Ukraine and the Euro-Atlantic Region, endorsed by nearly 50 distinguished current and former senior officials, military officers, and experts.

What you don't hear about Spain's migration policy

Morocco is a far cry from Libya. But Spain's cooperation on migration with Morocco still warrants closer scrutiny. The argument that Morocco is a safe country and a reliable recipient of EU funding is becoming harder to uphold.

News in Brief

  1. Michel proposes GNI 1.074 percent for budget
  2. Five Star Movement to protest against own government
  3. France pushing for tougher EU line on Brexit alignment
  4. Facebook delays EU roll-out of dating app
  5. Coronavirus a 'key risk' in EU's economic forecast
  6. Von dey Leyen defends record at German parliament inquiry
  7. Johnson loses finance and N. Ireland ministers in reshuffle
  8. Eight EU states warned over money-laundering delay

Second-hand cars flaw in EU Green Deal

The moment Europe revels in its carbon-free transport system, most of the cars that emitted too much for EU standards will still be driving around for years somewhere else in the world.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersScottish parliament seeks closer collaboration with the Nordic Council
  2. UNESDAFrom Linear to Circular – check out UNESDA's new blog
  3. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December

Latest News

  1. The last best chance for Donbas and peace in Europe?
  2. EU commissioner lobbied by energy firm he owns shares in
  3. Will coronavirus lead to medicine shortage in EU?
  4. EU transparency on lobbyist meetings still piecemeal
  5. 'Westlessness' - Western restlessness at China's ascent
  6. Central Europe mayors join in direct EU funds plea
  7. What you don't hear about Spain's migration policy
  8. 'Top-down' future of Europe conference 'will fail' warning

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us