Mar 19, 2012
One year ago, on March 11, 2011, a massive earthquake hit northeast Japan, followed by a devastating 40-foot tsunami.
The earthquake and tsunami caused severe damage to reactor buildings at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on Japan’s eastern coast. The reactors shut down as planned, but the power for the emergency cooling system did not kick in. Overheating led to reactor core meltdowns in three of the six reactors at the plant. Explosions further damaged buildings and caused large amounts of radioactive material to escape, contaminating the air, soil and ocean water.
Today, one year after the disaster, a large area around Fukushima, where hundreds of thousands of people still live, remains contaminated and inhabitable. At least 80,000 people have lost their homes and livelihoods as a result of radioactive contamination – and many more remain in temporary housing. There have been reports of widespread food contamination; contamination has also been found in the drinking water of Tokyo. Former nuclear industry executive Arnie Gundersen has estimated that, over the next 30 years, as many as one million people are likely to get cancer as a result of radiation from Fukushima.
We can’t stop earthquakes and tsunamis, but the nuclear disaster at Fukushima was avoidable.
The plant’s operator, TEPCO, one of the largest utility companies in the world, has a long history of violating safety regulations and ignoring warnings of experts. And Japanese government agencies have a long history of looking the other way. For example, the Fukushima Daiichi plant was more than 40 years old and was not even supposed to be operated anymore. Five of the six reactors in the plant were General Electric’s “Mark 1” design, deemed unsafe already in 1972! And the emergency generator was in the basement and got flooded because the tsunami walls that TEPCO built were only 20 feet high – even though a tsunami about as high as the latest one was known to have struck the area before, even if it was 2000 years ago!
This pattern of blatant negligence and irresponsibility has continued after the meltdowns. While workers who were familiar with the Fukushima plant risked their own lives to help with the cleanup effort, TEPCO executives refused to acknowledge the meltdowns for months and denied their own responsibility in the disaster. And government officials tried to cover up for TEPCO in every way they could. Government officials even have the nerve to claim that the minutes of their crisis management meetings from March 11 until late December were not recorded!
Most important, both government and company officials withheld crucial information from the public. In so doing, they exposed residents to more contamination, and hampered cleanup and evacuation efforts. They knowingly endangered the lives and well-being of hundreds of thousands of people.
To this day, none of these criminals has been held accountable – and the disaster continues to victimize hundreds of thousands of people.