By now, more Japanese have died from the closing of Japan’s nuclear power plants following the 2011 Tohoku quake than from the tsunami and the earthquake combined, which was about 20,000 people.
Of course, no one has died from any radiation released from the reactor, and no one ever will. There just wasn’t enough dose to anyone.
These conclusions are now echoed across the scientific and medical communities. The latest study, from Matthew Neidell, Shinsuke Uchida and Marcella Veronesi, discusses how after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, when all nuclear power stations ceased operation and nuclear power was replaced by fossil fuels, there was a significant increase in electricity prices and in public mortality.
The increase in price led to a reduction in energy consumption, which caused an increase in mortality during very cold temperatures. An increase in mortality also occurred from the burning of fossil fuels, especially coal, which causes upper respiratory effects. The estimate of these combined mortalities outnumbers the mortality from the tsunami and earthquake themselves, suggesting that the knee-jerk decision to cease nuclear production was a very bad idea.
The immediate urge to shut down all Japanese nuclear reactors after the event was understandable, but Japan only had 15 reactors out of 54 that were at risk of tsunamis. Shutting down these reactors was reasonable in order to determine how to make them more resistant to this particular threat.
The other reactors not at risk should have continued operating during the safety review following the accident, during formation of the new nuclear regulatory authority, and during the development and implementation of the new safety measures.
Closing all of them at once caused energy imports into Japan to rise to 85% of its energy requirements, increasing coal, oil and gas dramatically along with their demonstrably-worse health effects. The combined costs of this error will amount to several hundred billion dollars by time the nuclear fleet is restarted.
But few regarded the more indirect environmental and human health effects of increasing fossil fuel to replace the nuclear power.
As Columbia University’s Professor David Weinstein put it, “If Japan had decided to keep all [uneffected] nuclear reactors open in 2012 and had met its energy needs by proportionally reducing coal, oil, LNG and other energy sources, I estimate that this policy would have saved 9,493 lives based on the air pollution of that year alone.”
The disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant following the devastating tsunami in Japan on the 11th of March in 2011 has proven costly in many ways – politically, economically and emotionally. Strangely, the costs that never materialized were the most feared, those of radiation-induced cancer and death.
No radiological health effects have, or will, result from the Fukushima disaster – neither cancers, deaths nor radiation sickness. No one received enough dose, even the 20,000 workers who have worked tirelessly to recover from this event.
The direct costs of the Fukushima disaster will be about $15 billion in clean-up over the next 20 years and over $60 billion in refugee compensation.
As big as these numbers are, the reconstruction and recovery costs associated with just the earthquake and the tsunami, not including the reactor, will top $250 billion. Since they shuttered their nuclear fleet, Japan’s trade deficit has become the worst in its history, and Japan is now the second largest net importer of fossil fuel in the world, right behind China.
In all fairness, it was the largest tsunami in history that hit the densest-populated industrialized country in history.
On that day, a magnitude 9 earthquake on the Tohoku Fault off the east coast of Japan sent a 50-foot tsunami crashing into the coast with almost no warning, flooding over 500 square miles of land, killing almost 20,000 people, destroying a million homes and businesses, and making 300,000 people homeless.
When the earthquake hit the region around Fukushima, eleven operating nuclear reactors at four power plants all shut down automatically. None were damaged by the earthquake itself. However, the inadequate sea wall surrounding the six reactors at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Daiichi plant allowed the tsunami to inundate the plant and destroy the back-up generating systems and electrical switchgear necessary to maintain cooling. Four reactors were destroyed and 940 PBq of fission products and radioactive material were dispersed into the air.
By March 13th, 150,000 people were ordered to evacuate from within 20 kilometers of the nuclear plant. This was very effective in preventing any and all radiation-induced health-effects to the public. However, over 1,600 deaths were caused solely by the evacuation, not from radiation, the earthquake or the tsunami. They did not need to be so hurriedly-evacuated.
The only health effects suffered from the reactor meltdowns continue to be from stress, depression and fear.
Before the accident, Japan’s nuclear fleet had provided 30% of the country’s electricity needs, but within 14 months of the accident Japan’s nuclear generation had been brought to a standstill pending regulatory change. A total of nine units have restarted since 2015, while 17 reactors are currently in the process of gaining restart approval.
Earlier this year, Michael Shellenberger, president of the research and policy organisation Environmental Progress, told delegates at the XI International Forum Atomexpo 2019 held in Sochi, Russia, that a “panicked over-evacuation” of the area had caused around 2000 deaths, with fear of radiation causing “significant psychological stress”. Fukushima, coal, nuclear, radiation, tsunami, earthquake, cancer, thyroid, energy, death
He also noted that the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation found there had been no deaths from radiation that escaped from Fukushima.
We have been trying for decades to advise the governments of the world, and their people, that fear-driven overreaction to radiation has more severe consequences than the radiation ever could. But the noise from non-scientists and ideologs keeps drowning out the science, so the public doesn’t know what to think.
I really don’t know what to do when support of science begins to crumble in those societies where it was always strong. But we should be very concerned.