Video: Two years after Fukushima accident, Japan starts turning back to nuclear power

posted at 12:26 pm on March 11, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

Two years ago today, an earthquake and tsunami wreaked havoc on Japan, killing almost 16,000 people with another 2600 still listed as missing. Estimates of the cost of the destruction go as high as $235 billion, making it the costliest natural disaster in history.  One aspect of the disaster dominated the news for weeks afterward — the nuclear “meltdown” at Fukushima, which prompted Japan to take all of its reactors off line, and which stopped the nuclear-power movement in its tracks in the US.  The exposure of radioactive materials was thought to be the worst consequence of the overall disaster.

Now, two years later, Japan has quietly resumed its use of nuclear power, and is even building a new facility:

At the remote northwestern tip of a snowy peninsula, beyond a small road of fishing shacks and empty one-story homes, 600 construction workers and engineers are building a brand-new nuclear plant for a country still recovering from the most severe atomic accident since Chernobyl.

The main reactor building is already at its full height, though draped in heavy fabric to protect it from the wind and freezing temperatures. A 500-foot crane swivels overhead. A completed power line stretches along a nearby ridge, where it might one day carry electricity down the peninsula and back toward the Japanese mainland — a place still fiercely divided over the long-term role of nuclear power.

In the aftermath of March 2011 meltdowns in Fukushima that contaminated 700 square miles with radiation and forced 150,000 to flee their homes, most never to return, Japan’s utility companies paused nearly all nuclear-related projects. The accident sparked a global debate about nuclear power, but it was especially fierce in Japan, where all 50 operable reactors were taken offline and work was halted on three new plants where building had been underway.

But two of the existing reactors are back in action, and the resumption of construction at the Oma Nuclear Power Plant here — a project that broke ground in 2008 and was halted by the operator, J-Power, after the accident — marks the clearest sign yet that the stalemate is breaking.

What happened?  The first election after the disaster produced an anti-nuclear hardline agenda.  The next produced a moderately nuclear-skeptical government, and the most recent election produced what the Post calls as “cautiously pro-nuclear” government.  Before the accident, Japan produced a third of its own electricity through nuclear plants, and the need for new resources may have some questioning whether Japan acted too hastily in abruptly stopping its nuclear-power production.  Their normally large trade surpluses disappeared in the middle of last year, instead incurring a $78 billion trade deficit as Japan had to start importing large amounts of crude to make up for the demand.

Bloomberg’s Robert Peter Gale and Eric Lax provide another explanation.  It turns out that the worst-case scenarios simply never arose.  While the contamination from the accident is real, the health catastrophe predicted happily didn’t materialize:

Remarkably, outside the immediate area of Fukushima, this is hardly a problem at all. Although the crippled nuclear reactors themselves still pose a danger, no one, including personnel who worked in the buildings, died fromradiation exposure. Most experts agree that future health risks from the released radiation, notably radioactive iodine-131 and cesiums-134 and – 137, are extremely small and likely to be undetectable.

Even considering the upper boundary of estimated effects, there is unlikely to be any detectable increase in cancers in Japan, Asia or the world except close to the facility, according to a World Health Organization report. There will almost certainly be no increase in birth defects or genetic abnormalities from radiation.

Even in the most contaminated areas, any increase in cancer risk will be small. For example, a male exposed at age 1 has his lifetime cancer risk increase from 43 percent to 44 percent. Those exposed at 10 or 20 face even smaller increases in risk — similar to what comes from having a whole-body computer tomography scan or living for 12 to 25 years in Denver amid background radiation in the Rocky Mountains. (There is no discernible difference in the cancer rates between people who live in Denver and those in Los Angeles or New York.)

Rather than stand as a warning of the radiation danger posed by nuclear power, in other words, Fukushima has become a reminder that uninformed fears aren’t the same as actual risks.

Be sure to read the article to find out why this turned out to be the case, but to summarize, rapid evacuation and Fukushima’s position near the ocean made most of the difference.  Medical treatment was particularly effective.  However, Fukushima wasn’t the only disaster whose predicted long-term consequences turned out to be (again, happily) overblown; Chernobyl also hasn’t produced nearly as many long-term illnesses, despite a much-worse response from authorities.

These new realities have Japan cautiously moving back to nuclear power, and should be a lesson to all of us.  After all, no energy production is risk-free, and as the Bloomberg piece makes clear, nuclear power has a better track record than most.


Related Posts:

Breaking on Hot Air

Blowback

Note from Hot Air management: This section is for comments from Hot Air's community of registered readers. Please don't assume that Hot Air management agrees with or otherwise endorses any particular comment just because we let it stand. A reminder: Anyone who fails to comply with our terms of use may lose their posting privilege.

Trackbacks/Pings

Trackback URL

Comments

Japan really has no choice but to do this, given their lack of natural resources, the increasing hostility of China, and the increasing unreliability of the USA as an ally (thank you president Obama).

wildcat72 on March 11, 2013 at 12:35 PM

The Japanese, able to face their demons and do the intelligent thing. The only reason Fukushima was an issue is because it was one of the first generation plants to have been made and did not have the later developed safeties built into it.

astonerii on March 11, 2013 at 12:38 PM

Ditto wildcat. What choice do they have? There’s no domestic untapped hydro or natgas. They know how to do nuke power, it’s the cheapest thing they can bring online, and in the end, the Japanese people simply won’t do without their electric and electronic addictions.

Marcola on March 11, 2013 at 12:42 PM

the Japanese people simply won’t do without their electric and electronic addictions.

Marcola on March 11, 2013 at 12:42 PM

What a pathetic end to a reasonable argument.

astonerii on March 11, 2013 at 12:44 PM

Good for them.

If we turned our back every time flaws were exposed in technological applications and it’s inherent imperfections due to human nature, we’d all still be running around naked and using sticks as the universal implement.

Dusty on March 11, 2013 at 12:47 PM

Fukushima: 0 killed, 0 injured, 0 sickened. Outlook: 0 health impact from radiation. Greatest health impact from Fukushima: psychological impact due to lack of education on radiation hazards and irresponsible reporting. Deepwater Horizon killed more people than Fukushima and Three Mile Island combined. And so far a total of 64 people have died from Chernobyl, 50 of those within a few weeks of the incident due to acute exposure. People still live in the “exclusion area”.

More people died from organic German sprouts and organic Colorado cantaloupe than have died from nuclear power accidents.

crosspatch on March 11, 2013 at 12:49 PM

They know how to do nuke power, it’s the cheapest thing they can bring online, and in the end, the Japanese people simply won’t do without their electric and electronic addictions.

Marcola on March 11, 2013 at 12:42 PM

I gotta go with astonerii on this one. A pretty lame ending point. As if things like maintaining Japan’s industrial base isn’t part of their need for electricity. Remember how scarce new Toyotas got on dealer’s lots just from the loss of the Fukushima plant? Does that mean that they had no choice because Americans simply won’t do without their Camrys and Accords?

Happy Nomad on March 11, 2013 at 12:51 PM

If we turned our back every time flaws were exposed in technological applications and it’s inherent imperfections due to human nature, we’d all still be running around naked and using sticks as the universal implement.

Dusty on March 11, 2013 at 12:47 PM

You make the same argument the rat-eared wonder makes when defending the fact his administration has pissed away billions on batteries, solar panels, and wind turbines.

Happy Nomad on March 11, 2013 at 12:53 PM

The issue in my opinion isn’t pro or con nuclear power per se, its that anti nuke loons around the world stifle retrofits and construction of new replacement nuclear power plants.

The entire high level of stupidity at Fukushima was caused because backup generators were vulnerable to flooding, with no backup for the backup.

Not bright is an understatement of cosmic proportions, it takes a lot of stifle nuke power to achieve that scenario.

Speakup on March 11, 2013 at 1:04 PM

If we turned our back every time flaws were exposed in technological applications and it’s inherent imperfections due to human nature, we’d all still be running around naked and using sticks as the universal implement.

Give the Left total run of things, and the future for many of us will be reduced to that level of existence.

hawkeye54 on March 11, 2013 at 1:05 PM

Please excuse me for going off topic Ed, Just want to report 5+ magnitude earthquakes in San Diego County, in the last 3 minutes. Even for Southern California a cluster of earthquakes like this is unusual.

5.1 20km ESE of Anza, California 2013-03-11 16:56:58 33.502°N 116.460°W 11.9
5.2 20km ESE of Anza, California 2013-03-11 16:56:05 33.498°N 116.462°W 0.1
5.2 20km ESE of Anza, California 2013-03-11 16:55:50 33.503°N 116.457°W 12.1
5.2 19km ESE of Anza, California 2013-03-11 16:55:42 33.506°N 116.476°W 0.1

SWalker on March 11, 2013 at 1:06 PM

Several years ago a boy was killed in a freak revolving door accident. The government shut down every single revolving door in the country to make sure they were safe before allowing them to operate again. This is just how Japan rolls.

Anyway, glad to hear they’re building a new plant. Japan just needs nuclear power. Fantasies of windmills and solar farms ain’t cuttin’ it.

Dongemaharu on March 11, 2013 at 1:06 PM

I think America should use more nuclear power. Japan has to utilize nuclear power plants to have a chance for economic survival …

… but Fukushima’s actual problems are widely ignored by the media everywhere … what? you thought only the American media was propaganda arm of the government?

I worked on DoE facilities in the ’70′s & ’80′s.

Google “Fernald” and pick a starting place – 20+ years to remediate and cleanup, a long history of cancers caused by radiation in the workplace and the environment. Some of what was there is STILL there because it can’t be made any safer any place else.

Clearly an absolute nightmare … and Fukushima is EASILY ten times as bad.

How bad is it?

If the world (Japan does not have enough experts on their own) spends tens of billions of dollars on research, we can develop the technologies to START to remediate Fukushima in 15 – 20 years – and then it will take another 20+ years of cleanup.

If you do some Googling of Fukushima, you may be surprised to discover a global consensus among the nuclear experts that Fukushima makes Chernobyl look laughably easy by comparison.

As for the “happy talk” above …

Remarkably, outside the immediate area of Fukushima, this is hardly a problem at all. Although the crippled nuclear reactors themselves still pose a danger, no one, including personnel who worked in the buildings, died fromradiation exposure. Most experts agree that future health risks from the released radiation, notably radioactive iodine-131 and cesiums-134 and – 137, are extremely small and likely to be undetectable.

.
It is very familiar to people who were involved with Fernald. They said all the same sort of reassuring things about it … until they couldn’t anymore.

PolAgnostic on March 11, 2013 at 1:09 PM

Video: Two years after Fukushima accident, Japan starts turning back to nuclear power
posted at 12:26 pm on March 11, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

The headline is misleading. Could just as well mean they’re turning their back to nuclear power. Which is maybe what headline science is all about. Making you read the story to figure out what the darn headline means.

Paul-Cincy on March 11, 2013 at 1:10 PM

Nothing inaccurate about Marcola’s comment – if the Japanese were willing to permanently cut back on their personal power usage, then they wouldn’t need nearly as much electricity. He didn’t say that they should do that.

exhelodrvr on March 11, 2013 at 1:10 PM

They know how to do nuke power, it’s the cheapest thing they can bring online, and in the end, the Japanese people simply won’t do without their electric and electronic addictions.

Marcola on March 11, 2013 at 12:42 PM

I have this conversation frequently with Japanese. In fact, just yesterday, because of the anniversary, I was talking to this woman and she was convinced that Japan should rely less on electricity. So I asked her if that means banning electric toilets. That stopped her in her tracks. The contradictions around here are too many to count. Japanese talk a lot about such things but most of the improvements are incremental or superficial.

Dongemaharu on March 11, 2013 at 1:13 PM

Dongemaharu on March 11, 2013 at 1:13 PM

Why should anyone be forced into a lower quality of life for phantom menaces? Any new power generation plant will be thousands of times safer than Fukushima due to the increased knowledge since then.

astonerii on March 11, 2013 at 1:16 PM

Why should anyone be forced into a lower quality of life for phantom menaces? Any new power generation plant will be thousands of times safer than Fukushima due to the increased knowledge since then.

astonerii on March 11, 2013 at 1:16 PM

That’s what I politely tell people. It seems that a lot of people agree, but they can’t bring themselves to outwardly endorse nuclear power to any significant degree. They’re very sheepish about it.

But man, I mean 99% of Japanese believe in global warming too.

Dongemaharu on March 11, 2013 at 1:26 PM

Dongemaharu on March 11, 2013 at 1:26 PM

Do they really? Now that is sad…

astonerii on March 11, 2013 at 1:27 PM

But man, I mean 99% of Japanese believe in global warming too.

Dongemaharu on March 11, 2013 at 1:26 PM

It’s almost Spring when “global warming” becomes “climate change.” And it is okay to believe that global warming is occurring. The problem comes when one becomes arrogant enough to think that mankind can change the trend.

Happy Nomad on March 11, 2013 at 1:32 PM

So in two years, Japan comes to their senses, while the U.S. is still stuck in the stone ages………what’s new?

Rovin on March 11, 2013 at 1:32 PM

Fukushima: 0 killed, 0 injured, 0 sickened. Outlook: 0 health impact from radiation. Greatest health impact from Fukushima: psychological impact due to lack of education on radiation hazards and irresponsible reporting.

More people died from organic German sprouts and organic Colorado cantaloupe than have died from nuclear power accidents.

crosspatch

Cigar winner!

I’ve always wondered why the French are so smart that they get nukes for their electricity.

Wander on March 11, 2013 at 1:45 PM

If we turned our back every time flaws were exposed in technological applications and it’s inherent imperfections due to human nature, we’d all still be running around naked and using sticks as the universal implement.

Dusty on March 11, 2013 at 12:47 PM

Apparently, you see something wrong with that. When that sort of activity was popular, there wasn’t anything that even slightly resembled welfare.

In fact, if you screwed off a lot, you might be dinner.

BobMbx on March 11, 2013 at 3:18 PM

To sum up, the alternatives to fossil fuels are very, very few that could promise the magnitude of energy required to meet our nation’s need. It is not as though plentiful alternatives exist, and one can be weighed against another …

The blunt fact is that there are the fossil fuels and there is nuclear.

Failure to recognize this, while focusing on options that do not and cannot have the magnitudes [of supply] required, will inevitably lead to increasingly dangerous energy shortages. Who then will answer? Will [it be] the environmental activist, who blocks real options, and then puts forth options that cannot meet the need?
- Dr. Charles Till, Associate Director (ret.), Argonne National Laboratory

Good to see the people of Japan finally figuring this out. Now we’re just waiting on Germany.

Alberta_Patriot on March 11, 2013 at 3:46 PM

Why would they not use nuclear power? How else are they going to generate power? With the damn WIND?

Maybe this time they wont screw it up though.

TX-96 on March 11, 2013 at 4:06 PM

Maybe this time they wont screw it up though.

TX-96 on March 11, 2013 at 4:06 PM

They didn’t screw it up.

There was an earthquake that killed 20,000 people (there have been exactly zero confirmed radiation casualties since 3/11/2011 in Japan) and knocked the entire planet 9 inches off its axis.

And speaking of causalities, the number of casualties from causes unique to nuclear power in Germany over the last 50 years has also been exactly zero. In 2011, organic farming killed 50 german citizens.

Guess which industry the German government is shutting down?

Alberta_Patriot on March 11, 2013 at 4:23 PM

There is nothing unsafe about a well run Nuclear Plant…. Well if properly secure… It needs to past the 70+ Nun test…

As for the Nuclear plant itself… The problem is that once the plant is operational… Countries seem to forget to update/maintain/upgrade… All over the World… They have a mentality of build it and forget it until there is an accident… Then that plant that was design/built and last retrofitted 20 to 30 years ago is judged by today’s tech… That is BS…

Y314K on March 11, 2013 at 6:01 PM

So we have a new benchmark. It took Japan two years for the irrational anti-nuke power generation hysteria to subside and for reason and and rationality to regain some footing.

Of course, that’s in Japan. They don’t really have many options. 70 years ago they went to war with us over oil.

Meanwhile on the other side of the Pacific, almost 35 years after Three Mile Island the US has still not turned the corner on anti-nuclear energy hysteria. Meanwhile we are manufacturing our own oil crisis. We don’t need outsiders or natural disasters to self-destruct. We can do it to ourselves. All we need to do is elect socialists and liberal lunatics.

farsighted on March 11, 2013 at 6:02 PM

But man, I mean 99% of Japanese believe in global warming too.

Dongemaharu on March 11, 2013 at 1:26 PM

Right… But I think the Japanese Nuclear lobby just needs to run some Hello Kitty ads promoting Nuclear Power & walla… It will be hip in Japan…

Climate is not static so Climate change is real… But it’s been real since the original sin… It was real after the Great Flood… It was real before mass manufacturing & it will be real no matter how much $$$ Al Gore can extort from suckers…

One thing I would like to see some research on is Pre-arisol bans… I never heard any problems with the space shuttle… Then after the ingredients that they made the foam on the outer tanks where changed… We started to have catastrophic holes in the tiles from foam breaking off the tanks…

Anybody remember the daily End of the world because of the ozone layer back in the 80′s… They try to say that is no longer the case because we stop using Arisol’s… But it was a couple of volcanic eruption’s that made that bogie man mute… BS, BS, BS…

Y314K on March 11, 2013 at 6:27 PM

A testament to the resilience and resolve of the Japanese people. Hooray.

jake49 on March 11, 2013 at 7:50 PM

It is a question of trade-offs.

The Japanese don’t have to use nuclear power but then they pay a lot on a daily basis for oil. If they don’t want to pay so much, they have to decide what level of risk they will accept.

One choice I doubt they’d make is to give up modern living and go back to the old pre-industrial, feudal Japan way of life.

Russ808 on March 11, 2013 at 9:30 PM

You know – the Level of Ignorance in This World when it comes to Radiation and Nuclear Power is Mind-Numbing!!

I wish that I could say that “Conservatives have a better, clearer and less hysterical understanding of these sciences”, and that I could come to a Conservative Blog site – such as this one – and read reason and logic. Sadly – such is not the case. This Blog was one of the WORST offenders in publishing Bogus and Rampant Lies about Fukushima while it was happening.

Sad.

One of the BEST, Most Accurate and Most Reliable? Blackfive. C’est la vie.

Well – the link above, surprisingly, contains more truth that I have read here about Fukushima.

So……despite the Media Hysteria – Fukushima posed NO significant risk to the health and safety of The Public…..

“These are pretty small proportional increases. The additional risk is quite small and will probably be hidden by the noise of other (cancer) risks like people’s lifestyle choices and statistical fluctuations. It’s more important not to start smoking than having been in Fukushima.”

http://science.time.com/2013/03/01/meltdown-despite-the-fear-the-health-risks-from-the-fukushima-accident-are-minimal/

williamg on March 12, 2013 at 12:16 AM

williamg on March 12, 2013 at 12:16 AM

I’m sorry is there anything scientific in any of the links. I didn’t find any, maybe you could be more specific. Maybe you and

PolAgnostic on March 11, 2013 at 1:09 PM

Could get together and come up with something. PolAgnostic seems to be concerned about something that eludes me.

whbates on March 12, 2013 at 12:53 AM

Japan’s return to nuclear power was inevitable and is welcome.

Sherman1864 on March 12, 2013 at 6:02 AM

whbates on March 12, 2013 at 12:53 AM

Yeah – I can see a LOT of things elude you………..are you even qualified to HAVE a conversation about anything “scientific” – because you seem a little light in that regard……you need to do some more reading first – I would suggest starting with “30 Years That Shook Physics” by George Gamow.

williamg on March 12, 2013 at 11:48 PM