As the one-year anniversary of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami approaches, many have likely read or heard reports from those who visited the newly opened site of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. While countless opinions doubtlessly exist concerning the mistakes of Mar. 11 and the general safety of nuclear power, one group of thirty university professors, lawyers, and journalists conducted a six-month investigation to uncover the facts amongst the fiction.
One member of the Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation, Akihisa Shiozaki, commented in an interview with NHK that the TEPCO energy company and Japanese government’s responses to the earthquake and nuclear disasters were “crude, reactionary, but lucky.” What seems to concern people most, however, is the revelation that the government briefly considered evacuating Tokyo as a result of the Fukushima nuclear plant problems. In this worst-case scenario, officials had to consider what steps would be taken if the Fukishima Daiichi plant were to explode and cause problems at neighboring nuclear plants. Luckily, this worst-case scenario never came to pass. The Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation found this information only by carefully interviewing roughly 300 people involved in accident response efforts, as the future possibility of evacuation was completely erased from government records. Such reports likely stir up anxiety for families in Tokyo who remain concerned to this day regarding their children’s potential exposure to harmful levels of radiation.
As devastating as the earthquake and its resounding effects continue to be, enterprising companies are turning a bad situation to their advantage. Areva, one of the world’s largest nuclear conglomerates, plans to cut 1,500 jobs in Germany due to the country’s decision to phase out all nuclear power. This means that opportunities for the development of alternative energy sources are on the rise. The Japanese Sumitomo Corporation recently signed an agreement with Indonesia to build a $1.5 billion project on Sumatra to harvest geothermal energy. The company believes that the project will provide enough power for six million people.
Meanwhile, Germany is not the only country harboring doubts about nuclear energy’s safety; Japan has shut down 51 of its 54 reactors in order to conduct extra stress tests. If the current trend continues, all Japan’s reactors will be offline by April and unable to come back into use without the approval of municipal governing bodies. NHK asked local governments of reactor-hosting cities the following: “Do you support the restarting of nuclear reactors?” Only 17% of respondents replied that they would like to see reactors restarted “soon” or “some time.” A pragmatic reason factoring into this response is the positive effect a resumption of services would have on local economies. 72% of respondents stated that they remain undecided, or that they do not approve of a restart for “some time.” Such responses seem to fly in the face of survey results released by the Fukushima Prefectural Government that none of the general public seems to have encountered dangerous amounts of radiation.
While it’s clear that popular consensus on the safety of nuclear energy is lacking, what’s unclear is the long-term impact that such varied opinions will have on Japan and the world. The Japanese government estimates that 65,000 people left the Fukushima area after March 11. If municipal governments allow the reactors to restart, will their show of faith encourage the 65,000 to return home? Based on NHK’s survey, the prospect seems unlikely.