The nuclear crisis in Japan

The nuclear crisis in Japan

The nuclear crisis in Japan

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Our thoughts go out to the people of Japan who have experienced the worst earthquake in their country in nearly 100 years, followed by a devastating tsunami. The news coming out of Japan is sobering, if not grim. Thousands of people are dead or missing and the country’s infrastructure has been severely damaged. 

Friends of the Earth also is deeply concerned with the nuclear emergency unfolding in Japan and have been coordinating with experts to monitor the rapidly changing situations at multiple reactor sites.

Photo: REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoo

Take action

Call for an immediate halt to reactor construction and ultimately, an end to nuclear power in the U.S.

Radiological Impact of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster
A petition from Green Action Japan, where you can sign on and show your solidarity with many concerned Japanese citizens.

Recent Updates

Read updates from our colleagues at Friends of the Earth Japan, who are writing on life after the earthquake and tsunami via the Friends of the Earth International blog.

5/13/11:  On Thursday, TEPCO admitted that the fuel in the core of reactor #1 is completely exposed and that melted fuel has dropped to the bottom of the pressure vessel, meaning that a full meltdown has occurred in that reactor. (Bloomberg)

5/3/11: The Japanese government is coming under increasing fire from parents, doctors, and watchdog groups for allowing school children in the Fukushima prefecture to be exposed to high levels of radiation.

A senior nuclear advisor tearfully resigned over the government’s decision to permit elementary school children to experience doses of radiation equal to the international standard for nuclear power plant workers, even though children are at greater risk of developing cancer and other health impacts from radiation exposure. For more information, see news coverage from the New York Times, TIME, and the Japan Times.

4/21/11:  TEPCO revealed today that it allowed the release of some 520 tons of highly radioactive waste water into the open ocean in early April — indicating that the company continues to use the ocean as its personal dumping ground (Xinhua).

In a statement, Friends of the Earth condemned the company for hiding the information from authorities and the public for weeks—and for its inability to control massive releases of radiation. We are also calling on the U.S. government to take further steps to protect the public and the environment from rising contamination.

4/17/11: TEPCO gave its estimate for how long it will take to adequately cool down the reactors and spent fuel pools in crisis at Fukushima: six to nine months. This admission underscores that we face a long-term crisis that will require persistent monitoring by authorities to ensure that the public and the environment are protected from radioactive releases (CNN).

Click here to read older updates on the nuclear crisis.


Friends of the Earth on Aljazeera

Press conferences (audio/video)

Transcript of briefing with top Russian Chernobyl expert at the National Press Club, 3/25/11
C-SPAN video of briefing with top Russian Chernobyl expert at the National Press Club, 3/25/11
Audio of opening remarks from briefing with top Russian Chernobyl expert at the National Press Club, 3/25/11
Audio of Q&A from briefing with top Russian Chernobyl expert at the National Press Club, 3/25/11
Photographs of briefing with top Russian Chernobyl expert at the National Press Club, 3/25/11
U.S. press teleconference, 3/24/11
Transcript of briefing by nuclear experts at the National Press Club, 3/18/11
Audio of briefing by nuclear experts at the National Press Club, 3/18/11
Photographs of briefing by nuclear experts at the National Press Club, 3/18/11
U.S. press teleconference, 3/14/11
U.S. press teleconference, 3/12/11 
Citizens Nuclear Information Center news conference (in Japanese)

Friends of the Earth media releases

TEPCO Dumping Radioactive Wastewater into Sea | FDA’s Comparison of Radiation in Milk to Everyday Exposures Called ‘Improper’ | Obama Doubles Down on Dirty Energy in Speech | Fukushima-Related FOIA Request: Full Data Sought on Radiation Levels | S.C.’s Oconee Reactors Present Hazards | Aging Vermont Yankee Reactor Relicensed as Japan Crisis Unfolds | President Asked to Release Info about Japanese Disaster | Obama’s Refusal to Put Brakes on Dangerous Reactors Called Irresponsible | Experts comment on U.S. implications of Japanese reactor crisis | Nuclear emergency ongoing in Japan | U.S. experts comment on Japan reactor crisis | Explosion at Japanese nuclear facility

Updates to members and activists

Spring 2011 Newsmagazine – Radioactive Energy: The prospects for nuclear in the wake of Fukushima, 5/13/11
Update: No end in sight for Japan nuclear crisis, 4/5/11
Update: The nuclear crisis in Japan, 3/15/11
Frequently asked questions, 3/15/11
The situation in Japan
, 3/13/11

Fact Sheets

Financial analysts downgrade nuclear power
U.S. reactors vulnerable to Japan-like disaster
Loan guarantee program risks billions of taxpayer dollars on dirty energy

Media stories

Japan reactor – Core damage worse than thought

Tone deaf Obama expands loan guarantees for reactors and drops renewable energy
It’s Getting Hot in Here

Japan works to contain nuclear fires, radiation leaks
Washington Post

Crisis underscores fears about safety of nuclear energy
The New York Times

Japanese nuclear plants’ operator scrambles to avert meltdowns
Washington Post

Interactive Graphics and Video

A model of the dispersion of radioactive releases into the atmosphere on a global scale
Météo-France, French national meteorological service

How a Reactor Shuts Down and What Happens in a Meltdown
The New York Times

Japan’s Nuclear Emergency
The Washington Post

Rachel Maddow explains the mechanics of a nuclear reactor.


Rachel Maddow explains the dangers in spent fuel pools.


Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more updates

Older Updates

4/7/11: A magnitude 7.1 aftershock struck off the coast of Japan Thursday, resulting in a tsunami warning. Workers were evacuated for 90 minutes, until the tsunami warning was lifted (BBC).

Seeking to avert more hydrogen explosions, TEPCO began pumping nitrogen into the crippled reactors (Reuters).

Authorities announced they plugged a leak, using “liquid glass to stop at least one route the contaminated water was taking” from the Fukushima Daiichi plant to the sea. Meanwhile, they continued to pump radioactive water into the ocean (NPR).

4/5/11: After beginning to dump radioactive water into the ocean, TEPCO found seawater samples with levels of radioactive iodine-131 at 7.5 million times the legal limit and levels of radioactive cesium, which remains dangerous for decades, at 1.1 million times the legal limit (Los Angeles Times).

ABC News honed in on the impacts the radioactive water releases could have on the tuna industry on the U.S. West Coast, where tuna exposed to radiation in Japanese waters could migrate. Correspondent Neal Karlinksy reports that tuna reaching Oregon and Washington state, “may well have spent time in some of the world’s most radioactive water on Earth.” You can watch the segment here.

4/4/11: Yesterday, Japanese government officials admitted that it will likely take months to get the nuclear emergency at Fukushima under control, and that dangerous releases of radiation will persist until then.

That reality was driven home Monday, as TEPCO began releasing up to 11,500 tons of radioactive water into the ocean (Washington Post).

Friends of the Earth’s climate and energy director Damon Moglen warned, “This dumping poses a direct threat to humans and the environment, and fisheries and industries depending on a clean Pacific could be devastated.” In a statement, Friends of the Earth called on the U.S. government to intervene to stop this dumping of radioactive waste.

4/1/11: A clearer picture of the sacrifice being made by workers struggling to contain the radiation crisis at Fukushima emerged this week. Through a translator, the mother of a 32-year-old worker told Fox News: “He told me they have accepted they will all probably die from radiation sickness in the short term or cancer in the long-term.”

The plight of people outside the mandatory evacuation zone also came into focus, as the mayor of Minamisoma, a town where residents have been ordered to stay indoors, appealed to the international community about the “injustice” his town faces via a video posted on YouTube. The mayor warned:

“Even volunteers and those delivering relief supplies have no choice but to enter (the city) at their own risk. Residents are being forced into starvation.”

In the U.S., Friends of the Earth joined three other watchdog groups and a former senior advisor to the U.S. Department of Energy in taking the FDA to task for failing to accurately inform the public about the risks posed by exposure to ingested iodine-131, the radioactive substance detected in low levels in milk in Washington state.

3/31/11: More troubling evidence of the spread of radiation from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant came to light today.

  • Radiation levels in water surrounding the reactors spiked to 10,000 times above allowed limits. (Los Angeles Times)
  • The dangerous levels of radioactive contamination in the evacuation zone around the plant are prohibiting the recovery of about 1,000 bodies of victims killed the aftermath of the earthquake. (USA Today)
  • At a village 25 miles from the plant–and outside the mandatory evacuation zone–the International Atomic Energy Agency found amounts of cesium 137, a long-lasting, highly toxic radioactive element, that surpass the standard used to recommend permanent abandonment of land following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. (New York Times)
  • In the U.S., radioactive iodine was discovered at low levels in milk samples taken last week in Spokane, Washington. (New York Times)

3/30/11: As we continue to monitor the news out of Japan, Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica provides some context on risks nuclear reactors pose here at home in this piece on the Huffington Post. When you look at the facts, it is clear that the time has come to end nuclear power in the United States.

3/22/11-3/29/11: It is increasingly clear that there will be no quick fix for cooling the reactors in trouble or for containing the spread of dangerous radiation. Three workers suffered radiation burns after being exposed to highly contaminated water that appears to have leaked from reactor #3. High radiation levels have also been detected in the nearby ocean, and plutonium has been found in soil at the plant. It looks likely that reactor #3, which contains a more toxic and volatile plutonium fuel mix, has suffered a partial meltdown.

3/19/11-3/21/11: New information on the spread of radiation from Fukushima Daiichi is raising public health concerns – and underscoring the need for transparency:

  • Radioactive contamination has been detected in spinach, milk and other foods from farms up to 90 miles away from Fukushima Daiichi.
  • Small but concerning amounts of radioactive iodine were also detected in Tokyo’s water supply.
  • Japan’s nuclear safety agency also reported that some of the water used to douse dangerously hot reactors had reached the nearby ocean.

Monday, workers had connected electrical cables to at least one reactor, but did not yet have enough power to run cooling systems. Questions also remain as to whether cooling systems at reactors that suffered explosions will be operable. Also on Monday, reactor #3 was spewing gray smoke for a period, forcing the temporary evacuation of workers trying to make repairs.

3/18/11: We are continuing to monitor the news reports out of Japan. MSNBC reports that there is a disparity in the radiation readings between Japanese government and U.S. military, with the U.S. reporting higher amounts.

3/16/11: News reports indicate that the reactor crisis is “spinning out of control.” (Reuters) Containment vessels of two reactors may now have ruptured. Reactor #3 appears to have been spewing radioactive steam. This reactor is powered in part by plutonium fuel — a fuel that is more unstable and more toxic for humans than traditional fuel. Conditions are increasingly perilous for the courageous 50 workers still on-site. Since the quake struck, five workers have died, at least 22 have suffered injuries and two more are missing. (New York Times)

3/15/11: The most recent developments indicate that there are further troubles with reactor #2 and new problems with reactor #4’s spent fuel pool. Early Tuesday morning, an explosion may have damaged the containment vessel of reactor #2. While that danger is still being assessed, Japanese officials are deliberating on what is the best method to deliver cooling water to the pool of spent fuel rods at reactor #4.

3/14/11: The latest news coming out of Japan indicates there was a second reactor building explosion, new reports of problems at Fukushima reactor #2, repositioning of an aircraft carrier, and questions about the safety of spent fuel pools.  All of these issues have implications for potential future reactor construction in the U.S.

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