This week marks the tenth anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that killed approximately 19,000 people in Japan and subsequently triggered the Fukushima Daiichi accident. The International Atomic Energy Agency rated Fukushima as a level 7 major accident, the highest on its scale. Thankfully, no civilian deaths or discernible cancer rate increases can be attributed to radiation released from the accident, according to the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation. However, over 1,000 died in the evacuation of the Fukushima prefecture. Most of the victims were elderly and vulnerable, and died primarily from exposure to cold weather, stress and inadequate access to healthcare and housing.
In wake of Fukushima, Japan continues to pay the price for shutting down nuclear power plants and replacing this carbon-free electricity with fossil fuels. Since 2011, scientists estimate higher carbon emissions from this increased fossil fuel use caused over 4,000 premature deaths per year from air pollution.
The inescapable reality is that fear of radiation caused infinitely more death and harm than the actual radiation released as a result of the accident. As nuclear engineers and scientists, we need to take that into account as we move forward and improve how we communicate the science so the public and policymakers can make better, more risk-informed decisions.
We hail the efforts of the brave men and women who brought the accident at Fukushima Daiichi 1 under control, and today are working to complete the clean up. Our hearts also go out to the millions of Japanese citizens who in some manner were impacted by the tsunami and its aftereffects.
President Mary Lou Dunzik-Gougar
Executive Director/CEO Craig Piercy,
American Nuclear Society