This Saturday will be the anniversary of the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi I Nuclear Plant, which was due to the Tohoku earthquake and a 15-meter tsunami on 11 march 2011.
The accident led to core meltdowns in three of the reactors, hydrogen explosions and the release of radioactive material. About 150 000 people were evacuated from their home.
For these people or the region, things will never be the same again: Despite all the decontamination efforts that have been done in and around the houses, the radiation levels have not been brought down to a level that is safe in the long term and people will continue to be exposed to elavated levels of radiation for the decades to come.
In February, Greenpeace International published a report entitled ‘No return to normal, the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster’. The document looks at the current situation and potential lifetime radiation exposure in Iiate, a town in the Fukushima Prefecture. The end of this month marks the first time since 2011 when the inhabitants will be able to return to their former homes... For more than 6000 people, this is a time of uncertainty and anxiety. Radiation levels in the surrounding forests, which were an integral part of the residents’ lives prior to the nuclear accident, are comparable to the current levels within the Chernobyl 30km exclusion zone – an area that more than 30 years after the accident remains formally closed to habitation. For those who are thinking about returning, the critical question remains what radiation dose will they be subjected to... A question that remains unanswered by the Japanese government.
The Fukushima nuclear disaster showed us once again that nuclear reactors will always remain extremely dangerous. Nuclear disasters damage the health of the local population but also create a huge financial burden for society.
Although some governments decided to phase out nuclear as a consequence of the disaster, some others continue their business as usual, arguing that a similar accident could never happen in their country. But the reality is that no nuclear reactors will ever be immune to human errors, natural disasters, or any of the many other serious incidents that could cause a disaster.
Millions of people who live near nuclear reactors are at risk.
What happened in Fukushima should be a lesson for Europe, where many old high risk reactors continue to operate. The fact for example that in Belgium two reactors in Tihange and Doel are still operating even though thousands of faults have been found in the reactor pressure vessels, whose origin is still unclear, endangers people not only in Belgium, but also in the neighbouring countries. The same can be said for old nuclear power plants in other countries like Fessenheim and Cattenom in France. Decision to prolong the operation of old reactors should not be up to the government of one country as the risks are shared across the borders. More action is needed to protect the safety of European citizens! Distributing iodine pills will certainly not address the huge risks created by this highly dangerous source of energy...