Lessons from Fukushima


The world just marked the tenth anniversary of the tragic Fukushima earthquake, tsunami, nuclear power plant meltdown and hydrogen explosion. The name ‘Fukushima’ is clearly etched in our collective memories, and we are frequently urged to learn lessons from what happened there.

But what did actually happen – and which lessons should we learn? In other words, how do citizens, governments and the news media avoid learning the wrong lessons?

As Africa’s foremost nuclear power expert, Kelvin Kemm is especially knowledgeable about Chernobyl and Fukushima. In the article below, he lays out what actually happened in Japan a decade ago – and what lessons we would be well advised to learn from that tragedy.

There were three main lessons:

  1. There is no evidence of radiation harm to any person or animal.
  2. Some 15,000 people were killed by the massive tsunami which followed the earthquake, mainly by drowning. Eleven nuclear power plants were struck by the earthquake/tsunami and were safely shut down automatically. The subsequent explosion in one nuclear power station was caused by ignition of hydrogen gas which had accumulated under the roof and could not be evacuated because power had failed when the tsunami swept away power lines.
  3. The subsequent massive forced (and unnecessary) evacuation of 160,000 people caused some 2,000 deaths.

Viv Forbes

Read full article below:

We Should Learn What Lessons From Fukushima? Lesson #1: People Died from Forced Evacuations, not from Radiation

By Dr Kelvin Kemm

Source: https://townhall.com/columnists/kelvinkemm/2021/03/23/we-should-learn-what-lessons-from-fukushima-n2586682

The Main Lesson: People died from forced evacuations, not from radiation

A decade has passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake, and the name Fukushima is etched into history. But few people know the truth of what happened. The phrase, “the lessons learned from Fukushima,” is well-known. But how do people implement them, if they don’t know what happened, or what lessons they should actually learn?

It was after lunch on 11 March 2011 that a giant earthquake occurred 72 kilometers (45 miles) off the Oshika Peninsula in Japan. It registered 9.0 on the Richter Scale, making it the largest ’quake ever recorded in Japan. The undersea ground movement, over 30 km (18 miles) beneath the ocean’s surface, lifted up a huge volume of water, like an immense moving hill. Meanwhile, the ground shockwave travelled toward the land at high speed. It struck Japan and shook the ground for six terrifying minutes.

The shock wave travelled under 11 nuclear reactors, including two separate Fukushima complexes: Fukushima-Diani and Fukushima-Daiichi. (Diani means ‘Complex 1’ and Daiichi ‘Complex 2’.) All 11 reactors shut down, as they were designed to do, and no doubt all the reactor operators breathed a great sigh of relief. It was premature.

The mound of sea water was still traveling. As the water “hill” entered shallow water, nearer the land, it was lifted up into a towering wave as high as 40 meters (130 feet!) in places.  Then, some 50 minutes after the earthquake, the tsunami struck the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power station. Some kilometres away, when water struck the Fukushima-Diani nuclear power station, it was “only” 9 m (30 ft) high, which was not as devastating as at Daiichi. Diani did not make it into the news.

The water jumped the protective sea walls at Fukushima-Daiichi. The sighs of relief from a half hour before turned into concern and dread. Over at the Fukushima Diani power station, 12 km (7 mi) to the south, water also caused damage to machinery, but the reactors were not harmed. There was no risk of radiation release, so the Diani power station was of no interest to the international media. Diani was safely shut down to “cold shutdown” after two days.

As a result, over the past decade, any reference to “Fukushima” has meant only the Daiichi power station and not the other one.

The devastating tsunami swept up to 10 km (6 mi) inland in places, washing away buildings, roads, and telecommunication and power lines. Over 15,000 people were killed, mainly by drowning.

Although all the nuclear reactors had shut down to a state known as “hot shutdown,” the reactors were still very hot and needed residual cooling for many hours after the urgent fast shutdown. People instinctively know not to put their hands on the engine block of a car right after it has been switched off. Nuclear reactors are the same and need to cool down until they reach the safe state known as “cold shutdown.”

A nuclear reactor has pumps that send water through the reactor until it cools. But the Fukushima electrical pumps failed, because the tsunami had washed away the incoming electrical lines. So the reactor system automatically switched to diesel-driven generators to keep the cooling pumps going; but the water had washed away the diesel fuel supply, meaning the diesels worked for only a short while. Then it switched to emergency batteries; but the batteries were never designed to last for days, and could supply emergency power for only about eight hours.

The hot fuel could not be cooled, and over the next three or four days the fuel in three reactors melted, much like a candle melts.

The world media watched, and broadcast the blow-by-blow action. Japanese authorities started to panic under the international spotlight. The un-circulating cooling water was boiling off inside the reactors resulting in a chemical reaction between hot fuel exposed to hot steam. This led to the production of hydrogen gas. As the steam pressure rose, the engineers decided to open valves to release the pressure. That worked as planned, but it released the hydrogen as well.

Hydrogen, being light, rose up to the roof, where the ventilation system was not working, because there was no electricity. After a while some stray spark ignited the hydrogen which exploded, blowing the lightweight roof off the building right in front of the world’s TV cameras.  The Fukushima news just became much more dramatic. Authorities were desperate to show the world some positive action.

They progressively ordered the evacuation of 160,000 people living around the Fukushima neighbourhood. That was a mistake. As days and weeks passed, it materialized that not one single person was killed by nuclear radiation. Not one single person was even injured by nuclear radiation, either. Even today, a decade later, there is still no sign of any longer-term radiation harm to any person or animal. Sadly, however, people did die during the forced evacuation.

So one of the lessons learned from Fukushima is that a huge amount of nuclear power can be struck by the largest earthquake and tsunami ever recorded, and nobody gets harmed by nuclear radiation.

Another lesson learned is that an evacuation order issued too hastily did harm and kill people.

World Nuclear Association Director-General Dr. Sama Bilbao y León said: “The rapidly implemented and protracted evacuation has resulted in well-documented significant negative social and health impacts. In total, the evacuation is thought to have been responsible for more than 2,000 premature deaths among the 160,000 who were evacuated. The rapid evacuation of the frail elderly, as well at those requiring hospital care, had a near-immediate toll.” [emphasis added]

She added: “When facing future scenarios concerning public health and safety, whatever the event, it is important that authorities take an all-hazards approach. There are risks involved in all human activities, not just nuclear power generation. Actions taken to mitigate a situation should not result in worse impacts than the original events. This is particularly important when managing the response to incidents at nuclear facilities – where fear of radiation may lead to an overly conservative assessment and a lack of perspective for relative risks.”

Thus, a decade later, we can contemplate the cumulative lessons learned. Above all, they are that nuclear power is far safer than anyone had thought. Even when dreaded core meltdowns occurred, and although reactors were wrecked, resulting in a financial disaster for the owners, no people were harmed by radiation.

We also learned that, for local residents, it would have been far safer to stay indoors in a house than to join the forced evacuation. We also learned that governments and authorities must listen to the nuclear professionals, and not overreact, even though the television news cameras look awfully close.

Fukushima certainly produced some valuable lessons. Governments, news media and the public need to learn the correct lessons from them.

Dr Kelvin Kemm is a nuclear physicist and is CEO of Stratek Business Strategy Consultants, a project management company based in Pretoria. He conducts business strategy development and project planning in a wide variety of fields for diverse clients. Contact him at Stratek@pixie.co.za

4 thoughts on “Lessons from Fukushima”

  1. Some of this report sounds suspect. What about the Israeli-installed mini nuclear bomb camera. Kemp looks like he was after more consulting.

  2. Fears of genetic mutations caused by radiation are greatly exaggerated.
    If fear of mutations is the driver of our ‘no-nuclear-here’ policies then we had better eliminate the use of many common compounds. A researcher in our labs in the 1960s noted that the most potent cause of bacterial mutation that she had found was WASHING-UP LIQUID and coffee.
    We need to get a much better grip on relative risks and the cost/benefit of mitigating each risk.

  3. Dear Professor,
    This is a short letter to show my research into the electron’s behavior system. Congratulation on this format as it proves what science has been saying over the last two decades. Thomas.

    I have been patient over the last two decades, hoping that a Politician with knowledge of Climate Change will consider and understand my research showing an additional basis for Climate Change. I anticipate that you will respond to this letter so that we can now work together to help save Australia.
    I am frustrated, endeavouring to inform the media and as a consequence, also the Prime Minister of Australia, who are all concentrating on a one point of climate control, making Carbon Dioxide (CO2) the only enemy. That sole basis for the current climate situation ignores the 450,000 year history of climate changes and of the energy changes that are from our Sun’s activity.
    My research has been published and within the public library system. Climate needs thinkers to show that CO2 is a necessity, not a figment of imagination; that shows it as controlling the activities of our weather patterns.
    Climate reparation must not be exclusively based around CO2 as it is a heavy gas molecule that is odourless, colourless and its Periodic table atomic weight of 44, does not hold heat and rise as is always portrayed by the media. CO2 is necessary for life, and during the evening cycle of its synthesis it gives off Oxygen. The claimed CO2 versions of the media portray it only as a problem molecule that is melting snow, ice within the Arctic Circle and “murdering” our liveable climate. The issue is of the other natural climate cycles of Earth and other factors have not been identified to affect our climate. The Vostok exercise demonstrated conclusively the rise of CO2 follows the Earth temperature. Not rising before the climate change.

    The Sun passed through a sector of our constellation and entered a Positive magnetic sector climaxing on or near the 15th December 2012, but it was this initial change on or near to the middle of February 2001 that caused a major contributor, as much as CO2 has to climate change.
    Evidence shows this situation has occurred four times in the Vostok scientific graphic. It is time that this fact is brought to the public’s attention as it shows the cycle as a natural cycle of an event that has occurred 450,000 years, four times. Earth is heading for another cool sector in our future temperature cycles. Only when all these factors that affect the climate change are considered, can we plan for and mitigate their effects.

    At present we are failing to do this, for making the efforts narrowly focussed and at risk of failure. FAQs that need answers, I welcome to answer them for you. These questions must be asked and answered for a successful planned course of action.
    Thomas T S Watson,
    Magnetic & Gravitational Researcher (Author of: ‘Climate Change – Explained by Magnetism?’)
    C/o Costa House, 1 Investigator Ave.,
    Lara, Victoria – 3212 Ph: 0425 737 370 – (Australia) Email: watson.thomas1@gmail.com

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