The government approves an additional ¥696.8bn ($7.5bn) to be put in the state-backed compensation fund to cover compensation costs owed to victims of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. TEPCO says it will post a net loss of ¥120bn ($1.29bn) for the 2012 fiscal year, almost three times more than the ¥45bn ($485m) it originally predicted.
The pro-nuclear LDP beats the incumbent Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), led by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda in the Lower House of Parliament elections. LDP leader Shinzo Abe is elected Japan’s Prime Minister.
Takefumi Anegawa, leader of an internal TEPCO reform task force, admits a “lack of safety culture and bad habits” as well as “collusion” with the nuclear industry, led to the Fukushima nuclear disaster. It is TEPCO’s most open admission of guilt so far.
TEPCO announces plans to build an arched cover over Fukushima Daiichi’s reactor #3 nuclear plant, which will allow cranes and other equipment to remove 566 nuclear fuel assemblies, while containing at least some of the radiation currently escaping. A similar cover already shelters the #1 reactor building, and work is underway on another at reactor #4.
Shinzo Abe, head of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), promises that if his party wins December’s Lower House of Parliament elections, he will restart the nation’s idled nuclear reactors.
UN Special Rapporteur Anand Grover, representing the UN Human Rights Council, criticises Japan’s government for failing to protect the human rights of those affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster, including those who were exposed to radiation.
In a complete turnaround from previous statements, including a comprehensive report released in June in which it denied all blame, TEPCO admits that the Fukushima nuclear disaster could have been avoided if it had prepared for tsunamis it was well aware could possibly occur, held more effective safety drills, diversified power sources, adhered to international standards, and was better organised. New radiation monitoring conducted by Greenpeace in Fukushima City and Iitate reveals that more than 75% of 40 government monitoring posts showed lower radiation levels than their immediate surroundings, with contamination levels within 25 metres of the posts measuring up to six times higher than at the posts themselves.
TEPCO continues to struggle with increasing amounts of contaminated water in the basements of reactor buildings. Although the utility is now recycling water used to cool melted fuel, groundwater continues to seep into the damaged reactor buildings, thereby also becoming radioactive. Currently, TEPCO is storing 200,000 tons of highly radioactive water, enough to fill 50 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Japan announces that it plans to abandon nuclear power by 2030 and will not begin construction on any new nuclear reactors during that period
Japan injects ¥1 trillion ($12.78bn) into TEPCO, effectively a government takeover, in order to prevent the utility from declaring bankruptcy. In addition, ¥2.5tn in public funding will be used to underwrite compensation to victims of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Despite dire warnings from the nuclear industry and its backers, Japan’s hot summer passes with no power blackouts or shortages even though just two out of its 50 nuclear reactors were in operation.
Ignoring widespread public opposition, Kansai Electric Company (KEPCO) restarts reactor #3 at the Ohi power plant in Fukui Prefecture. The cooling system at the spent fuel pool of reactor #4 at the Fukushima Daiichi plant unexpectedly stops, resulting in an almost 10° temperature increase over 33 hours before the system was restarted. The spent fuel pool contains 1,535 fuel rods and has been widely labelled as precarious by nuclear experts; if they melt down, the Tokyo metropolitan area, with a population of 35 million, would possibly have to be evacuated.
TEPCO admits that it studied the effect of a 13.5 metre tsunami at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in 2006, and determined that all power at the plant would be lost should a such a large tsunami strike the coast there. Staff estimated that making upgrades to prevent power loss would cost $25m. TEPCO never addressed the issue.
Japan’s last remaining nuclear reactor shuts down, leaving the country entirely nuclear-free for the first time in 42 years. Despite fear mongering from the nuclear industry no large blackouts occurred.
NISA officials and TEPCO admit that they knew that power loss leading to a total blackout as a result of flooding from a tsunami was possible at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant as early as 2006, but did nothing to prevent the flood of water which eventually damaged the equipment there.
The municipal government of Tokyo is now the majority shareholder of TEPCO’s stock. Tokyo has criticised the utility for a recent 17% fare hike, as well as for continued bungling of the Fukushima disaster. Japan’s government announces that reactors #1 to #4 at Fukushima Daiichi are formally going to be “decommissioned”.
A year after the disaster, an independent panel investigating the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant releases a scathing report highly critical of TEPCO, then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan, and other government agencies. The report asserts that TEPCO’s “systematic negligence” made “light of the culture of nuclear safety”, and as a result, the utility failed to prepare for a severe accident.
Members of the media are granted access to the crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant for only the second time since the nuclear crisis occurred in March 2011. The tour reveals continuing widespread damage and exceedingly high levels of radiation, almost a year after the crisis began.
Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC) reveals that the government concealed radiation exposure in children’s thyroid glands in March 2011. A total of 1,080 children aged 15 and under were tested; some received annual doses as high as 35 millisieverts.
Greenpeace’s report Lessons from Fukushima exposes the disaster as “a failure of human institutions to acknowledge real reactor risks, a failure to establish and enforce appropriate nuclear safety standards and ultimately a failure to protect the public and the environment”.
Prime Minister Noda announces that “cold shutdown” of the Fukushima reactors has been achieved. The milestone is symbolic and political, designed to adhere to a schedule announced in September by Nuclear Crisis Minister Goshi Hosono and to allay public fears. Members of Noda’s own party call the declaration “a fiction”.
Nine months after the triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, Greenpeace finds radioactive hotspots and signs that the official decontamination programme is both uncoordinated and thoroughly inadequate.
Japan’s largest retailer, AEON, announces that it is moving to zero radiation contamination of its food products after Greenpeace’s campaign focusing, in particular, on seafood.
TEPCO announces the discovery of xenon-133 and -135 in reactor #2, a sign that criticality and possible nuclear fission are occurring. The utility later retracts its statement and blames the discovery on spontaneous fission. The incident highlights the instability of the reactors, as well as TEPCO’s lack of information about their current state.
Scientists at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) report that the disaster may have released more than three times as much radiation into nearby ocean waters as initially reported by TEPCO: up to 15,000 terabecquerels of iodine-131 and cesium-137. TEPCO only reported 4,720 terabecquerels.
The outgoing Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) chief says that nuclear regulation in Japan is inadequate and admits that he knew that a meltdown was possible on 11 March.
Greenpeace calls on the Prime Minister to delay the opening of schools in Fukushima City after finding radiation dose rates again exceeding international safety standards at several schools and many public areas in the city. The findings, released shortly before schools were to restart, indicate that schools should not re-open until properly decontaminated
Prime Minister Kan calls for a nuclear-free Japan. Under pressure, he later says this is his personal view and not government policy. Kan is eventually pushed out and replaced by Yoshihiko Noda, who is considerably more pronuclear.
Reports surface that the Nuclear Safety Commission noted the possibility of a power loss to nuclear plants, including Fukushima Daiichi, as far back as the 1990s, but downplayed the risk. Nuclear Minister Goshi Hosono says that the government will move to lift some of the evacuation zones.
Greenpeace radiation experts find very high levels of contamination in the backyards of Fukushima City schools and kindergartens, as well as on access roads that children use. Radiation levels at a public playground actively used by families and kids reach 9.5 microsieverts an hour, and a hotspot next to a public school reads 45 microsieverts an hour, even after decontamination efforts (radiation levels measured at 10cm).
TEPCO finally admits that a meltdown began in reactor #1 within five hours after loss of power,
and also occurred in reactors #2 and #3.
Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior arrives in Japan. Greenpeace urges the Japanese authorities to undertake comprehensive radiation testing of seaweed along the Fukushima coast, after it carries out the first marine radiation monitoring. Initial tests by Greenpeace register significantly high levels of radioactive contamination, far beyond allowable limits for food consumption.
22 April 2011
The government finally concedes that radiation levels remain too high in Iitate and other
contaminated areas, and urges residents to evacuate – one month after Greenpeace’s demand to
widen the evacuation zone.
12 April 2011
Japan finally and officially rates the disaster at Level 7 on the INES scale. Greenpeace
calls this “woefully late”.
6 April 2011
Greenpeace radiation experts begin testing food and find radiation levels above official
limits in vegetables collected from gardens near Fukushima City, Koriyama and Minamisoma, and
from a supermarket in Fukushima City. In the meantime, Japan announces it will raise the
allowable radiation levels for everyone including children to 20 times higher than the
internationally recognised and legal limit of 1 millisievert a year.
4 April 2011
Greenpeace expands its radiation team operating in Fukushima prefecture, and based on
more detailed findings, calls for an expanded evacuation zone and urges the evacuation of
pregnant women and children from high-risk areas.
TEPCO admits that radioactive water from Fukushima reactor #2 is leaking into the ocean from a
crack in the maintenance pit near the reactor. In addition, TEPCO intentionally dumps 11,500
tonnes of radioactive water into the sea, ignoring protests from other nations and its own fisheries
industry. Measurements show levels of radioactive iodine-131 in seawater at 7.5 million times the
26 March 2011
Greenpeace specialists begin independent measurements of radiation and immediately
find radiation levels high enough to require evacuation in several locations to the northwest of the
crisis stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, including Iitate village, 40km from the plant and
20km beyond the official evacuation zone. The Japanese government rejects the findings.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) experts confirm the need for evacuation two days
23 March 2011
New analysis prepared for Greenpeace by a nuclear safety expert shows that enough
radioactivity was released into the atmosphere to rank at Level 7 on the International Nuclear
Event Scale (INES). This is the scale’s highest level, and equal to the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear
disaster. Despite clear facts and INES criteria, TEPCO – the operator of the Fukushima nuclear
plant – only upgrades its ranking at this time from a Level 4 to a Level 5 scale of accident.
12 March 2011
Japan declares a 20km evacuation zone around the Fukushima Daiichi plant, displacing tens of thousands of residents. The government later expands the zone to other highly contaminated areas. Eventually 160,000 are ordered to evacuate, tens of thousands fled voluntarily.
11 March 2011
A magnitude 9.0 earthquake strikes off the east coast of Japan. A large tsunami
follows. External power is lost at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant; back-up generators
also go down. Without power, cooling systems fail. Within days, three of the plant’s reactors
experience meltdown, and hydrogen explosions destroy reactor buildings.