Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, Japan

An earthquake and tsunami knocked out the Fukushima nuclear power plant cooling systems in March 2011, causing meltdowns in three reactors. The accompanying radiological release was rated at Level 7, the highest on the scale and on par with Chernobyl.


On March 11th of 2011, an earthquake of magnitude 9.0 on Ritcher scale hit the Japanese East coast, damaging severely the area around Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.  In 1961 the town councils of Futaba and Ōkuma had voted to invite Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) to build a nuclear power plant on the border of the two towns, which are now empty of their inhabitants. The earthquake knocked out the Fukushima complex’s cooling systems , causing hydrogen explosions and meltdowns at three reactors. The accompanying radiological release was rated at Level 7, the highest on the scale and on par with Chernobyl. This is the major nuclear environmental disaster in recent history. The plant began its construction in 1967 and its operations in 1971, it was designed by General Electric Company and built and managed by the Japanese company TEPCO.  Although it was known that tsunamis of more than 30 meters could occur in the region, the plant had only a 6 meter containment wall and many essential systems were located in flood areas. During the days after the accident, some radioactive elements escaped from Fukushima were identified around the world. The accident caused the release of radioactive material into the sea for a long time. TEPCO hoped to clean the water using a filtering system and started releasing water contaminated at low levels into the ocean. Tens of thousand of people were evacuated and will not be able to come back. Some have been compensated by TEPCO evidencing health damage such cancer and possibly malformations in newborns. The damage in biodiversity is very visible (butterflies, fish, and other animals).  TEPCO is under state management, totally unable to face the very large liabilities from the accidents. Some national and international outcomes of this accidente are positive for the environmental movement that has long been opposed to nuclear energy. All nuclear power stations in Japan were closed, and the attempts by the government after 2015 to start again some of them still encounter widespread opposition.  On March 15, 2011, Angela Merkel, German Chancellor  announced the preventive closure of seven of the 17 active nuclear power plants. In Spain, the organization Ecologistas en Acción called for the closure of the Garoña nuclear plant, other actions were taken in  Austria, Chile, Italy, Suitzerland. 

Basic Data
NameFukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, Japan
Province Fukushima
SiteFutaba and Ōkuma
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Nuclear
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Nuclear power plants
Specific CommoditiesElectricity
One of the reactors used MOX fuel, with plutonium.
Project Details and Actors
Project Details- Total power of Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was 4.7 GW.

-The radioactive leakage to the sea constitutes a serious and unprecedented fact that introduces a new variable to this kind of accidents. The contamination will affect the marine ecosystems and it’s very difficult yet to evaluate its effects.

-The tsunami disabled the use of both the primary circuit of refrigeration and the emergency systems. The heat of the reactors became very high due to lack of refrigeration. Sea water was used to cool them down, after explosions.

- The spent nuclear waste in pool outside one of the reactor buildings started to heat up again for some time, releasing radiactivity.
Level of Investment (in USD)3,200,000,000 (plant written off) ; 170,000,000,000 (damages value)
Type of PopulationUrban
Potential Affected Populationunknown
Start Date11/03/2011
Company Names or State EnterprisesGeneral Electric US (GE) from United States of America
Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) from Japan
Relevant government actorsInternational Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); Government of Japan, Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority,
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersMetropolitan Coalition Against Nukes.

Friends of the Earth Japan (FoE)

Citizens' Nuclear Information Center.

Stop Rokkasho.


Sayonara Nuclear Power Plants.

Women from Fukushima Against Nukes.

Article 9 group.

Supporters: Greenpeace International
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Industrial workers
Informal workers
International ejos
Local ejos
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Fisher people
Forms of MobilizationInvolvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
The anti-nuclear rallies held every Friday in front of the Prime Minister’s Office starting in March 2012 were able to draw some 200,000 protesters, according to the organizer, Metropolitan Coalition Against Nukes.
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Food insecurity (crop damage), Soil contamination, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Other Environmental impacts
Potential: Genetic contamination, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity)
OtherSpecific impacts to the marine biodiversity
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Occupational disease and accidents, Other environmental related diseases, Accidents, Deaths, Other Health impacts
OtherPotential: increase in cancer rates.

Suicide rate increased abover normal among the displaced people.
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Specific impacts on women
Potential: Militarization and increased police presence
Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCompensation
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Land demarcation
Application of existing regulations
Project cancelled
International Outcomes: German Chancellor announced the preventive closure of seven of the 17 active nuclear power plants.
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.-Despite some notable successes in cleaning up the site, tens of thousands of people are still displaced, work conditions at the plant have been dangerous, storing the accumulating radioactive water is an ongoing concern.

-Fukushima Daiichi disaster increased the awareness of nuclear risks worldwide. It helped to stop the German nuclear industry.

-After the disaster, Japan stopped nuclear power plants but in 2016 there is a debate of whether to reopen some of them.
Sources and Materials

Greenpeace Report: Fukushima Fallout. Nuclear business makes people pay and suffer
[click to view]

Lessons from Fukushima
[click to view]

Japan´s compensation System for Nuclear Damage
[click to view]

Nadine Ribault y Thierry Ribault, Les Sanctuaires de l'abîme - Chronique du désastre de Fukushima, Éditions de l'Encyclopédie des Nuisances, 2012
[click to view]


Description of groups opposing nuclear power in Japan before and after March 2011
[click to view]

The Fukushima Disaster - WISE international
[click to view]

3 nuclear reactors melted down after quake, Japan confirms
[click to view]

El coste de desmantelar Fukushima y de las compensaciones se duplicará
[click to view]

Nuclear Power in Japan
[click to view]

Status of the Nuclear Reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant
[click to view]

Fukushima Daiichi Status Updates
[click to view]

Tank Has Leaked Tons of Contaminated Water at Japan Nuclear Site
[click to view]

The Ecologist, Fukushima: thousands have died, thousands more will die. Dr Ian Fairlie. 17th August 2015
[click to view]

Media Links

Fukushima Nuclear Disaster - New National Geographic Documentary
[click to view]

12 March 2013. Christian and civic groups in Japan seek worldwide solidarity for Fukushima. By Hisashi Yukimoto
[click to view]

The Fukushima Nuclear Accident documentary.
[click to view]

Other Documents

Fukushima Nuclear plant
[click to view]

Protests against Fukushima Nuclear Plant
[click to view]

Other Comments"The Fukushima nuclear accident marks the end of the‘nuclear safety’ paradigm. " Greenpeace Report, 2012.
Meta Information
ContributorGrettel Navas & JMA, EnvJustice Project
Last update03/12/2016