Top News of 2020-21

Fukushima Today

The following is a selection of top news stories from 2020-2021 regarding nuclear power and energy. Please also see the related articles that can be found here.

The use of contaminated soil without any covering and agricultural land use demonstration test
Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant passes review, accidents and incidents not taken into consideration
Electricity Capacity Market: Calls for review from new renewable power companies
Hitachi, Ltd. completely withdraws from the UK’s Wylfa Nuclear Power Plant
Renewable energy to account for 23% of electricity supply, already surpassed 2030 target 
Sendai High Court criticizes the government’s stance on the “livelihood lawsuit” and the plaintiffs win in the court of appeal
Prime Minister Suga calls for ‘net zero’ greenhouse gas emissions by 2050
Compensation costs and decommissioning expenses to be added to transmission fees
Acceptance of literature surveys on nuclear waste by Suttsu Town and Kamoenai Village in Hokkaido
55% opposed to releasing treated waste water into the ocean
Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission conducts unprecedented on-site inspection of Japan Atomic Power Company over altering data regarding Tsuruga Nuclear Power Plant
Lifting evacuation orders in “Difficult-to-Return Areas” of Fukushima can be possible without decontamination
Osaka District Court rules “permission to install units 3 and 4 at Oi Nuclear Power Plant is illegal
Thyroid cancer diagnosed in girls aged 0 and 2 at the time of the disaster
Niigata Prefecture Verification Committee & Livelihood Subcommittee’s Report: “The impact of the evacuation is extremely serious and recovery will be difficult
Difference of 30,000 in the estimated number of evacuees

Contaminated soil, the use of soil without any covering, and agricultural land use demonstration test

The Ministry of the Environment has reversed its previous policy on the demonstration projects on the reuse of contaminated soil from the decontamination process of the nuclear disaster for the creation of agricultural land. The Ministry put together a plan to plant crops without covering the contaminated soil and to expand the variety of crops to include vegetables. Some have criticized the ministry’s stance of deciding upon the demonstrative test’s content behind closed-doors. 

The Ministry of the Environment has stated that “if the removed soil is repurposed as land elevation soil, the additional exposure of passersby and residents in the vicinity can be kept below 10 μSv per year if the soil is covered with sand or concrete at a height of 50 cm or more.” Many people are opposed to the policy of reusing contaminated soil for public works projects across the country because it could lead to the spread of radioactive materials. 

Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant passes review, accidents and incidents not taken into consideration

On July 29, 2020, the Nuclear Regulation Authority approved a draft review document for the spent fuel reprocessing plant in Rokkasho Village. This reprocessing plant cuts up spent nuclear fuel collected from nuclear power plants across the country, dissolves it in nitric acid, and then recovers plutonium and uranium from it. The plant produces highly radioactive liquid waste that puts all humans in close proximity in danger. When operated at full capacity, it can produce 7 tons of plutonium per year. However, it has already been decided that the Monju Nuclear Power Plant which was supposed to consume MOX fuel produced from spent fuel will be decommissioned. Thus, the so called nuclear fuel cycle is in collapse.

Multiple accidents and incidents have occurred during the active testing (trial operation) of the reprocessing plant. In one case, 149 liters of high-level liquid waste was found to have leaked. In addition, the vitrification process failed due to clogging of white metals, which prevented the flow of liquid waste and glass. The problems surrounding plutonium, the series of troubling incidents, and the vitrification failure were not taken into account during the review of the plant.

In August of the same year, it was reported that the completion date of the reprocessing plant would be further delayed. This is the 25th time that the completion date has been postponed. Construction of the plant began in 1993 and was originally scheduled to be completed in 1997.

Construction costs have also increased to 2.9 trillion yen from the initial 760 billion yen. The total cost of the reprocessing project is 13.94 trillion yen, which flows from the power companies to Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited via the ‘Reprocessing Organization.’

Electricity Capacity Market: Calls for review from new renewable power companies 

The electricity capacity market system to secure power generation capacity (kW) for the next four years began in 2020, and the first auction results have been revealed. The capacity market auction results, announced on September 14, came as a huge shock to the new power companies, as the price was extremely high at 14,137 yen per kW.

The costs of the electricity capacity market will be borne by all retail electric utilities and transmission and distribution companies. Therefore, the system favors large power companies with large generating capacities and is disadvantageous to new power companies with fewer power plants. In addition, the capacity market is expected to recover fixed costs such as initial investment, but the initial investment costs of most power plants in Japan are already included in electricity bills, and if the capacity market payments are passed on to electricity bills, consumers will pay double. As a result, many of the new power companies have called for a review of this situation1.

It is feared that if this trend continues, the oligopoly by the major power companies will continue to grow, and dependence on large power sources such as nuclear power plants and coal-fired thermal power plants will increase, while the introduction of renewable energy and energy conservation will be hindered.

1: Green People’s Power et al., “Requests regarding the review and operation of the capacity market and the results of the FY2020 main auction,”, (September 28, 2020) (In Japanese). 

Hitachi, Ltd. completely withdraws from the UK’s Wylfa Nuclear Power Plant

On September 16, 2020, Hitachi, Ltd. announced that it would withdraw its plans for the Wylfa Nuclear Power Plant project in Wales, UK. It is believed that the project was deemed extremely risky due to a bloated project budget, lack of investment partners, and the fact that the cost per unit of electricity generated by nuclear power plants in the UK is huge. The company had already announced a freeze on the project in 2019, but the situation did not change.

PAWB (People Against Wylfa B), a group of residents from the proposed construction site of Anglesey Island, has persistently opposed the project for years, claiming that it would destroy the rich nature and culture of Anglesey Island.

Rob Idris, Spokesperson for PAWB, commented as follows, “PAWB welcome the decision of Hitachi to withdraw completely from their nuclear project at Wylfa in Wales. Nuclear is yesterday’s failed technology – expensive, dangerous, and with no prospect of a solution to radioactive waste…PAWB would like to say thank you to our many friends in Japan who have been invaluable in the fight against Wylfa. We are full of admiration for the Japanese people who continue to struggle with the effects of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and hope that nobody else will suffer in the same way.”

Furthermore, in January 2021, Horizon Nuclear Power, a local operator and wholly owned subsidiary of Hitachi, will withdraw its application for a Development Consent Order (DCO) that it had applied for from the UK government, making it difficult for other operators to take over the project.

Renewable energy to account for 23% of electricity supply, already surpassed 2030 target 

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), Japan’s share of renewable energy reached 23% of its electricity supply in the first half of 2020, as reported by Asahi Shimbun2. The government had set a target of 22% to 24% for the ratio of renewable energy in the power supply mix in 2030, which has already been achieved.

The government is currently discussing a review of the Basic Energy Plan, and is expected to further increase the share of renewable energy in the 2030 target.

2: Asahi Shimbun, “Renewable Energy to Account for 23% of Domestic Energy Supply,” (September 25, 2020) (In Japanese).

Sendai High Court criticizes the government’s stance on the “livelihood lawsuit” and the plaintiffs win in the court of appeal

On September 30, 2020, the Sendai High Court issued a ruling in the appeal of the so-called “livelihood lawsuit” in which approximately 3,600 residents of Fukushima and neighboring prefectures, victims of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster, sued the government and TEPCO. The court acknowledged the responsibility of the government and TEPCO. The total amount of compensation was doubled from the initial verdict, and the scope of compensation was expanded.

The plaintiffs sought to hold the government and TEPCO accountable, demanded that the local environment (air dose) in their residential areas at the time of the disaster be restored to pre-disaster levels (restitution), and sought compensation for damages.

In the ruling, the court recognized the reliability of the “long-term assessment” of earthquake prediction published by the government and stated that the government could have foreseen the arrival of a tsunami that would exceed the site by the end of 2002 at the latest if it had made an estimate based on the assessment. The court also pointed out that in 2006, the government had recognized the potential danger of a serious accident caused by a tsunami. The government’s stance was harshly criticized, saying that it had simply accepted TEPCO’s report, which could be described as insincere, and that it had failed to fulfill the role expected of a regulatory authority.

While the initial verdict court ruled that the government would be held responsible for half that of TEPCO, the appellate court concluded that the government should be held equally responsible for the damages. 

Prime Minister Suga calls for ‘net zero’ greenhouse gas emissions by 2050

In his first policy speech on October 26, 2020, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga pledged to “cut greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.” He also stated that Japan would “establish a stable energy supply by implementing energy conserving measures, introducing renewable energy to the maximum extent possible, and promoting a nuclear energy policy while prioritizing safety,” and that he would “make drastic changes to the coal-dependent policies, which have been in place for many years.” In response to this declaration, in December of the same year, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) announced the “Green Growth Strategy towards 2050 Carbon Neutrality”. Regarding nuclear power plants, the strategy stated that Japan would “continue to make maximum use of nuclear power while reducing dependence on it as much as possible,” and included the restart of nuclear power plants and the development of next-generation nuclear power plants in the strategy as before.

Compensation costs and decommissioning expenses to be added to transmission fees

The cost of compensation for the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and the burden of facilitating the decommissioning of nuclear power plants in various regions began to be added to transmission fees in October 2020. Consumers, including victims of the accident, future generations, and those who have chosen to use renewable electricity, will bear the costs that should have been borne by TEPCO and other nuclear power companies.

As for compensation, 2.4 trillion yen will be recovered through transmission fees from 2020 onwards as part of the shortfall in the provision for compensation that should have been secured before the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Approximately 60 billion yen per year will be recovered over the next 40 years. With regards to the cost of decommissioning nuclear power plants, in order to ensure the smooth decommissioning process of nuclear power plants, it was made possible in 2013 to allocate the temporary cost of decommissioning in installments. This portion of the cost was permitted to be recovered through retail fees from the regulated market, but after 2020, the cost will be recovered through transmission fees.

This system has several major problems, including (1) the unjust reality in which TEPCO’s management, shareholders, and creditors will not be held accountable, and the responsibility will be borne broadly by future generations, and (2) the enormous cost of dealing with the aftermath of the disaster and the decommissioning of nuclear power plants will not be recognized as part of the expenses of the nuclear power industry. This is a major problem and will hold negative implications for the future. 

Acceptance of literature surveys on nuclear waste by Suttsu Town and Kamoenai Village in Hokkaido 

In October 2020, Suttsu Town and Kamoenai Village in Hokkaido prefecture announced that they would accept a literature survey regarding the final disposal site for high-level radioactive waste (so-called “nuclear waste”) generated while reprocessing spent nuclear fuel from nuclear power plants. 

In July 2017, the Japanese government, after much difficulty, released a “scientific characteristics map” that roughly indicates the areas to be investigated in the process of selecting candidate sites for the final disposal of high-level radioactive waste. There are three stages of investigation before the selection of a final disposal site, the literature survey being the first stage. Following that is an “overview survey” which includes a boring survey, and finally a detailed survey. By accepting the literature survey, the two towns will each receive a grant of up to 2 billion yen over the next two years. 

Hokkaido established the “Ordinance on Specified Radioactive Waste in Hokkaido” (the so-called “Nuke-Free Ordinance”), which states that “the introduction of specified radioactive waste should be handled with caution and is difficult to accept,” and the current governor of Hokkaido has indicated that this ordinance should be followed. 

Residents have voiced their doubts and concerns, and some say that the town will become more dependent on subsidies3. There is also criticism that the government’s method of forcing the town to accept literature surveys through subsidies is like “dangling a carrot in front of a donkey.”

The problem of nuclear waste produced by nuclear power plants has been derided by being compared to “an apartment without a toilet.” To select a final disposal site, it is essential to make a decision based on sufficient information disclosure and comprehensive discussions with local communities. In addition, to stop the increase of nuclear waste, which continues to be a problem without a solution, the government should strive to establish policies to abandon the use of nuclear power. 

3: NHK, “A need to face reality…the reasoning behind the acceptance of the literature survey,” (October 15, 2020) (In Japanese)

55% opposed to releasing treated water into the ocean

In a poll conducted by Asahi Shimbun between November and December of 2020, 55% stated that they were opposed to the idea of releasing treated water into the ocean, even after it is removed of most of its radioactive materials and diluted to below the nation’s standard. Only 32% were in support of releasing contaminated water into the ocean4

There is opposition from a wide range of people, including fishing communities, regarding the release of treated contaminated water into the ocean. The Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fishermen’s Associations expressed their opinion that they are “firmly opposed to the release of contaminated water into the ocean and call for strict onshore storage in tanks.” The Fishermen’s Associations in the neighboring prefectures of Miyagi and Ibaragi also released statements of opposition, and the Japan Fisheries Cooperatives also released a statement expressing its “firm opposition.” At a public hearing held in 2018, 42 of the 44 people who expressed their opinion were in opposition. In Fukushima Prefecture, 41 out of 59 municipal councils have passed memorandums or resolutions expressing opposition or caution regarding this matter (as of November 2020).

The government initially said that it would decide on the disposal method of the treated contaminated water by the summer of 2020. It then announced that the decision would be made by the opening of the ordinary Diet session in January 2021, and still no prospect has been presented (as of February 2021).

4: Asahi Shimbun Digital “55% Oppose Release of Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant’s Contaminated Water Into the Ocean, According to Public Poll,” (January 3, 2021)(In Japanese)

Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission conducts unprecedented on-site inspection of Japan Atomic Power Company over falsification of documents regarding Tsuruga Nuclear Power Plant

In December 2020, the Nuclear Regulation Authority conducted an on-site inspection of the head office of Japan Atomic Power Company. This followed the undercovering of multiple rewrites in data related to the Tsuruga Nuclear Power Plant that is under review. The document in question is an analysis of the ground and faults on the nuclear power plant site, created by Japan Atomic Power Company based on data from a research company. It has been found to be rewritten in 80 places. The inspection in December failed to clarify the background and circumstances of the revisions made to the documents. Japan Atomic Power Company agreed to comply with another internal investigation. The company will prepare an investigation plan and present it to the regulatory commission at the beginning of next year (2021). This is the first time since the inauguration of the regulatory commission that it has conducted an on-site inspection of a plant operator in response to a problem that was discovered during the examination phase of the plant5.

5: Asahi Shimbun Digital, “Japan Atomic Power Company, to redo internal investigation regarding the falsification of documents regarding the Tsuruga Plant,” (December 15, 2020) (In Japanese)

Lifting of evacuation orders in “Difficult-to-Return Areas” of Fukushima can be possible without decontamination

The government has decided to introduce a system that will allow the lifting of evacuation orders without decontamination in “difficult-to-return areas,” provided there is a strong request from the local government and no daily residential activities take place.

Evacuation orders have been lifted one after another in evacuation zones since 2014. In the past, the government has set the following requirements for the lifting of evacuation orders: (1) certainty that the annual level of radiation will fall below 20 mSv, (2) restoration of infrastructure, and (3) sufficient consultation with the prefecture, municipalities, and residents. However, it cannot be said that there has been sufficient discussion amongst residents regarding this issue.

This change makes it a requirement that local governments and others implement measures to prevent exposure to radiation, such as covering the ground surface with asphalt and lending out dosimeters. It is also assumed that local governments have specific land use plans and requests after the evacuation order is lifted, and that no residents are expected to live in the area after the order is lifted 6. It is up to local governments to choose between the conventional method that requires decontamination and the new method which will forgo decontamination. All municipalities, with the exception of Iitate Village, are requesting decontamination before lifting evacuation orders7.

6: Asahi Shimbun Digital, “Government Allows Evacuation Orders to be Lifted Without Decontamination, Per Request of Locals,” (December 25, 2020) (In Japanese). 

7: NHK, “Fukushima to Implement System of Lifting Evacuation Orders in ‘Difficult-to-Return Zones’ Without Decontamination,” (December 25, 2020) (In Japanese). 

Osaka District Court Rules; “Permission to install Units 3 and 4 at Oi Nuclear Power Plant is illegal.”

On December 4, 2020, the Osaka District Court ruled in favor of the residents of Fukui Prefecture and the Kansai region in their lawsuit against the government, ordering the government to revoke the reactor installation permits for the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at Kansai Electric Power Company’s Oi Nuclear Power Plant. The government appealed against this decision.

The main point of contention in the trial was the “standard earthquake ground motion,” which is the maximum earthquake ground motion that can be expected. The standard earthquake ground motion is a prerequisite for evaluating earthquake resistance. The Nuclear Regulation Authority approved the standard earthquake ground motions for Oi Units 3 and 4, which were raised to higher standards than that of before the Fukushima disaster, to 856 gal (gal is the unit of acceleration).

The plaintiffs pointed out that the formula used to calculate the standard earthquake motion is merely an average of data from 53 earthquakes that occurred overseas, and that “variations” deviating from the average are not included in this evaluation. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s examination guide also states that “variability” should be considered. The plaintiffs argued that if the “variability” was taken into account, the reference earthquake motion would be more than 1,150 gals. The Osaka District Court accepted the plaintiffs’ argument and ruled that there were “errors and omissions that cannot be overlooked” in the calculations regarding earthquakes.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission stated that conservative estimates from the “uncertainty of the data” can be maintained by considering “variability,” but the review guide states that both “uncertainty” and “variability” must be considered.

This is the first time that a judicial decision has been made to revoke a license for the establishment of a nuclear power plant due to problems with the review conducted by the Nuclear Regulation Authority. The decision may have repercussions on the restart of nuclear power plants across the country. 

Thyroid cancer diagnosed in girls aged 0 and 2 at the time of the disaster 

At a meeting of Fukushima Prefecture’s “Prefectural Health Management Survey” review committee held on January 15, 2021, it was reported that girls aged 0 and 2 years old at the time of the accident were diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Their ages at the time of the examination were 9 and 11 years old respectively8.

As part of the prefectural health survey, Fukushima Prefecture has been conducting echocardiographic exams of the thyroid glands of prefectural residents who were 18 years old and younger at the time of the nuclear disaster. 252 people have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer or suspected of having thyroid cancer through the fourth round of examinations. 203 people have undergone thyroid surgery, and 202 people have been confirmed to have thyroid cancer.

In its evaluation of the thyroid cancer tests in the first round, the review committee stated that “the prevalence of thyroid cancer is several tens of times higher than that estimated from the incidence statistics of thyroid cancer as identified by the regional cancer registries,” but that it was unlikely that the accident was the cause of cancer because the radiation doses were low compared to that of the Chernobyl disaster and because the age of the patients was relatively high. After the second round of the survey, the committee stated again that “no association between thyroid cancer and radiation exposure has been found.”

8: OurPlanetTV, “Thyroid Cancer in 0 and 2 Year Old at Time of Accident, Fukushima Health Survey,” (January 14, 2021) (In Japanese)

Niigata Prefecture Verification Committee & Livelihood Subcommittee’s Report: “The impact of the evacuation is extremely serious and recovery will be difficult

Niigata Prefecture has been conducting its own verification of the safety of nuclear power plants and the impact of the nuclear disaster. As part of this verification, the Livelihood Subcommittee, which examines the impact of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster on the lives of residents, such as evacuees, compiled a report and submitted it to Governor Hanazumi on January 21, 2021. 

After examining the reality of the evacuees, the report states, “In addition to the prolonged evacuation, various ‘senses of loss’ and ‘fragmentation’ have occurred, and it is not easy to regain the social life and relationships that existed before the disaster,” and “Evacuees made many sacrifices in terms of loss of jobs, purpose in life, and human relationships. There is also a sense of isolation when a mother and child evacuate, suffering associated with traveling or moving, and physical and mental illness. However, each household has made a rational decision to evacuate, and it is necessary to fully understand their decisions.” The report also pointed out that the “loss/deprivation of one’s hometown,” or being separated from the area from which one evacuated, has caused serious damage as well. Even in the case of those who did not evacuate, the report states that “anxiety about the health hazards of radiation has led to risk-taking behavior and a decline in the quality of life.

The Chair of the Subcommittee, Katsuhiro Matsui, a Professor at Niigata University, called for more efforts to be made to publicize the report in hopes that the report would be shared widely by the people of the prefecture. 

Niigata Prefecture has been conducting “three points of investigation”; “investigation of the causes of the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant,” “investigation of the impact of the nuclear disaster on health and daily life,” and “investigation of safe evacuation methods in the event of a nuclear disaster.” Based on the results, the prefecture will consider restarting TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant. Before discussions on the restart of the plant begin in earnest, there will likely be a tug-of-war between the governor, in favor of the restart, and the committee members, who remain cautious.

Difference of 30,000 in the estimated number of evacuees

The number of evacuees from the Great East Japan Earthquake and the nuclear power plant disaster is currently estimated by Fukushima Prefecture to be about 36,000, while the total number of evacuees from local governments in the prefecture is at least 67,000, a gap of more than 30,000 people, Kyodo News reported9. It has been pointed out in the past that the number announced by Fukushima Prefecture does not include those who have moved into public housing units within the prefecture.

9: Kyodo Tsushin, “A difference of 30,000 in the estimated number of evacuees in Fukushima, between the prefecture and local governments” (January 30, 2020) (In Japanese). 

(“Fukushima Today and Japan’s Energy Future 2021”)