In March 2011, an earthquake and tsunami triggered a meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan. Three years later, we examine the state of the cleanup, its effect on Japanese politics, and the impact on marine life and the environment.

Kenji Kushida, research associate in Japanese Studies at Stanford University's Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center
Edwin Lyman, senior scientist with the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, and co-author of the new book, "Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster"
Dan Madigan, postdoctoral fellow and adjunct assistant professor at Stony Brook University's School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences

  • Guest

    What a huge price Japan has paid to be a part of the nuclear energy club.
    They could have used Thorium instead of Uranium but that would not have profited the power brokers and corporations so, they didn’t. Now it’s too late to undo what’s been done. Part of their land and therefore their heritage is destroyed forever.
    In an already tightly packed country, every square mile matters, making this tragedy worse still. One day we may find that energy companies have ruined much of America with fracking and then we’ll be sorry too.

    • novictim

      Thorium reactors are the future energy. In our race to save the planet (our Civilization) from climate change, it is tragic and disheartening that the progressive left has decided “you are off the island” if you advocate for this form of nuclear technology. Crazy.
      It makes me wonder if the leadership on my progressive side is truly understanding what is at stake.

    • Ruben Willmarth

      To be fair, none of it is contaminated forever, due to half-lives. Both Hiroshima & Nagasaki are occupied today, and even Chernobyl has tourists now, where you can go visit the people who never left! Maps show that much of the initial contamination is dissipating quickly, and most could be reoccupied now if we used evidence as the criteria for safe levels. Then people could get about rebuilding their lives.

      • Werner Adam

        How can you claim ‘much of the initial cantamination’ to be ‘dissipating quickly’?

        There are still huge areas with tremendous impact on flora and fauna, and I would not want to live and “rebuild” my life in a patchwork region like this, even if it was just floodwater and not radiation which limits access.

        What kind of life would that be, when you would want to ‘rebuild it’ after 30 years..?

        Check this article about findings from Dr. Timothy Mousseau, supposedly the most knowledgeable US scientists on this subject:


  • Beth Grant DeRoos

    Am concerned with the fact that parts of homes, motorcyles and other stuff has made its way to the shores of Alaska, Washington state, and of course Hawaii, yet I hear so little about all the fish and other seafood we get that may have been in these very contaminated waters and wonder why more officials are not worried about the food safety issue.

    • Guest

      I don’t see how we can trust the authorities when they’re so often in cahoots with energy companies. Even if we could, if we eat seafood it behooves us to buy Geiger counters and test food ourselves and share the data.


    I spend 13 years in the nuclear engineering dept. at U C Berkeley , I must say that the Fukushima incident is much worse than what we are told and is a ticking bomb and it must be addressed by joint effort of all nation of the world….All of the effort that Japan try to fix the problem have been more like a joke and real solution must be found very soon otherwise the net results will be a disaster that exceeded that one at Chernobyl.

  • Josh

    Interesting article:

    U.S. Sailors Sick From Fukushima Radiation File New
    Suit Against Tokyo Electric Power:


  • DaleA

    To help mobilize an international response to fix the escalating nuclear catastrophe in Japan, people should visit http://www.FukushimaResponse.org and join our email list.

  • Werner Adam

    How can we assume the food chain to be safe, when the blue fin tuna already has been
    considered too be unsafe. blue fins are the most avid travellers and it is perhaps just a matter of time, until other species arrive a the US coast with high level radiation.

  • Robert Thomas

    I’m happily surprised by the sober tone of this segment and the quality of all three panel guests. Good job, Dr Krasny and Forum producers.

  • Werner Adam

    What an unusual shallow discussion on a subject, which, even when just taken by its physical feature (depth of sea) should be taken way more seriuosly..
    FORUM can do better!

  • Robert Thomas

    I understand that many are more alarmed about contamination from the disaster at Fukushima than I am – and I’m not un-alarmed.

    However, I sympathize with scientists and informed journalists – apart from wherever their views fall on the continuum of reasonable alarm – when they try to communicate meaningful answers (when they have them) about fairly technical questions reasonably posed by lay people.

    The question about the additive or cumulative risk posed by the radioisotopes from Fukushima; Castle Bravo and Ivy Mike and so on; primordial potassium and other sources and how these differ from one another was a good one.

    The answer, which was something like “they’re all the same except in how they differ” wasn’t completely satisfactory. The speaker untangled this fairly well, but I was struck by this: as a lay person myself, I was nevertheless at first annoyed not by the answer but by the question – I learned about alpha, beta and gamma radiation and their relative penetrative effects and about ionizing and non-ionizing radiation and half life and so forth forty years ago in the eighth grade! How is it that people don’t just GET this? I’m no radiation expert but I know this stuff.

    Then I thought, how foolish. Not everyone has even my simple layman’s understanding of this. I was lucky to learn about it, because when I was a kid I was interested in it. MANY people who are perfectly capable of understanding it from a gloss of a few pages of an introductory text and some good diagrams simply haven’t had it explained to them very well. And it’s VERY hard to get these ideas across to these folks on the Radio.

    Even considering this, I found hard to swallow the fellow’s comment that “even with three college degrees” that the conversation was too technical. What’s a person supposed to make of such a complaint?

  • Janine Dickenson

    Multi-faceted question about Cesium: I have hemochromatosis- a genetic condition in which my body retains too much iron. It is quite common, but it is not fully understood. Treatment: Phlebotomies when iron is high. Several years ago I was also tested for heavy metals (provoked urine test), and found to be very high in several other metals, particularly lead. Treatment: IV chelations, every few weeks or monthly, series of 10, followed by another provoked test. By happenstance, one test was taken several months after the Fukushima accident (July7), and my cesium had jumped from normal (10) to 720! My doctor was flabbergasted. I understand there are two types of cesium, but my test, performed by Doctors Data, did not differentiate. I have not been tested in the past year, but after 20 chelations over two years following July 7, my cesium level dropped down to normal again, 9.5. I find this very curious. Was I exposed to the cesium from Japan? Did my body absorb/retain it abnormally, in the same manner that it does iron? Do we expect a drift, and when? Is it a good idea to take iodine? I’d appreciate any input, thoughts or advice.

    • The test done by your doctor would also not differentiate between the stable cesium (133-Cs) which is there (i.e. in the seawater, fish and other food products) at all times.

    • Ruben Willmarth

      Dont take Iodine, that’s only relevant a few weeks after the event, as it dissipates very quickly. Cesium isnt retained so that’s why there will only ever be trace amounts that we will ever see. You have more to fear from a sunburn than Cesium from Japan.

  • Ruben Willmarth

    I was very disappointed by the shallow discussions, and especially by Edwin Lyman’s very un-scientific comments, especially the attempt to justify the LNT theory. If the evidence of additional cancers is so small that we cant measure it, it does NOT mean that it has to be there, it simply may or may not. But that should be enough for any reasonable person to conclude that we need to focus on the things that are causing enough harm as to be measurable, like the harm from the Coal & LNG that Japan is burning to replace Nuclear. Or the mercury in fish (from coal burning) And what about the harm from the over-reaction to the radiation fallout, where more people died from the stress of relocation than from radiation poisoning. The cure was worse than the disease! If we are to get the best outcomes, we must act rationally, and not choose even worse power sources as Japan & Germany have done out of irrational fear of radiation. A good summary about the facts of radiation:

    • Werner Adam

      Germany had made a decision to reduce nuclear power long before
      Fukushima. It just enhanced this process after the catastrophe.
      I do not see,why a considerate and future oriented energy perspective like this,would be out of “irrational fear”. May it be,that for a short while,fossil energy is not the best solution, on the long run (that is 10,000 of years) it is cheaper, safer and reversible. talking about fish, give one guy a fish and he won’t be hungry. teach him how to catch one- and he will never be hungry again. If the fish is clean, his children,grand children and their grand children won’t either, if the fish is free of radiation, By the way, Germany is making more money,in exporting alternative energy apparatus than by sales of all VW,BMW Mercedes and Porsche cars combined…

      • Ruben Willmarth

        Yes, they did choose to, and then accelerated it in a knee-jerk reaction to the Fukushima meltdown. So they instead have turned to Coal & natural gas, even preventing the shutdown of a dirty old coal plant that had reached it’s logical retirement. Because they needed it to keep the grid stable without the nuclear plants online. And thousand of Germans, including whole villages will be forced from their homes to mine the coal underneath. http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/energy-giant-vattenfall-presses-on-with-coal-mine-expansion-plans-a-930828.html

        They cant move back, even in a few decades, as it will all be gone, and just a pit. Far worse if you ask me.

        The fish analogy is one of my favorites, but it’s methyl mercury that is the danger, not radiation. There is more naturally occurring radiation than what comes from Fukushima, so the rational response is to focus on the source of that contamination, coal burning, is it not?

        You seem concerned about radiation, but how toxic is Mercury in 10,000 years? Arsenic? Lead? All of those are toxic forever, because it is chemically toxic, and has no half-life.

        If you read the article on my earlier post, you’ll see that small doses are harmless, and the LNT assumption is just that, an assumption that grew wings. And there’s mountains of evidence to support this.

        But even if the LNT were true, the evidence shows that nuclear is still the safest form of power there is, and has saved millions of lives that would have been lost to fossil fuels. None other than James Hansen has concluded this, and he has proven his credibility over the last few decades by sticking out his neck when no one else dared to warn us of the consequences of global warming.

        -Deaths per TWhr: http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/03/deaths-per-twh-by-energy-source.html


        So given the fact that fossil fuels are orders of magnitude more dangerous per unit of useful energy, isn’t the rational thing to do to keep nuclear as a baseload adding renewables at a reasonable pace until there are no fossil fuels used anymore?

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor