About Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Accident
One of the unique characteristics of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami disaster is that it caused a nuclear power plant accident with massive, long-lasting damage in addition to the devastation inflicted by the earthquake and tsunami. Consequently the Japanese Red Cross Society (hereafter referred as “the JRCS”) had to handle issues during relief activities never before experienced in prior domestic disasters. The JRCS was not prepared for such a disaster and this lack of information made the relief activities extremely difficult.
The radioactive contamination caused by the accident not only rose to high levels in a short period but has also continued even to present day. The JRCS’ humanitarian assistance for those affected by the nuclear power plant accident is ongoing. So please note that the following description for the response to the nuclear power plant accident is an interim snapshot of a lengthy, ongoing process.
Description of the Accident
(1) Status Immediately After the Incident
After detecting the earthquake, units 1 through 3 at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and all the reactors at Fukushima Daini Nuclear Power Plant and at Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant automatically shut down their operation. Subsequently the emergency diesel generators (DG) automatically started to power the cooling system for the reactors and the spent fuel pools. Damage caused by the tsunami stopped the emergency DG’s operation. Resultantly, units 1 through 5 at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant lost AC power supply completely. Tokyo Electric Power Company, in cooperation with Japanese Government, made the effort to restore power supply, but made little headways.
In unit 1 the Isolation Condenser (IC) ceased operation, and in units 2 and 3 the DC power supply (batteries) failed and the cooling water injection was stopped. Resultantly the core cooling for all reactors was discontinued which led the cooling water levels decreased. This exposed the reactor cores which then began to deteriorate, and finally caused meltdown. Later in units 1 and 3, explosions which appeared to be due to hydrogen from the containment occurred near the ceilings, and the service floors of each unit building were destroyed. These explosions released a large amount of radioactive substance into the surrounding atmosphere. Following the explosion at unit 3, an explosion which appeared to be caused by hydrogen occurred at unit 4 and destroyed a part of the ceiling of the reactor building. At unit 4 all the fuel had been relocated to the spent fuel pools for the regular inspection. In the meantime, there appears to have been a major damage in the suppression chamber of the containment at unit 2.
On the day of the earthquake, the Japanese Government declared “Nuclear Emergency” for Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. In addition, the Prime Minister ordered the residents within 3 Km radius of Fukushima Daiichi to evacuate and the residents within 10 Km radius to stay indoors.
On the following day March 12th, the Japanese Government declared “Nuclear Emergency” for Fukushima Daini Nuclear Power Plant. In addition the Prime Minister ordered the residents within 3 Km radius of Fukushima Daini and 20 Km radius of Fukushima Daiichi to evacuate. Residents within 10 Km radius of Fukushima Daini were ordered to stay indoors.
On March 15th, the Prime Minister ordered residents within 20-30 Km radius of Fukushima Daiichi to stay indoors.
Information Source: Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry
(2) Setting Up the Evacuation Areas
Even some places outside the 20 Km radius of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant displayed high amounts of radioactivity. The risk that residents staying within these areas could increase their cumulative dose of radiation as well as the uncertainty surrounding the power plant’s post-accident stability concerned the authorities.
Therefore on April 21st, the Director-General of the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters, the Prime Minister instructed the Governor and Mayors of the relevant local governments that “20 Km radius from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant is classified as the “Restricted Area”. Any access to that area shall be prohibited. Also everyone shall evacuate from that area except for emergency-related staff.”
On the following day April 22nd, the Director-General of the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters lifted the order that “the residents within 20-30 Km radius of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant must stay indoors.” Instead two classifications were created: the “Deliberate Evacuation Area” and the “Evacuation-Prepared Area in Case of Emergency.” Residents in the “Deliberate Evacuation Areas” were instructed “to evacuate according to the plan” and residents in the “Evacuation-Prepared Area in Case of Emergency” were instructed “to prepare for evacuation from the area or to stay indoors in case of emergency.”
Thereafter from time to time, the “Evacuation Area” and the “Restricted Area” designations were reviewed. According to the changing situation, the three zones have been re-classified as “Areas in which evacuation orders are ready to be lifted”, “Areas in which residents are not permitted to live”, and “Areas in which residents will face difficulties in returning to for a long time".
For the latest designating areas to which evacuation orders have been issued, please refer to the following URL.
Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry
The Humanitarian Support Activities by JRCS
At the beginning of the disaster, the JRCS relief teams initiated relief activities several places in Fukushima Prefecture including the coastal cities such as Minamisoma. Then the Nuclear Power Plant Accident occurred, and we had to decide whether we should continue the relief activities in the area under evacuation order.
Unfortunately a code of conduct for the JRCS relief teams to perform relief activities did not exist. In addition, protective equipment and materials to combat radiation were not prepared. Therefore, the Fukushima Chapter, as the Local Disaster Response Headquarters, had no choice but to give up the dispatch of external relief teams until the JRCS National Headquarters decided on a response plan for the nuclear disaster on March 15th.
Even after that, the JRCS continued the relief activities in Fukushima under the nuclear disaster condition by trial and error.
For the humanitarian support activities by JRCS since the accident, please see the following:
Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Accident & Red Cross Support Activities