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Costs and Consequences of the Fukushima Daiichi Disaster

The destruction of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in March 2011, caused by an earthquake and subsequent tsunami, resulted in massive radioactive contamination of the Japanese mainland. In November 2011, the Japanese Science Ministry reported that long-lived radioactive cesium had contaminated 11,580 square miles (30,000 sq km) of the land surface of Japan.[i] Some 4,500 square miles – an area almost the size of Connecticut – was found to have radiation levels that exceeded Japan’s allowable exposure rate of 1 mSV (millisievert) per year.

About a month after the disaster, on April 19, 2011, Japan chose to drastically increase its official “safe” radiation exposure levels[ii] from 1 mSv to 20 mSv per year – 20 times higher than the US exposure limit. This allowed the Japanese government to downplay the dangers of the fallout and avoid evacuation of many badly contaminated areas.

However, all of the land within 12 miles (20 km) of the destroyed nuclear power plant, encompassing an area of about 230 square miles (600 sq km), and an additional 80 square miles (200 sq km) located northwest of the plant, were declared too radioactive for human habitation.[iii] All persons living in these areas were evacuated and the regions were declared to be permanent “exclusion” zones.

The precise value of the abandoned cities, towns, agricultural lands, businesses, homes and property located within the roughly 310 sq miles (800 sq km) of the exclusion zones has not been established. Estimates of the total economic loss range from $250[iv]-$500[v] billion US. As for the human costs, in September 2012, Fukushima officials stated that 159,128 people had been evicted from the exclusion zones, losing their homes and virtually all their possessions. Most have received only a small compensation to cover their costs of living as evacuees. Many are forced to make mortgage payments on the homes they left inside the exclusion zones. They have not been told that their homes will never again be habitable.
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