2015 Mar 11th

32 million people in Japan still exposed to radiation from the Fukushima nuclear disaster

Approximately 32 million people in Japan are affected by the radioactive fallout from the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, according to the 2015 Fukushima Report now available from Green Cross. This includes people who were exposed to radiation or other stress factors resulting from the accident, and who are consequently at potential risk from both long and short-term consequences.

As with the Chernobyl nuclear accident that impacted 10 million people, Japan is expected to see increased cancer risk and neuropsychological long-term health consequences. The stress-related effects of evacuation and subsequent relocation are also of concern. The evacuation involved a total of over 400,000 individuals, 160,000 of them from within 20km of Fukushima. The number of deaths from the nuclear disaster attributed to stress, fatigue and the hardship of living as evacuees is estimated to be around 1,700.

“Our local presence and ongoing activities to help the communities impacted by radioactive contamination in Chernobyl and Fukushima gives us first-hand experience of the human and environmental consequences of nuclear disasters,” said Adam Koniuszewski, Chief Operating Officer of Green Cross International, who recently shared the stage with former Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan for a conference on nuclear power. “This is why we are demanding more transparency and better governance around nuclear power and the risks involved, and a better assessment of its mounting costs.”

Based on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES), both the Chernobyl and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disasters were categorized as level 7 events – defined as a major release of radioactive material, with widespread effects, requiring planned and extended countermeasures. The radiation released by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was largely concentrated in Japan and over the Pacific Ocean. According to estimates, 80 percent of the released radiation was deposited in the ocean and the other 20 percent was mostly dispersed within a 50 km radius to the northwest of the power plant in the Fukushima Prefecture. While the expected cancer risk to humans caused by the radiation released over the Pacific Ocean are small, trace amounts of radiation have already reached the North American continent, in particular parts of the North West Coast of the United States. The overall risk of cancer will increase, especially for those who were still children at the time of the accident. Their health will be at risk over their entire lifetime as a result of the radiation released by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

According to calculations by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the total atmospheric release of radioactive material from the Fukushima nuclear disaster (iodine-131, cesium-134, cesium-137, and noble gases) was estimated to be less than 15 percent of the total radiation emitted by the Chernobyl accident. “However, the number of people affected by radiation in Japan has tripled compared to Chernobyl,” said Nathalie Gysi of Green Cross Switzerland.

In addition to the radioactive material initially released in the ocean, water leakage at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant remains a problem four years after the accident. Reports of pipes breaking and water escaping from containment tanks in the months and years since the accident are a source of worry for workers and the public. The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) reported that radioactive material had been released as late as May of 2013.

There continue to be concerns about additional psychological stress and rising doubts over the safety of seafood, such as radioactivity levels in tuna and other fish. The threshold for cesium in Japan is 100 Becquerel per kilogram. Flounders caught close to the Fukushima Daiichi power plant were found to have high cesium levels, exceeding the allowable limit of 100 Becquerel.

The Fukushima Report was prepared under the direction of Prof. Jonathan M. Samet, Director of the Institute for Global Health at the University of Southern California (USC), as a Green Cross initiative. A systematic approach was taken to gather information regarding the number of people affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster, using the same measurement standards as a similar 2012 study on Chernobyl.

The 2015 Fukushima Report is available for download in English at

The lives of approximately 42 million people have been permanently affected by radioactive contamination caused by the accidents in the Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plants. Continued exposure to low-level radiation, entering the human body on a daily basis through food intake, is of particular consequence. Green Cross is committed to conquering the long-term effects of industrial and military disasters, as well as pollution left over from the Cold War, through two key international programmes: Social and Medical Care and Legacy of the Cold War. Top priorities are improving the quality of life of people impacted by chemical, radioactive and other kinds of contamination, and promoting sustainable advancements in the spirit of cooperation instead of confrontation.

Because of the worldwide effects of climate change and nuclear disasters, it is urgently necessary for the global community to work together on developing and using renewable energies, boosting energy efficiency, and pursuing a controlled, global end to the production of nuclear power.


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