Fukushima Nuclear Disaster

Michael Boden
December 5, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2017


Fig. 1: Experts leave Unit 4 of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in 2013 as part of plans to decommission the facility after the disaster. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

On March 11, 2011, a major earthquake happened off the coast of Japan, causing a massive tsunami to hit the city of Fukushima. Fukushima is home to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station. (See Fig. 1) The tsunami destroyed the backup power systems that cool off the nuclear reactors and caused several of the reactors to melt. [1] When the earthquake struck, three of the six nuclear reactors at Daiichi, which are under the control of Tokyo Electric Power Company, lost power while two maintained its power. The other reactor was undergoing maintenance and did not have any nuclear material present. Radioactive material was released into the atmosphere, leaving large amounts of the surrounding area completely uninhabitable. The United States and other countries have offered their assistance to help deal with the nuclear disaster including evacuation support, medical support, and decontamination of the affected areas.

What Happened?

The Daiichi station has six nuclear units, all being that lost power began to have their nuclear cores heat up and generate more pressure. As the fuel rods heated up, they reacted with the steam and generated large amounts of hydrogen gas. This buildup of hydrogen gas caused the reactors to explode, dispersing nuclear material into the atmosphere and surrounding areas. [1] Additionally, because of the tsunami, large amounts of radioactive material were leaked into the ocean.

What's Next?

The United States has offered its assistance in the cleanup and management of this disaster. However, this incident has change the public outlook on nuclear energy. Public opinion is no longer overwhelmingly positive on this incident according to a study on 42 countries and their outlook on nuclear energy. In 2011, Japan allocated $15 billion in order to help restore the area around the plant. In 2012, it was estimated that costs related to the disaster would total more than $75 billion. [2] Additionally, the investigation on the disaster has identified several design changes that could have helped prevent or eliminate the amount of radioactive material that was released into the atmosphere.

© Michaael Boden. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] M. Holt, R. J. Campbell, and M. B. Nikitin, "Fukushima Nuclear Disaster," Congressional Research Service, R41694, January 2012.

[2] Y. Kim, M. Kim, and W. Kim, "Effect of the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster on Global Public Acceptance of Nuclear Energy," Energy Policy 61, 822 (2013).