The Future for Japan and Nuclear Power Plants

Payton Chang
March 4, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018


Fig. 1: Photo of the Damaged Fukushima I Nuclear Reactor (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Countries build nuclear power plants in order to produce electricity at a reasonable price, but if there is an accident or natural disaster, radioactive waste can leak from the plant. Unfortunately, Japan has had a tragic history of nuclear incidents caused by the Hiroshima bombings in 1945 and more recent, the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, destroying the Fukushima nuclear reactors, as seen to the right in Fig. 1. [1] The Fukushima accident not only eliminated power for the citizens, but it released extreme amounts of radiation and forced the citizens to immediately evacuate to a safer environment.

Japan had invested in hundreds of billions to build nuclear reactors and before the Fukushima disaster, there were 54 functioning reactors which accumulated for one third of the country's power. [2] Currently, there are four operating plants, 11 that are becoming decommissioned, so the country has not decided what to do with the other 42 reactors. [2] Japan's current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated that their country needs carbon-free nuclear power in order for the country to meet its climate objectives, so new reactors have began developing. [1] As of today, nuclear energy provides for only 1.7% of Japan's electricity, which is a 30% decrease from the last time the country had a plant in 2011 before the disaster. [1]

Waste Accumulated Since the Fukushima Explosion

The Fukushima disaster has left Japan questioning how to dispose the radioactive waste. The list below contains the amount of waste six years after the disaster that the Japanese government has reported: [3]

The statistics of waste accumulated have shown how dangerous the lasting impact a nuclear power plant explosion can be. The radiation has spread miles from the plant putting the citizens at risk for cancer and death for the animals in the surrounding ocean and on land. The difficulty of containing the radiation from the waste has continued to endanger the lives of so many citizens.

60-70% of the Japanese population would not want to restart building another power plant because the dangers are not worth the convenience of producing electricity. [2] The average life of a Japanese operating reactor should be 30 years, but lately they have been on average 10. [3] Japan is concentrating on first eliminating all of the waste with different extreme techniques like using robots to seal the debris, which will cost more than $100 billion. [4]


Ever since 2011, Japan has been extra cautious and all functioning nuclear reactors must pass rigorous stress tests to see if the plant would be able to survive a potential natural disaster. [3] The Federation of American Scientists reported that Fukushima could have been prevented if safety was the biggest priority. [2] With the increase in technological advancements, Japan can restart storing nuclear energy again for the long term.

© Payton Chang. 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] A. Beser, "Photos: See Japan's Nuclear Legacy - From Fukushima to Hiroshima, Public Radio International, 23 Mar 17.

[2] K. Silverstein, "Japan Circling Back to Nuclear Power After Fukushima Disaster," Forbes, 8 Sep 17.

[3] R. Mealey, "The Future of Nuclear Energy in Japan, Nearly Six Years After the 2011 Fukushima Disaster," ABC (Australian Broadcasting Company) News, 4 Jan 17.

[4] M. Rich, "Struggling with Japan's Nuclear Waste, Six Years After Disaster," New York Times, 11 Mar 17.