The Fukushima I nuclear power plant meltdown on 11th March 2011 started a series of activities that displaced thousands of people from their home and exposed many more to health risks directly or indirectly tied to the incident. Almost two years later, as of today, there still remain health concerns for former residents of the Fukushima nuclear facilities regions arising from displacement, property loss, radiation exposure among other issues. This paper will develop a strategic plan for one aspect of health restoration for victims of the disaster with special emphasis on managing the psychological effects of the disaster.
The GEJE Earthquake
The Fukushima series of reactors numbered one through six are among the largest facilities of such kind in the world (Guttenfelder, 2011). The power plant is located on the Fukushima prefecture of Tohoku region in Japan. On 11th March 2011, at 14:46hrs, the Great East Japan Earthquake originated about 70 km offshore with a magnitude of 9.03 Mw. The quake triggered momentary ground accelerations of up to 5.7M/S2, greater than the tolerance limits of the 1971 plant equipment (Lampton, 1989). The earthquake triggered offshore crust dislocations that resulted in massive tsunamis of up to 40 metres of height in some areas off the coast, and travelled up to 10 kilometres inland in some areas. Wave fronts averaging 10 metres were incident upon the seaside flooding prevention walls of the Fukushima I nuclear facility. The quake lasted for estimated 6 minutes, but hundreds of aftershocks were reported ranging in scale from 4.5 and 7.5 MW, while the major quake was rated 9MW on the Undersea Megathrust Earthquake (Holt & Campbell, 2012). The Japan National Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention register peak ground acceleration from the quake of 2.9g, or about 29.33M/S2 in the largest affected area (Negishi, 2011). Accelerations of up to 5.7M/S2 were recorded in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facilities.
Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Failure
The Fukushima I nuclear reactor is a six reactor nuclear power plant with a total output of 4.7GWatts, and is among the world’s largest of its type (Mayell, 2004). The plant’s reactors were designed by General Electric Company in the 1970’s and can withstand ground accelerations of up to 0.3g, equivalent to about 4M/S2, in moments of earthquakes. During the time of the disaster, units 1, 2 and 3 were operating, but 4, 5 and 6 six were in cold shut down for maintenance. When the earthquake occurred, the plant’s capability was overwhelmed by the ground movement, rendering it impossible to continue operating in normal conditions (Zott, 2013). The three units automatically shut down following the quake, also shutting down the entire facility’s cooling system which is a critical part of a nuclear power plant.
In the following minutes, all the fuel rods were sunk into the reactor, producing huge amounts of heat within the cells. The DC operated emergency cooling system housed in the plant’s basement immediately went on, sustaining the cooling for a while and preventing a possible meltdown of the reactors. Unfortunately, the quake had also aroused a 10 to 14 M tsunami that rocked the 5M high seaside flooding prevention wall, sinking the basement area where the DC cooling system was housed. This led to the DC system’s spontaneous failure and a total plant control failure while the fuel rods were still within the reactors (Herbert, 2012). This led to rapid heat build-up within the reactors. The plant authorities were unwilling to use seawater for emergency cooling, fearing damage to the expensive facilities, until days later when the government directed its use. The heat build-up ultimately led to total meltdown of the three reactors within days. In addition, there were several gas explosions from the site leaking radiation rich material into the atmosphere. Untreated seawater was also allowed into the ocean after being applied in cooling. Authorities found higher than healthy radiation levels in seawater 30 -50 Km from the facility after the incident.
The Tsunami caused more than 20,000 deaths as per various estimates in its entire area. The Fukushima plant disaster, however, caused much less in terms of deaths. Between 3 and 6 plant workers died in the disaster. The government led disaster management initiative, which evacuated more than 1500 people from the immediate environment. In addition, the disaster led to disruption of emergency services in nearby hospitals, causing additional 45 confirmed deaths from emergency evacuations from hospitals. There were also indirect causes of death such as trauma and despair, especially among the aged population of the country. A 2012 survey by Shimbun Yomiuri has placed the number of disaster related deaths at 573. Non-radiation caused deaths have since also risen to about 600, with thousands being in need for immediate medication as well as follow up procedures to avert disaster related health problems (Winter, 2011).
While the disaster has been largely publicized, there exists very few and scanty details about the steps the government, non-governmental agencies and the international community have taken to mitigate the health effects of the disaster, especially with regard to the exact number of affected families and the total population in need of health assistance (Nagata, 2012). In addition, not enough information exists with regard to follow up with area residents to determine the radiation effects on their health and what measures need to be taken to protect them and their future children from sustained radiation effects (McCurry, 2011). The purpose of this paper is to develop a plan to offer follow up health solutions to disaster victims with special attention to radiation exposure mitigation and management of psychological strain resulting from evacuation, trauma, loss of family and friends, loss of property and other disaster-related problems for the affected.
The primary needs of the project before coming up with a strategic plan will include:
The Current Situation
The World Nuclear Organization reports that about 16000 people were evacuate from the area (World Nuclear Association, 2013). Out of the 16000 people approximately 6% have been able to resume their homes mostly due to restrictions by the authorities and also for the fear of contamination (World Nuclear Association, 2013).
The government passed a bill for compensation and monthly expenses coverage for all evacuees of the Fukushima area. Of the more than 16000 people displaced, the government ordered them to live elsewhere but with certain considerations for people whose residences are within green areas in the map, who were allowed to visit but not stay overnight in their homes (Mizuho, 2012). The compensation is as follows. 100,000 Yen per month for every person evacuated in the disaster. Cost of transportation for voluntary evacuees is covered in a following manner: 400,000 Yen paid to expectant mothers and children, 80,000 Yen for every other person. In addition, accommodation costs were to be paid. TEPCO, the parent company, has been in the procedure of processing compensation for all people whose homes, businesses and other property have been declared uninhabitable in the foreseeable future.
The disaster victims continue to live across various regions in the country, without real homes, some without proper jobs. They are exposed to social and in some cases economic strains and they try to reconstruct their lives and adjust to living away from home without proper resettlement plans in the foreseeable future. The Asahi Shimbun website carried an article on December 4, 2012 describing the plight of many evacuees living in a 36 storey government facility in Tokyo, where 1200 evacuees were bundled (The Asahi Shimbun, 2012). In a separate incidence, the article documented the stress that a Fukushima evacuee faced when neighbours referred to her as a refugee, and people kept honking at her husband’s car as it carried license numbers from the affected area.
The evacuees of the disaster exist in isolation and without a proper communication tool to bring them together in a manner that they can discuss issues affecting them, including a resettlement or resumption strategy. The affected also need to re-unite via an official forum with a view to support each other and focus on their future. Such an initiative would help to alleviate the feelings of isolation and depression that many currently experience (Sovacool, 2011). In addition, the government has not established a dedicated counselling and health issues follow-up initiative to help adverse effects following this disaster such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which may already engulf a significant percentage of evacuees.
The Proposed Plan
While radiation decontamination is beyond the reach of the evacuees or this project, psychological support for those affected is within reach. The first step of the plan is to establish a dedicated online avenue exclusively linking the Fukushima residents currently in evacuation, including setting up an online counselling and trauma response unit, which will support toll-free telephone sessions with affected people, as well as dedicated social media based interaction channels with full blogging and video support for victims of the disaster. This tool will help victims to identify with the reality of their losses and build a shared hope for healthy living, whether with prospects of returning home or otherwise.
In addition, the plan aims to establish at least four counselling units physically accessible in different parts of the country that will receive victims, offer counselling, medical and psychological tests, and medication where necessary to them. These offices will also seek to establish representative avenues that will act as an official voice of the victims to the government. The communication will, among other ways, liaison with the existing legal platform helping with the compensation of victims. The offices will be erected in Tokyo, Fukushima and any other two areas with high concentrations of victims (Wold, 1997).
The project will be a non-profit making, open community initiative with funding from any source including government, World Health Organization (WHO), non-governmental organizations, individual contributions among other sources. Funds dedicated for this project will be managed by a joint committee drawing membership from the government, international community and any other major contributors. It will need a total of 30 full time employees, including five in each field office and ten for the online site administration and coordination of activities. The online site will have at least three professional counsellors responding to both call-based and social media based member concerns. The field offices will have at least one counsellor at a time. In addition, each office will have at least one legal advisor, one administrator and other support staff. It may also incorporate as many stakeholders as necessary for execution of its mandate. In addition, each registered victim will, by the matter of personal decision, be a member of the initiative and will therefore be allowed to participate in deliberations (Fackler, 2011).