The OECD Nuclear Energy Agency on 3 March published a new report – Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Accident, Ten Years On: Progress, Lessons and Challenges. NEA said it is intended to assist Japan's recovery from the accident "for a better future for all, and more generally enhance the safe use of nuclear energy worldwide".

The 80-page report presents the current situation at the Fukushima Daiichi NPP and the responses by Japanese authorities and the international community since the accident. It builds on two previous NEA reports. In 2013, the NEA published, The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Accident, which focused on the NEA’s and its member states’ immediate response to the accident. The second report, Five Years after the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant

Accident, discussed the measures taken or in progress in NEA member states to improve further the safety of nuclear facilities in line with the underlying principle of “continuous learning and improvement.”

The new report “will assist both policymakers and the general public to understand the multi-dimensional issues stemming from the accident”. These include disaster recovery, compensation for damages, nuclear safety, nuclear regulation, radiation protection, plant decommissioning, radioactive waste management, psycho-social issues in the community and societal resilience.

The report examines the plant’s future, that of the affected region and population, as well as outlining areas for further improvement and how the international community can help. While the March 2011 accident has not led to any direct impact on human health, the health and well-being of more than 150 000 people living in surrounding areas was affected to different degrees (including some early deaths) as a result of evacuations, lack of access to health care or medicines, stress-related problems, and other causes, the report says. 

In the immediate aftermath and during the 10 years since the accident, Japanese authorities have “undertaken very challenging work to address the on-site and off-site consequences, and rebuild the social and economic fabric of the areas impacted by the earthquake and resulting tsunami and the nuclear accident”. The global community has come together with Japan to both offer assistance and draw lessons to further improve nuclear safety worldwide. This has been facilitated “by the openness of the Japanese government and industry leaders as well as the co-operation of international organisations, governments and companies”. The report “surveys the research initiatives and the expanding knowledge and action made possible by such openness and co-operation”.

However, the report says “significant issues remain to be faced as Japan continues the difficult, long-term effort to clean up the Fukushima Daiichi site and revitalise the surrounding communities”. Technical challenges include fuel debris removal; decontamination methods; environmental remediation; and related waste issues. Regulatory and legal challenges “include regulation under uncertainty; reinforcing institutional nuclear safety systems; legal preparedness; holistic optimisation decisions; and effective regulatory engagement with a broad range of stakeholders including licensees and the public”.

It summarises:

  • the circumstances of the accident, the initial response in Japan and worldwide, and the societal impact (Chapter 2);
  • the current status of the site, including the progress on decommissioning and the environmental remediation of the surrounding areas, associated technical issues, and the wider social and political aspects (Chapter 3);
  • the activities of the NEA, other international organisations and NEA member countries (Chapter 4);
  • the global impact and lessons learnt (Chapter 5);
  • further challenges (Chapter 6); and
  • conclusions and recommendations (Chapters 7 and 8.

With co-operation from the NEA and other international organisations, “the technical understanding of the accident event has progressed significantly, thereby aiding all countries to improve safety and preparedness”, the report notes. It concludes by noting that the NEA will “continue its strong support for the long process ahead to address the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi accident and continue developing knowledge that can be gleaned from the experience the accident has generated”.

Recommendations are offered in nine areas, with advice on how to pursue and enhance:

  • effective and balanced regulatory transparency, openness and independence;
  • systematic and holistic approaches to safety;
  • participation in international development of decommissioning technologies;
  • well-planned waste management and disposal;
  • improvements to damage compensation practices;
  • stakeholder involvement and risk communication;
  • recognition of mental health impacts in protective action and recovery;
  • opportunities for economic redevelopment; and
  • knowledge management.

The accident at Fukushima Daiichi was a seminal event for both the Japanese and global nuclear sectors, the report says. “Globally, the accident proved to be a watershed moment that spurred greater exchange of information and best practices between nuclear regulators, the industry, and international organisations than had

been seen previously.” The Fukushima Daiichi site entails unprecedented challenges – including four heavily damaged reactors with three melted cores. “A large earthquake struck Fukushima Prefecture on 13 February 2021 and impacted the site. While analysis performed thus far indicates that this event caused no significant difficulties at the Fukushima Daiichi site, it serves as a clear reminder of the need to complete the decommissioning effort as soon as practical.”

Globally, lessons learnt have been applied to further enhance the safety of nuclear facilities, particularly in ensuring the availability of robust and diverse systems to respond to accidents and extreme events. Going forward, efforts in Japan and around the world continue to rebuild and enhance public trust in nuclear operations. “In this respect, new lessons continue to be learnt, such as enhancing post-accident recovery by placing the human and societal dimension at the core of planning through comprehensive stakeholder involvement. It is now widely understood that earning public trust is a key catalyst for recovery.”