Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Workers at the Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant walk in protective clothing on January 29, 2020. (Photo: Tomohiro Ohsum/Getty Images)

Workers in protective gear walk through the Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on January 29, 2020. (Photo: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images)

Lethal Levels of Radiation Found in Damaged Fukushima Reactor Will Have 'Huge Impact' on Shutdown, Regulators Warn

The radiation levels reported around shield plugs at two reactors are high enough to kill a worker exposed for even an hour. 

Brett Wilkins

In what Japanese regulators on Wednesday called an "extremely serious" development, lethal levels of radiation have been recorded inside the damaged reactor building at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, threatening the shutdown and decommissioning of the site of the second-worst peacetime nuclear disaster in history. 

 "This will have a huge impact on the whole process of decommissioning work."
—Toyoshi Fuketa,
Nuclear Regulation Authority 

According to The Asahi Shimbun, Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) reported that massive amounts of radioactive materials have been found around shield plugs of the containment vessels in the No. 2 and No. 3 reactors.

NRA officials estimated radiation levels at 10 sieverts per hour—enough to kill a worker who spends just one hour there. 

Decommission of the reactor requires workers to remove the shield plugs, which block radiation from the reactor core during normal plant operation. This discovery has forced officials to reconsider their shutdown plans. 

NRA chair Toyoshi Fuketa said that removing the highly irradiated shield plugs made safe retrieval of nuclear fuel debris—an already dangerously daunting task—all the more difficult.

"It appears that nuclear debris lies at an elevated place," Fuketa said at a news conference earlier this month. "This will have a huge impact on the whole process of decommissioning work."

The latest alarming find is the result of an investigation that resumed in September after a five-year pause in which the NRA took new measurements of radiation levels around the shield plugs at the No. 2 and No. 3 reactors. 

Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the plant, announced December 24 that nuclear fuel debris removal would be postponed until 2022 or later due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

As Common Dreams reported in October, Greenpeace and other environmental and anti-nuclear advocates expressed shock and outrage after the Japanese government announced a plan to release stored water from the ill-fated plant into the Pacific Ocean. Greenpeace subsequently released a report claiming that radioactive carbon-14 released into the ocean "has the potential to damage human DNA." 

The Fukushima Daiichi disaster—the result of a 2011 earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 15,000 people in northeastern Japan—was the worst nuclear incident since the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown in the former Soviet Union, and the worst in Japan since the United States waged a nuclear war against the country in 1945 that killed hundreds of thousands of people.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Germany Arrests 25 Over Alleged Far-Right Plot to Violently Overthrow Government

Prosecutors said supporters of the group—who reportedly include a descendant of royalty, a judge, and a Russian citizen—believe Germany is ruled by a so-called "deep state" that should be overthrown "through the use of military means and violence."

Jessica Corbett ·


'Monumental Victory': Manchin's Industry-Backed Permitting Reform Defeated Again

"We've defeated Manchin's dirty deal twice so far, and we'll do it as many times as we must until communities and the climate are safe from rampant oil and gas expansion."

Jon Queally ·


Warnock Defeats Walker in Georgia, Giving Democrats 51-49 Senate Majority

"Tonight, the people—young, Black, Brown, and working people—expanded the Senate majority, neutralized the power of Joe Manchin, and defeated yet another fascist," the Sunrise Movement cheered.

Brett Wilkins ·


'About Damn Time': NY Jury Finds Trump Organization Guilty on All Counts of Tax Fraud

"Today's guilty verdict against the Trump Organization shows that we will hold individuals and organizations accountable when they violate our laws to line their pockets," said New York Attorney General Letitia James.

Brett Wilkins ·


Oxfam Rebukes EU Over Delayed Deal on Global Minimum Corporate Tax

"This is a loss to ordinary people who are struggling with the cost-of-living crisis and a win to the ultra-profitable corporations," said the group's tax expert for the bloc.

Jessica Corbett ·

Common Dreams Logo