Reflections on 11 Years of the Fukushima Accident

Jakarta, March 11, 2022 – On March 11, 2011 an earthquake measuring 8.9 on the Richter Scale rocked Tohoku. The nuclear reactor automatically stops operating and is replaced by a diesel generator to cool the core reactor. However, the 14-meter high tsunami that came later stopped the diesel generator and flooded the nuclear power plant. As a result 3 nuclear nuclei melt and release radioactive material. The Fukushima disaster is categorized as a level 7 nuclear disaster (the highest level made by the International Nuclear Agency), and the largest since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

Even though 11 years have passed since the nuclear reactor accident at Fukushima, the impact is still being felt by Japanese people. In addition, this incident affected a Japanese energy system which at that time was heavily dependent on nuclear plants and the development of nuclear energy around the world.

Since the tragic incident, the world’s nuclear generating capacity has continued to decline, and countries have reviewed their long-term energy plans. Germany, for example, decided to phase-out nuclear power plants; the last 3 nuclear power plants will be retired at the end of 2022. Several other countries are also planning to phase out nuclear power plants in 2025 – 2030. The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2021 noted that Japan had temporarily suspended the use of nuclear plants and even reached 0 in 2013 and 2014. In 2015, the Government of Japan began operating its nuclear plants again, and currently 10 nuclear power plants are operating and supplying 3.9% of Japan’s energy mix.

Tatsujiro Suzuki, Professor and Vice Director of the Research Center for Nuclear Weapon abolition at Nagasaki University (RECNA), in a webinar entitled “The Dynamics of Development of Nuclear Power Plants After the Fukushima Accident” which was held Friday, March 11, 2022, said that the impact of the Fukushima accident had not been completed until today. A number of areas in Fukushima are still closed, although the area affected is reduced. Contamination of water and agricultural products is still happening today.

“From the operational point of view of the nuclear plants that are currently running, there are additional costs to ensure the operational safety of each plant,” explained Suzuki.

JCER (Japan Center for Economic Research) estimates the need for recovery after the Fukushima accident to reach 322 – 719 trillion USD. This figure is higher than the Japanese government’s estimate of 74.3 – 223.1 trillion USD. The government’s calculation is lower because the cost of final disposal of waste is not included in the calculation.

The Japanese public’s perception of nuclear power plants also changed direction after the Fukushima accident. More than half of the Japanese population (56.4%) stated that nuclear power plants should be discontinued and closed immediately.

Member of the National Energy Council, Herman Darnel Ibrahim, highlighted the increasing investment costs of nuclear power plants, and their high security risks.

“The LCOE of nuclear power is considered high at 8-12 cents USD according to the world nuclear agency, even reaching 12-16 cents USD according to Schneider. The existence of a nuclear power plant also creates a feeling of insecurity for the surrounding population,” explained Herman.

Nuclear power plants (PLTN) are discoursed as one of Indonesia’s strategies to achieve net-zero emissions by 2060 or sooner. With the massive utilization of renewable energy (75% of renewable energy variables are included in the electricity grid), the development of energy storage systems to reduce the cost of developing renewable energy will make the downward trend of LCOE (Levelized Cost of Energy) for solar and wind energy with batteries thus make it more economical than the cost of building a nuclear power plant.

M.V Ramana, Professor and Director of the Liu Institute for Global Issues of British Columbia University, agrees that nuclear power plants carry major risks. Currently, there are no nuclear plants with ‘zero risk accident’, even the SMR (Small Modular Reactor) technology which is considered safe, still has the potential for accidents.

“Technically, there is no universal design for various places and geographical situations for the construction of nuclear power plants. The risk of accidents, and radioactive waste requires a system that is designed contextually with the local location and situation. This requires an in-depth study,” explained Ramana.

Ramana alluded to the growing perception of nuclear power as a solution to the problem of climate change because it can produce energy with low emissions. According to him, the cost of building a nuclear power plant is higher than currently available technologies, such as solar or wind power plants, which are safer and more affordable.

Ramana explained that statistically, the number of nuclear plants in the world continues to decrease. One of them is because nuclear power is no longer economical. The peak of the development of nuclear power plants was more than 3 decades ago, after that the number of power plants built continued to decline.

“In the future, even in the most optimistic scenario, nuclear plants will only contribute 10% to the global energy mix,” Ramana explained.

Lessons Learned from Fukushima, Nuclear Power Plant Development Has Entered Its Sunset Years

press release

Jakarta, March 11, 2022 – Amid energy decarbonization efforts to achieve carbon neutrality as soon as mid-century or in 2060, the Indonesian government is considering developing a Nuclear Power Plant (NPP). However, several nuclear power plant accidents in the world, such as Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986), and Fukushima (2011), indicate that nuclear power plants are full of security risks and adverse economic impacts. Commemorating 11 years after the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident, the Institute for Essential Services Reform (IESR) and the Earth Rekso Society (Marem) held a Webinar “Dynamics of the Development of Nuclear Power Plants after the Fukushima Accident”.

Even though it has been regulated in PP No. 79 of 2014 concerning nuclear as a last choice, the government and PLN are still discussing nuclear power plants, such as small modular reactor technology, as one of the solutions on the net-zero roadmaps that is being prepared. However, Fabby Tumiwa, Executive Director of IESR, views that in energy policy the government should prioritize technology that is reliable and can be built quickly so that it can overcome the urgent climate crisis.

“If the government relies on unreliable technology, it will only waste resources that should be used to encourage the development of other energy sources that are safer, more reliable, and effective in dealing with climate change,” said Fabby.

Learning from Japan’s experience, Tatsujiro Suzuki, Professor at the Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition at Nagasaki University, who also served as the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) (2010-2014) stated that the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident has changed the energy sector and public perception of Japan. Before the Fukushima tragedy, there were 54 units of nuclear power plants operating, but this number was reduced to 10 units by 2021. The Japanese public perception changed drastically from 87 percent (2010) who thought nuclear power plants were a necessary power plant, to only 24 percent in 2013. As a result of the accident, investment in nuclear power plant safety and accident costs increased so that the cost of nuclear power plants was no longer the cheapest in Japan. Based on data from the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI), the average cost of generating nuclear power plants in 2021 will be around 11 yen/kWh, higher than solar and wind energy, which costs 8-9 yen/kWh.

Furthermore, Suzuki explained that the Fukushima accident cost around USD 322 billion up to USD 719 billion according to data from the Japan Center for Economic Research. The government’s calculation is lower, namely USD 74.3 billion up to USD 223.1 billion because it does not include the disposal costs of the remaining radioactive fuel of nuclear power plants. Moreover, radioactive waste from the Fukushima nuclear power plant contaminates water, soil, and food. Meanwhile, out of 35,000 refugees (as of April 2021), only 2.5 percent of people returned to affected cities such as Okuma City and 9.2 percent to Tomioka City.

“The impact of the accident is not only from the engineering section, we have to consider social economics, political, and ethical points of view. In addition, the government needs to involve independent scientific institutions in the policy making process and finally be able to increase public trust, because policy without science is a gamble,” said Suzuki.

He also added that nuclear power plants are like medicine which has a strong effect. It should not be taken if not needed.  

In line with Suzuki, MV Ramana, Professor, and Director of the Liu Institute for Global Issues from the University of British Columbia emphasized that the golden era of nuclear power plants has passed, about 3 decades ago. According to him, many factors have contributed to the decline in nuclear power plant development, including the cost of making reactors too expensive compared to the declining prices of solar and wind power. Ramana explained that the innovation of the Small Modular Reactor (a nuclear reactor designed in a size of less than 300 MW and consisting of modules/parts that can be built separately) is also not able to solve all of the problems in one design.

“Even if we assume the learning (about the nuclear industry) ends up with a positive rate, you still have to manufacture hundreds, if not thousands of small reactors before it can be as cheap as large reactors. While the large one is not economically competitive against solar or wind,” said Ramana.

Ramana views that instead of building a nuclear power plant with all the risks, it is better to use the investment for other sustainable solutions.


“On solar and wind power, 20 years ago people used to say more than 20% Variable Renewable Energy (VRE) in the grid will make it unstable. Now, the planners say you could go as high as 80%, maybe 90% on just VRE with the rest being storage or base load plants,” he explained.

Herman Darnel Ibrahim, a member of the National Energy Council on the same occasion said that without nuclear power, Indonesia can achieve carbon neutrality in 2060 by maximizing renewable energy; hydropower, geothermal, and biomass, and developing massive solar energy with a capacity of hundreds of GW.

“The conditions needed to be able to fulfill are the successful discovery of technology for penetration of up to 75% of the electricity grid, the successful development of cheaper energy storage that allows the development of Variable Renewable Energy (VRE) with storage capacity, as well as Levelized Cost of Electricity ( LCOE) solar and wind energy with storage is cheaper than a nuclear energy LCOE,” he concluded.