It is thirteen years since the world held its breath and learned of a place called Fukushima. On March 11, 2011, a massive earthquake and tsunami smashed into Japan’s east coast causing widespread death and destruction. 

It also resulted in a catastrophic loss of power and control at the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) Fukushima nuclear plant. 

The reactors melted down leading to mass evacuations, hundreds of billions of dollars in economic loss and the release of large amounts of radioactive contamination to the air and ocean. Tragically, official figures show there were 2313 disaster-related deaths among evacuees from Fukushima prefecture. 

Over A$125 billion has already been spent stabilising the stricken site and the crisis continues today. 

Japanese nuclear authorities have confirmed that active on-site intervention will be required for the next forty years and there are mounting waste management concerns, especially around the contested release of radioactive wastewater to the Pacific.  


Protest outside a Japanese consulate in the USA. Photo: Phil Pasquini/

Against the shadow of Fukushima, the current domestic pro-nuclear push is even more inappropriate – a distraction from proven, renewable powered solutions to the climate crisis – especially as Australia has a direct Fukushima connection.  

In October 2011, it was formally confirmed to the Australian Parliament that Australian uranium was fuelling the Fukushima complex at the time of the disaster. The head of the Australian Safeguards and Nuclear Safety Office – a unit of DFAT charged with tracking Australian uranium – told a Senate Committee that “…we can confirm that Australian obligated nuclear material (uranium) was at the Fukushima Daiichi site and in each of the reactors.” 

Australian radioactive rocks are the source of Fukushima’s fallout and waste. And large volumes of this waste are now being directly released into the Pacific Ocean. 

Between 100 and 300 tonnes of water are collected and stored at the stricken reactor complex each day where there are over one thousand large tanks holding around 1.3 million tonnes of contaminated water on site. This includes water used to cool nuclear fuel rods along with ground, rain and seepage water – all with elevated levels of radioactive contaminants. 

TEPCO has started directly discharging this waste to the Pacific and intends to do so for decades, despite deep community concern and scientific uncertainty. The ocean dumping is actively opposed by coastal and fishing communities in Japan and is highly controversial in both Korea and China. 

It is also a cause for deep concern and heartache among the wider Pacific community given the adverse environmental and cultural impacts and the tension between this action and the prohibition of radioactive waste dumping in the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty (1985). 

Fukushima was and remains a profound environmental, economic and human disaster that continues to negatively impact lives in Japan and far beyond. 

It also starkly highlights the costs and risks of the nuclear energy option and the complexity of managing nuclear waste. Japan is a mature and technically sophisticated nation and the world’s fourth largest economy – despite this the best that it can do in relation to radioactive waste thirteen years after a nuclear disaster is to pump and dump. 

Closer to home the Fukushima lesson is clear - nuclear power has no role in Australia and we should stop fuelling global nuclear risks and insecurity by ending uranium exports. 

We cannot change the past, but we can shape the future.  

On this 13th anniversary of Fukushima, ACF is calling on the Australian government to: 

  • Review the environmental, cultural, health and security impacts of Australia’s uranium sector and the adequacy of nuclear regulation and safeguards
  • Urge Japan to defer direct ocean dumping of contaminated water to the Pacific and instead review alternative waste management options
  • Continue to reject any moves for domestic nuclear power and elevate efforts for the swift transition to an energy future that is renewable, not radioactive.

Find out why Australia's future is nuclear free.

Dave Sweeney

Nuclear free campaigner, Australian Conservation Foundation.