What to Know About Fukushima’s Exclusion Zone and Nuclear Mutations

Rayna Skiver - Author

May 8 2023, Published 11:55 a.m. ET

A sign marking the Fukushima exclusion zone
Source: Getty Images

Back in 2011, a coastal city in Japan was hit by a powerful earthquake and tsunami. When this disaster struck Fukushima, reactors at a nuclear power plant overheated melted, causing radioactive materials to be released into the environment.

Soon after the catastrophe, the Fukushima exclusion zone was created. Continue reading to learn more about this disaster, nuclear mutations, and the exclusion zone.

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What is the Fukushima exclusion zone?

Cattle grazing next to exclusion zone
Source: Getty Images

After the disaster, the area surrounding the power plant was closed off due to the dangers of radiation— this site is called an exclusion zone. Today, a few places are still closed even after all of these years.

Some people might think that Fukushima is completely unsafe to visit, but that’s actually not the case. In fact, it’s possible to tour the area and learn more about the disaster. Real Fukushima is one of the many organizations that are working to change the public’s perception — they want people to see the city as hopeful, not dark.

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The Fukushima disaster resulted in nuclear mutations.

Another result of the 2011 catastrophe was nuclear mutations. According to NBC News, researchers found mutations in butterflies near the Daiichi power plant. This observation was a sign of potential changes to the local ecosystem.

Nearby forests were also affected by the nuclear disaster. Studies showed that leaves had high concentrations of radiation and that there were “​​growth mutations of fir trees,” according to Greenpeace. The organization voiced concern about the potential consequences that the disaster might have on plants and animals.

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However, a recent study has suggested that “there was no significant increase in the mutation rate” in certain tree species located in contaminated areas. These results point toward the potential for positive outcomes for other plant species.

More on the 2011 nuclear disaster:

Damage from the Fukushima disaster in 2011
Source: Getty Images

The Fukushima nuclear disaster had terrible consequences for the surrounding communities and the environment. According to BBC, the earthquake and the tsunami that followed killed over 18,000 people, with many still missing. Over 150,000 had to evacuate the area as well, due to radiation leaks.

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After the event, many countries began correcting design flaws — such as having the generators in the basement — and conducting stress tests in order to minimize future risks. On the other hand, Japan decided to phase out nuclear energy altogether.

The country’s citizens were uncomfortable with their dependence on atomic energy after the disaster, understandably so. Most nuclear power plants in Japan have been idle since 2011. Before the incident, nuclear energy accounted for about a third of the country’s power, but in 2020, the number significantly decreased to less than 5 percent, according to The Guardian.

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But now, the country is reconsidering its reliance on nuclear power. Japan is looking for a secure energy supply — the war in Ukraine and rising energy costs have made the feat difficult. Not only might this be an unpopular move with the country’s citizens, but it’s also a loss for the environment.

Nuclear energy produces radioactive waste. This waste can end up harming both humans and the environment, according to the Energy Information Association. Nuclear power plants are also water hungry — they require a lot of water for cooling, Greenpeace explained.

With all of the risks involved, it might be best to turn away from nuclear energy and toward renewable energy.

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