On March 11, 2011, the Fukushima prefecture of eastern Japan was racked by a devastating tsunami following an earthquake. As a result of the tsunami, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was compromised, putting the lives of those who worked at or lived near the plant in danger. These three events all together were detrimental to both the physical and mental health of residents in addition to the destruction of homes and the leakage of radiation that resulted from such catastrophic events.


Environmental factors such as sea level rise and ocean temperature rise contributed to the damaging effects of the tsunami in particular. Higher sea levels and increased temperatures enabled the tsunami to extend its field of damage, making the problem that much worse for residents of Fukushima. 

Map of Japan

(Gaida, 2019)

Explosion at the Daiichi Plant

(naturalflow, 2011)

Workers at the Daiichi plant

(Webb, 2013)


Sea Level Rise

  • Part of what made this tsunami particularly devastating is the sea level around Japan. Comparing a 1.5°C increase in temperature with a 2°C increase, the IPCC predicts that sea level rise will be 0.1 meters lower at the 1.5°C threshold (IPCC, 2018). This could be important for any future earthquakes or tsunamis that may hit this or any region of Japan. 


Ocean Temperature

  • Tied to sea level rise is the rise in ocean temperature. Rising temperature are causing more ice sheets around Greenland and Antarctica to melt, effectively increasing global sea levels (IPCC, 2018). Future impacts to temperature will partly be determined by the actions of humans, especially in regard to the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere (Hauer et. al., 2016; IPCC, 2018). Increases in ocean temperature not only affect sea level, but they also affect the physical properties of the water. As ocean waters heat up, they also expand (Daigle & Singh, 2016; Mimura, 2013). This expansion as a result of increased ocean temperatures exacerbated the issue of the tsunami. 

Exposure and Vulnerability

Seismic map of Fukushima 

(Backyard World, 2011)


  • When looking at a map, it is clear how Fukushima would be at high risk since it is along the coast. The plants at Fukushima were built 10 meters above sea level, with their sea water pumps being located 4 meters above sea level (World Nuclear Association, 2018). 



  • Being farmers and fishers, it is unlikely that those in this region were particularly affluent. Brumfiel describes the prefecture as “rural” and “conservative,” and describes the power plants being welcomed into the community in the 1970s and 80s (Brumfiel, 2013). It is likely that the introduction of the plant created many jobs for people in the region who were able to fill positions besides in the agricultural sector. This adds a level of vulnerability to the population both during the time of the disaster and after. If a large portion of the people work in and around the plant, they are already at increased risk because of their proximity to the plant itself when it was compromised. Any emergency workers are again placed at higher risk (WHO, 2013).

"A water pump arrives at Onahama port, Fukushima Prefecture, March 28, 2011"

(U.S. Air Force Photo/ Okasabe Yasuo)















Adaptation and Resilience

Remove and Treat Contamination

  • Groundwater flows from the mountains to the ocean. By collecting water in tanks and then purifying it, hopefully less radioactive effluent will find its way into the oceans and the animals living near the coast (Gallardo & Marui, 2016).


Isolate Freshwaters from Contamination Source

  • After working for three years, an 'impervious' steel beam wall has been constructed by reactor 4 to help mitigate the flow of contaminated water into the ocean (Gallardo & Marui, 2016). Borrowing technology from mining and civil engineering, an ice wall has also been constructed. The wall extends over 1500m to surround the perimeter of the reactors in a design that freezes the ground to a depth of 30m (Gallardo & Marui, 2016).
  • The main issue with this plan is the extensive energy required to freeze and maintain the freezing of the wall (Gallardo & Marui, 2016)

Adaptation Efforts

(Gallardo & Marui, 2016)



Brumfiel, G. (2013). Fallout of fear. Nature, 493, 290-293. Retrieved from file:///Users/matthewedkins/Downloads/Brumfiel%20Fukushima.pdf

Daigle, K., & Singh, M. (2018). As waters rise, coastal megacities like Mumbai face catastrophe. ScienceNews, 194(4), 24. Retrieved from

Gallardo, A. H., & Marui, A. (2016). The aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear accident: Measures to contain groundwater contamination. Science of the Total Environment, 547, 261-268. Retrieved from ScienceDirect database.

Hauer, M. E., Evans, J. M., & Mishra, D. R. (2016). Millions projected to be at risk from sea-level rise in the continental United States. Nature Climate Change, 6, 691-695. Retrieved from

IPCC. (2018). Global Warming of 1.5C. In AR5 (pp. 6-26). Retrieved from

Mimura, N. (2013). Sea-level rise caused by climate change and its implications for society. Proceedings of the Japan Academy, Series B Physical and Biological Sciences, 89(7), 281-301. Retrieved from

World Health Organization. (2013). Health risk assessment from the nuclear accident after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. World Health Organization. Retrieved from;jsessionid=0FE0F9B7B2D073CBB896B65D2C1B641B?sequence=1

World Nuclear Association. (2016, October). Fukushima Daiichi Accident. Retrieved April 16, 2019, from World Nuclear Association website:



A 'fresh' idea for Fukushima [Photograph]. (2011). Retrieved from

Backyard World (2011). Web. 

Gaida, M. (2019). Web.

Gallardo, A. H., & Marui, A. (2016). The aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear accident: Measures to contain groundwater contamination. Science of the Total Environment, 547, 261-268. Retrieved from ScienceDirect database.

naturalflow. (16 March 2011). fukushima damage left, unit 3, right, unit 4 [Photograph]. Retrieved from

TEPCO, & IAEA Imagebank. (21 February, 2007). Fukushima Daini nuclear power plant [Photograph]. Retrieved from

Webb, G & IAEA Imagebank. (17 April, 2013). IAEA experts depart Unit 4 of TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station on 17 April 2013 as part of a mission to review Japan's plans to decommission the facility [Photograph]. Retrieved from


About the Author


matt edkins, an environmental studies and sociology major, graduated from St. Lawrence University in 2019. They became interested in this project after learning primarily about the sociological impacts of the Fukushima disaster of 2011 in an environmental studies class at St. Lawrence.