Joseph Shepherd
Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering
Caltech | Galcit |MCE   
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Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant March 16, 2011

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Crisis at Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant

On March 11, 2011, the Tohoku-Pacific earthquake and the resulting tsunami on the northeastern shore of Honshu created conditions that would ultimately result in the destruction of two-thirds of the generating capacity and severe contamination of the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant complex. Areas up to 40 km from the site are severely contaminated and up to 160,000 residents have been displaced. Containing and cleaning up this accident will require a sustained effort over many decades and at a substantial economic cost to Japan. This event had significant implications for nuclear electric power generation plans in Japan and has had an impact worldwide on the nuclear power generation industry.

National Academy Reports

From 2012 to 2016, I participated in two National Research Council committees on the Fukushima Nuclear Accident. The studies are available for free download from the National Academies Press.

Lessons Learned from the Fukushima Nuclear Accident for Improving Safety of U.S. Nuclear Plants (2014). Washington, DC. The National Academies Press. Available at

Lessons Learned from the Fukushima Nuclear Accident for Improving Safety of U.S. Nuclear Plants - Phase 2 (2016). Washington, DC. The National Academies Press. Available at

Videos and Presentations made in 2011

Important! Since my initial efforts in March 2011 to communicate the technical details of the accident and consequences, various groups and goverments have published a number of more complete and detailed discussions of the events and consequences. Although the general information about nuclear power and severe accidents in my presentations and videos linked below may still be useful, much has been learned about the accident progression at Fukushima Dai-ichi since that time. For the most reliable information please consult more up to date sources such as the National Academy Reports mentioned above and references given in those documents to the numerous government, industry and NGO reports.

Video and audio recordings of 30 March 2011 lecture This lecture gives an overview of the design and safety features of the BWR Mark I reactors, the progression of events, the engineering science of severe accidents in nuclear power plants, and the status of the reactors at that time.

Flash (360 Mb)
Flash (558 Mb)
Quicktime (645 Mb)
Iphone (small QT) version (370 Mb)
Audio only (76 Mb)


English language version (PDF 24 Mb) (Last revised on April 22, 2012) These are an expanded version of the slides used in the lectures. There is much more technical information in the slides than in the March 30 or April 7 talk, particularly about severe accidents, hydrogen generation, the radiological consequences, and constrasting this accident with TMI and Chernobyl.

My major updates to the slides ended in fall of 2011 although the situation continues to evolve with significant developments being reported each day. There are now over 250 slides and the presentation has grown an index so it can be navigated. This is a good point to freeze this presentation for many reasons. There are a number of official inquires in progress and many organizations that have produced reports. In addition, a large amount of data is being released by Tepco and the inevitable sorting out of conflicting information is in progress. Clarifying what actually took place between 11 and 19 March will require substantial investigation over an extended period of time. There is extensive coverage of this on the www and my slides will become progessively less relevant and inevitably incorrect regarding many details - particulary the accident progression early on in the crisis.

Japanese language translation (partial) (PDF 58 Mb) of the 9 April 2011 Version of the slides.

Youtube video of JPL (7 April 2011) version of talk.

Reports, news, and nuclear power plant safety information sources:

Important! These links have not been updated since 2012.