The earthquake had a moment magnitude scale of 9.0, making it the fifth most powerful earthquake since recording began. Although the epicenter was 70 kilometers away from the Oshika Peninsula of Tōhoku, the effects were devastating for Japan. Almost 16,000 thousand people died, 2,500 were declared missing. With buildings and infrastructure ruined, the economic cost estimated by The World Bank was 235$ billion. This was the most expensive natural disaster in world history.
One of the reasons the earthquake was so devastating is that it severely damaged the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant.
An article by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers called "Explainer: What Went Wrong in Japan's Nuclear Reactors", outlined the series of events, which led to the catastrophe:
When the 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck… control rods with neutron-absorbing properties were inserted among the fuel rods…But the tsunami that swiftly followed the earthquake swamped the coastal facility and damaged the generators and power systems that ran Fukushima Dai-1's cooling mechanisms. That's when things started to go bad.
Post-disaster reports explained the problem: the tsunami not only shut down the plant, but took out all emergency power, which was needed to cool reactor cores. There were almost no alternatives to provide reactor cooling, which led to ‘significant core melting’. The meltdown and release of radioactive materials into the environment, notably the ocean, caused the event to be classified as Level 7 – the highest order in the International Nuclear Event Scale. The only other Level 7 event was the Chernobyl accident. Fukushima disaster released an estimated 10 to 30 percent of radiation of the Chernobyl event, but the fact that most radiation was released into the ocean may have exacerbated the situation.
Global market research company Ipsos noted in the report "After Fukushima: Global Opinion on Energy Policy":
This means that views inevitably vary greatly between countries. In Britain, for instance, there remains a high level of support for nuclear power resulting from an in-built resistance to dependency on other countries or single sources, while in Japan there is a clear economic imperative to retain nuclear power capacity which may explain why, even after Fukushima, support for nuclear power remains relatively high… Public fears and concerns before and after Fukushima (whether justified or not) have already shaped major decisions, and it will be vital for policy makers to continue to track and analyse what’s driving those views. In energy policy, perceptions really do matter.
The report also highlights that countries like Germany and Italy nuclear power is banned due to both political pressure and cultural aversion. France, on the other hand, is on the fence.
Fukushima did little to improve the image of nuclear power. As far as environmental impact goes, as of 2014, radioactive water was still seeping into the Pacific Ocean, which may constitute a potential trigger to a process of global radioactive contamination. Direct impact on human lives is varied; apart from those who were exposed to radiation during cleanup efforts, at this point it’s not clear whether lives will be affected – in Japan, or Russian and American coastal regions, although there already exist controversial health reports saying the effect is, sadly, noticeable.