If Hamaoka is potentially deadly, what about all the other nuclear reactors?

TOKYO —

Toyo University geologist Mitsuhisa Watanabe has a startling revelation for Sunday Mainichi (May 29) and its readers – startling at least to those who think nuclear energy is serious business and should be treated (if at all) with respect.

Since 2006, Watanabe has been traveling across the country surveying nuclear power stations built near fault lines. He describes his findings as follows: “The length of an active fault line is a direct factor in the severity of an earthquake.” When assessing a site for a new plant, power companies, “in order to make the impact of potential earthquakes seem as low as possible, will (on paper) divide a fault line into two or more segments. The nuclear power industry even has its own technical term for it: ‘value-cutting.’ It seems unthinkable, and yet it’s surprisingly common.”

Prime Minister Naoto Kan, with much fanfare, issued on May 6 an unprecedented request to Chubu Electric Power Co to shut down its nuclear power plant at Hamaoka, Shizuoka Prefecture. The request, though not legally binding, was complied with. How, under the circumstances, could Chubu Electric refuse?

If Hamaoka is hit by an earthquake-tsunami event approaching in scale the one that in Fukushima Prefecture is making nonsense of decades of blithe official assurances that nuclear power is safe – and seismologists rate at 87 percent the chance of a major quake occurring near Hamaoka within the next 30 years – Tokyo itself, the heart and lungs of Japan, would suffer what much of Tohoku is now suffering.

“Let history judge,” said Kan, implicitly elevating his decision to a historic level. Sunday Mainichi is not impressed. The nation’s entire nuclear industry, it claims, was built with astonishing recklessness. Closing one plant is, in the contemptuous words of former Tohoku University seismologist Masakazu Otake, “haphazard lip service, a kind of blood offering to the gods, a political performance.”

Kan, of course, did not create the problem. Japan is hell-bent commitment to nuclear power generation – a remarkable course for a nation, however energy-hungry, claiming special sensitivity as nuclear power’s only wartime victim – goes back to the oil shock of 1973. Hamaoka went operational in 1976. Yoshika Shiratori, a long-time anti-nuclear activist, tells Sunday Mainichi with evident dismay that Chubu Electric got away with insisting the 10-15-meter-high sand dunes between the sea and the plant would furnish adequate protection.

And so it went, through the construction of 55 nuclear reactors across this earthquake- and tsunami-prone archipelago. That is the situation Kan inherited. “It’s not just Hamaoka,” says Watanabe, the Toyo University geologist – who describes himself, incidentally, as “not anti-nuclear.” “To keep running Japan’s nuclear power plants in their current condition is a terrifying prospect. To start with, all nuclear plants near active fault lines need to be shut down.”

  • 0

    bcbrownboy

    Can we trust TEPCO anywhere? anytime? with anything?

  • 0

    Teachmeteachyou

    This is all the legacy of the oil-shock, when this was a make-or break situation for Japan's economy. Now we have solar power, certainly the plants closest to fault-lines should be shut down. People learn through experience, and I think Fukushima is more than enough... though it should be a planned phase-out and it doesn't that we are ready for a 'non-nuclear' society just yet.

  • 0

    NetNinja

    tick...tick...tick...tick...tick...FAIL!!!

    It's not a matter of IF....the real question is WHEN!! This article uses "IF" one too many times. tick...tick...tick... Stick around folks, we got front row seats.

    If you don't cut the fuse on this situation TODAY then you'll ride this missile till it's end.

  • 0

    Smorkian

    Can we trust TEPCO anywhere? anytime? with anything?

    They aren't even mentioned in this article....

    Now's the time for the nuclear engineers and safety experts to redouble their thinking for how to improve the safety of the plants in Japan, especially the older plants. The government should be very strongly encouraging innovation in safety systems and plant design.

    And of course Japan should be positioning itself to be a world leader in alternative energy research....

  • 0

    Zenny11

    bcbrownboy.

    Tepco is not in charge of Hamaoka. They are just one of the 11 companies supplying power here. Tohoku Electric Power Company(shortened to Tepco too) has also probs with one their reactors upnorth.

    But, yes, they have to check all the reactors now.

  • 0

    YongYang

    Even used as a transitory power source for boiling water it's 54 HELL risky chances to take. Push forward with alternatives Japan. Cut your ties with nuclear ASAP. Good speed to a nuclear free future. Lead by example.

  • 0

    ihavegreatlegs

    Keep the plants but get outside help in securing them. It can be done.

  • 0

    EUcitizen

    Do you really trust Japanese power companies with amakudari politicians "surveying" them? Only a fool would.

  • 0

    WilliB

    teachmeteachyou:

    " This is all the legacy of the oil-shock, when this was a make-or break situation for Japan's economy. "

    Yes it was, and not only for Japan's economy. And Japan did a sensible thing in betting on nuclear power, in contrast to the Europeans who sold out their future to the muslim oil countries with the Barcelona treaty and Medea. Japan will be better off for it. Although I agree that Monju and the plutonium cycle is a step too far.

  • 0

    Klein2

    What an excellent question the headline asks. Here is my answer:

    Slippery slope, meet hasty decision. Enjoy yourselves.

    Kan made a dumb decision based on very little evidence to tell Chubu to shut Hamaoka, which begs the question above. Well Kan... what's the answer? Come on smart guy. If it is all dangerous, then let's all stop using electricity. Let's shut down the economy. It is the only safe thing to do, right? Safety first?

    Or maybe we are all not in so much danger as some are herding us into believing.

    Let me ask everybody, and be honest. Do you feel safer now than you felt on 3.12? Why or why not? I tell you one thing. If you live in Tohoku, you are probably wondering what the heck is wrong with the rest of the country. We are the chicken which got the axe, but you all are running around with your heads cut off.

  • 0

    sf2k

    Gee, 50+ years of LDP kickbacks. What could have possibly gone wrong?

  • 0

    Foxie

    Klein2, I am feeling much safer now. Why? Because I am still alive. No need to shut down all the reactors. The proof is that we are all still here. Not even a meltdown is dangerous, so what are you all afraid of? Dying? Being born is more frightening, it already means that we have to die one day. Just enjoy your life and don't think too much about it.

  • 0

    Serrano

    All the other nuclear reactors are potentially deadly too. This should not come as any surprise.

  • 0

    Stonecoldsoba

    Smoking is potentially deadly. Time to stop that too.

  • 0

    Smorkian

    Seismology is not a precise art, but the Fukushima earthquake was predicted in the Economist in January, and now the Shizuoka one is being called by the same group.

    I don't disagree with the content of your post, but I would like to mention that mainstream scientific thought regards earthquake prediction as something pretty close to pseudo-science.

    It's pretty reasonable to assume there will be major earthquakes along the same fault zone as the location Hamaoka, and it's pretty reasonable to assume there will be a major earthquake again Kanto/Tohoku; but you can assume that from the historical record if nothing else. Just look at the long list of magnitude 7+ quakes in the last 20 years...

  • 0

    Youdontknow

    When they talked about building a nuclear reactor in the town where I live, back in 2004, the whole area saw a sudden exodus of businesses, large and small. When, a year later they rescinded their decision to build it, it was too late, and now the town is a virtual ghost town.

  • 0

    Nonanon

    i think this is a balanced decision by Kan: you don't want to shut the entire country down - obviously, but you also don't want to leave a grenade beside your head/heart (i.e. Tokyo).

    on the matter of earthquake predection: NASA noticed some effects prior to the M9 quake: ionization of the local atmosphere starting 3 days before the quake; and a hot spot of IR radiation emitted exactly from the rupture area 3 hrs before the quake... check it out on Go-ogle.

  • 0

    Serrano

    ihavegreatlegs: "Keep the plants but get outside help in securing them"

    Can you secure Mother Nature's promise not to shake the ground too much or launch tsunamis? Thanks.

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