People should be watching recent geological activity in Asia with trepidation as Japan re-starts nuclear reactors, especially in Sendai near the recent volcanic eruption:
Sakurajima settles down after explosive eruption, The Mainichi September 6, 2016, http://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20160206/p2a/00m/0na/007000c
Given heightened geological activity, one wonders why Japan is electing not only to re-start reactors, but also to re-start them using MOX fuel (see http://majiasblog.blogspot.com/2016/01/japan-re-starts-2nd-nuclear-complex-and.html).
Steve Almasy, Kevin Wang, and Joshua Berli. 14 dead after magnitude-6.4 earthquake shocks Taiwan. CNN, Feb 6, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/02/06/asia/taiwan-earthquake/index.html
Below find an excerpt from my recently completed book, Dispossession: Liberalism's Crisis, that addresses failures in risk-management by the nuclear industry in Japan and the US (although the problems mentioned apply to all nuclear nations more generally):
The Nuclear complexes’ revolving door relationships and the close connections between nuclear weapons and energy security together reinforce the complex’s immunity and mitigate against realistic assessments of the myriad risks posed by the uranium supply chain, including the health and environmental risks of uranium mining, refining, fissioning, and spent waste management.[i]
Accidents such as Fukushima were believed to be low probability events, but recent statistical analyses of past nuclear disasters points to the fallacy of low-probability formulations. Research by Lelieveld, Kunkel, and Lawrence published in the journal, Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, predicts a severe nuclear accident every ten to twenty years.[ii]
Another study by Wheatley, Sovacool, and Sornette predicted a 50 percent chance for another Fukushima-scale accident or larger in the next 50 years, a Chernobyl-scale event in the next 27 years, and a Three Mile Island scale event in the next ten years.[iii]
Yet, in the wake of these studies the Japanese government planned to cut the formal risk probability of a major nuclear accident in half, as reported in The Asahi Shimbun in April of 2015: “The industry ministry intends to cut the risk probability of a major nuclear accident occurring to once in 80 years, half that of the once-in-40-years rate contrived just after the Fukushima disaster in 2011.”[iv] The article explains that by revising the probability downward, to once in 80 years, the “proposed costs for dealing with nuclear disasters will be reduced.”
The Sendai nuclear power plant in Satsuma-Sendai, Kagoshima Prefecture that resumed operations in 2015 benefitted from the revision, reducing energy costs for businesses and consumers, but leaving the nation vulnerable to another nuclear disaster.[v]
Critics voice concern about restarting reactors amid significant volcanic activity and earthquakes in Japan. In May of 2015 a large eruption occurred on an island not far from the Sendai plant and an 8.5 earthquake offshore earthquake shook buildings in Tokyo.[vi] In 2014, an eruption on Mount Ontake in central Japan killed 63 people.[vii] Increased volcanic activity is likely to be accompanied by more earthquakes than predicted by past records.
Japans’ reactors may be especially vulnerable to irreparable structural damage in future earthquakes given ubiquitous damage from the March, 2011. A report titled “Lessons from Fukushima Dai-ichi” dated 28 October 2011 by BBT University President Kenichi Ohmae, asserted that fourteen nuclear reactors in Japan were extensively damaged by the earthquake.[viii] H
Heightened geological monitoring in Japan has found several nuclear facilities to be located on potentially active faults, including, as mentioned above, the Rokkasho nuclear reprocessing plant.[ix] Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Association must approve reactor re-starts, but is under considerable political pressure from the LDP.
Heightened risk is being managed by technologies that proved inadequate during the Fukushima crisis. For example, TEPCO brought a water cannon to the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant, the largest in the world, to “prevent diffusion of radioactive materials” in the event of an accident. [x] Water cannons failed to reach melted fuel at Fukushima and may have sustained the reaction. Water cannons are an absurdly inadequate risk mitigation strategy for a nuclear meltdown. TEPCO also plans to build a silt fence to prevent contaminated water from draining into the ocean, but acknowledges it will not entirely block drainage.
The US shares Japan’s risk-seeking nuclear orientation. The US has 31 reactors of similar design to reactors one through three at Fukushima still operating.[xi] Nuclear infrastructures are aging and decommissioning costs are perceived as prohibitive, increasing incentives for loosening regulatory standards by increasing plant life-span beyond design specifications and by up-rating plant operations. Mark I reactors pose special risks but the concrete and metal composing all nuclear plants suffer radiation-induced structural corrosion across time, increasing likelihood of critical breakdowns. Uprating especially increases the risks of routine operations.[xii]
Perhaps most significantly, all nuclear power-plants face catastrophic risk of meltdowns and spent fuel pool fires during extended electricity outages from storms, flooding, solar flares (“Carrington Events”), sabotage, etc. Electricity is required to keep hot fuel cooled in reactors and spent fuel pools. Hot fuel will off-gas radionuclides within days if water-cooling stops. Nuclear power plants are required to have back-up generators, but these generators flooded in Fukushima and have a range of vulnerabilities, especially their dependence upon significant quantities of fuel.
Finally, regulatory failures at US nuclear plants amplify risks, as recently documented by NBC News San Diego in relation to the San Onofre Nuclear Power Generating Station (SONGS) in Southern California.[xiii] NBC’s report shows a record of operators “sloppy” disposal of nuclear waste at SONGS, resulting in “hot spots” located on or near the site, suggesting that the plant contaminated the environment for decades as regulators looked the other way.
[i] See Nadesan Fukushima and the Privatization of Risk 14-33.
[ii] Jos Lelieveld, Daniel Kunkel, and Mark G. Lawrence, “Global Risk of Radioactive Fallout After Major Nuclear Reactor Accidents,” Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics 12 (2012): 4245, doi: 10.5194/acp-12-4245-2012.
[iii] Spencer Wheatley, Benjamin Sovacool, and Didier Sornette, “Of Disasters and Dragon Kings: A Statistical Analysis of Nuclear Power Incidents & Accidents,” Physics and Society (2015) arXiv:1504.02380 [physics.soc-ph].
[iv] Daiki Koga and Tomoyoshi Otsu, “Risk Probability of Major Nuclear Accident to Be Cut By Half, The Asahi Shimbun, April 16, 2015, accessed April 17, 2014, http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ201504160072.
[v] “Sendai Nuclear Plant Obtains Final Permit Needed to Restart,” Japan Today, May 28, 2015, accessed May 29, 2015,
[vi] Kiyoshi Takenaka, “Magnitude 8.5 Quake Strikes Off Eastern Japan, No Tsunami Danger or Damage Reports,” Reuters, May 30, 2015, accessed May 31, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/05/30/us-quake-japan-idUSKBN0OF0GB20150530.
[vii] Elaine Lies, “Island Off Southern Japan Evacuated after Volcano Erupts,” The Japan Times May 29 2015, accessed May 30, 2015, http://www.japantoday.com/category/national/view/volcano-erupts-off-coast-of-kyushu?keepThis=true&TB_iframe=true&height=650&width=850&caption=Japan+Today%3A+Japan+News+and+Discussion
[viii] Kenichi Ohmae, “Lessons Learned from Fukushima Dai-ichi,” October 28, 2011, http://pr.bbt757.com/eng/; Full report available from http://pr.bbt757.com/eng/pdf/finalrepo_111225.pdf.
[ix] Hasegawa “Quake Risk at Japan.”
[x] “TEPCO Sending Water Cannon to Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Plant in Case of Disaster,” The Japan Times, July 9, 2015, accessed July 10, 2015, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/07/09/national/tepco-sending-water-cannon-kashiwazaki-kariwa-nuclear-plant-case-disaster/#.VZ6jvPlBmFs.
[xi] Jeff Goodell, “America’s Nuclear Nightmare: The U.S. Has 31 Reactors Just Like Japan’s — but Regulators Are Ignoring the Risks and Boosting Industry Profits,” Rolling Stone, April 27, 2011, accessed April 28, 2011, http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/america-s-nuclear-nightmare-20110427.
[xii] Alan Zarembo and Ben Welsh, “US is Increasing Nuclear Power Through Uprating,” Los Angeles Times April 17, 2011, accessed January 5, 2015, http://articles.latimes.com/2011/apr/17/local/la-me-uprates-20110418.
[xiii] J. W. August and Lynn Walsh, “Documents Detail How Nuclear Material Was Handled at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station,” NBC News San Diego, September 23, 2015, accessed September 30, 2015, http://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local/Documents-Detail-How-Nuclear-Material-Was-Handled-at-San-Onofre-328292351.html#ixzz3nF6ZPtNO