Two years on and Japan returns to nuclear power

It is two years today since the Great 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami and the meltdown at 3 reactors of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

It was the most powerful known earthquake ever to have hit Japan, and one of the five most powerful earthquakes in the world since modern record-keeping began in 1900. The earthquake triggered powerful tsunami waves that reached heights of up to 40.5 metres in Miyako in Tōhoku’s Iwate Prefecture and which, in the Sendai area, travelled up to 10 km inland. The earthquake moved Honshu (the main island of Japan) 2.4 m  east and shifted the Earth on its axis by estimates of between 10 cm  and 25 cm.

On 12 September 2012, a Japanese National Police Agency report confirmed 15,881 deaths, 6,142 injured and 2,668 people missing across twenty prefectures, as well as 129,225 buildings totally collapsed, with a further 254,204 buildings ‘half collapsed’, and another 691,766 buildings partially damaged. … 

The tsunami caused nuclear accidents, primarily the level 7 meltdowns at three reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant complex, and the associated evacuation zones affecting hundreds of thousands of residents.

In the knee-jerk reaction to the Fukushima accident all Japan’s 50 nuclear reactors in operation were shut down. Ongoing nuclear power plant projects were suspended. The global debate was more an emotional wave rather than rational discussion. The fear was real of course but what was generally ignored was that while the earthquake and tsunami killed some 18,000 the Fukushima accident did not cause any direct radiation related fatalities. The reality is that the Fukushima reactors were designed in the 1960’s and yet managed to survive the magnitude 9.1 earthquake but they could not cope with and succumbed to the massive tsunami. After the earthquake the reactors were actually shut down – automatically and in good order – but the emergency power to the cooling systems were knocked out by the subsequent tsunami. The failure was a failure of anticipating and designing for a tsunami that was as large and as powerful as it was. Tsunami’s as large as the 2011 event have occurred in Japan roughly every 1000 years. The Fukushima failure was not so much a fault of the nuclear plant as the failure of the designers in anticipating a sufficiently large tsunami within the lifetime of the plant.

But two years on, some rationality is returning to the debate. Two reactors have been turned back on and construction has gingerly been restarted on the new 1383 MW advanced boiling-water reactor at Oma.

Map credit Washington Post

Washington Post: 

In the aftermath of March 2011 meltdowns in Fukushima that contaminated 700 square miles with radiation and forced 150,000 to flee their homes, most never to return, Japan’s utility companies paused nearly all nuclear-related projects. The accident sparked a global debate about nuclear power, but it was especially fierce in Japan, where all 50 operable reactors were taken offline and work was halted on three new plants where building had been underway.

But two of the existing reactors are back in action, and the resumption of construction at the Oma Nuclear Power Plant here — a project that broke ground in 2008 and was halted by the operator, J-Power, after the accident — marks the clearest sign yet that the stalemate is breaking. ….. 

At the national level, Japan has cycled through three prime ministers since Fukushima — the first fiercely anti-nuclear, the next moderately anti-nuclear, the current one cautiously pro-nuclear. The previous ruling party tried last fall to plot a nuclear phaseout by the 2030s, but anti-nuclear advocates say the pledge was watered down to the point of being meaningless. The new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, plans this month to convene the latest in a series of expert panels to help overwrite the phaseout plan, and its makeup suggests that he prefers a role for nuclear power.

Japan’s anti-nuclear movement, which swelled after the Fukushima accident, could still play a role, but it is politically disorganized and has grown quieter in recent months. Individual activists cite the resumption at Oma as controversial but note that the move did not prompt mass-scale protests. ….. 

 

Tags: , , ,


%d bloggers like this: