Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Japanese Seismologist in 2004 on Risk of Nuclear Accident: "It's Like a Kamikaze Terrorist Wrapped in Bombs Just Waiting to Explode"
In 2004, Leuren Moret warned in the Japan Times of the exact type of nuclear catastrophe that Japan is now experiencing:
As the US Geological Survey notes, Japan has had many earthquakes, including:
Of all the places in all the world where no one in their right mind would build scores of nuclear power plants, Japan would be pretty near the top of the list.
Japan sits on top of four tectonic plates, at the edge of the subduction zone, and is in one of the most tectonically active regions of the world.
Nonetheless, like many countries around the world -- where General Electric and Westinghouse designs are used in 85 percent of all commercial reactors -- Japan has turned to nuclear power as a major energy source
Many of those reactors have been negligently sited on active faults, particularly in the subduction zone along the Pacific coast, where major earthquakes of magnitude 7-8 or more on the Richter scale occur frequently. The periodicity of major earthquakes in Japan is less than 10 years. There is almost no geologic setting in the world more dangerous for nuclear power than Japan -- the third-ranked country in the world for nuclear reactors.
"I think the situation right now is very scary," says Katsuhiko Ishibashi, a seismologist and professor at Kobe University. "It's like a kamikaze terrorist wrapped in bombs just waiting to explode."
On July 7 last year, the same day of my visit to Hamaoka, Ishibashi warned of the danger of an earthquake-induced nuclear disaster, not only to Japan but globally, at an International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics conference held in Sapporo. He said: "The seismic designs of nuclear facilities are based on standards that are too old from the viewpoint of modern seismology and are insufficient. The authorities must admit the possibility that an earthquake-nuclear disaster could happen and weigh the risks objectively."
I realized that Japan has no real nuclear-disaster plan in the event that an earthquake damaged a reactor's water-cooling system and triggered a reactor meltdown.
Additionally, but not even mentioned by ERC officials, there is an extreme danger of an earthquake causing a loss of water coolant in the pools where spent fuel rods are kept. As reported last year in the journal Science and Global Security, based on a 2001 study by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, if the heat-removing function of those pools is seriously compromised -- by, for example, the water in them draining out -- and the fuel rods heat up enough to combust, the radiation inside them will then be released into the atmosphere. This may create a nuclear disaster even greater than Chernobyl.
It is not a question of whether or not a nuclear disaster will occur in Japan; it is a question of when it will occur.
- 1891 10 27 - Mino-Owari, Japan - M 8.0 Fatalities 7,273
- 1896 06 15 - Sanriku, Japan - M 8.5 Fatalities 27,000
- 1911 06 15 - Ryukyu Islands, Japan - M 8.1 Fatalities 12
- 1923 09 01 - Kanto (Kwanto), Japan - M 7.9 Fatalities 143,000
- 1927 03 07 - Tango, Japan - M 7.6 Fatalities 3,020
- 1933 03 02 - Sanriku, Japan - M 8.4 Fatalities 2,990
- 1943 09 10 - Tottori, Japan - M 7.4 Fatalities 1,190
- 1944 12 07 - Tonankai, Japan - M 8.1 Fatalities 1,223
- 1945 01 12 - Mikawa, Japan - M 7.1 Fatalities 1,961
- 1946 12 20 - Nankaido, Japan - M 8.1 Fatalities 1,330
- 1948 06 28 - Fukui, Japan - M 7.3 Fatalities 3,769
- 1952 03 04 - Hokkaido, Japan region - M 8.1 Fatalities 31
- 1964 06 16 - Niigata, Japan - M 7.5 Fatalities 26
- 1968 05 16 - Off the East Coast of Honshu, Japan - M 8.2 Fatalities 47
- 1995 01 16 - Kobe, Japan - M 6.9 Fatalities 5,502
- 2000 10 06 - Western Honshu, Japan - M 6.7
- 2003 05 26 - Near the East Coast of Honshu, Japan - M 7.0
- 2003 09 25 - Hokkaido, Japan Region - M 8.3
- 2003 10 08 - Hokkaido, Japan Region - M 6.7
- 2003 10 31 - Off the East Coast of Honshu, Japan - M 7.0
- 2004 05 29 - Off the East Coast of Honshu, Japan - M 6.5
- 2004 09 05 - Near the South Coast of Western Honshu, Japan - M 7.2
- 2004 09 05 - Near the South Coast of Honshu, Japan - M 7.4
- 2004 09 06 - Near the South Coast of Honshu, Japan - M 6.6
- 2004 10 23 - Near the West Coast of Honshu, Japan - M 6.6 Fatalities 40
- 2004 11 28 - Hokkaido, Japan Region - M 7.0
- 2004 12 06 - Hokkaido, Japan Region - M 6.8
- 2005 03 20 - Kyushu, Japan - M 6.6 Fatalities 1
- 2005 07 23 - Near the South Coast of Honshu, Japan - M 5.9
- 2005 08 16 - Near the East Coast of Honshu, Japan - M 7.2
- 2005 10 19 - Near the East Coast of Honshu, Japan - M 6.3
- 2005 11 14 - Off the East Coast of Honshu, Japan - M 7.0
- 2005 12 02 - Near the East Coast of Honshu, Japan - M 6.5
- 2006 06 11 - Kyushu, Japan - M 6.3
- 2007 03 25 - Near the West Coast of Honshu,Japan - M 6.7 Fatalities 1
- 2007 07 16 - Near the west coast of Honshu, Japan - M 6.6 Fatalities 9
- 2008 05 07 - Near the East Coast of Honshu, Japan - M 6.8
- 2008 06 13 - Eastern Honshu, Japan - M 6.9 Fatalities 13
- 2008 07 23 - Eastern Honshu, Japan - M 6.8 Fatalities 1
- 2008 09 11 - Hokkaido, Japan region - M 6.8
- 2009 08 09 - Near the South Coast of Honshu, Japan - M 7.1
- 2009 08 10 - Near the South Coast of Honshu, Japan - M 6.1 Fatalities 1
- 2009 08 12 - Izu Islands, Japan region - M 6.6
- 2009 08 17 - Southwestern Ryukyu Islands, Japan - M 6.7
- 2009 10 30 - Ryukyu Islands, Japan - M 6.8
- 2011 03 11 - Near the East Coast of Honshu, Japan - M 9.0 Fatalities 10,019
Japanese engineer Masashi Goto, who helped design the containment vessel for Fukushima's reactor core, says the design was not enough to withstand earthquakes or tsunamis.Indeed, Reuters points out today:
Not Just Japan
Over the past two weeks, Japanese government officials and Tokyo Electric Power executives have repeatedly described the deadly combination of the most powerful quake in Japan's history and the massive tsunami that followed as "soteigai," or beyond expectations.
But a review of company and regulatory records shows that Japan and its largest utility repeatedly downplayed dangers and ignored warnings — including a 2007 tsunami study from Tokyo Electric Power Co's senior safety engineer.
"We still have the possibilities that the tsunami height exceeds the determined design height due to the uncertainties regarding the tsunami phenomenon," Tokyo Electric researchers said in a report reviewed by Reuters.
The research paper concluded that there was a roughly 10 percent chance that a tsunami could test or overrun the defenses of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant within a 50-year span based on the most conservative assumptions.
But Tokyo Electric did nothing to change its safety planning based on that study, which was presented at a nuclear engineering conference in Miami in July 2007.
Tokyo Electric's Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, some 150 miles northeast of Tokyo, was a particular concern.
The 40-year-old nuclear complex was built near a quake zone in the Pacific that had produced earthquakes of magnitude 8 or higher four times in the past 400 years — in 1896, 1793, 1677 and then in 1611, Tokyo Electric researchers had come to understand.
Based on that history, Sakai, a senior safety manager at Tokyo Electric, and his research team applied new science to a simple question: What was the chance that an earthquake-generated wave would hit Fukushima? More pressing, what were the odds that it would be larger than the roughly 6-meter (20 feet) wall of water the plant had been designed to handle?
The tsunami that crashed through the Fukushima plant on March 11 was 14 meters high.
Sakai's team determined the Fukushima plant was dead certain to be hit by a tsunami of one or two meters in a 50-year period. They put the risk of a wave of 6 meters or more at around 10 percent over the same time span.
In other words, Tokyo Electric scientists realized as early as 2007 that it was quite possible a giant wave would overwhelm the sea walls and other defenses at Fukushima by surpassing engineering assumptions behind the plant's design that date back to the 1960s.
Despite the projection by its own safety engineers that the older assumptions might be mistaken, Tokyo Electric was not breaking any Japanese nuclear safety regulation by its failure to use its new research to fortify Fukushima Dai-ichi, which was built on the rural Pacific coast to give it quick access to sea water and keep it away from population centers.
"There are no legal requirements to re-evaluate site related (safety) features periodically," the Japanese government said in a response to questions from the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, in 2008.
As MSNBC notes, there are 23 virtually-identical reactors in the U.S. to the leaking Fukushima reactors.
U.S. nuclear plants use the same sort of pools to cool spent nuclear-fuel rods as the ones now in danger of spewing radiation at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi plant, only the U.S. pools hold much more nuclear material.