News / Asia

'Ring of Fire' Volcano Risk Last Obstacle for Japan Nuclear Plants

FILE - White smoke raises from Mount Shinmoedake in Kirishima mountain range in Kagoshima prefecture, Japan's southern island of Kyushu.
FILE - White smoke raises from Mount Shinmoedake in Kirishima mountain range in Kagoshima prefecture, Japan's southern island of Kyushu.
Reuters
In the three years since the Fukushima disaster, Japan's utilities have pledged $15 billion to harden their nuclear plants against earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes and terrorist attacks.
 
But as Japan's nuclear safety regulator prepares to rule on whether the first of the country's 48 idled reactors is ready to be come back online, the post-Fukushima debate about how safe is safe enough has turned to a final risk: volcanoes.
 
The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has already said the chance of volcanic activity during the lifespan of Kyushu Electric Power's nuclear plant at Sendai was negligible, suggesting it will give it the green light. The plant, some 1,000 km (600 miles) south of Tokyo, lies in a region of active volcanic sites.
 
Critics, including some scientists who were consulted by the NRA, say that shows regulators are turning a blind eye to the kind of unlikely but potentially devastating chain of events that pushed the Fukushima Daiichi plant into a triple meltdown in 2011 when a tsunami crashed into the facility.
 
The debate has played out in several months of public hearings in Tokyo by the NRA and could weigh on the last hurdle for restarting nuclear plants - the opinion of local residents - at a time when the costs of keeping reactors shut are mounting.
 
While reactors have been offline, Japan has had to spend around $87 billion on replacement fuel, utility operators estimate. Before 2011, Japan got about 30 percent of its electricity from nuclear power.
 
Kyushu Electric's business plan hinges on getting its two-reactor facility at Sendai restarted. The utility has posted $5.9 billion in losses over the past three years and is seeking a $1 billion bailout in new equity from the Development Bank of Japan.
 
Critics say the NRA safety review overestimates the power of science to predict future volcanic eruptions.
 
Japan lies on the “Ring of Fire”, a horseshoe-shaped band of fault lines and volcanoes circling the edges of the Pacific Ocean. Japan itself is home to 110 active volcanoes.
 
Sendai, at the southern end of the island of Kyushu, is 50 km (31 miles) from Sakurajima, an active volcano. Five giant calderas, crater-like depressions formed by past eruptions, are also in the region, the closest one just 40 km (25 miles) from the Sendai plant.
 
“No-one believes that volcanic risks have been adequately discussed,” said Setsuya Nakada, a professor of volcanology at the University of Tokyo, who advised officials when they were forming regulatory guidelines for monitoring volcanoes.
 
Eruptions that form calderas are devastating, but extremely rare. Scientists believe the odds of a massive caldera-forming eruption happening in Japan are less than 1 in 10,000 in any given year.
 
Evidence of the most recent mega-eruption in southern Japan is the underwater Kikai caldera, which was formed by a violent eruption around 7,300 years ago. The eruption covered southern Kyushu with more than 60 centimeters of ash.
 
Hollywood script
 
At times, the catastrophic scenarios that have been floated in debating the safety of Sendai before the NRA have sounded like a plot-line from a Hollywood disaster movie.
 
In one model presented by Kyushu Electric, an eruption similar to one 12,000 years ago would cover the Sendai facility with 15 centimeters of ash and block roads. The utility said it would be able to clear the ash and Sendai could still function.
 
Kyushu Electric also said it would install new monitoring equipment around nearby calderas and develop plans to remove highly radioactive fuel to a safer site if the threat of an eruption is detected.
 
But Toshitsugu Fujii, the head of the Japan Meteorological Agency's volcanic eruption monitoring committee and honorary professor of volcanology at the University of Tokyo, said there was no demonstrated way to predict eruptions.
 
“It wouldn't be surprising for any part of Japan to experience earthquakes or volcanic eruptions at any time. The question is when, and we don't have the technology to predict that,” Fujii told Reuters.
 
The NRA is less concerned.
 
“Our judgment is that it is unlikely that a destructive eruption would occur in the next 30 to 40 years,” NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka told reporters last week.
 
As soon as the NRA clears the Sendai nuclear plant for restart, local townships closest to the facility will hold public hearings. The government has said it will defer to the prefecture and the host city to make the final decision.
 
Charles Connor, a professor at the University of South Florida's School of Geosciences, said the risk of a caldera-forming eruption near the Sendai plant was “very low on the time scale of the human experience”.
 
“If we can draw something from the Fukushima tragedy it is that dialog has to develop between scientists and regulators so citizens can understand risk and reach a balanced decision on what is acceptable,” he said.

You May Like

Polls Open in Scotland Independence Vote

As race to persuade undecided voters continues, 'No' voters say they believe life in Scotland will slowly improve, 'Yes' vote not worth the risk More

South Africa’s 'Open Mosque' Admits Everyone, Including Critics

Open Mosque founder plans to welcome gay worshipers and allow women to lead prayers More

Ukrainian Activist in Despair About Future of Her Country

IrIna Dovgan, accused of being a spy and tortured by pro-Russian separatists, is appealing to UN Human Rights Council to support her country More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Wateri
X
September 17, 2014 8:44 PM
Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid