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

    Escalation of Media Crackdown in Turkey Heightens Concerns

    Critics see 'a new dark age' as arrests of journalists, closures of media outlets by Erdogan government mount

    Russia Boasts of Troop Buildup on Flank, Draws Flak

    Russian military moves counter to efforts to de-escalate tensions, State Department says

    Video Iraqis Primed to March on Mosul, Foreign Minister Says

    Iraqi FM Ibrahim al-Jaafari tells VOA the campaign will meet optimistic expectations, even though US officials remain cautious

    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.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora