Japan Nuclear Plant Closing in Preparation for Big One

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The Prime Minister of Japan, Naoto Kan, has made an urgent request for Hamaoka nuclear power station to be shut down temporarily, and the owners have agreed.  The Fukushima plant that was hit by the tsunami on March 11 had a tsunami defense wall, which turned out to be inadequate.  The Hamaoka plant has no defenses and is in an area that is predicted to have an 87% chance of a major earthquake within 30 years.

The Tokai Tremblor

This region is subject to what are known as Tokai Tremblors, regularly occurring earthquakes with a periodicity of around 150 years.  The last large earthquake in the region was in 1854, and the next is expected to be of a magnitude of at least 6 and possibly 8.  The Tokai earthquake zone is closely monitored and local authorities have warning plans in place.

The Hamaoka nuclear plant lies close to the epicenter of the expected earthquake, and prevailing winds would carry any airborne radioactive material to Tokyo in the north.  The closure is expected to last as long as it takes to build a sea wall to protect the plant from a tsunami equal to that of March 11, but local residents have been campaigning since 2003 for a permanent shutdown.  More protestors have joined the anti-nuclear groups in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

Radiation problems don’t go away

The Prime Minister has joined those who want Japan to reconsider future energy plans, as radiation continues to leak from the Fukushima plant. There is currently no plan to allow the 80,000 displaced residents back to their homes on a permanent basis.  A small group was allowed into the exclusion zone to collect personal belongings, with a strict limit on the time they were allowed to spend in the no-go zone.  The government imposed a legal ban on entry into the exclusion zone, which covers a radius of 12 miles around the plant, in late April. Despite the ban, a small number of people are still living there, refusing to leave their homes.

With only official workers allowed into the zone, there are still bodies of those killed by the tsunami amid the toppled buildings and wreckage-strewn landscape.  In addition to the loss of life, the financial cost of the March 11 earthquake has been devastating for Japan. Losing another nuclear power station will strain industrial production as well as domestic power use.

Sources

BBC News Asia-Pacific. Japan to review energy policy’ over nuclear crisis.  Accessed May 10, 2011.

Yamanashi Tokai Earthquake Guide, How to protect yourself from the inevitable Tokai Earthquake and other great earthquakes. Accessed May 10, 2011.

BBC News, Chubu Electric set to close nuclear plant.  Accessed May 10, 2011.

Japan Times Online, Chubu Electric OKs Hamaoka shutdown. Accessed May 10, 2011.

Euronews,  Japan legally enforces Fukushima exclusion zone. Accessed May 10, 2011.

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