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QUAKE DAMAGE AT NUCLEAR POWER PLANT SHAKES JAPAN'S CONFIDENCE

by Suvendrini Kakuchi

READ
Japan's Nuke Accident Stirs Anger (2004)

(IPS) TOKYO -- Reports of radiation leakages at a nuclear power plant, following the Niigata earthquake on Monday, have raised widespread public alarm and dealt a devastating blow to the government's plans to boost the nuclear power industry, both domestically and abroad.

"The problems now being reported from the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant are deeply alarming. They prove that Japan is not prepared for a nuclear power disaster especially during an earthquake and can never be,' Prof. Hiroaki Koide, nuclear safety specialist at Kyoto University, told IPS.

The quake left nine people dead, more than 1,000 injured and forced thousands out of their homes and into makeshift shelters.

Reports trickling out in the aftermath of the 6.8 Richter temblor show that at least 50 adverse events had occurred in the area that had, till now, been considered as a site least likely to be affected by an earthquake. But the epicenter of the quake was less than 10 km away.


The transmission of seismic energy is influenced by the depth and location of the earthquake. A new safety allowance standard to minimise accidents had just been designed for the plant. The standards, admitted officials, will probably have to be reviewed after a detailed analysis of the accident.

Akira Fukushima, deputy director general at the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, told reporters Wednesday that the plant has been shut down and that the government was taking a strict stance against a quick resumption of operations. 'The delayed reaction to the accident by the operators of the plant is a serious concern. We have ordered an investigation,' he said.

Officially released information admitted that a fire had occurred soon after the quake hit the region and fuel leaked from a damaged pipeline between Kashiwazaki and Nagaoka in Niigata prefecture.

The fire, the first at a nuclear plant hit by an earthquake, was extinguished two hours later with officials reporting no major threat to the public. On Monday, though, Japanese media carried reports of a leak of radioactive water from one of three reactors, some of it into the Sea of Japan.

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the operator of the plant, initially said that 100 barrels tipped over, spilling contaminated waste, but later revized the number to 438 barrels.

TEPCO runs seven reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa complex that have total generating capacity of over 8,000 Mw making the plant the world's largest.

Lately, Japan has been focusing on expanding its nuclear power capabilities, justifying by pointing out that this carbon-free energy is essential to combat global warming caused by the burning of fossil fuels such as oil and coal and resulting in greenhouse gas emissions.

Japan has 55 nuclear power plants that supply 30 percent of its electrical needs. The government is planning to build another this year and is extending support -- in the form of technology transfer -- to energy-short countries in Asia that are looking to nuclear plants.

According to the International Energy Agency based in Paris, the world's energy needs will rise by 51 percent by 2030 because of industrialization and population growth that could lead to an environmental nightmare.

Japan's latest nuclear power policy pushes an alternative solution by promising to ensure its safety through technology that includes safe storage methods for highly radioactive nuclear waste.

But this is being strongly opposed by activists. They argue that the Japanese government is being irresponsible by not taking into consideration the dangers posed by this industry as well as the high costs involved.

Indeed, the latest crisis in the nuclear plant in Niigata is being closely followed by the Japanese media that had till now focused on the pollution-free benefits of nuclear power.

The Tokyo Newspaper, a leading daily, in a report questioned the reliability of data for building sites provided by industry and government experts after it was revealed that the site was on a faultline and susceptible to tremors. The Asahi newspaper carried details of how TEPCO underestimated the amount of radioactive water that leaked into the sea.

Hideaki Ban, director of the Citizens' Nuclear Information Center, said the accident reveals poor planning and the determination of the government to expand nuclear power along with top electric companies.

'There have been several accidents in nuclear plants across Japan but officials toe the same line -- revisions rather than holding Japanese operators of nuclear reactors responsible by stopping the plants. The target is money rather than safety," he explained to IPS.

Another bone of contention with anti-nuclear power experts is the lack of transparency on information released by the government on the nuclear industry.

'When there is an accident we have to wait for information to be released by the government -- which is a problem when it comes to our own analysis,' said Ban, a scientist himself.

He said his organization has been inundated by calls from people in Niigata asking for independent analysis of the accident.

Nuclear safety specialist Koide says his research indicates that Japan's electrical needs can be supported by hydro-power given the country's abundant rivers and mountainous features.

'Nuclear plants are a danger in earthquake-prone Japan. There is simply no fool-proof safety standard. The whole industry is being pushed by companies with the backing of the government,' he said.



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Albion Monitor   July 16, 2007   (http://www.albionmonitor.com)

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