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Earthquake-prone Japan makes nuclear energy work

syvwlch/ FlickrNuclear power plants and earthquakes coexist in Japan.

The city of Kashiwazaki, on the Sea of Japan, is home to the world's largest nuclear power plant. It has six reactors and the capacity to supply electricity for more than 2.4 million homes.

But it has also been rocked by two 6.8-magnitude earthquakes in the past six years. The epicenter for the 2007 Chuetsu earthquake was just 10 miles from the power plant.

The 1989 Loma Prieta quake was had a magnitude of 6.9.

Amazingly, the damage at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant was relatively minimal: Book shelves were knocked over, a small fire started at a back-up generator, some radioactive water sloshed up on the platform around the core, and the access road was damaged.

And the reactors that were running (four of the seven) automatically shut down and went into safe mode.

So, while there was damage to non-safety, non-radioactive areas of the plants (bookshelves, office equipment, storage), the core facility (except for the splashed water) remained sound.

Indeed, officials for the International Atomic Energy Agency who inspected the site immediately after the quake were surprised and impressed by the plant’s core durability.

In an inspection report, they wrote:

Safety related structures, systems and components of the plant seem to be in a general condition, much better than might be expected for such a strong earthquake, and there is no visible significant damage.

And they praised the plant for the “conservatisms” the architects built into its construction that “compensated for the magnitude of the earthquake being so much greater than planned for.”

Since the 2007 quake, the plant has worked to make additional seismic improvements: Bolting bookshelves to walls, reinforcing smokestacks and buildings, and constructing and maintaining their own fire and chemical emergency trucks and stations on site.

And the other nuclear power plants around the country have followed its lead.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company and the International Atomic Energy Agency are holding Kashiwazaki-Kariwa up as the model for the safety and durability of nuclear power plants, even in earthquake prone areas.

Indeed, companies such as Mitsubishi, whose officials I met with on Tuesday, are touting Japan’s experience and knowledge in building and maintaining such power stations.

And while they concede there is no present market for their wares in California, if California reconsiders it’s moratorium on nuclear energy – which some legislators are beginning to talk about Japanese companies, such as Mitsubishi, Toshiba and Hitachi, are ready to pitch in.


Filed under: Environment, Daily Report


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