Japan's nuclear leak: earthquakes, fire and fault lines

Posted by bex — 19 July 2007 at 1:59pm - Comments

On Monday, an earthquake hit Kashiwazaki in north-western Japan, killing nine people and injuring hundreds more. Already a disaster for the citizens of Kashiwazaki, thousands of whom are now living in shelters, things could have been much, much worse.

Kawashaki is the location of the world’s biggest nuclear power plant – the site of seven nuclear reactors. At first it was thought that the 6.8 magnitude earthquake had just caused a fire at the plant and Tepco – the nuclear company - initially said no radioactivity was released. "No harm" was done, said a spokesperson.

Then we were told that in fact there had been a leak, but it was only 1.5 gallons of radioactive water. On Tuesday, it emerged that just a smidgen more radioactive water might have leaked than 1.5 gallons. About 243 times more. And the water was 50 times more radioactive than had been stated.

Then came the news that around a hundred nuclear waste barrels had fallen over - but only a couple of dozen of them lost their lids and leaked low grade nuclear waste. Finally, there was the atmospheric release of cobalt-60, chromium-51 and radioactive iodine...

Yesterday, came the revelation that the power plant sits over a fault. I'll say that again:

The world's biggest nuclear power plant was built bang on top of an active fault line.

"We did not assume an earthquake of this magnitude at the time of designing the nuclear power plant," said a Tepco official. "After looking at aftershock location data, we have come to realize a fault lies right below the plant."

Apart from bearing a terrifying resemblance to The Onion's satirical take on the story ("What a shame. In every other respect, that earthquake zone was the perfect place to build a nuclear reactor," was one of their fabricated quotes), the statement directly contradicts the claim made on Tepco’s own website:

"Designed for the Largest Conceivable Earthquake: Before constructing a nuclear power plant, the site is carefully studied for previous earthquake records and geological features. This study establishes that there is no active fault under the site."

It also neatly sidesteps the fact that, two years ago, local residents took out a lawsuit to close the plant because, they said, there was an active fault line there. (They lost.)

Our Making Waves blog is keeping an eye on the news from Kawashaki so keep checking there for regular updates, and find out what you can do to stop new nuclear power plants from being built here in the UK.

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