Nuclear plant on fault line causes fears of Fukushima repeat

The last remaining nuclear power plant still in operation in Japan since March 2011 could be situated above an active fault line in the earth’s crust, warns a Japanese geologist, risking a Fukushima-scale disaster.

Mitsuhisa Watanabe is a tectonic geomorphologist and one-fifth of a five man team charged by the Nuclear Regulation Authority with the task of investigating the tectonic landscape beneath the nuclear plant in Oi, Fukui Prefecture, the only plant to have resumed operation since last year’s nuclear disaster in Fukushima.

Watanabe’s research strongly suggests that the plant, including important water pipe equipment for half of the plant’s nuclear reactors, is located above an active seismic fault.

The geologist, along with other experts on the panel, have determined that the underground structure on which the plant stands has showed movement as long ago as 125,000 years. Watanabe suggests that this underground movement is due to faultline activity, and has called for the plant to cease operation immediately until further research has been carried out, concerned that failure to do so could result in a repeat of Fukushima, the tsunami-triggered nuclear meltdown that left hundreds of thousands of people without homes. “We are not seeking to decommission the plant,” Watanabe said. “We should first stop operation and then carry out underground investigation thoroughly before reaching a conclusion.”

Whilst it is against government regulations to run a nuclear plant under an active fault line (where ‘active’ is classed as any seismic fault that has shifted in the past 130,000 years), the plant is still in operation. Watanabe claims that the line has showed activity in the past 130,000 years, though other members of the team are reluctant to close the plant, suggesting instead that the land scarring is due to nothing more than a past landslide, rather than any seismic activity. National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology researcher Norio Shigematsu has cautioned jumping to any conclusion until more experts are consulted.

The experts may remain in disagreement, but the several thousand protesters that joined together in Tokyo’s government district this Sunday spoke with a different voice, as shouts of “No need to wait for the panel’s finding! We must stop the Oi plant now!” could be heard outside parliament. After the Japanese government’s declaration in September of their plans to phase out nuclear power in Japan by 2040, the issue of nuclear power and public safety has never been so important.

Watanabe is keen that seismologists do not underestimate the possible effects of future earthquakes. “We have to sound the alarm as soon as we find the possibility of active faults,” he said. “The accident in Fukushima had really never been imagined. Scientists must learn from that.”

Sources include Japan Today

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