Wednesday, July 18, 2007


As if the wind and the rain weren't enough, Niigata had its second severe earthquake in three years, stronger-feeling than the last one, many say; it caused 9 fatalities and 1100 injuries as reported thus far, collapsed many old houses and caused numerous landslides, aggravated by the past weeks of heavy rain.

There was also a fire at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear facility (near the quake epicenter), the world's largest nuclear-output power station. From what I saw initially, the blaze was just a transformer fire external to one of the buildings, nothing to worry about. In traditional Japan Atomic Energy Agency style, it wasn't revealed for some hours that there'd been a minor radioactive leak of mildly radioactive water from some waste barrels into the sea. Then it was announced the next day - far too late for anyone in the region to flee, had that been necessary - that more than 50 incidents of damage or malfunction had occurred - including radiation leaks, burst pipes, fires and the other usual whatnot of deadly radioactivity. If the past is any example, there's more to be revealed.

My in-laws live in Nagano, the next prefecture inland from Niigata; they also felt some tremors, though nothing major; Kasumi and family live in Saitama, another couple of prefectures away, where they felt the quake as a long slow wave motion, no damage there, though Kaya and the twins got scared.

One wonders, however, how much time they and those nearer the plant would have had for escape, had there been a major nuclear accident announced a day after it occurred, with details provided some time after that. Like all Japanese nuclear power plants, Kashiwazaki-Kariwa is built to withstand an earthquake force of 6.5, which was not enough protection from this 6.8er - especially for a facility built on a major fault line, as are so many (all?) of Japan's 55 nuclear reactors (wisdom knows no bounds) - so now the radioactivity people are talking about upgrading to maybe 6.9, but as we know, earthquakes can go a lot higher-- and it would only take one biggie to give Tokyo a radioactive half-life of a few hundred years.

It was even scarier to learn that:
"The other Japanese reactor scheduled to load MOX [plutonium] fuel is Kashiwazaki-Kirawa, in Niigata prefecture, in western Japan. However, Niigata governor Ikuo Hiroyama yesterday told reporters that Kashiwazaki 'won't be the first to load MOX fuel' in Japan, indicating it would not use MOX fuel until after the reactor in Fukushima."

If a future plutonium-loaded Kashiwazaki-Kirawa should crumble to a glowing cloud in a big quake, the entire country would have the privilege of being the world's biggest Chernobyl - only this time with a plutonium half-life of 25,000 years - to say nothing of Japan's new historic renown as the world's only uninhabitable nation.


Kurt (softypapa) said...

I was unaware of what was going on with regard to nuclear power in this country. Thank you for bringing this to my attention as I clearly need to learn more.

Nevin said...

Japan has a mountain of plutonium and no easy way to get rid of it.

I think the problem with MOX fuel is that the spent fuel rods are highly radioactive. This is supposed to prevent terrorists from being able to process it into bomb material. I think this fuel is either buried or reprocessed into fuel again at a fast breeder.

This nuclear danger is ever-present, everywhere in Japan.

Nuclear waste is either stored on site, or is transported in unmarked trucks all over Japan.

It's pretty much a nightmare situation.

joared said...

I hadn't realized until this earthquake and news reports that Japan had so many nuclear plants. Glad none of your family affected.