Toyo University geologist Mitsuhisa Watanabe has a startling revelation for Sunday Mainichi (May 29) and its readers – startling at least to those who think nuclear energy is serious business and should be treated (if at all) with respect.
Since 2006, Watanabe has been traveling across the country surveying nuclear power stations built near fault lines. He describes his findings as follows: “The length of an active fault line is a direct factor in the severity of an earthquake.” When assessing a site for a new plant, power companies, “in order to make the impact of potential earthquakes seem as low as possible, will (on paper) divide a fault line into two or more segments. The nuclear power industry even has its own technical term for it: ‘value-cutting.’ It seems unthinkable, and yet it’s surprisingly common.”
Prime Minister Naoto Kan, with much fanfare, issued on May 6 an unprecedented request to Chubu Electric Power Co to shut down its nuclear power plant at Hamaoka, Shizuoka Prefecture. The request, though not legally binding, was complied with. How, under the circumstances, could Chubu Electric refuse?
If Hamaoka is hit by an earthquake-tsunami event approaching in scale the one that in Fukushima Prefecture is making nonsense of decades of blithe official assurances that nuclear power is safe – and seismologists rate at 87 percent the chance of a major quake occurring near Hamaoka within the next 30 years – Tokyo itself, the heart and lungs of Japan, would suffer what much of Tohoku is now suffering.
“Let history judge,” said Kan, implicitly elevating his decision to a historic level. Sunday Mainichi is not impressed. The nation’s entire nuclear industry, it claims, was built with astonishing recklessness. Closing one plant is, in the contemptuous words of former Tohoku University seismologist Masakazu Otake, “haphazard lip service, a kind of blood offering to the gods, a political performance.”
Kan, of course, did not create the problem. Japan is hell-bent commitment to nuclear power generation – a remarkable course for a nation, however energy-hungry, claiming special sensitivity as nuclear power’s only wartime victim – goes back to the oil shock of 1973. Hamaoka went operational in 1976. Yoshika Shiratori, a long-time anti-nuclear activist, tells Sunday Mainichi with evident dismay that Chubu Electric got away with insisting the 10-15-meter-high sand dunes between the sea and the plant would furnish adequate protection.
And so it went, through the construction of 55 nuclear reactors across this earthquake- and tsunami-prone archipelago. That is the situation Kan inherited. “It’s not just Hamaoka,” says Watanabe, the Toyo University geologist – who describes himself, incidentally, as “not anti-nuclear.” “To keep running Japan’s nuclear power plants in their current condition is a terrifying prospect. To start with, all nuclear plants near active fault lines need to be shut down.”© Japan Today