Japan Today

NRA to study ways to deal with volcanic eruptions near nuclear reactors


The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) plans to set up a panel to study countermeasures to deal with volcanic eruptions neat nuclear power plants.

In the three years since the Fukushima disaster, Japan's utilities have strengthened their defenses at nuclear plants against earthquakes, tsunamis and typhoons but have largely neglected the risk from volcanic eruptions.

The NRA has said the chance of volcanic activity during the lifespan of Kyushu Electric Power's nuclear plant at Sendai was negligible, suggesting it will give it the green light. The plant lies in a region of active volcanic sites.

Critics, including some scientists who were consulted by the NRA, say that shows regulators are turning a blind eye to the kind of unlikely but potentially devastating chain of events that pushed the Fukushima Daiichi plant into a triple meltdown in 2011 when a tsunami crashed into the facility.

Kyushu Electric's business plan hinges on getting its two-reactor facility at Sendai restarted. The utility has posted 590 billion yen in losses over the past three years and is seeking a 100 billion yen bailout in new equity from the Development Bank of Japan.

Critics say the NRA safety review overestimates the power of science to predict future volcanic eruptions.

Japan lies on the "Ring of Fire", a horseshoe-shaped band of fault lines and volcanoes circling the edges of the Pacific Ocean. Japan itself is home to 110 active volcanoes.

Sendai, at the southern end of the island of Kyushu, is 50 km from Sakurajima, an active volcano. Five giant calderas, crater-like depressions formed by past eruptions, are also in the region, the closest one just 40 km from the Sendai plant.

Eruptions that form calderas are devastating, but extremely rare. Scientists believe the odds of a massive caldera-forming eruption happening in Japan are less than 1 in 10,000 in any given year.

Evidence of the most recent mega-eruption in southern Japan is the underwater Kikai caldera, which was formed by a violent eruption around 7,300 years ago. The eruption covered southern Kyushu with more than 60 centimeters of ash.

At times, the catastrophic scenarios that have been floated in debating the safety of Sendai before the NRA have sounded like a plot-line from a Hollywood disaster movie.

In one model presented by Kyushu Electric, an eruption similar to one 12,000 years ago would cover the Sendai facility with 15 centimeters of ash and block roads. The utility said it would be able to clear the ash and Sendai could still function.

Kyushu Electric also said it would install new monitoring equipment around nearby calderas and develop plans to remove highly radioactive fuel to a safer site if the threat of an eruption is detected.

The NRA is less concerned. "Our judgment is that it is unlikely that a destructive eruption would occur in the next 30 to 40 years," NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka said in June.

© Japan Today/Thompson Reuters

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Uhm, ...

don't build nuclear reactors near volcanos...?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Setting up a panel eh?

Wow! That's what we need strong, decisive ACTION.

Just think of all the activity this is going to create.

Reports flying to and fro. Extra meetings. Symposiums. Forums. And lectures to increase public understanding.

Wow! Is all I can find to say.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

NRA to study ways to deal with volcanic eruptions near nuclear reactors

Well, that's pretty simple really. Just don't build them! Problem solved!

1 ( +3 / -2 )

NRA says it's "unlikely" that an eruption will occur in the next 30 to 40 years, that maybe so but the 3/11 earthquake was "unlikely" to! It just simply doesn't make sense to build a nuclear plant close to an active volcano.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

So this is just another PR stunt to gain confidence from the people to restart the power plants as they have been criticized for neglecting the possibility of volcanic eruption, since the obvious best way to deal with eruption is to not restart.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Shunichi Tanaka bases his opinion on what?

Here is a man predicting when earthquakes may or may not occur!

Truly a superhuman ability - I feel so reassured.....

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Here's a solution. Don't build nuclear reactors near volcanoes!

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Give them the green light if they sign a contract stating th company will pay out any and all costs in the event of a disaster, will then be dissolved, and all execs at the time of the disaster be charged with criminal counts for all damage and victims, and will definitely be jailed. If they're willing to sign such a contract I'd think they might be serious about the safety of the plant.

0 ( +2 / -1 )

The key here is predictability. Yesterday's earthquake south of Napa, CA (USA) came with ten seconds warning and the same source said the people in LA the the SF Bay Area could expect 30 to 60 seconds warning or enough time to park the elevators and open the doors. Next up in the scale are tornadoes with warning times ranging from hours down to minutes. Then, there are hurricanes and typhoons that can be predicted and tracked for days. Volcanoes are the most predictable with warnings ranging from years for likely events down to days prior to the actual eruption with Iceland being the most recent example. That being the case, Kyushu Electric seems to be on sound ground with their Sendai facility. On the other hand, if a tsunami is the possible threat, prudence would suggest building a sea wall around the plant that can hold back the worst case which could be a 40 meter wave coming from both directions as it did at Fukushima. Yes, it might be cheaper to move the reactor in some cases.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Jerome_from_Utah: the same source said the people in LA the the SF Bay Area could expect 30 to 60 seconds warning or enough time to park the elevators and open the doors.

30 to 60 seconds useless unless your eyeballs glued to your warning device. I know a lot of people, maybe most, are glued to their screens but probably don't have an earthquake warning app set up to override the game app currently running.

If siren went off, people'd be thinking "What's that?"

In old days warning siren went off once in a while for drill, whole town could hear it, maybe once a month? But I am pretty sure that was air raid siren.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Don't know what everyone is fretting about........... Japanese power companies such as TEPCO and KEPCO operate with the highest degree of integrity and professionalism. I'm sure they will develop detailed and comprehensive plans to deal with any disaster. They would never compromise public safety for profit.

3 ( +4 / -1 )


Good call...

4 ( +4 / -0 )

i like how they share initials with the National Rifle Assocation. Maybe they should consider lobbying for the country's RIGHT to nuclear reactors built WHEREVER they want.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Ring of Fire indeed. Pity is that without nukes the economic decline in Japan will be much harder to reverse.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Uh, don't build nuke stations anywhere near volcanos....they are rather unpredictable and unstoppable. I recall only one instance where an Icelandic town changed the direction of a lava flow. Rather like earthquakes and tsunamis, there's not much you're going to do to stop it.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The obvious solution is to build an ice wall around the reactors so that any magma flowing towards the reactor(s) will quickly harden, re-directing the still fluid magma elsewhere. Hey, they've already got something in place in Fukushima! ;-)

Short of anime-esque force fields surrounding the reactors, YOU CAN'T DEAL WITH A VOLCANIC ERUPTION. It's not just lava. There's pyroclastic flows, ejecta, ash. You name it, a volcano has it. Pyroclastic flows can reach 1,000°C

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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