Nuclear Power: Double Fault

Rig Writer

A fortnight on and we can now with some certainty start calling it "The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster". Since the tsunami and 9.0 magnitude earthquake crippled the Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan’s Fukusima, we have seen three reactor blowouts, forced evacuations and dangerously high levels of radiation detected in both the local food chain and water supply.

The 4,696 megawatt Daiichi nuclear power station is one of 17 nuclear power plants in Japan and went online in 1971. Sitting on Japan’s Eastern seaboard, it is in an area designated a "three out of four" on the seismic activity scale.

I was shocked to find out that 34 of the world’s 400+ nuclear reactors were located in zones with a "four out of four" on the seismic activity scale, including the largest nuclear generating station in the world by net electrical power rating, also located in Japan.

The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant is a marvel and testament to the potential of the nuclear age, situated on the Japan’s west coast and supplying 7,965 megawatts to the national grid. It is also situated directly above a major tectonic fault line.

Just who plans these things?

Kashiwazaki-Kariwa is not the only nuclear plant in the world sited in one of the worst possible places to put a potential Pandora’s Box of problems. Armenia’s Metsamor station, nestled in the Ararat Valley, sits precariously on an earthquake fault line and in the midst of no less than five tectonic breaks and every one of Taiwan’s three operating nuclear plants are based in high-risk zones for seismic and typhoon activity.

Nuclear power is an essential part of world power generation. It has allowed resource-poor countries to thrive and, geopolitically, the inception of a national nuclear programme can set the stage for the transformation of third world dependencies into first world autonomies. Nuclear power is synonymous with progress.

That said, once you’ve planted a nuclear station, it’s pretty hard to uproot it, so one would hope that the burgeoning crisis emanating from Fukushima Prefecture would bring some kind of reassessment of the planning and seismic surveys required to give construction the all-clear.

When I then found out that Turkey’s first power plant is set to be constructed on a fault line in the tectonically volatile southern city of Akkuyu, my spirits sank as 34 potential catastrophes became 35. Progress at what cost?

by Tim Haidar

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