Sunday, March 27, 2011

Nukes and Quakes

Here's the piece I wrote with late Tony Barrell for the Australian edition of the Rolling Stone in June 1996. After Fukushima, nearly 15 years later, it was discovered and the Energy Bulletin republished it describing it as "presceient". Below some points we mentioned in the piece. The whole article is available from here (PDF).

Many of Japan's nuclear plants are dangerously close to seismic fault lines. Only a few protestors, among them a Buddhist monk, are contemplating the aftershock.

.... Since the 1950s, uranium has become the core of a long-term plan to make up for Japan's lack of oil.
... The biggest obstacle to this technopolitical fantay [nuclear power in Japan] is the threat from Japan's other endemic primeval force -- the earthquake. About ten per cent of all the energy release by the world's anjual seismic events happens in Japan.
... The nuclear industry in Japan has assumed for years that it should be trusted without question, but as Nakajima says its safety measures are often just "desk-top" and don't allow for more bizarre possibilities. Some plants in Fukui, including those at Oi, are built on the shores of Wakasa Bay and their cooling systems drain into the sea. A tsunami -- the tidal wave caused by a quake -- might suck water out from the pipes causing the core to overheat and explode like a bomb. It hasn't happened yet but nobody can say it couldn't. Also a reactor core and its buildings might withstand a hefty quake, but their all important cooling systems are made from narrow pipes that could rupture. If it isn't shut down fast, a reaqctor without coolant quickly descends into meltdown mode.
Even without the help of another great quake, a whole clutch of reactors built a quarter of a century ago will soon reach their use-by date. They'll have to be "decommissioned", but nobody knows what it costs to dismantle a reactor in Japan because it's never been done. Wishful thinking once again sets the agenda. As a Fukui nuke fan told us: "They're checked out every year, if they get the OK they'll keep on running."
(June 1996)

The whole article is available from here (PDF).

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