April Flowers for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
In March 2011, Japan was hit with a tsunami as a result of a magnitude 9.0 undersea earthquake. The tsunami waves reached heights of 133 feet and traveled about 10 kilometers inland. The earthquake was so enormous that it actually shifted the main island of Japan 8 feet east and shifted the Earth on its axis by 4 — 10 inches.
As if that weren’t bad enough, the tsunami caused the largest nuclear disaster since the Chernobyl incident by compromising the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant with a series of equipment failures, nuclear meltdowns and releases of radioactive materials.
A study, published in Natural Hazards, has identified 23 nuclear power plants that are at risk of suffering similar damage in the event of another tsunami. These 23 plants, housing 74 reactors (including those of Fukushima I) are located in the east and southeast of Asia.
Until the Fukushima incident, which was a level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale, scientists hadn’t realized the potential for pollution and environmental damage that tsunamis represented. Because the tsunamis themselves are difficult to predict, the research team assessed “potentially dangerous” areas that are home to completed nuclear plants or those under construction.
The team used archaeological, geological and instrumental records to create a map of the geographic zones of the world that are most at risk of damage by large tsunamis, enabling them to find the 23 that are at the most risk. Of these, 13 plants, comprised of 29 reactors, are currently active; four others that have 20 reactors are being expanded to house nine additional reactors; and seven more plants, with a sum total of 16 reactors, are under construction.
“We are dealing with the first vision of the global distribution of civil nuclear power plants situated on the coast and exposed to tsunamis,” explained JosÃ© Manuel RodrÃguez-Llanes, researcher at the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) of the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium.
Although the same natural disasters threaten nearly the entire western coast of the Americas, the Spanish / Portuguese Atlantic coast, and the coast of North Africa, the potential for damage is greater on the eastern Mediterranean and parts of Oceania, especially in South and Southeast Asia, due to the presence of nuclear power plants.
Debarati Guha-Sapir, CRED researcher, states, “the impact of natural disaster is getting worse due to the growing interaction with technological installations.”
China is home to 27 out of 64 nuclear reactors currently under construction in the world, indicating the massive investment China has made to nuclear power.
“The most important fact is that 19 (two of which are in Taiwan) out of the 27 reactors are being built in areas identified as dangerous,” state the authors of the study.
In Japan, there are seven plants at risk, with one currently under construction. South Korea is currently expanding two plants to a total of five reactors at risk. India has two reactors, and Pakistan one, that would also suffer in the event of a tsunami.
“The location of nuclear installations does not only have implications for their host countries but also for the areas which could be affected by radioactive leaks,” outlined JoaquÃn RodrÃguez-Vidal, researcher at the Geodynamics and Paleontology Department of the University of Huelva.
The researchers say that we should learn hard lessons from the Fukushima accident. Prevention and previous scientific studies are the best tools for avoiding a repeat of that disaster.
“But since the tsunami in 2004 the Indian Ocean region is still to take effective political measures,” warn the researchers.
Japan has one of the highest standards in scientific knowledge and technological infrastructure, and yet the Fukushima accident still occurred.
“If it had occurred in a country less equipped for dealing with the consequences of catastrophe, the impact would have been a lot more serious for the world at large,” claim the experts.
The team recommends more local analysis to consider the seismic amplification of each nuclear power plant complex and determine the adaptation of installations identified in the study.