Japan Seeks to Defuse Quake Fears

Sendai Nuclear Power Plant, courtesy Kyushu Electric Power Co.

Sendai Nuclear Power Plant, courtesy Kyushu Electric Power Co.

By Will Davis

Two significant earthquakes have struck Kumamoto Prefecture in Western Japan within a week, and the Japanese nuclear plant owners and their regulator (the Nuclear Regulation Authority, or NRA) have responded to some reignited fears over nuclear plants in this region by beginning to publish reports and data. The data show that at no point was any of the plants in danger.

The Japan Atomic Industrial Forum published a piece on April 18 explaining that the quake accelerations experienced by the various nuclear plants in the region did not approach any of the design limits for these plants—and in fact did not approach at all the seismic shutdown limit for the region’s only operating nuclear plant (two units at Kyushu Electric Power’s Sendai NPP). The JAIF home page is here.

The NRA has released similar information, but in somewhat greater detail. It is also promising to make daily situation updates, although these have not yet begun. How long these will need to be maintained is also unclear. The NRA homepage is here.

Kyushu Electric Power has added a new header to its home page with a link to information specific to its Sendai and Genkai nuclear plants. It has also launched the 24-hour operation of a webcam that looks at the operating Sendai NPP units. The company reported soon after both of the largest recent quakes that the two Sendai units were operating normally and that they would continue to do so, which is important to reconnecting power to the thousands of persons who are without power in the area due to damage to the grid.

The public’s fears are, of course, rooted in the recent memory of the Fukushima Daiichi accident and the after-effects therefrom. What’s being left out of many of the present narratives is the fact that it was the tsunami’s inundation of the nuclear plant site and an extended loss of power and cooling that led to the accident, as the plants operated normally during the 45 minutes between the earthquake (at which they shut down on automatic seismic signal) and the arrival of the tsunami. Japanese nuclear plants have survived many earthquakes over decades, from 7.5 on the Richter scale to even 9.0 (March 2011) without unexpected problems, considering that the automatic seismic shutdown in such a case is expected. None of the nuclear plants in the region has been threatened by any tsunami, even small, during the recent quakes, which have taken place in the land mass and not offshore.

Will DavisWill Davis is Communications Director and board member for the N/S Savannah Association, Inc. He is a consultant to the Global America Business Institute, a contributing author for Fuel Cycle Week, and he writes his own popular blog Atomic Power Review. Davis is also a consultant and writer for the American Nuclear Society, and serves on the ANS Communications Committee and will serve on the Book Publishing Committee beginning in June. He is a former US Navy reactor operator.

2 thoughts on “Japan Seeks to Defuse Quake Fears

  1. James Greenidge

    Re: ” It’s because people are constantly told that (indirectly, subconsciously). The real truth is that the public does not gauge risks by statistics (that they’re not even aware of). They gauge it by how often they hear about the issue, and how it is characterized (by the press and others).”

    You’re perfectly on course Jim, and once again we same skipping vinyl record reply has to be “just whose fault is it” that nuclear’s rep is in the toilet? Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority did far far more standing on its hind legs supporting its plants before a jittery cynical public than any US nuclear organ ever did for Shoreham or VY before a poisonous media frenzy. How long would the PR officer or Ad man for a car company or computer or cell phone company keep their job if they employed nuclear industry Ad/PR strategies and tactics? The public needn’t quake with concern if they learned nuke plants are designed to ride out earthquakes — more to the point; ask them how many LNG and chemical storage tanks and facilities are as hardy much less have “panic” sirens/horns! Remind them of Buphol vs Fukushima mortality rates. Remind them you can pack the total fatalities incurred by nukes worldwide over 60 years on a single bus while you can’t build enough ocean liners to accommodate those of fossil. The public will bite! I’ve posed these chestnuts to people and they bite! It’s not Saturn-V science! People CAN go pro-nuke once enlightened on the issue. Why is the nuclear community either in deep denial or totally indifferent of going on such a PR offense?? Nuke blogs would rather banter goo-goo-eyed over the next whiz-bang nuke tech while totally oblivious that these designs won’t see daylight of the public is still scared piss of nukes. Give the devil his admirable due, the oil and gas companies sure know how to stroke and soothe the public even in the very worst of times — cite Deepwater Horizon and your latest gas/oil demolished neighborhood around the world. People — lots of people died there, but zero deaths at Fukushima and TMI yet the public is having a cow about how “dangerous” nukes are?? Does anyone here see Bizarro World logic going on here?? It’s NOT the fault of imagined fossil conspiracies or the FUD mobs of antis that nukes have a Darth Vader image. Gargbage in garabage out. No aggressive nuke Ads going out, no favorable public reactions coming in. It goes back that ancient saying that the faults are not in the stars but in ourselves. But the hemorrhaging US nuclear community and industry and blogs just seem never to even get that.

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  2. Jim Hopf

    Translation: Japan authorities take the time to announce that the nuclear plants did not “beat their wife” yet again.

    I don’t claim to know the answer to this public communications problem, but my impression is that when the (voluntary) response to any earthquake, by authorities and the media, is to announce that there is no problem at the nuclear plants, it actually *increases* public fears. It reinforces a message that nuclear plants are vulnerable to earthquakes, and endlessly “reminds” the public of nuclear “dangers”.

    I missed the reports on how the nations’ coal plants, gas plants, dams, LNG terminals, and oil refineries weathered the earthquakes. The implied message being that earthquake risks for those facilities are not a problem.

    And we wonder why people think that nuclear is far more dangerous than other energy sources and industry, despite all the statistics to the contrary. It’s because people are constantly told that (indirectly, subconsciously). The real truth is that the public does not gauge risks by statistics (that they’re not even aware of). They gauge it by how often they hear about the issue, and how it is characterized (by the press and others). If they hear about it a lot, and it is cast in scary terms, they will think that it is more dangerous. If they don’t hear about it at all, they don’t think that it is dangerous (or, at least, don’t give it any thought). For example, they don’t give any thought to earthquake risks for the fossil industry.

    What am I suggesting. Not even sure. It is an extremely frustrating situation. And the media won’t cooperate. I may even be suggesting that the industry not put out statements that the reactors are fine. Why should they? Why would anyone think that they’re not? They should only report if there IS a problem. They should do exactly what the oil refineries did (whatever that was).

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