Will Japan Win the Darwin Award?

Japan Re-Starts Nuclear Plan Near Active Volcano

We reported last October:

Scientists warned that an earthquake could take out Fukushima. The Japanese ignored the warning … and even tore down the natural seawall which protected Fukushima from tidal waves.

Fukushima is getting worse. And see this and this.

Have the Japanese learned their lesson? Are they decommissioning nuclear plants which are built in dangerous environments?

Of course not!

Instead, they’re re-starting a nuclear plant near a volcano which is about to blow …

A month ago, there was an eruption at Mt. Ontake:

Screenshot from Youtube Video shot on September 29th of Mount erupting. 57 hikers were killed by the explosion

Embedded image permalink

But – as Newsweek reports – a nuclear plant only 40 miles away will be re-started anyway:

Local officials have voted to reopen a nuclear plant in Japan, despite warnings of increased volcanic activity in the region from scientists.

The decision comes despite a warning on Friday that Japan’s Seismological Agency had documented an increase of activity in the Ioyama volcano, located 40 miles away from the power station.


Sendai will become the first Japanese nuclear plant to reopen in since 2011.

However the decision comes as scientific authorities warned of increased seismic activity on the island. Volcanologists have warned that the 2011 earthquake, which measured 9.0 on the Richter scale, may have increased the likelihood of volcanic activity throughout the region. [Background.]


The Sendai plant is also situated only 31 miles from Mount Sakurajima, an extremely active volcano which erupts on a regular basis.

The documentation of new activity comes barely a month after the eruption of Mount Ontake, when 57 hikers were killed on its slopes. There were no accompanying signs of seismic activity prior to the eruption which might have alerted Japanese authorities to the impending disaster.

The vote has been seen as an attempt to resurrect the country’s nuclear industry, which the Japanese government hopes to restart despite public opposition to nuclear energy in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.


Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) approved Sendai’s safety features in September, but the plant must still pass operational safety checks before it will be able to reopen.

What could possibly go wrong?

Here’s a hint:

A cauldron eruption at one of several volcanoes surrounding the Sendai nuclear power plant could hit the reactors and cause a nationwide disaster, said Toshitsugu Fujii, head of a government-commissioned panel on volcanic eruption prediction.

Ene News explains:

Wall St Journal, Oct. 23, 2014 (emphasis added): One major volcanic eruption could make Japanextinct,” a study by experts at Kobe University warns… “We should be aware… It wouldn’t be a surprise if such gigantic eruption were to take place at any moment.”

Japan Times, Oct. 24, 2014: Colossal volcanic eruption could destroy Japan at any time: study — Japan could be nearly destroyed by a volcanic eruption over the next century that would put nearly all of its population of 127 million people at risk… “It is not an overstatement to say that a colossal volcanic eruption would leave Japan extinct as a country,” Kobe University earth sciences professor Yoshiyuki Tatsumi and associate professor Keiko Suzuki said… A disaster on Kyushu… would see an area with 7 million people buried by flows of lava and molten rock in just two hours [and] making nearly the entire country “unlivable”… It would be “hopeless” trying to save about 120 million

Japan Times, Oct. 24, 2014: Volcano near Sendai nuclear plant is shaking and may eruptAuthorities warned on Friday that a volcano a few dozen kilometers from the Sendai nuclear plant may erupt. It warned people to stay away… Ioyama [shows] signs of rising volcanic activity recently, including a tremor lasting as long as seven minutes… the Meteorological Agency’s volcano division said… [T]he area around the crater is dangerous, he added… On Friday, the warning level for the Sakurajima volcano was at 3, which means people should not approach the peak… Experts warn [the] earthquake in March 2011 may have increased the risk of volcanic activity throughout the nation

Japan Times, Oct 18, 2014: Sendai reactors vulnerable to eruptions [and] could cause a nationwide disaster, said Toshitsugu Fujii, University of Tokyo professor emeritus who heads a government-commissioned panel… [R]egulators ruled out a major eruption… [Fujii] said at best an eruption can be predicted only a matter of hours or days. Studies have shown that pyroclastic flow… at one of the volcanos near the Sendai plant… reached as far as 145 kilometers away, Fujii said. He said a pyroclastic flow from Mount Sakurajima… could easily hit the nuclear plant, which is only 40 kilometers away. Heavy ash falling from an eruption would make it impossible to reach the plant… he said. Many nuclear power plants could be affected

Asahi Shimbun, May 12, 2014: Now is the time to rethink the risk of operating nuclear power plants… it is the first time that Japan has seriously evaluated… the danger posed by volcanoes… Nuclear power plantswould suffer devastating damage from catastrophic eruptions… radioactive materials will continue to be scattered throughout the world

University of Tokyo professor Toshitsugu Fujii, head of government panel on eruption prediction: “Scientifically, they’re not safe… If [reactors] still need to be restarted… it’s for political reasons, not because they’re safe, and you should be honest about that.”

Surely, though, we’re overreacting, and things aren’t that dangerous, right?

After all, Japan Times noted last week:

The utility and the [Japanese] Nuclear Regulation Authority have also decided there is little chance of a major volcanic eruption in the next several decades.

And Reuters notes today:

Japanese utility Kyushu Electric Power said on Monday that it was monitoring activity at a volcano near its Sendai nuclear plant, but did not need to take any special precautions after authorities warned of the risk of a larger-than-usual eruption.


“We are not currently taking any particular response,” Kyushu Electric spokesman Tomomitsu Sakata said by phone.

“There is no impact in particular to the operations” of the Sendai plant, Sakata said.

See … no problem!

Meanwhile, back in reality, EneNews rounds up reports of the risk:

The Independent, Aug 16, 2015 (emphasis added): Japan’s weather agency issued a warning… that the likelihood of the eruption of [Sakurajima] was extremely high… after it detected a spike in seismic activity… They have warned an evacuation of the city of just over 600,000 people may be necessary. [JMA] said: “The possibility for a large-scale eruption has become extremely high for Sakurajima.”… It comes as a nuclear reactor 50 kilometres (31 miles) away was switched back on.

Mainichi, Aug 17, 2015: On Aug. 15 alone, there were 1,023 volcanic earthquakes… the JMA has pointed out that crustal changes that indicate mountain swell as a result of a magma rise are still continuing… Kazuya Kokubo [with JMA said] “underground pressure hasn’t been relieved. An eruption could occur at any time.”

Asahi Shimbun, Aug 16, 2015: … the mountain [is] expanding… [officials] estimate that a large volume of magma continues to accumulate.

Reuters/Kyodo, Aug 15, 2015: The agency also said it had raised the warning level … to an unprecedented 4.

Jiji Press, Aug 17, 2015: [Japan] remained alert for signs of a major eruption… [An official] called on the public to act calmlya major eruption could be imminent. Level 4 is the highest ever for Sakurajima… “I have lived in Sakurajima for more than 50 years but have not imagined we would have to evacuate,” said Emiko Miyashita, 80… crustal movement was also observed [and there’s] signs indicating magma has risen to near the volcanic vent… “It would be no surprise if it were to erupt at any moment,” an agency official said.

Wall St Journal, Aug 17, 2015: [Japan] remained on high alert for a major eruption at Mount Sakurajima… Seismic activity began increasing dramatically Saturday morning and data showed swelling of the mountain, the agency said.

Asahi Shimbun, Aug 15, 2015: [JMA] said a major eruption of volcanic Mount Sakurajima could be imminent… signs of sudden crustal movement were also observed… Agency officials said there were indications a much larger eruption was in the offing.

Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug 15, 2015: A major eruption is highly likely to occur, the agency said… There is a possibility that magma has risen to the shallow part of the volcano


Bloomberg, Aug 15, 2015: Volcanic rock and ash could cut off transport routes and prompt workers at Sendai to flee the nuclear site in the event of an eruptionengineering consultant John Large wrote.

The Times, Aug 11, 2015: Environmentalists complain that the company has paid insufficient attention to the effect of heavy ash fall on the plant’s machinery.

Jiji Press, Aug 12, 2015: Sendai nuclear power plant… has not designated a site for relocating nuclear fuel in the event of a massive volcanic eruption, claiming that warning signs would give Kepco enough time to prepare and transfer the fuel… In the event of a major eruption, however, pyroclastic flows could reach the plant and disable cooling functions… which could trigger massive radioactive emissions… The sheer volume [of spent fuel] makes it hard to find a relocation site big enough to take them… Toshitsugu Fujii, a member of the panel [advising the gov’t] said that the panel’s opinion is not necessarily consistent with that of the NRA.

Do they have a death wish?

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  • kimyo

    Be Afraid: Japan Is About To Do Something That’s Never Been Done Before

    In Sweden, E.ON Sverige AB closed the No. 1 unit at its Oskarshamn plant in 1992 and restarted it in 1996.

    It had six emergency shutdowns in the following year and a refueling that should have taken 38 days lasted more than four months after cracks were found in equipment.

    Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant Supervisor Gets $500 Fine For Falsifying Facility Records

    In February 2012, WILSON concealed material facts from his employer and the NRC by fabricating test data, falsely showing that resampling tests of diesel fuel tested below the applicable NRC limit. In fact, no such resamples were taken, and the purported test data were fabrications. Later in February 2012, WILSON, in response to questioning by other employees of Indian Point in advance of an inspection by the NRC, wrote a report – the kind on which the NRC ordinarily relies in inspecting nuclear facilities for safety – in which he gave a false explanation for the lack of supporting documentation for his fabricated test results. In a subsequent interview with NRC personnel, WILSON admitted that he had fabricated the test results so that Indian Point would not have to shut down.

  • I read that Japan was restarting a nuclear plant, but I didn’t think anything of it because I just assumed it was an article from “THE ONION”.

  • jadan

    They do have a death wish. They are killing off the Pacific and spewing death into the atmosphere. This government stands by and does nothing. For more than 4 years we have done nothing to assist our close ally even though it’s clear they are going insane.

  • colinjames71

    Nah, no special precautions needed. We’re just gonna roll the dice and gamble with the lives of the entire population of Japan along with the ecology of the planet so we can boil some water.

    Never mind that it doesn’t even take a volcano, earthquake or accompanying tsunami to have a major accident, never mind adding to the supply of radioactive waste which will have to be dealt with for thousands of years- which on it’s present course, humanity is doubtful to last that long- or the fact that NPPs that have been mothballed for four+ years have a high rate of serious incidents… A handful of people want to make some money!

    Insanity, greed, and short-sightedness are a dangerous combo. Best case scenario is either a near-miss eruption or an accident serious enough to get the whole country up in arms but not quite bad enough to do harm, which is less likely than another major accident or natural disaster imo. Crazytown.

  • james

    Nuclear reactors work fine, until they don’t… And when things go wrong, they melt down, in an uncontrollable maelstrom of fires, explosions, emissions of the most toxic substances known, radioactive steam, gamma rays, and destruction of groundwater or river water, or lake water, or the case of Fukushima – the Pacific Ocean.

    Fukushima reactors are still burning and melting at near their full production rate – they’re just doing it outside of the nuclear containment in an uncontrolled fashion and dumping all the radiation in to the air or the Pacific Ocean. They will continue to burn uncontrollably for many years and will continue emitting radiation for 2-2.5 million years. Nobody is returning to live on that part of earth for a long time.

    The truth is, that Nuclear power plants, do not generate value to an economy, they take it away. They don’t produce enough cheap electricity to pay for their own construction, operation, retirement and defueling – and especially not any accidents, so insurance is always on the taxpayers – most people don’t know but virtually all insurance policies exclude nuclear disaster from payouts.

    That’s why the industry can’t retire reactors, and they never defuel them – that costs more than they ever created in value. Of course there’s no real good way to defuel them, there’s no place to put the nuclear waste. Spent nuclear fuel sits in spent fuel pools at nearly every nuclear facility. Waiting for the time where the utility can turn the spent fuel back over to the public to deal with it.

    You also don’t really “shut them down”. The fuel, whether it’s being used or not, must be actively cooled with huge amounts of water, and gigantic electric pumps – 24/7/365 for many, many years after it’s been used in a reactor. The stuff that is partially used in shut down reactors is even more volatile.

    Japan, was “sold” this technology by companies like GE and Babcock Wilcox and Areva and now they have 150 or so nuke reactors that they can’t restart, because the public won’t let them, and yet they cost a mint to maintain – every month. It has to be a huge burden to them economically. So if you are trying to keep an economy from tipping into the abyss, you would do anything to restart them too and at least get some value out of them.

    However, that’s the opposite of what should be done. Japan now has realized they were duped about nuke power. They, like every other country who bought into the myth of cheap nuclear energy, need to start dismantling the nuke plants and find a way to dispose of the fuel. They will never be through with the problem until they confront it – but it will not be easy.

    Of course there is only a single reason to build and operate a nuke plant these days. Plutonium. Since fast breeder reactors have been shut down, weapons manufacturing does not have any way to get weapons grade plutonium. Nuclear power generation does create small amounts of weapons grade plutonium as a by product, and there are processes through which it can be recovered. That stockpile of spent fuel is a stockpile of nuclear bomb material.

    This is the real reason it is in the national security interest to save nuclear power generation. It has nothing to do with cheap energy.

    • Brockland A.T.

      Totally agree, except that there are ways to artificially accelerate radionuclide decay as long as it is in concentrated from, like fuel rods, and not exploded over the countryside.


      Of course, that would mean no more plutonium for nukes.

  • Brockland A.T.

    Darwin promoted evolution, not necessarily death or extreme and sudden genetic mutations.

    Unfortunately, unless all the nuclear fuel rods are removed and placed in stable cold-cask storage, it really doesn’t matter if the Sendai, or any other Japanese nuclear plant, is running or not. In the aftermath of Fukushima, only Germany has had the sense to end the use of nuclear power.

    Remember: the Fukushima reactors initially survived the earthquake and tsunami.

    The Fukushima Tepco/GE reactors went immediately into by-the-book shutdown mode. It was power loss to the cooling system that killed them, due to the peculiarly bad placement of back-up generators that were seaward and so flooded and wrecked. There was no way to keep the fuel rod pool from boiling off, even after a desperate diversion of seawater into the pools.

    Japan’s shut-down nuclear power plants are not really shut down. They are essentially in shut-down mode as well. Their fuel rods still depend on power to their cooling systems to prevent going Fukushima. In that sense, in shut-down mode they are really just on stand-by mode and a net drain on Japan’s electrical grid.

    Depending on how badly Mount Ontake volcano or any of Japan’s other seismological hazzards play out, all of Japan’s nuclear plants are deadly liabilities waiting to happen. None of them can survive cut off from the main electrical grid without constant resupply of their diesel backup generators.

    The only way to prevent another disaster, is to completely decommission Japan’s nuclear industry and place all fuel rods into cold cask storage, or destroy all fuel rods with accelerated radionuclide decay techniques. But Japan will not do this; Japan and the U.S. have too much invested in the radioactive cash cow to put wannabe Godzilla out of its, Japan’s – and our – misery.

    • Voodude

      “There was no way to keep the fuel rod pool from boiling off, even after a desperate diversion of seawater into the pools.”

      The fuel pins that were (are) in the pools, are, essentially, undamaged.

      Jäckel 2015: ”The spent fuel pools in Fukushima which have a much higher risk for long-term land contamination because of their high content of long living radio nuclides compared with the reactor cores were not damaged by the accident. The spent fuel pools of units 1 and 3 do not show any significant change in the measured nuclide ratio compared with the theoretical curve. But still it cannot be excluded that a very slight damage occurred but the evidence is masked by the relative high remaining activity (103 – 104 Bq/ml). In the spent fuel pool of unit 2 with an activity of 100 Bq/ml Cs-137 a clear trend is visible, suggesting a small release of caesium from the spent fuel that may be due to mechanical damage. In the most important and most endangered spent fuel pool of unit 4 only very low activities were measured and any possible damage would be lower as in the pool of unit 2. The last measured C-137 activity was in the order of 600 Bq/l which can be compared with the natural activity of seawater which is of the order of 20 Bq/l from K-40.”

      Jäckel, Bernd S. 2015 “Status of the spent fuel in the reactor buildings of Fukushima Daiichi 1–4.” Nuclear Engineering and Design


    • Voodude

      “… it really doesn’t matter if … Japanese nuclear plant, is running or not.”
      It sure does matter. If a fuel-element-failure happens while the reactor is shut down just 24 hours in advance, the radioIsotope 131iodine will be at 13%, but if it is not shut down, 131Iodine will be at 100%. So, shutting down reduces the short-lived isotopes, and seriously so.
      In a fuel-element-failure from criticality, short-lived isotopes like 131Iodine are in abundance. Thyroid cancer was the only cancer that can be tied to Chernobyl’s nuclear accident, presumably from exposure to 131Iodine. Any delay, any postponement of a fuel-element-failure is a large plus, even if it is just a few hours.