Humanity at the Height of Folly

Nuclear Power and Earthquake Zones

Every living thing could use a little mercy now
Only the hand of grace can end the race
Towards another mushroom cloud
People in power, well
They’ll do anything to keep their crown
I love life, and life itself could use some mercy now
Yeah, we all could use a little mercy now
I know we don’t deserve it
But we need it anyhow
We hang in the balance
Dangle ‘tween hell and hallowed ground
Every single one of us could use some mercy now”

— Mary Gauthier, “Mercy Now”  ((Mary Gauthier, “Mercy Now”))

We have heard much about Japan’s Fukushima Unit 4 nuclear spent fuel pool and the huge amount of radioactivity that could be released if that pool were to go dry, crack, fall apart or collapse. ((Japan’s Near Miss With Massive Nuclear Catastrophe: The Crisis Continues)) As former Japanese diplomat to the United Nations, Akio Matsumura, recently warned the world:

The highly radioactive spent fuel assemblies at the Fukushima-Daiichi power plants present a clear threat to the people of Japan and the world. Reactor 4 and the nearby common spent fuel pool contain over 11,000 highly radioactive spent fuel assemblies, many of which are exposed to the open air. The cesium-137, the radioactive component contained in these assemblies, present at the site is 85 times larger than the amount released during the Chernobyl accident. Another magnitude 7.0 earthquake would jar them from their pool or stop the cooling water, which would lead to a nuclear fire and meltdown. The nuclear disaster that would result is beyond anything science has ever seen.  Calling it a global catastrophe is no exaggeration. If political leaders understand the situation and the potential catastrophe, I find it difficult to understand why they remain silent. The following leaves little to question:

1. Many scientists believe that it will be impossible to remove the 1,535 fuel assemblies in the pool of Reactor 4 within two or three years.

2. Japanese scientists give a greater than 90 percent  probability that an earthquake of at least 7.0 magnitude will occur in the next three years in the close vicinity of Fukushia-Daiichi.

3. The crippled building of Reactor 4 will not stand through another strong earthquake.

4. Japan and the TEPCO do not have adequate nuclear technology and experience to handle a disaster of such proportions alone. ((Fukushima Daiichi: It May Be too Late Unless the Military Steps in))

It really does make one wonder how all of the world’s aging reactors will be dealt with if there is a global economic collapse. What we are witnessing as events race forward appears to be the convergence of socio-economic collapse — the 500 year old banking system based on fraudulent accounting tricks — together with the crumbling and cracking of the faulty technostructure put in place in the last century. Roads and bridges fall into disrepair and cities like Detroit will simply revert to green farmland, a natural process of the cycling of ecosystems where humans play their role and then bow out once they have exhausted their industrious energies. In the case of nuclear power plants, the waste remains radioactive for a good 10,000 years and the process for safely storing it has not yet been invented. ((The Doomsday Machine: The High Price of Nuclear Energy, the World’s Most Dangerous Fuel))

Let’s go back in time to relive the astounding events of 3/11 in order to put this situation in context. On the 11th of March, 2011 at 14:46 JST, a Magnitude 9.0, “the largest earthquake recorded in Japan,” occurred with the epicenter  approximately 70 kilometers east of the Oshika peninsula in Tohoku, at an ocean depth of 32 kilometers. The Japan Meteorological Agency Seismic Intensity – JMA SI measured at 7 in Kurihara City of Miyagi Prefecture and 6+ in 28 cities and towns including in Fukushima Prefecture. ((The 2011 off the Pacific coast of Tohoku Earthquake -Portal-)) The trembler lasted six minutes. ((2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami)) Typically, the Japanese measurement of intensity is about half to a quarter as large a number as magnitude ((Earthquake Information)). The JMA SI is derived from the Mercalli intensity scale which is:

a seismic scale used for measuring the intensity of an earthquake. It measures the effects of an earthquake, and is distinct from the moment magnitude  usually reported for an earthquake (sometimes described as the obsolete Richter magnitude), which is a measure of the energy released. The intensity of an earthquake is not totally determined by its magnitude. ((Mercalli intensity scale))

According to the Wall Street Journal which reported the research of Tohoku University geologists, the following points are worth noting:

*  [S]eismic risk at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has increased because the magnitude 9 earthquake jolted the plates underneath the area into a more precarious position.

*  [O]ver 24,000 tremors around Iwaki, in the seven and a half months following March 11. That number is far higher than the 1,300 quakes detected in the same area in the nine years before then.

*  Given that a large earthquake occurred in Iwaki not long ago, we think it is possible for a similarly strong earthquake to happen in Fukushima.

The only ray of hope I could glean from this scenario is that “seismicity near the FNPP plant is relatively low compared to that near Iwaki,” but Iwaki is only a few miles to the south of the FNPP. “A fault line that runs close to the plant could be weakened by” shifting seismic fluids. ((Could Fukushima Daiichi Be Ground Zero for the Next Big One?))

The Tohoku University geologists make clear the daily quakes Japan experiences are not anomalous but according to a well studied and documented pattern:

The Iwaki earthquake (M 7.0) occurred in a previous seismicity gap on 11 April 2011 and it was one of the major aftershocks following the Tohoku-oki mainshock and the strongest one hit the Japan land area….The compressional stress regime is therefore expected to continue to build up in the overriding plate in NE Japan, which has potential to cause reactivation of the reverse faults and therein generate large crustal earthquakes, such as the 2008 Iwate-Miyagi earthquake that occurred about 200 km north of FNPP and the 2007 Niigata earthquake (M 6.8) in the back-arc area of NE Japan. Therefore, much attention should be paid to the FNPP seismic safety in the near future. ((Tomography of the 2011 Iwaki earthquake (M 7.0) and Fukushima nuclear power plant area))

Their report is supported by other research that claims “[a]ftershocks along Fukushima, Ibaraki borders may take over 100 years to subside [and this region is] relatively close to the damaged Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant”. ((Aftershocks along Fukushima, Ibaraki borders may take over 100 years to subside))

As Kobe University seismologist Katsuhiko Ishibashi noted to a government panel in 2005, “[a]n earthquake and its seismic thrust can hit multiple parts” of a nuclear plant and result in a “severe accident”. ((Earthquake and Nuke Fatigue)) No one listened to Professor Ishibashi then (ironically his name is translated as “stone bridge”) but they sure the heck should have!

In addition, Tokyo University geologists have now warned that chances of “a new big earthquake” in Japan are 75 percent in the next four years, and that Japan has drastically underestimated the power of earthquakes in their building standards. Nuclear plants are vastly under-prepared for the magnitude of large quakes, having been based on projections that are now outdated and debunked. In essence, it is impossible to build nuclear power plants to withstand major earthquakes. ((The Fukushima Lie (Die Fukushima-Lüge – English Subtitles)))

From the official Japanese sources themselves we can see that the 3/11 earthquake intensity was 6+ and that it was indeed strong enough to destroy at least Unit 1 at the FNPP. According to at least two reputable sources Unit 1 was destroyed primarily due to seismic activity and not the tsunami or failed back up generators (although those events contributed). ((Tepco’s Cheapskate Tactics Put World at Risk))

Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) and the Japanese Government — the Keystone Cops teamed up with the Larry Curly and Moe outfit — is still telling us that we should not worry. Tepco recently complained to critics that:

The No. 4 reactor building is not tilted and it, including the storage pool, will not be destroyed by a quake…TEPCO officials also explained that the steel support at the base of the pool and concrete wall had been reinforced by last July, which has increased by 20 percent the leeway against a possible quake. In addition, the utility conducted a simulation exercise using analytical models that showed that even if a lower -6 intensity quake were to strike the plant again, it would not collapse. ((Doomsday scenarios spread about No. 4 reactor at Fukushima plant))

It sounds like a lot of mumbo jumbo to me — “20 percent” improvements do not inspire confidence in a region ridden with constant seismic activity. Such statements are absurdly overconfident on the face. The FNPP complex looks like a war zone which is at any rate not as fit as it originally was, and even if in pristine condition may not handle a major earthquake. Nevertheless, let’s hope the fools are right this time because we could all use a little Mercy Now. Short of the Hand of Grace intervening, people of good conscience had better act quickly to solve this problem.

Richard Wilcox has a Ph.D. in Environmental Studies from a social science, holistic perspective. He teaches at a number of universities in the Tokyo, Japan area. His most recent interview with Jeff Rense is available. Many of his environmental articles are archived here. Read other articles by Richard.