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Issue #1446      10 March 2010

Japan N-power plants tsunami-hit cooling water

On February 28 when the Chile quake-induced tsunami came to Japan, the fear of residents living near nuclear power plants increased because a failure of cooling water intake at the time of a tsunami can lead to serious accidents.

The latest tsunami set off an alarm at the lack of measures to protect against tsunamis, though the Japanese Communist Party has long called for the implementation of countermeasures.

JCP Onagawa Town assembly member Takano Hiroshi in Miyagi Prefecture, where the Onagawa nuclear power plant is located, said, “Waves three metres in height were predicted, but the jagged coastline may lead to an increase in damages.”

The No. 1 reactor at the Onagawa plant would be unable to take in cooling water from the sea if backwashes of a tsunami lower the sea level by four metres. Any failure to cool the reactor could lead to a nuclear meltdown as well as other severe accidents.

Takano stated: “In the tsunami induced by the 1960 Chile quake, the sea level was lowered by six metres. The repetitive movements of waves, sand, and floating objects may clog intake pipes, which in turn would obstruct the normal operation of pumps to suction up the sea water.”

The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry is of the opinion that there was no need to suspend operation of nuclear power plants in relation to the recent tsunami, and simply called for outdoor work to be suspended.

In 2006, JCP House of Representatives member Yoshii Hidekatsu pointed out the inadequate preparedness of nuclear power plants against tsunamis. He revealed that 43 reactors, about 80 percent of nuclear power plants in Japan, would fail to take in seawater when the backwash of a tsunami reached five metres.

Nikai Toshihiro, then economic and industry minister, pledged improvements. Four years later, the situation has not yet improved.

Ito Tatsuya, a representative committee member of the national liaison centre of residents’ movement over nuclear power plants, said, “When the tsunami hit in 1960, there were no nuclear power plants and we haven’t experienced any big tsunami since then. Electric power companies should take appropriate measures against tsunami.”

Assembly member Takano said, “The danger associated with tsunami may be a blind spot when it comes to nuclear power plants. The government is responsible to seriously test safety when intakes are clogged by sand and floating objects without just claiming safety.”

House of Representatives member Yoshii stated: “A rise in the sea level associated with a tsunami could submerge cooling pumps, and the lowered sea level could cause the loss of cooling water. These failures could lead to a meltdown. The JCP will work to improve protective measures against earthquakes and tsunami.”


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