Friday, October 26, 2012

Nuclear regulator changes looks to change definition of 'active fault'.

Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has announced that it will review what constitutes an active earthquake fault in a nationwide survey of nuclear power plants.

Currently faults that have moved sometime within the last 120,000-130,000 years are considered active.  The NRA reportedly intends to extend the definition to cover faults that have moved within the last 400,000 years.  As the government does not allow nuclear power plants to be built over 'active' fault lines, this could put into doubt both current construction projects and the planned re-starting of power plants that have already been built.

The NRA is not overt about why they are making this decision, but I think that one can assume that activity within the past 400,000 years is dangerous because of the complementary possibility of activity within the next 400,000 years.  In other words, the NRA is intending to prohibit the operation of nuclear power plants because of the possibility of an earthquake under the plant sometime within the next 400,000 years!

Am I the only person in Japan who finds this idea completely preposterous?  Am I really living on a planet where people can curtail economic activity because of the possibility of an earthquake 400,000 years in the future?  Is my species truly that idiotic?

Let's consider some of the real threats humanity will likely face during that timespan.  The next ice age is expected anytime within the next 30,000 to 100,000 years.  A supervolcano along the lines of the TOBA eruption, which almost caused the extinction of the human race, is estimated to come along about every 50,000 years.  Then there are asteroid strikes; a hit with a space body of 1 kilometer in diameter, more than big enough to destroy civilization, occurs every 500,000 years or so.

This is the category into which an earthquake-caused nuclear accident is being placed.  Despite the fact that the largest quake in a thousand years of  Japanese history did not seriously damage Fukushima Daiichi. That despite 3 meltdowns, nobody was killed or injured.  Despite the fact that no nuclear power station has ever been seriously damaged by earthquake, anywhere.

Ah, the irony.  The only effect this ludicrious regulation will have will be to increase the chances of the Japanese nuclear industry not rebounding fully.  This in turn will seriously impact on one of the most urgent of humanity's real challenges: mitigating climate change caused by CO2 emissions.

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