Friday, November 25, 2011

Bloomberg: Vindicated Seismologist Says Japan Still Underestimates Threat to Reactors

From Bloomberg News (11/21/2011):

Dismissed as a “nobody” by Japan’s nuclear industry, seismologist Katsuhiko Ishibashi spent two decades watching his predictions of disaster come true: First in the 1995 Kobe earthquake and then at Fukushima. He says the government still doesn’t get it.

The 67-year-old scientist recalled in an interview how his boss marched him to the Construction Ministry to apologize for writing a 1994 book suggesting Japan’s building codes put its cities at risk. Five months later, thousands were killed when a quake devastated Kobe city. The book, “A Seismologist Warns,” became a bestseller.

That didn’t stop Haruki Madarame, now head of Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission, from dismissing Ishibashi as an amateur when he warned of a “nuclear earthquake disaster,” a phrase the Kobe University professor coined in 1997. Ishibashi says Japan still underestimates the risk of operating reactors in a country that has about 10 percent of the world’s quakes.

“What was missing -- and is still missing -- is a recognition of the danger,” Ishibashi said, seated in a dining room stacked with books in his house in a Kobe suburb. “I understand we’re not going to shut all of the nuclear plants, but we should rank them by risk and phase out the worst.”

Among Japan’s most vulnerable reactors are some of its oldest, built without the insights of modern earthquake science, Ishibashi said. It was only in the last four years that Japan Atomic Power Co. recognized an active fault line running under its reactor in Tsuruga, which opened in 1970 about 120 kilometers (75 miles) northeast of Osaka and close to a lake that supplies water to millions of people in the region.

New Fault Lines

Japan Atomic is reinforcing the plant to improve quake tolerance and believes it’s safe despite the discovery of new active faults lines in 2008, Masao Urakami, a Tokyo-based spokesman for the utility, said.

“We can’t respond to every claim by every scientist,” he said. “Standards for seismic ground motion are not decided arbitrarily, but are based on findings by experts assigned by the government.”

Reactor 1 at the Tsuruga plant, which had its license extended for 10 years in 2009, is one of 13 on Wakasa bay, a stretch of Sea of Japan coast that is home to the world’s heaviest concentration of nuclear reactors. The area is riddled with fault lines found in the last three or four years, according to Ishibashi.


Fukushima Foretold

His view changed after a magnitude-6.9 quake killed more than 5,500 people on Jan. 17, 1995, and toppled sections of elevated expressway.

After a disaster that Japanese engineers had said couldn’t happen, the nuclear regulator didn’t immediately re-evaluate its construction standards. It said the plants were “safe from the ground up,” as the title of a 1995 Science Ministry pamphlet put it. Ishibashi decided to investigate.

The result was an article on Hamaoka published in the October 1997 issue of Japan’s Science Journal that reads like a post-mortem of the Fukushima disaster: A major quake could knock out external power to the plant’s reactors and unleash a tsunami that could overrun its 6-meter defenses, swamping backup diesel generators and leading to loss of cooling and meltdowns.

When the local prefecture questioned industry experts about Ishibashi’s paper, the response was that he didn’t need to be taken seriously.

Ishibashi a ‘Nobody’

“In the field of nuclear engineering, Mr. Ishibashi is a nobody,” Madarame said in a 1997 letter to the Shizuoka Legislature. Madarame, then a professor at the University of Tokyo school of engineering, is now in charge of nuclear safety in the country.

Requests made to Madarame’s office in October for an interview on his current views of Ishibashi’s work were declined.

On Oct. 24, Madarame was asked after a regular press briefing for the commission if he’d changed his opinion about Ishibashi.

“Because of the accident there’s a need to take another look at things, including the earthquake engineering guidelines, and we’re doing that,” he said. “Ishibashi contributed a lot to the revisions to the earthquake guidelines and his comments there are important.” He declined to comment further.

Hamaoka’s reactors, the subject of Ishibashi’s 1997 report, were shut in May after then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan went on television to publicly plead with Chubu Electric to close the plant. The utility estimates it will cost 100 billion yen and 18 months to build a seawall around the reactors.

(Full article at the link.)

Professor Ishibashi was the one who published the paper on Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant in Shizuoka, saying the plant sits on top of several active faults.

In May this year, he was called to testify in the Japan's Lower House committee to give his opinion on the government response to the Fukushima I Nuke Plant accident. He basically said, "I told you so."

What struck me when I watched the netcast of that committee hearing was that he was quite adamant on doing everything Japanese - Japanese researchers, Japanese technology, Japanese companies to bring an end to the nuclear accident. At that time, it sounded odd, as none of the Japanese researchers, companies, and the government officials seemed to have a clue on what to do.

Well, some Japanese researchers were busy writing papers to submit to foreign journals that would advance their careers, companies were submitting plans to TEPCO but TEPCO was told (or strongly advised) by the national government to use AREVA and Kurion, and the government officials knew it was total meltdown.

(H/T to several readers of this blog for Bloomberg link.)


STeVe the JeW said...

it's a real stretch to predict that japan will experience earthquakes capable of flattening cities and melting reactors.

a nation of geniuses.

no6ody said...

"“In the field of nuclear engineering, Mr. Ishibashi is a nobody,” Madarame said..."

That is true--seismologists are not nuclear engineers. However, I would suspect the reasons that Madarame said this are not good. One does not fling insults around if one is trying to do a good job. (Kind of like the first comment under AREVAMIRPAL's post!) I guarantee that Mr. Ishibashi is not a nobody, for I would know.

Mauibrad said...

Today: 65.17 micro Sv/h, Namie, Tsushima Jr High School, roadside sand in #Fukushima Perfecture Equal to 6500 CPM. #radiation

Definitely unhealthy for those jr. high kids.

Atomfritz said...

Hopefully the scientists warnings will be taken serious at last.

Recently the stress testing done by the French nuclear security authority finally officially acknowledged that some French nuclear plants probably will go kablooey if an earthquake like that one in 1352 (Richter 6.x) occurs, and demanded either safety upgrade or shutdown. (Detailed info of )

In Europe we were just lucky until now.
Hope the Fukushima warning will be heeded.

Anonymous said...

@Mauibrad, the kids aren't there. The school is in the evacuation zone.

Anonymous said...

This is an incredible story, thanks to Ex SKF for featuring it. Mr. Mad Madarame man of detarame (nonsense) is quite a hoot. And the other guy at the ministry who forced Ishibashi to apologize for writing a scientifically accurate book is hilarous beyond words (rolling on the floor here). I have been teaching the dangers of nuclear issues to my college students in Tokyo area for years and years, and they almost always have said "this is crazy" regarding the dangers of earthquakes and nukes, rightly so. Leuron Moret pointed this out in a 2004 Japan Times article and Ishibashi was hot stuff after the Kashiwazaki debacle. Did anyone listen? Nope. Has anyone listened now?

Anonymous said...

anon 1:35 - I said this is crazy when reading newspaper about these matters in Tokyo coffee shop 2007. Common sense would tell anyone after 10 minutes that reactors almost anywhere in Japan was an accident waiting to happen and I am a stupid American. I believe it was the International Herald Tribune that carried stories about the warnings and risks that were not being taken seriously.

Genpachin said...


The concerns voiced by this seismologist remind me of a presentation given by Yu Tanaka in July of this year. His point was that although Japanese nuke plants have the highest seismic resistance standards in the world, they are still not built to resist the most powerful quakes.

Skip to 3:40 in the following link.

Unfortunately the vid is in Japanese only, but here is what it boils down to: according to Mr. Tanaka all nuke plants in Japan are built to resist a 370 Gal ground acceleration movement, except for the one in Hamaoka which is built on top of seismic fault lines and therefore can handle up to a 600 Gal acceleration. Now if you look at what was recorded in recent quakes the 95 Kobe earthquake had 820 Gal, 1,400 Gal during the 2007 Chuetsu quake and 2,300 Gal during the 2008 Miyagi Kurihara quake.

If this is accurate, Japan can praise itself lucky a Fukushima like accident never occurred before. Also begs the question why the nuke industry doesn't handle way higher construction standards?

By the way, this vid is part of a much longer lecture on the nuke lobby in Japan. Fascinating stuff if you understand Japanese and explained in a very straightforward way. Tanaka's bottom line is Japan could do without nuke power quite easely despite what Tepco & other utilities would want us to believe.

Anonymous said...

lol, Madarame is the heroic leader of the Worker People's Prefectures of Japan

Mauibrad said...

Neutron beams over Daiichi and bunch more videos of the Neutron beams over Daiichi here

Post a Comment