Three years and $15 billion dollars spent on disaster preparedness after the 2011 disasters, many of Japan’s electric utility firms hope to restart their nuclear reactors which were shut down in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi incident. But while measures were done to address resistance to earthquakes, tsunami walls and safety of reactors, what everyone forgot is the presence of volcanoes in the country.
Japan, not only has 110 active volcanoes, it is also situated in the Pacific “Ring of Fire” which holds fault lines and volcanoes found at the edge of the Pacific Ocean, which is oftentimes the cause of major natural disasters. Kyushu Electric’s Sendai power plant lies in that region and while many have voiced their concerns on possible incidents, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has already declared the of possible volcanic activities affecting the plant as insignificant. Many have criticized the NRA as ignoring the possible dangers of lying in the “ring of fire” but it seems understandable from the NRA’s point of view considering that the Japanese government had to spend $87 billion on fuel to keep the electricity demand. Before the Fukushima incident, nuclear power shouldered 30 percent of that demand, but after all the reactors went offline, the cost started to rise significantly. With the NRA set on allowing the Sendai plant to go online soon, many have expressed concerns saying that science cannot specifically predict volcanic activity in the future.
Setsuya Nakada, a volcanology professor at the University of Tokyo believes that the volcanic risks have not been significantly discussed and explored. An eruption in the Kikai underwater caldera that happened 7,300 years ago submerged the whole of Kysuhu under 60 centimeters of ash and while the possibility of it happening again is very slim, Kyushu Electric said that they have already prepared for this possibility, coming up with measures to clear ash and keep the facility running.
Toshitsugu Fujii, head of the volcanic eruption monitoring committee at the Japan Meteorological Agency countered Kyushu’s claim, saying there is no exact way to predict eruptions because they still don’t have the technology for it. NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka believes however that in the next 30 or 40 years, there will probably be no “destructive eruption” yet. Public hearings in the towns in Sendai will be held soon as the NRA prepares to give the green light to Kyushu Electric. University of South Florida’s School of Geosciences Charles Connor said, “If we can draw something from the Fukushima tragedy it is that dialogue has to develop between scientists and regulators so citizens can understand risk and reach a balanced decision on what is acceptable.”