What to do with a nuclear plant on a fault line

The Tsuruga Nuclear Power Plant, nestled in a not-entirely-peaceful valley.

The crisis at Japan’s Fukushima site highlighted how three distinct sets of risks can interact: operator error, equipment and facilities failures, and siting near geological risks. We tend to think of that last one as a static risk—once a site is built, the hazards are more or less built in. But Fukushima demonstrated otherwise. Even as further studies clarified the earthquake and tsunami risk at the site, nothing was done to incorporate the new geological knowledge into safety evaluations, so no changes were made to the plants.

A short article in the American Geophysical Union’s journal EOS looks at how Japan is responding to the revelations that are coming out of Fukushima, and it compares that response to the regulatory situation in the US. The most obvious response has been the shutdown and safety review that took all of Japan’s reactors offline; for most of them, the reviews are still in progress.

There was a legislative response as well. The agency responsible for the plants, which has been accused of suffering from regulatory capture, was reorganized. In addition, new safety rules were put in place and are helping govern the restart. The EOS paper looks at the experience with the Tsuruga Nuclear Power Plant, which would be the oldest operational facility in Japan if given the green light to restart.

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