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Over the last few days, Japan has had major earthquakes followed by a nearby volcanic eruption, pointing again to the fact that it is a particularly bad location for nuclear power stations. It also resulted in loss of power, a major achilles heel of nuclear power. Elsewhere in Japan, a chimpanzee got loose, and this also resulted in loss of power. Besides zoo chimps, Japan has its own wild monkeys.
Mori Sosen, 1747-1821, Monkeys in Plum Tree
Mori Sosen, 1747-1821, Monkeys in Plum Tree

14 to 15 April 2016 Japan earthquake swarm
Yellow pins are volcanos; orange spots are recent earthquakes; circles show the magnitude radiating out from VII at the epicenter. Locations of the two closest nuclear power stations are included.

Ape Monkey Affe with Skull
Based on Wolfgang Hugo Rheinhold (1853 – 1900), Affe mit Schädel (Ape with Skull)

While it appears unrelated, unless the chimp sensed the earthquake far away, earthquakes could result in zoo animals getting lose, posing yet another risk to nuclear power stations, especially where humans may have difficult access after quakes. http://earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/topics/animal_eqs.php

Wild monkeys and other wild animals probably pose an even greater risk to the offsite power needed for nuclear power stations. Last January the Washington Post asked “Are Squirrels a Bigger Threat to the Power Grid than Hackers?https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2016/01/12/are-squirrels-a-bigger-threat-to-the-power-grid-than-hackers/ See also: http://cybersquirrel1.com

As the Japanese think of everything, they do actually have drills for these zoo animals getting loose, but they appear to suppose that they are easily caught before leaving the zoo: http://youtu.be/1i5iDJKv294 They use a person running around in animal costumes, rather than real animals, it seems.

Large earthquakes jeopardize nuclear reactors and their emergency cooling systems, along with making access difficult in the event of a nuclear emergency. Over the last few days there have been large earthquakes clustered with epicenters approximately 120 km (74 km) northeast of Sendai Nuclear Power station, the only one currently operating in Japan. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/04/15/national/magnitude-6-4-earthquake-strikes-kumamoto-kyushu Presumably there are spent fuel pools at the non-operating nuclear reactors which require cooling, too.

While it should be obvious that Japan is no place for nuclear reactors, due to the frequency of large earthquakes, there are many other places where nuclear reactors and less frequent earthquake risk exists.

Dependence upon outside power from the grid or backup diesel generators for emergency cooling is a major achilles heel of nuclear power, which apparently led to the ongoing Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear disaster: “The reactor’s core contains fuel assemblies that are cooled by water circulated using electrically powered pumps. These pumps and other operating systems in the plant receive their power from the electrical grid. If offsite power is lost, emergency cooling water is supplied by other pumps, which can be powered by onsite diesel generators. Other safety systems, such as the containment cooling system, also need electric power.http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/bwrs.html

A Related Ominous Problem – Motors Could Get Burned Out

At the end of February, seven US NRC engineers filed a complaint with the US NRC about electric design defects, “design vulnerability”, at all but one US nuclear power station, and demanded prompt regulatory action. (The US NRC has been doing bureaucratic “paper pushing” for at least 4 years on the topic and told them it will continue to do so for some time, effectively ignoring their request.) The engineers noted that “if the preferred power source, has an undetected open phase-condition, redundant trains of electrical equipment (electric motors that drive the pumps and valves) could burn out in few minutes and therefore will not be available for safe shutdown, even after restoration of an operable power source.https://adamswebsearch2.nrc.gov/webSearch2/view?AccessionNumber=ML16050A223 http://www.fairewinds.org/s/20160200-2-206-petition-open-phase-conditions-ML16050A223.pdf

Most of Japan’s nuclear power stations were built by Japanese companies, MHI (Mitsubishi Heavy Industries), Toshiba, and Hitachi. So, we don’t know if they share this particular defect with US nuclear power stations, or not. One suspects that they are knock-offs on the earlier US models, so they probably do share similar vulnerabilities. Regardless, loss of backup power can lead to nuclear accidents in all nuclear power stations, under the right conditions.

On April 14, 2016, the Japan Times reported that “A chimpanzee that escaped from a Sendai zoo was caught Thursday afternoon in a nearby residential area after being shot with a tranquilizer gun and falling from power linehttp://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/04/14/national/chimp-caught-residential-area-escaping-sendai-zoo/ The Sendai nuclear power station is located at Satsuma Sendai to the south. This Sendai is to the north. Due to the chimp escape, “Electricity was lost in 1,848 homes for a brief period during the incident,..“. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/15/monkey-alert-electrifying-escape-japan-zoo

Due to the earthquakes, “About 16,500 households in and around Mashiki were without electricity, according to Kyushu Electric Power Company.http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/04/earthquake-hits-southern-japan-160414130206872.html

[Update: “About 164,000 without power in Japan’s Kumamoto Prefecture, Kyushu Electric Power says – NHKhttp://www.breakingnews.com/item/2016/04/16/about-164000-without-power-in-japans-kumamoto-pr/ Original tweet: https://twitter.com/nhk_seikatsu/status/721193797988655104
A 66,000 volt transmission line went down: http://www.kyuden.co.jp/emergency/pc/kyusyu.html
Facebook pictures and updates https://www.facebook.com/kyuden.jp ]

Japan’s largest active volcano, Mt. Aso, also erupted: “Mount Aso (阿蘇山 Aso-san?) is the largest active volcano in Japan, and is among the largest in the world.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Aso

In “Volcanic Hazards in Site Evaluation for Nuclear Installations for protecting people and the environment, No. SSG-21 Specific Safety“, even the pro-nuclear IAEA warns that “volcanic events can present significant hazards for nuclear installations.” (p. 7) and on pp. 8-9, Table 1, give volcanic phenomena-characteristics which would affect nuclear installations and most of which preclude the siting of a nuclear reactor. http://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/publications/PDF/Pub1552_web.pdf

Additionally there was fear that there might be a dam failure: “… residents near a dam were told to leave because of fears it might crumble, broadcaster NHK said.“(Reuters, 16 April 2016)

Volcanic ashfall forecasts: http://www.jma.go.jp/en/ashfall/
Sakurajima and Mt. Aso are apparently spewing ash:
There was also a tsunami warning:

From the USGS:
Tectonic Summary
The April 15, 2016 M 7.0 earthquake north of Kumamoto, on the island of Kyushu in southwest Japan, occurred as the result of strike-slip faulting at shallow depth. Focal mechanisms for the earthquake indicate slip occurred on either a left-lateral fault striking to the northwest, or on a right-lateral fault striking northeast. While the earthquake occurred several hundred kilometers northwest of the Ryukyu Trench, where the Philippine Sea plate begins its northwestward subduction beneath Japan and the Eurasia plate, the shallow depth and faulting mechanism of this earthquake indicate it occurred on a crustal fault within the upper Eurasia plate. At the location of this event, the Philippine Sea plate converges with Eurasia towards the northwest at a velocity of 58 mm/yr.

The April 15, 2016, M 7.0 event (UTC 16:25:06) occurred one day after a series of foreshocks in the same region, which included M 6.2 and M 6.0 earthquakes. The April 14 events resulted in at least 9 fatalities and over 800 injuries.

In contrast to this recent sequence of shallow earthquakes, most seismicity in the Kyushu region is related to the subduction of the Philippine Sea plate at depth. Just thirteen M 5+ earthquakes have occurred at shallow depths (< 50 km) within 100 km of the April 2016 events over the preceding century. In January and April of 1975, two shallow events with magnitudes of M 5.8 and M 6.1 – 40 km and 65 km to the northwest of the April 2016 earthquake, respectively – caused injuries, but no known fatalities. A shallow M 6.6 earthquake in March 2005, just off the north coast of Kyushu and 110 km north of the April 2016 event, caused over 1000 injuries and at least one fatality.

Mapped faults in the region generally trend east-west or northeast-southwest, in agreement with the right-lateral plane of preliminary focal mechanisms, and the trend of early aftershocks. Since the April 14, M 6.2 event (12:26:36 UTC), 19 other shocks have been located, including the latest M 7.0 earthquake.http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/eventpage/us20005iis#general
There are great maps and more information at the link.

Second deadly quake hits southern Japan, rescuers race against time

Posted:Sat, 16 Apr 2016 03:39:50 -0400
TOKYO (Reuters) – A powerful 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck southern Japan early on Saturday, killing at least 20 people, injuring more than 1,000 and trapping people in collapsed buildings, barely a day after a quake killed nine people in the same region.


Small eruption on Japan’s Mount Aso after earthquake

Posted:Fri, 15 Apr 2016 20:58:40 -0400
TOKYO (Reuters) – A small eruption occurred at Mt. Aso in southern Japan on Saturday around 8:30 a.m. local time (2330 GMT Friday) following a strong earthquake in the area, with smoke rising about 100 meters (300 feet) high, public broadcaster NHK reported.

This USGS map shows the Japan Earthquake Ground Acceleration Risk:
Japan Earthquake ground acceleration

Buckled Roads occurred in the recent Japan earthquake. This is from a 6.7 M earthquake in California:
Northridge earthquake Highway Collapse FEMA
Northridge earthquake highway collapse FEMA photo 1807 by Robert A. Eplett taken on 01-17-1994 in California https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1994_Northridge_earthquake

1927 Japan Earthquake Land Buckled:
1927 Japan earthquake land buckled

To read our many blog posts dealing with earthquake, volcanic, and nuclear hazards in Japan, do a search for Japan in the search window. Also look at the articles listed as related at the bottom of each of those posts in case the search engine overlooks it. Or, simply look through the archives.

Genkai and Volanoes locations exported to Google Earth from here:
Earthquake info exported from USGS.