Japan's Hamaoka nuclear plant sees tsunami defense in (very big) wall
Japan's controversial Hamaoka nuclear plant, shut down after Fukushima, wants to reopen once a 54-ft.-high, mile-long wall is finished. But the plant also sits on a seismic fault line, raising more than a few doubts.
In the teeth of a howling Pacific gale, a giant yellow backhoe grinds its way along the top of a massive new earthen barrier above a rocky beach. But whether the coastal earthworks will be able to protect the future of the nuclear power plant it is designed to defend is by no means certain.Skip to next paragraph
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Since a tsunami wrecked the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant a year ago, leading to meltdown in three of its reactors, all eyes in Japan have been on the Hamaoka plant, 300 miles down the coast and similarly located right on the seashore. It has been branded the most dangerous nuclear power station in the world by some seismologists.
Its operator, Chubu Electric, is determined to reopen the plant as soon as its workers have finished building a six-ft.-thick anti-tsunami wall that will stand 54 feet above sea level and stretch a mile; the manmade hills now being constructed are a first step in the yearlong project.
But many local residents are not so sure.
“I was always a little worried before last March,” says Fumio Takahashi, a real estate agent who lives in the town of Omaezaki, hard by the Hamaoka plant. “Now I realize that it is dangerous to have a nuclear plant near your home. I absolutely do not want it to reopen.”
Hamaoka is particularly dangerous, explains Yoshika Shiratori, because it is built on a seismic fault line where Japanese government experts have estimated that there is an 87 percent chance of a magnitude 8 earthquake within the next 30 years.
“I am not reassured by the wall they are building,” says Mr. Shiratori, who led an unsuccessful 10-year legal battle to shut Hamaoka down. “The critical issue is the danger of an earthquake, not a tsunami.”
It was that issue that former Prime Minister Naoto Kan took into account last May, when he asked Chubu Electric to shut down three of Hamaoka’s five reactors immediately, citing “special circumstances.” The other two had been closed permanently in 2009, following earlier seismic activity.
Chubu complied, but it has not given up. The Hamaoka nuclear plant visitor center still sings the praises of nuclear power, and now features a special exhibit promising that the new wall will ward off a Fukushima-type disaster.