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Why earthquake-prone Japan relies on nuclear power

Nuclear power is increasingly seen as a way for Japan, and other nations including the United States, to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

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According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, there are currently 104 licensed nuclear power plants, with eight sitting in the earthquake-prone West Coast states of Washington, California, and Arizona. (Here's a map of reactors across the US.) Two of those plants in California sit especially close to fault lines.

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The New York Times today reports that "most of the nuclear plants in the United States share some or all of the risk factors that played a role at Fukushima Daiichi: locations on tsunami-prone coastlines or near earthquake faults, aging plants and backup electrical systems that rely on diesel generators and batteries that could fail in extreme circumstances."

Overreacting to the nuclear crisis?

Even a year ago, as the Monitor reported, Japan's earthquake-prone geology caused concern among activists and raised the specter of a quake-induced Chernobyl. Comparisons to Ukraine's 1986 disaster have been stated repeatedly in recent days, despite officials downplaying such a scenario.

The Wall Street Journal's Op-Ed page has criticized American media for "overreacting" to the nuclear crisis in Japan. "Unlike the Soviets at Chernobyl, the Japanese have been taking sensible precautions like evacuating people near the plants and handing out iodine pills even if they may never be needed. These precautions increase public worry, but better to take them even if they prove to be unnecessary," the WSJ said.

"We should learn from the Japanese nuclear crisis, not let it feed a political panic over nuclear power in general," the Journal said.

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