However, as of July 19, we now know that some 400, not 100, barrels of radioactive waste were knocked over, and about 40 lost their lids. At least some of the waste was liquid, and leaked into the building, according to Citizens Nuclear Information Center (CNIC) in Japan (for more information on nuclear power in Japan, visit their website at http://cnic.jp/english/). It is not known whether radiation from these spills has leaked outside the building.
The 1200 liters (about 317 gallons) of radioactive water spilled into the Sea of Japan apparently came from the irradiated fuel pool at Unit 6 at the site. This is one of the two newer units: it is a 1315 MW General Electric/Toshiba Boiling Water Reactor that came online in November 1996. According to Japanese officials, the newest reactor at the site, a 1315 MW GE/Hitachi Boiling Water Reactor that came online in July 1997, has been venting radioactive steam into the air since the earthquake began, and continues to do so today (July 19). We have been unable to determine radiation levels of these releases.
The earthquake exceeded the design basis for the reactors, and the facility does not meet new Japanese earthquake standards put in place in September 2006. Moreover, the fault that caused the quake is apparently directly underneath the facility site, and was not discovered prior to construction. It is not yet known whether this fault is capable of an even larger earthquake than the 6.8 measured on July 16.
In a July 17 statement, CNIC said, “In just two years three earthquakes (off the coast of Miyagi Prefecture on 16 August 2005, off the Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture on 25 March 2007, and now this one) have exceeded the "extreme design earthquake" assumed at the time the plants were built. In September 2006, for the first time in 28 years, the Nuclear Safety Commission revised Japan's earthquake guidelines. Japan's nuclear power companies are now carrying out earthquake safety checks on the basis of the new guidelines. By rights, all nuclear power plants should be shut down until these checks have been completed.”
All of the reactors at Kashiwasaki Kariwa currently are shutdown and likely will be so for a long time to come as additional damage comes to light and its ability to withstand future earthquakes comes further into question. Initial projections are that the reactors will be closed for at least a year, and it is highly possible they will never reopen. Already, the earthquake has caused TEPCO to lose $4.3 Billion of its market value, according to Bloomberg. A lengthy shutdown of the world’s largest nuclear facility will undoubtedly cause far greater cost to the utility.
Ironically, TEPCO’s website touts its nuclear program, and states as its number one priority in restoring public confidence in that program, “Promoting disclosure of information and ensuring transparency of nuclear operations.” Clearly, TEPCO’s commitment to transparency is no more than a slogan and it is unlikely public confidence will ever be regained.
For the United States, the lesson is unmistakable: the earthquake reminds us of the fragility and danger of nuclear power and its ability to withstand the acts of Mother Nature. Nuclear reactors and earthquake faults simply don’t mix. An immediate need is to permanently end any further discussion of installation of dry cask radioactive waste storage units at the Diablo Canyon site on California’s earthquake-prone Pacific coast.