Expert warned back in 2007 of nuclear threat

A LEADING Japanese seismologist warned the country was in danger of a major “nuclear catastrophe” four years ago, but resigned from an advisory panel after his concerns were ignored.

Kobe University professor Ishibashi Katsuhiko told the Asian state’s government in 2007 Japan faced a nuclear disaster on a par with Chernobyl because energy plants were based in known earthquake zones.

The expert insisted safety plans for Japan’s 55 nuclear reactors on 17 sites, drawn up in 2006, would prove useless in the event of a scenario like the one it currently faces.

He added his nation had a “fundamental vulnerability” if it did not acknowledge the problems faced by building nuclear sites in areas with seismic activity.

However, despite the grim warning and the threat of hundreds of thousands of people losing their lives, Prof Katsuhiko’s concerns were ignored — resulting in his departure from the Japanese government’s industrial advisory panel.

“In the 40 years that Japan has been building nuclear plans, seismic activity has, fortunately or unfortunately, been relatively quiet... The government, along with the power industry and the academic community, have all developed the habit of under-estimating the potential risks posed by major quakes,” Prof Katsuhiko wrote in the International Herald Tribune in August 2007, after his departure.

The expert warned then “unless radical steps are taken now to reduce the vulnerability of nuclear power plants to earthquakes”, Japan could experience “a true nuclear catastrophe in the near future”.

In a situation that is now at the front of Japanese minds, he added if no action was taken to improve safety standards which are “in shambles”, major urban centres like Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka could be wiped out. Prof Katsuhiko’s comments were made after nuclear plants at Onagawa, Skika and Kashiwazaki-Kariwa were all struck by earthquakes stronger than those they were designed to survive.

The 6.8 Richter scale strike on July 16, 2006, at the Kushiwazaki reactor in north-western Japan set off a fire that blazed for two hours and allowed radioactive water to leak from the plant. Despite this situation, no action was taken, despite Prof Katsuhiko warning the nation’s reactors had “fatal” design flaws. While Japan’s nuclear industry was also criticised in 2002 when leading officials were suspected of falsifying plant safety records, Prof Katsuhiko was told no review of safety guidelines was planned, or needed.

Meanwhile, the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) has said any radiation from the Japan crisis is unlikely to reach this country.

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