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Japan earthquakes: Nuclear regulator refuses to shut down station on Kyushu Island

Japan’s atomic regulator will not shut down the nation’s only operating nuclear plant on earthquake-hit Kyushu island, despite concerns of a repeat of the Fukushima crisis.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority’s (NRA) decision came to light as the race to rescue survivors of the deadly earthquakes in southern Japan continued, with 10 still missing and the death toll rising to 42.

The Kumamoto region of Kyushu island was first hit last Thursday by a major tremor claiming nine lives which proved to be a foreshock to a bigger 7.3 magnitude earthquake striking early Saturday, killing a further 33.

Kumamoto city is located around 72 miles from Sendai nuclear power station, the only nuclear power plant which is currently in operation in Japan, operated by Kyushu Electric Power.

Last weekend, a group of writers and journalists joined forces to ask operators to immediately suspend operations at the Sendai plant in the aftermath of the earthquake, to avoid a repeat of the Fukushima crisis.

“Based on the experience at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, it is clear to everyone that it would be too late if you waited for some abnormality to occur,” the group said in its request faxed to Kyushu Electric Power, according to the Asahi Shimbun.


However, the NRA on Monday held a special meeting with its commissioners, which resulted in Shunichi Tanaka, the chairman, to concluding that the Sendai plant, which has two reactors, was not endangered and should remain open.

The NRA announced plans to closely monitor the Sendai plant alongside three other nuclear power stations, including Genkai and Ikata on Kyushu island and Shimane, located further away on the main Honshu island.

The decision is likely to be greeted with widespread disappointment and protest in the disaster-hit region, with opposition to nuclear power running at an all time high in Japan.

The Kumamoto disaster comes five years after a major earthquake struck the northern Tohoku region of Japan on March 11, 2011, triggering a major tsunami, the world’s worst nuclear crisis in decades at Fukushima power plant.

News of the nuclear reactor situation came as rescue efforts continued across the Kumamoto region, which has been rattled by more than 500 aftershocks since last week’s earthquakes.

The United States military was due to join the relief efforts of 30,000-plus rescue service personnel who were rushing to provide food, water and shelter to more than 100,000 people who remained in shelters yesterday.

“There are still missing people,” Shinzo Abe, the prime minister, told parliament, as he outlined plans to declare the region a disaster zone as soon as possible. “We want to make further efforts to rescue and save people and prioritise human lives.”

Infrastructure was hit badly in the quakes, with the widespread destruction of roads and bridges, plus at least one mountain highway reportedly severed into two, causing concrete to tumble into a green valley below.

Around 1,000 homes were damaged in the two earthquakes, which also left around 80,000 households without electricity and 400,000 with no running water.

Transport is another challenge across the mountainous region, which suffered extensive mudslides in the earthquakes, with commercial flights to damaged Kumamoto airport cancelled and bullet train services suspended.

In addition to the race to find missing residents believed to be trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings, food shortages were a key concern among rescue workers.

“Yesterday, I ate just one piece of tofu and a rice ball. That’s all,” the mayor of one of the areas affected told Reuters. “What we’re most worried about now is food. There’s no electricity or water, either.”

In a reflection of Kumamoto’s status as a manufacturing hub, the earthquakes have forced a string of major companies to temporarily close factories, resulting in parts shortages causing halted production elsewhere in Japan.

Toyota, the world’s biggest selling automaker, will suspend much of its plant production across Japan this week due to shortages of parts, while Honda also stopped production at its motorcycle plant near Kumamoto city.

Sony, the electronics giant, also halted production at its Kumamoto plant producing image sensors – used in Apple’s iPhone camera – as the damage was assessed, although there were full operations at other Kyushu plants making the sensors.


April 21, 2016 - Posted by | Japan | ,

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