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Problems with the use of nuclear energy by Japan are raised again by the Noto Peninsula earthquake List of articles | International information network analysis

Problems with the use of nuclear energy by Japan are raised again by the Noto Peninsula earthquake  List of articles |  International information network analysis
Problems with the use of nuclear energy by Japan are raised again by the Noto Peninsula earthquake  List of articles |  International information network analysis


Problems raised by problems at the Shika Nuclear Power Plant

The Noto Peninsula earthquake, which occurred on January 1, 2024, registered a maximum seismic magnitude of seven and caused massive damage. Nuclear power facilities were no exception. There was a problem at the Shika Nuclear Power Plant of the Hokuriku Electric Power Company. Its transformers were damaged and the station was unable to receive electricity from abroad and elsewhere. The events at the nuclear power plant during the earthquake once again raise the problems of Japan's use of nuclear energy.

There are two basic problems. The first is the approach to evacuating residents when serious incidents occur. In the recent earthquake, most of the main roads needed to quickly evacuate residents in the vicinity of the nuclear power plant were damaged[1]. There are multiple nuclear power plants built on the peninsula in the same manner as the Shika Nuclear Power Plant in Japan, including some that are currently operational, so revisions to their evacuation plans may be required.

The other problem is the occurrence of large tremors that exceeded what was previously expected, including in the vicinity of the Shika Nuclear Power Plant, where the intensity of the earthquake reached 7 degrees.[2]. The cause was considered to be “reverse fault movement” where the ground on the sea side below the level of the underground fault slid on the land side above the fault level, causing the ground on the land side to rise upwards [3] It was also noted that the active seafloor fault may have been moving for longer than expected. Japan's nuclear power plants are located near the coast without exception, and if the vibration mechanism is revealed in more detail, this could have a very significant impact on Japan's use of nuclear energy.

This is because Japan has adopted the “backward mounting” system as the most prominent new system for nuclear energy safety that takes into account the lessons learned from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident in March 2011. Under the “backward mounting” system, when new results are obtained that have Impact on the safety of nuclear energy, such as findings related to the mechanisms and issues of earthquakes and other tsunamis. These findings are reflected in amended regulations, and new regulations are applied retroactively.[4]. In other words, all nuclear reactors, including those certified as safe under previous regulations, could be required to be temporarily shut down and subject to inspections based on the new regulations. If this happens, inspections will take years, which will inevitably affect Japan's stable energy supply and energy security.

In this paper, we examine the two main issues raised by the problem at the Shika Nuclear Power Plant while discussing Japan's use of nuclear power.

Doubts about the effectiveness of evacuation plans prepared for nuclear accidents (1) Noto Peninsula earthquake and the situation in the area around the Shika Nuclear Power Plant

The Shika Nuclear Power Plant has two boiling-water nuclear reactors, the same type of reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant that caused the meltdown. Reactor No. 1 is a little small, with a capacity of 540 megawatts, and Reactor No. 2 is large, with a capacity of 1,350 megawatts.[5]. Both have been closed since 2011.

Photo 1: Hokuriku Electric Power Company's Shika Nuclear Power Plant

Source: (C) Maxar Technologies, Inc. (January 2024)

In the vicinity of this nuclear power plant, 11 national highways and prefectural-level roads have been designated as evacuation routes in the event of serious accidents such as leakage of radioactive materials. Among these roads, seven roads were closed in the Noto Peninsula earthquake due to collapses and cracks[6]. If an accident had occurred at this nuclear power plant, would the population have been successfully evacuated out of the area to a place where the effect of radiation on the human body could have been avoided? The effectiveness of the evacuation plan came into question.

(2) Impact on evacuation plans in the vicinity of other nuclear power plants

The rules for formulating evacuation plans for residents living near nuclear power plants were changed after the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident. Before the accident, serious incidents in which radioactive materials were released over a wide area were not expected, so the area in which the evacuation of residents was considered necessary was limited to a small radius of eight to ten kilometers from the nuclear power plant. However, in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident, the evacuation zone expanded to a 20 km radius of the nuclear power plant, and as a result evacuation plans did not work at all, with evacuation instructions for residents delayed and sufficient evacuation sites not secured.

For this reason, after the accident, plans had to be made to expand the area prepared for the evacuation of residents to a radius of 30 kilometers from the nuclear power plant and to evacuate a larger number of residents quickly than previously expected.

Figure 1: Major nuclear power plants located on the peninsula

Source: Prepared by this author

As shown in Figure 1, Tohoku Electric Power Company's Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant (currently closed) and Shikoku Electric Power Company's Ikata Nuclear Power Plant, currently in operation, are also located on the peninsula. In response to the recent situation in the vicinity of the Shika Nuclear Power Plant, residents may demand that the effectiveness of evacuation plans be enhanced and the nuclear reactors shut down until these improvements are made.

The effect of the backfit system (1) What is the backfit system?

The rear-equipment system also draws on lessons learned from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident. It was introduced in June 2012 by amending the Nuclear Source Materials, Nuclear Fuel Materials and Reactors Regulation Act (hereinafter referred to as the “Nuclear Reactors, etc. Regulation Act”). Article 43-3-14 of the Revised Nuclear Reactor Regulatory Act etc. states that “a licensee of power reactor operations must maintain power reactor facilities to comply with the technical standards specified in the rules of the Energy Regulatory Authority.” [Nuclear Regulation Authority]This means that if the standards are revised due to new findings, a re-inspection is necessary to determine whether or not the nuclear reactor complies with the new standards and is therefore safe. Furthermore, it is also required that when non-compliance with the technical standards is discovered, the regulatory body may Nuclear Energy “may order the licensee concerned with power reactor operations to suspend the use, modification, repair or relocation of power reactor facilities, designate a method of operating power reactors or order other necessary operational safety measures” (Article 43-3-23). ​​It is a mechanism by which The Nuclear Regulatory Commission may order the closure of nuclear reactors and oblige the electricity company to take response measures if it is deemed not to comply with the new standards.[7].

Before the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident, even if nuclear regulatory authorities obtained new safety findings, they only notified power companies and had no authority to require them to take countermeasures. Various accident investigation committees established after the accident strongly criticized Tokyo Electric Power Corporation for failing to adopt tsunami countermeasures at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant before the accident, despite receiving notifications from nuclear regulatory authorities, resulting in greater damage.[8].

Image 2: Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, where a serious accident occurred due to the failure of its operator to heed warnings from nuclear regulatory authorities

Source: (C) Maxar Technologies, Inc. (November 2020)(2) Moving forward with back-end processing and use of nuclear power

At a regular meeting held immediately after the Noto Peninsula earthquake, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced that it would consider implementing this feedback system if the mechanism of the earthquake was clarified.[9]. If expert research on reverse fault movement progresses, leads to new results and is reflected in nuclear energy regulations, it will be applied to inspections of nuclear power plants nationwide, and this could lead to the closure of currently operating nuclear reactors, which could have an impact on The use of nuclear energy in all of Japan.

Hold a national debate on the use of nuclear energy

In May 2023, the government passed a law allowing the extension of the nuclear power plant's operational life, which was a maximum of 60 years. It introduced a policy change to expand the use of nuclear energy again in order to achieve carbon neutrality that would reduce carbon dioxide emissions to net zero by 2050 (see Figure 2). However, the above facts resulting from the Noto Peninsula earthquake show that expanding the use of nuclear energy is not easy. A new debate involving people at all levels of society regarding the approach to the use of nuclear energy is necessary.

Figure 2: Japan's energy mix (FY22)

Source: Created by this author with reference to the Natural Resources and Energy Agency's comprehensive energy statistics

It is expected that work on drafting the (seventh) strategic energy plan will begin in earnest this year. This plan is reviewed approximately once every three years based on the Basic Law on Energy Policy (established in 2002) and the sixth plan was formulated in October 2021[10]. This law stipulates in Article 2 that “measures must be taken to achieve the primary goal of… increasing energy self-sufficiency and achieving stability in the energy sector,” and the strategic energy plan is determined by the Council of Ministers and then submitted to Parliament in order to achieve this. the purpose. This author requests the government to clearly explain in the Seventh Plan and stimulate a national debate on how much role should be given to nuclear power generation in order to achieve carbon neutrality and achieve energy security while also addressing the vulnerabilities of nuclear power generation. It was exposed in the Noto Peninsula earthquake.



1. The majority of evacuation routes at the Chika Nuclear Power Plant have been cut off; Seven Roads Efficiency Shaken by Noto Earthquake, Kyodo News, January 30, 2024. 2 The Impact on Nuclear Power Facilities, Etc. in the 2024 Noto Peninsula Earthquake and Our Response, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, January 10, 2024. 3 Assessment of the 2024 Noto Peninsula Earthquakes , Earthquake Research Promotion Headquarters, January 2, 2024. 4 Back-end Equipment Overview, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, March 9, 2023. 5 Introduction to the Shika Nuclear Power Plant, Hokuriku Electric Power Company. 6 See note 1. 7 Muneo Morokuzo, A National Debate on Backward Conditioning Is Necessary, Japan Atomic Energy Society, ATOMOΣ Journal, vol. 56, No. 6, March 2014. 8 For example, Official Report of the Independent Investigation Commission into the Fukushima Nuclear Accident, Independent Investigation Commission into the Fukushima Nuclear Accident, June 2012, pp. 69–81. 9 Minutes of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission press conference, 10 January 2024. 10 Cabinet Decision on the Sixth Strategic Energy Plan, Natural Resources and Energy Agency, 22 October 2021.




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