On September 27, volcano Mount Ontake suddenly erupted with deadly consequence. As of this writing, roughly 60 people, mostly mountain-climbing sight-seers, have been found dead. The eruption was “phreatic” (1) – caused by water deep beneath the surface of the mountain flashing to steam. It was literally a massive naturally-occurring steam explosion. The risks of such an eruption are flying rocks, the massive flow of choking ash and steam, and the concussive force of the blast itself. There is no lava streaming with a phreatic eruption.
As luck would have it, a large antinuclear demonstration was planned for the next day, protesting the impending restarts of the two nuclear units at Sendai Station. More than half of the speakers included the Ontake eruption in their entreaties against the restarts. I blasted these inconsiderate nuclear-paranoiacs in my Commentary of 9/30, Earthquake fears supplanted by volcano fears with Japanese nukes. (2) Soon there-after, Nuclear Regulation Authority Chair Shunichi Tanakasaid it is unscientific to compare Ontake to the kind of eruptions possible for any of the volcanos within 160 km of Sendai. This seems to have fallen on deaf ears.
Tanaka makes a very good point. The types of eruptions possible for Sendai’s region would probably produce lava flows and “lava bombs”, in addition to the releases found with phreatic eruptions. The worst of the many lava-producing types is called “Plinian”. The Lava bombs could conceivably land as far as a few kilometers away, in a worst-case scenario. Lava flows don’t go very far either, and are not a realistic threat to Sendai. However, a few maverick Japanese volcanologists have said lava flows could stretch 100 kilometers, but actual streams from erupting volcanoes in Hawaii and other locations show this has never been the case. The real threat to Sendai Station is ash falling from the sky, if the winds happen to be blowing in that direction at the time of the eruption. If a projected ash build-up could reach a few tens of centimeters in depth, the station will be shut down, all nuclear fuel removed and shipped far away. Regardless, evoking Mount Ontake relative to Sendai makes no sense.
But, that doesn’t stop the Press from making volcanoes a new nuclear-critical issue. On Sunday, Tokyo’s widely-read Diplomat magazine took up the volcano issue in earnest. (3) The magazine says the eruption of a volcano near Sendai might be many times worse than what has been scientifically considered. Why? Because the 3/11/11 Tohoku quake and tsunami was worse than anyone predicted for the region. The Diplomat says, “Several media and scientific outlets have challenged the reactivation of Japan’s nuclear industry in light of Ontake’s eruption, which Japan’s scientific community failed to predict.” Kyushu Electric Company says they will remove all nuke fuel from Sendai if scientists say a large eruption is possibly imminent, but the Diplomat says “very little oversight” has been built into the planning. Further, “There is so far no mention of how the utility might be forced to reconcile itself with independent research, nor mention of the government’s ability to shut down the facility if it is deemed at risk.”
What the report fails to mention is that the type of eruptions possible from volcanoes in the region pose little or no risk of a Fukushima-type accident at Sendai. In addition, the NRA has fully considered the data submitted by Kyushu Electric, and found it to meet the agency’s regulations.
Mount Ontake is about 125 kilometers from the nearest nuke (Hamaoka Station), and more than 150 km from the next-nearest (Tsuruga Station). It is about 1,000 km from the Sendai Station. The Ontake eruption is in no way, shape, or form a threat to any nukes. Its type of eruption is not a realistic threat to any of Japan’s nukes. The possibility of any of Japan’s stations having a Fukushima-type accident due to any type of volcanic eruption is essentially nil. But, Japan’s Press ignores all of this, evoking the main rhetorical tools of the international antinuclear prophets of doom – uncertainty and doubt. The Diplomat asserts that “The remaining issue is the level of unpredictability still inherent in monitoring volcanic activity” and “Determining what Kyushu Electric deems an acceptably low level of risk consequently remains unclear as well.” The statements drip with appeals to uncertainty and doubt.
Since Three Mile Island in 1979, the world’s Press has bent over backwards to keep nuclear energy-based angst alive in the public mind. After 3/11/11, it was fear of earthquakes. If anything, the temblor of 3/11/11 demonstrated that massive quakes are not a realistic threat to nuke safety. Now, its fear of volcanoes, built entirely on uncertainty and doubt. Let realism and logic be damned. It’s good for business.
1 – Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Tsunamis; National Science Teachers Association. http://enviroliteracy.org/nsfmod/NaturesFury.pdf
2 – Earthquake fears supplanted by volcano fears with Japanese nukes. http://www.hiroshimasyndrome.com/fukushima-commentary.html
3 – Predicting Volcanoes a Risky Game for Japan’s Reactors; The Diplomat; 10/10/14. http://thediplomat.com/2014/10/predicting-volcanoes-a-risky-game-for-japans-reactors/