The tsunami that destroyed a nuclear reactor at Fukushima, Japan, caused a major rethink of nuclear power, which up to the accident in 2011, had been considered a relatively safe, clean form of electricity generation.
The tsunami that followed shortly after a 9.0 megaquake off the east coast of Japan was shocking in its magnitude-killing close to 16,000. But it was soon apparent that another disaster was in the making, when the surging waves inundated pumps used to cool down the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex.
The resultant fuel meltdown and leakage of radiation led to the immediate evacuation of the site, and a chain of events that eventually had Japan shutting down all of its nuclear reactors. Germany, a major consumer of nuclear power, permanently closed 8 of its 17 nuclear reactors following Fukushima; other European countries shelved their nuclear plans.
While nuclear proponents view Fukushima as an aberration and trust that nuclear is mostly safe, opponents hold it, and other major accidents such as Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, as exemplifying the perils of nuclear power generation.
Oilprice.com took a look at the countries whose nuclear power plants would be most vulnerable to a tsunami. We based our list-which is in no particular order-on a report by the Community Research and Development Information Service (CORDIS), part of the European Commission, which mapped out the world's geographic zones that would be at most risk of large tsunamis. We then cross-referenced those countries with information from the World Nuclear Association, on each country's nuclear program. According to the CORDIS report, 23 nuclear power plants with 74 reactors were identified in high-risk areas. The riskiest country was China, which has 27 reactors currently under construction, the largest number in the world. Of those 27, 17 are being built in areas considered dangerous for tsunamis.
China currently has 21 operating nuclear plants, and 27 being built. The Chinese government plans to triple the country's nuclear power capacity to 48 GWe (gigawatt electrical) by 2020. This is mostly to move away from coal-powered plants for environmental reasons. China's most active earthquake zones are in the interior, far from its existing nuclear plants on the east coast. However, high earthquake activity on the Chinese east coast should not discount this threat. Moreover, as its electricity needs grow, China is likely to site new nuclear plants in the interior, including two proposed reactors in Sichuan-the site of a major quake in 2013.
Taiwan's six nuclear reactors provide a quarter of the island nation's base load power. Two of the reactors cited in the CORDIS report are in Taiwan. Taiwan has signed an agreement with China, whereby the two countries pledge to share information on their nuclear power plants and safety standards. Like Japan, Taiwan is considered high-risk of nuclear reactor damage from tsunamis due to its high frequency of earthquakes, historically, correlated to its land area-which is known as seismic density.
Japan has 7 plants with 19 reactors at risk of tsunamis, including Fukushima I, according to the CORDIS report. The country is currently in the process of restarting 48 reactors following a countrywide shutdown and safety review following the accident. A number of measures have been taken to shore up Japan's tsunami defences. Hokkaido is building a 6.5-meter-high seawall that will run 1.25-km at its Tomari site. Kansai will spend $2.5 billion over four years to earthquake and tsunami-proof its 11 reactors. Chubu Electric Power Co is increasing tsunami and flood protection at its Hamaoka nuclear plant, located in a region of high seismic activity.
Twenty-three reactors provide 20.7 GWe of electricity, nearly a third of the country's needs. A planned 59 percent increase would bump capacity to 32.9 GWe by 2022. After Fukushima, the Korean government took measures to increase nuclear safety, including raising the coastal barrier at its Kori 1 reactor to 10 meters, waterproofing pumps, and fitting watertight doors to emergency diesel generator buildings. The investment represents about $1 billion over five years. However, CORDIS identified five reactors at tsunami risk, through the expansion of two plants.
Many seismologists believe that the Cascadia subduction zone, running from Vancouver Island to northern California, is overdue for a major earthquake of equal force to what occurred recently in Japan and Chile, on other parts of the "Ring of Fire". That puts the U.S. on the high end of the risk scale, especially since the States is the world's largest producer of nuclear power, with 100 operating reactors and five under construction. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission put out a report in 2011 rating the nuclear reactors of highest risk of earthquake damage. Surprisingly, the Diablo Canyon power plant situated between the California coastline and the San Andreas fault was not considered most prone to a tsunami. That's because reactors constructed in California were built to withstand a major earthquake. Number 1 on the NRC list was the Indian Point Energy Center located 24 kilometers from New York City, with second and third positions occupied by nuclear power plants in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, respectively.
Pakistan has a small nuclear program, with just 725 MWe of capacity, but wants to increase that 10-fold-despite opprobrium from arch-rival India which fears the diversion of uranium into nuclear weapons. A 7.7-magnitude quake struck Pakistan's remote southwest region in 2013, killing at least 328. CORDIS identified one Pakistani reactor in its report that is at risk of a tsunami.
CORDIS also mentioned two nuclear reactors in India that could face tsunami damage. On a map of nuclear power plants either operating or under construction in India, the World Nuclear Association identifies 3 of 7 plants situated on the coast. India's seismicity is well-documented. A megaquake measuring 7.7 on the Richter scale hit Gujarat in 2001, killing over 20,000. The same number of people were killed 8 years earlier, during a quake in Maharashtra.
Iran currently has one operating nuclear reactor, with a second one planned, despite calls by the UN Security Council to scrap its uranium enrichment program. After the Japanese tsunami, then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed that its Brushehr nuclear plant could not be hit because the facility is more modern than the 40-year-old Fukushima complex. In 2013, two earthquakes, one at 5.6 magnitude and the other at 6.1, struck the region around the Brushehr plant. The larger quake killed at least 37 and injured hundreds more. In both earthquakes, Brushehr was left undamaged.
By Andrew Topf of Oilprice.com. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.