Japan’s Nuclear Legacy and the World’s Riskiest Nuclear Reactors

The Japan nuclear crisis has elevated concerns on the dangerous consequences of nuclear power. The damage caused by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami disaster to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility has raised safety issues to global attention.

As Japan and the world continues to grapple with the impact of the natural calamity, there is increasing scrutiny on Japan’s planning and management ability in the event of a nuclear disaster. For instance, Japan Today recently reported that about 800 workers at the Fukushima facility were given regular medical checkups – almost two months after the crisis erupted.

The global attention towards the Japan nuclear crisis is understandable. There are 409 operable nuclear reactors in the world and Japan plans to build another 12 more nuclear facilities.

The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation lists the following potential dangers posed by nuclear energy:

    1. Risks of Proliferation

      Nuclear fission produces a waste product – plutonium, which can be used for productive as well as destructive purposes. While it can be used as fuel in nuclear plants, only 18 pounds of this element is enough to create a Nagasaki-type bomb.

 

    1. Risk of Accident

      The abandoned Chernobyl nuclear plant remains a stark reminder of the destructive power of a nuclear accident. The explosion () of one of the reactors at the Ukraine facility resulted to a fallout that reached as far as Scotland where radiation levels were recorded at 10,000 times above normal. The Three Mile Island nuclear accident ( ) and a list of other similar mishaps () highlight the risk of accident at these plants.

 

    1. Environmental Degradation

      The generation of nuclear energy involves processes that are environmentally destructive: the mining of uranium, the production of plutonium and the release of radioactive isotopes into the environment.

 

    1. Nuclear Waste

      The Foundation maintains there is no known method of safely disposing nuclear waste. A component of nuclear waste – Plutonium-239, has a very long half-life: 24,000 years.

As each nuclear facility is built differently and under different specifications, the need for the most appropriate safety measures and risk mitigation plan is tantamount.

In March, the Wall Street Journal came out with an analysis of the world’s nuclear reactors and the earthquake risk faced by each plant. The Journal used information by the World Nuclear Association, the Global Seismic Hazard Program, and a study by the Swiss Seismological Service and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Based on this analysis, the following nuclear reactors are considered the riskiest in the world because of the level of seismic activity in the area they are in and their proximity to the coast:

Reactor name Country Capacity (net) megawatts Reactor Status Type of reactor Miles from coast Seismic range
Humboldt Bay United States 63 Shut down Commercial Reactor 0.36 4. High Activity
Lungmen-1 Taiwan 1,300 Under construction Commercial Reactor 1.86 4. High Activity
Lungmen-2 Taiwan 1,300 Under construction Commercial Reactor 1.83 4. High Activity
Vallecitos VBWR United States 5 Shut down Commercial Reactor 10.00 4. High Activity
Maanshan-1 Taiwan 890 Operating Commercial Reactor 2.11 4. High Activity
Maanshan-2 Taiwan 890 Operating Commercial Reactor 2.11 4. High Activity
Kuosheng-1 Taiwan 948 Operating Commercial Reactor 0.64 4. High Activity
Kuosheng-2 Taiwan 948 Operating Commercial Reactor 0.66 4. High Activity
Hamaoka-1 Japan 515 Shut down Commercial Reactor 1.03 4. High Activity
Hamaoka-2 Japan 806 Shut down Commercial Reactor 1.00 4. High Activity
Hamaoka-3 Japan 1,056 Operating Commercial Reactor 0.96 4. High Activity
Hamaoka-4 Japan 1,092 Operating Commercial Reactor 0.93 4. High Activity
Hamaoka-5 Japan 1,380 Operating Commercial Reactor 0.90 4. High Activity
Chin Shan-1 Taiwan 604 Operating Commercial Reactor 0.65 4. High Activity
Chin Shan-2 Taiwan 604 Operating Commercial Reactor 0.67 4. High Activity
Onagawa-1 Japan 498 Operating Commercial Reactor 2.32 4. High Activity
Onagawa-2 Japan 796 Operating Commercial Reactor 2.32 4. High Activity
Onagawa-3 Japan 796 Operating Commercial Reactor 2.32 4. High Activity
Diablo Canyon-1 United States 1,130 Operating Commercial Reactor 0.74 4. High Activity
Diablo Canyon-2 United States 1,160 Operating Commercial Reactor 0.71 4. High Activity
Mihama-1 Japan 320 Operating Commercial Reactor 0.10 4. High Activity
Mihama-2 Japan 470 Operating Commercial Reactor 0.11 4. High Activity
Mihama-3 Japan 780 Operating Commercial Reactor 0.16 4. High Activity
Monju Japan 246 Operating Commercial Reactor 0.74 4. High Activity
Tsuruga-1 Japan 341 Operating Commercial Reactor 0.26 4. High Activity
Tsuruga-2 Japan 1,115 Operating Commercial Reactor 0.21 4. High Activity
Fugen ATR Japan 148 Shut down Commercial Reactor 0.77 4. High Activity
Armenia-1 (Metsamor) Armenia 376 Shut down Commercial Reactor 10.00 4. High Activity
Armenia-2 (Metsamor) Armenia 376 Operating Commercial Reactor 10.00 4. High Activity
Armenia-3 (Metsamor) Armenia 1,060 Planned Commercial Reactor 10.00 4. High Activity
Ohi-1 Japan 1,120 Operating Commercial Reactor 4.63 4. High Activity
Ohi-2 Japan 1,120 Operating Commercial Reactor 4.59 4. High Activity
Ohi-3 Japan 1,127 Operating Commercial Reactor 4.52 4. High Activity
Ohi-4 Japan 1,127 Operating Commercial Reactor 4.52 4. High Activity
Takahama-1 Japan 780 Operating Commercial Reactor 1.07 4. High Activity
Takahama-2 Japan 780 Operating Commercial Reactor 1.09 4. High Activity
Takahama-3 Japan 830 Operating Commercial Reactor 1.11 4. High Activity
Takahama-4 Japan 830 Operating Commercial Reactor 1.14 4. High Activity
Shika-1 Japan 505 Operating Commercial Reactor 0.65 4. High Activity
Shika-2 Japan 1,358 Operating Commercial Reactor 0.60 4. High Activity
Krsko Slovenia 676 Operating Commercial Reactor 10.00 4. High Activity
Shimane-3 Japan 1,375 Under construction Commercial Reactor 1.02 4. High Activity
Shimane-1 Japan 439 Operating Commercial Reactor 1.11 4. High Activity
Shimane-2 Japan 789 Operating Commercial Reactor 1.07 4. High Activity

Surprisingly, none of the Fukushima Daiichi reactors made the list. All ten of them were listed as “3. Elevated Activity.”

References:

Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
http://www.wagingpeace.org/menu/issues/nuclear-energy-&-waste/nuclear-energy-fact-sheet.htm

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