OSAKA - Despite official assurances of no abnormalities at nuclear power plants in Kyushu and nearby areas after a series of earthquakes rocked the region, calls in and outside of Japan are growing to shut down the nation’s only two operating reactors at the Sendai plant in Kagoshima Prefecture.
Since Thursday, the Meteorological Agency has recorded nearly 530 quakes at level 1 or above on the Japanese intensity scale in Kumamoto and Oita Prefectures. This includes more than 80 registering a 4 or higher on the scale. The agency has warned that seismic activity in the region may continue over the next week, possibly prompting more deadly landslides.
But despite the frequency of the quakes, the Sendai plant, just over the border from Kumamoto in Satsumasendai, Kagoshima Prefecture, has continued to generate electricity since the initial magnitude-6.5 quake rocked Kumamoto on Thursday, followed by a magnitude-7.3 temblor early Saturday.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority said Monday morning it had confirmed there were no abnormalities at the Sendai plant or at the nation’s other nuclear facilities.
It said the seismic intensity measured by the earthquakes was well below the level at which reactors should be switched off.
In addition, the NRA said, no problems were reported with the spent fuel pools at the Genkai plant in Saga Prefecture, the Ikata plant in Ehime Prefecture and the Shimane plant in Shimane Prefecture.
But with continued quakes and aftershocks, fears are growing about what the constant shaking could mean in terms of cumulative damage that could result in a nuclear crisis.
An online Japanese- and English-language petition by a former Kumamoto resident to shut down the Sendai plant had drawn over 42,000 signatures worldwide as of Monday morning, while anti-nuclear activists in Fukui Prefecture have also criticized Kyushu Electric Power Co. and the NRA for continuing to operate the plant.
In Saga Prefecture on Sunday, about 100 mayors and town heads belonging to the Mayors for a Nuclear Power Free Japan added their voices, calling for the central government and the NRA to re-evaluate the way earthquake safety standards for nuclear power plants are calculated.
They also want the government to grant localities within 30 km of a nuclear power plant the legal authority to approve or reject reactor restarts.
The decision to keep the Sendai reactors running is also drawing criticism overseas.
“Given the general situation on Kyushu — including the ongoing seismic and volcanic activity, the large number of evacuees, and the damage to the transportation infrastructure — I believe it would be prudent for the reactors to be shut down until conditions have stabilized,” Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist at the Washington-based Union of Concerned Scientists and an expert on nuclear materials and atomic power safety policy, said in an email to The Japan Times.
In Ikata, Ehime Prefecture, Shikoku Electric hopes to restart the Ikata No. 3 reactor by this summer. But the revelation that the plant lies near the same fault line running through Kumamoto, the Japan Median Tectonic Line, the possibility of a disaster caused by a quake has locals concerned, especially about damage to infrastructure damage that would make it difficult to evacuate residents by either land or sea.
In light of the continued quakes and concerns by locals, political leaders in the area who OK’d the restart are likely to face intense pressure to rethink their stance.