As Japan recovers from recent flooding, concerns about nuclear safety are never far from people's minds. During the flooding, bags of contaminated debris were swept away from cleanup sites associated with the 2011 Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant accident. Japan also restarted commercial operation of domestic nuclear generation last month under more rigorous, post-accident rules. Amid these developments, questions linger over whether the country should (or even is ready to) expand its nuclear operations. For this, answers may lie in fuller public engagement.

In August, news broadcasts showed the control room of the Sendai No. 1 reactor in Kagoshima Prefecture renewing initial operations. Among those protesting the restart was former Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who held office during the Fukushima crisis. Shortly after the reactor's restart, five cracked tubes were discovered in the cooling system, requiring new mitigation measures.

To put the experience into broader context, Japan is highly seismic and volcanic in nature. It is home to 110 active volcanoes and has 1,500 earthquakes of varying magnitudes each year. In August, the Meteorological Agency warned of larger-than-usual risks (prompting evacuation) in conjunction with volcanic eruptions at Mount Sakurajima. Based roughly 50 km from the restarted Sendai plant, the volcano is one of the most active in Japan, with volcanic sediment from previous flow found about 5 km from the plant.