Nuclear reactors and outside threats

12 Mar 2011

Robin des Bois would like to express their deepest sympathy towards the people of Japan.
Nuclear reactors are not sufficiently protected against outside climatic or geologic threats such as earthquakes, floods, cyclones and storms, massive snow falls and forest fires (1).

When looking at earthquakes, the understanding and the modelling of terrain movements and deformations has greatly improved over the last 20 years. Most of the nuclear reactors in the area affected by the earthquake which recently hit Japan were built between 1967 and 1981. The reactor n°1 at Fukushima-Daiichi which to date causes the most concern was built in 1967. Consequently, Fukushima-Daiichi was not built under new regulations developed through experience concerning anti-seismic construction. In Japan, the destruction of housing which were not constructed with these earthquake resistant requirements is planned. On the contrary, old nuclear reactors have a de facto prolonged lifespan following the French Japanese doctrine on the continuation of exploitation of nuclear plants. Early November 2010, the French and Japanese nuclear authorities met in Tokyo to coordinate the particularities of the implementation of prolonged lifespan reactor exploitation.

In France, the authorities on the prevention of technological risks “Conseil Supérieur de la Prévention des Risques Technologiques”, during a meeting on December 14th, had to examine a regulation project determining anti-seismic rules which applies to installations classified for the protection of the environment under the Seveso Directive. The aim of this rule is to avoid in the case of earthquakes that the population, having already lost their homes and suffering from communication breakdowns, do not on top of it suffer from health problems linked to industrial premises working with hazardous substances. During the debates it was highlighted that the Basic Safety Rule “Règle Fondamentale de Sûreté” on the determination of seismic risks to nuclear reactors was not at the required level and should be improved. This Rule came into force in 2001. Taking into account new knowledge, a map of seismic risks was published in 2005 extending the area of regions most at risk in mainland France. It is also to be noted that lately in Europe the duration taken into account concerning earthquakes covers a period of 5,000 whereas the 2005 map on seismic risks only covers a period of 475 years.

When taking floods into consideration, the recent decision to continue exploiting reactor n°1 in Triscastin (France) built in 1974 is linked to an obligation to protect the reactor from millennial floods in the Rhône. The case of floods following a dam rupture is not taken into account (3).

Robin des Bois is asking that nuclear reactors and other nuclear installations of which the implementation sites and construction do not satisfy recent standards in terms of fighting natural disasters should be stopped and dismantled as soon as possible in Japan and in France.

Japan and France have been cooperating for 30 years in the field of civil nuclear power and in treating spent nuclear fuel for reprocessing. The Japanese nuclear reprocessing plant Rokkasho-Mura was built with help from AREVA and is situated in the currently active seismic area. However, when an accident occurs in a Japanese reactor the French authorities seem to suddenly know very little about the Japanese nuclear programme and leave Japan in isolation and doubt.

If the AREVA chairperson keeps her engagement and visits The Hague plant on Monday, Robin des Bois is asking her to officially announce the suspension of the next maritime shipment of nuclear fuel MOX (uranium and plutonium) from Cherbourg, France to Japan.
(1) Cf. Press releases Forest Fires: Beware the Radioactive Fallout:

(2) Cf. Raport from the CSPRT meeting December 14th 2010 Compte –rendu de la séance du CSPRT du 14 décembre 2010 (only available in French)

(3) Cf. The Chapter on “Technological Risks Concerning Dams” in the report “After Disasters: Environmental and Health risks” page 99 (only available in French)

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