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New Year’s Day Earthquake Shook Japanese Nuclear Power Plant Beyond Safety Limits

Published: January 16, 2024
This aerial photo provided by Jiji Press shows the Hokuriku Electric Power Shika nuclear power plant in Shika, Ishikawa prefecture on Jan. 2, 2024, a day after a major 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck the Noto region in Ishikawa prefecture. Japan's nuclear authority said there were no abnormalities reported at the Shika atomic power plant in Ishikawa or other plants after the latest quake. (Image: STR/JIJI PRESS/AFP via Getty Images)

On Jan. 10, Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) revealed that the magnitude 7.6 earthquake which struck Japan on New Year’s Day caused such intense shaking that a section of the Shika Nuclear Power Plant, located on the Sea of Japan in the Ishikawa prefecture, was shaken beyond the levels it was designed for.  

The buildings were designed to withstand 918 Galileo units (Gal) of shaking, but the quake caused shaking in the basement of the unit 1 reactor building to be measured at 957 Gal, authorities revealed. 

“Both units 1 and 2 had been idle and no problems have been reported with functions such as cooling the pool with spent fuel rods, according to the nuclear watchdog. The buildings also sustained no damage,” Nikkei Asia reported.  

The plant was also hit with a three meter high tsunami following the quake, however, according to the Hokuriku Electric Power Company, who operates the facility, minimal damage was sustained.

The tsunami hit some of the power transformers in units 1 and 2, causing minor damage and an oil leak and rendering some power supplies unusable. Authorities have not disclosed when these will be repaired however have readied diesel generators to be used in the event of a power shortage and is currently relying on backup power transformers. 


Radiation monitoring posts online

According to authorities, the facility operates 116 radiation monitoring posts, six of which were damaged and taken offline following the quake. Replacement posts have been deployed and set up at five locations, the authority said.

A small oil spill, which authorities say may have come from a damaged power transformer for unit 2, was detected in the sea near the plant, but authorities say it poses no risk nor is it a radioactive leak. 

Meanwhile, Japan’s nuclear safety regulators have told the operator of the plant to study the impact the quake had on operations.

Even though initial investigations found that the Shika nuclear power plant’s cooling systems and ability to contain radiation remains intact, the NRA ordered the investigation, reflecting the authorities increased vigilance following the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The two Shika reactors were launched in 1993 and 2006, but have been offline since the 2011 disaster. The plant’s operator, Hokuriku Electric, applied to restart the No. 2 reactor in 2014. They hope to restart the No. 2 reactor by 2026, but the increased safety standards may cause further delays. 

The New Year’s Day earthquake claimed the lives of at least 206 people, with dozens more unaccounted for. 

Shika is a small town on the island nation’s west coast of the Noto peninsula, where authorities say the quake caused the most damage.

A number of buildings in the town collapsed and there were reports of landslides in the region. 

The Associated Press reported that Japan’s powerful business organization Keidanren, Masakazu Tokura, who visited the plant last year, urged the utility on Tuesday to be fully transparent concerning the state of the plant. 

“Many people are concerned, and I hope (the utility) provides adequate information at an appropriate time, “ Tokura said.