What if there is a M7.5 earthquake offshore from Fukushima in the next 6-12 months? Beginning in March 2014 there has been an increasing incidence of “anomalies”--events that diverge significantly from a standard or norm—that point to this possibility.
The Achilles Heel of the nuclear facility is the spent fuel pools (SFP) which are located 100 ft. above the earth-- in particular Reactor # 4 containing the highest monitored level of radiation. If an earthquake strikes and the SFP collapse-- or even an explosion as occurred in March 2011-- there will likely be a release of radioactive materials, including Strontium 90, Cesium 134/137, nano “hot” plutonium, and other lethal radioactive isotopes. A 3-dimensional topographical map will clearly show how near and exposed greater Tokyo is to Fukushima.
But here’s the dilemma. The position of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and mainstream seismologists in Japan and around the world is that earthquakes cannot be predicted. Many have attempted and the great majority has failed. Japanese seismologists, who are among the best in the world, have tried for over thirty years. The view that earthquakes are inherently unpredictable is based on an empirical record of failure. So the question is what to do about the anomalies? One option is ignore the data. Professional seismologists often detect anomalous phenomena appearing as precursors and frequently they amount to nothing. But what if this time they are warning us that something critical is about to occur? Another option is to focus on reasonable actions we can take which are under our control: to pay attention to the security of the SFP.
Three questions are essential:
* Were the earthquake tolerance levels (safety standards) strengthened after the March 2011 earthquake and then again after the 2013 7.1 quake?
* If so, what is the present standard, especially for the SFP in Reactor # 4?
* What actions if any have been taken to date to secure the SFP based on these revised standards and regulations?
Some reasonable measures:
* Continue to fortify the SPF, especially # 4.
* Confirm there is “match up water capability”—in other words, adequate cooling water if the SPF cracks.
* Ensure that there is adequate back up power that will not be wiped out by a tsunami as happened during the March 11, 2011 M9.0 quake.
* Construct a protective wall to withstand the impact of all historic tsunamis.
* Prepare an emergency management plan and have trained personnel ready to protect the workers at the facility and the surrounding communities.
Prime Minister Abe has promised the Olympic Committee and the international community that the Fukushima plants are fully under control and the Olympics can be held in 2020 safely. By taking every possible precaution with the SFP he will be honoring his commitment. But will Japan’s recently enacted State Secrets Law be permitted to obstruct the effort? If the SFP explode, the contamination will likely be carried by the winds, ocean currents, and the Jet Stream to the U.S. and other parts of the world. Fukushima is now the world’s problem.
Can a nation refuse to provide such vital information on the grounds that it is a state secret? Under the specific and unique conditions presented by the vulnerable SFP at Fukushima, the sovereignty of nations must bow in this instance to a higher authority. In legal terms the world community’s right to know and the sovereign’s correlative fiduciary duty to inform are well established under international law and most national legal systems. These rights and obligations are implied in Articles 3, 19, and 25 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They are clearly expressed in numerous UN environmental declarations since the Stockholm Conference of 1971. They are enshrined in several human rights and environmental treaties and conventions. They are recognized in the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, and by statutes and ordinances in Japan, the European Community, the U.S., and other countries. They are regularly cited by the courts in these jurisdictions. They are the customary law of nations.
Thus the question is stark: Prime Minister Abe, are the SFP secure?—Yes or No? The well-being of millions of people may depend upon your answer.
Technical Note on the Data:
* The seismologists are calling for a heightened awareness of a M.5 quake with a margin of error of +/- .5 The released energy of an earthquake increases by a factor of 32 for each tenth of a point. In other words, a M7.5 mega quake will be over 1000 times more powerful than a M.5.5 quake. (32x32=1024).
* There has been a significant increase in seismic activity in the western Pacific involving two M8.3 quakes, six M7.0 quakes, and nineteen M6.0 quakes. The incidence of so many mega quakes in so short a time suggests something highly unusual may be happening in the western Pacific.
* Since the beginning of May there have been a series of moderate quakes: M5.8 in Sagami Bay south of Tokyo, M4.7 in the continental slope (11 May), M5.0 just south of Tokyo (12 May), again M4.8 in the Sagami Bay (15 May). What is important is all of these quakes reside inside a large cloud circle which first appeared on 6 April.
* Since April 2014 there have been distinct anomalies in Outgoing Long Wave Radiation (OLR) and Sea Surface Temperature (SST) offshore from Fukushima. The former has been used by Chinese scientists in accurately analyzing the Haiti earthquake. The latter by a distinguished Indian scientist in evaluating the Mexico earthquake.
* Two groups of distinguished scientists, the first from the Institute of Applied Geophysics in Moscow, the second from the International Earthquake and Volcano Prediction Center (IEVPC) in Orlando, Florida, each using a multi-precursor model, have consistently demonstrated that it is possible to predict earthquakes and to issue accurate alerts. IEVPC has recently released a letter of heightened concern for Fukushima based on its preliminary analysis of multiple precursors in the last three months.
* Since first preparing this article in May 2014 the multi-precursor model has not detected any new anomalies that would rise to the level of a foreshock. Under the IEVPC protocol this finding causes the multi-precursor analysis to undergo a new rigorous cycle of review. The data could have pointed to a prediction. In the present instance the IEVPC team concluded that this was not warranted based on the present data. The IEVPC team is continuing to monitor closely seismic activity relating to Fukushima and issuing regular reports. The costs of this research and monitoring of the conditions at Fukushima are being defrayed by the IEVPC and its scientists, offered as a protective humanitarian gesture to the people of Japan and the world, and as a contribution to the advancement of earthquake science.
*Julian Gresser was twice Mitsubishi Visiting Professor of Japanese law at the Harvard Law School, and has been an advisor to the U.S. State Department and the Prime Minister’s Office of Japan. His most recent book, Piloting Through Chaos—The Explorer’s Mind, introduces a new strategy for innovation to address global challenges like Fukushima. The author expresses his appreciation to Dr. Dong Choi and other colleagues at the International Earthquake and Volcano Prediction Center in Orlando, Florida, for their comments on earlier drafts of this article.