Japan court shocks nuclear industry with liability ruling by Shaun Burnie, Asia Times, March 20, 2017
Japan’s atomic power establishment is in shock following the court ruling on Friday that found the state and the operator of the Fukushima nuclear plant liable for failing to take preventive measures against the tsunami that crippled the facility.
The reason for the shock is the ruling has wide-ranging implications for Japan’s entire nuclear power industry and the efforts to restart reactors throughout the country.
Judges in the Maebashi District Court in Gunma prefecture ruled that Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) and the government were aware of the earthquake and tsunami risks to the Fukushima Daiichi plant prior to the 2011 triple reactor meltdown, but failed to take preventative measures.
The decision was welcomed by the 137 Fukushima citizens who filed the lawsuit in 2014. What needs to be remembered is a further 28 civil and criminal lawsuits in 18 prefectures across Japan are pending. They involve more than 10,000 citizens and include a shareholder claim seeking compensation of 5.5 trillion yen (US$49 billion).
Tepco is already a de facto bankrupt, has been effectively nationalized and now faces the unprecedented challenges of how to remove three melted reactors at the Fukushima plant.
Six years after the disaster it still faces unanswered questions about the precise causes of the accident, questions that have generated public opposition to Tepco restarting reactors at another plant in Kashiwazki-kariwa in Niigata prefecture, on the opposite coastline to Fukushima.
Beside the court ruling being yet another blow to Tepco’s efforts to recover from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the judgement will be highly disruptive to plans by the government and utilities to restart nuclear reactors in Japan.
In the court ruling, the judges found that science-based evidence of major risks to the nuclear plant was “foreseen” but ignored and not acted upon by Japan’s government and Tepco.
The evidence included a 2002 government assessment that concluded there was a 20% risk of a magnitude 8 or greater earthquake off the coast of northeastern Japan within 30 years. This includes the sea bed area off the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
Further, the plaintiffs cited a 2008 internal Tepco report ‘Tsunami Measures Unavoidable’ which included the likelihood of a potential 15.7 meter tsunami hitting the Fukushima nuclear site.
The court ruled that if the government had used its regulatory powers to make Tepco take countermeasures, such as installing seawalls, against such an event, the nuclear disaster could have been avoided.
While the judges in Gunma prefecture have concluded that ignoring evidence of risk can have devastating consequences, that does not seem to be the approach of the nuclear utilities or the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA).
Over the last four years, the NRA has demonstrated a tendency to ignore evidence of risks to nuclear plants that have made applications to restart reactors shut down after the Fukushima disaster, and to bend to the demands of the nuclear power companies and the government.
A total of 26 reactors have applied for NRA review, of which seven have passed and four more will likely be approved this year.
In each case, the NRA has failed to apply a robust approach to assessing risks. It has chose to screen out seismic faults that threaten nuclear plants, failed to follow recommendations from international safety guidelines, and accepted selective evidence on volcanic risks.
In the case of the three forty-year old reactors at Takahama and Mihama, the NRA approved the reactors, while granting the utility an exemption from demonstrating that the reactors primary circuit can meet the 2013 post Fukushima revised safety guidelines, until a later date.
All of these safety issues have the potential when things go wrong — see Fukushima — to lead to severe accidents, including reactor core meltdown.
District courts have issued injunctions against reactor restarts in Fukui prefecture, and in a historic ruling in March 2016 a court in Shiga prefecture ordered the immediate shutdown of the Takahama 3 and 4 reactors.
An appeal court is scheduled to rule on the above in the coming weeks and while it is anticipated that the reactor owner Kansai Electric will likely win, the prospects of further legal action remains.
Next month, for example, the former deputy chair of the NRA, Kunihiko Shimazaki will testify in a lawsuit against the operation of the Ohi reactors owned by Kansai Electric in western Japan.
Shimazeki, emeritus professor of seismology at Tokyo University and the only seismologist to have been an NRA commissioner, has challenged the formulas used by the regulator in computing the scale of earthquakes, which he believes underestimates potential seismic impact by factor of 3.5.
Last July the NRA dismissed Professor Shimazeki’s evidence.
Six years after the start of the Fukushima Daiichi accident, only 3 of Japan’s reactors are currently operating out of the 54 available in 2011.
For any business that runs the risk of its principal cash-generating asset being shut down at any point and for an extended period through legal challenges, the future does not look bright — unless you are granted approval to disregard the evidence.
The utilities are hemorrhaging money and therefore run the risk of following the same path as Tepco prior to 2011 in prioritizing cost savings over safety.
Such an approach directly led to the bankruptcy of Tepco, one the worlds largest power companies, and liabilities of at least 21 trillion yen.
The nuclear industry and current government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe understand that to allow robust evidence of safety risks, in particular seismic, to determine the future of operation of reactors would mean the end of nuclear power in Japan.
Citizens from Fukushima with their lawyers and now supported by the judges, have moved Japan one step closer to that eventual scenario.
Japanese government held liable for first time for negligence in Fukushima, Court rules government should have used regulatory powers to force nuclear plant’s operator to take preventive measures by Justin McCurry, 17 March 2017, The Guardian
A court in Japan has ruled that negligence by the state contributed to the triple meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in March 2011 and awarded significant damages to evacuees.
Although courts have awarded damages arising from the disaster in other cases, Friday’s ruling is the first time the government has been held liable.
The Maebashi district court near Tokyo awarded ¥38.55m (£270,000) to 137 people who were forced to evacuate their homes in the days after three of Fukushima Daiichi’s six reactors suffered a catastrophic meltdown, the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.
Despite official claims that the size and destructive power of the quake and tsunami were impossible to foresee, the court said the nuclear meltdown could have been prevented.
The ruling said the government should have used its regulatory powers to force the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), who were also held liable, to take adequate preventive measures.
The plaintiffs – comprising forced and “voluntary” evacuees – claimed the government and Tepco could have predicted a tsunami more than 10 metres in height would one day hit the plant.
They based their claim on a 2002 report in which government experts estimated there was a one in five chance of a magnitude-8 earthquake occurring and triggering a powerful tsunami within the next 30 years.
At the time of the disaster, Japan’s nuclear regulator was severely criticised for its collusive ties with the nuclear industry, resulting in the formation of a new watchdog that has imposed stricter criteria for the restart of nuclear reactors that were shut down in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.
Tepco, which faces a ¥21.5tn bill for decommissioning the plant and compensating evacuees, said it would respond after studying the ruling.
The 137 plaintiffs, who are now living in several regions outside of Fukushima, were seeking a total of ¥1.5bn as compensation for emotional distress.
They said the meltdown and resulting evacuation had ruined their livelihoods and caused disruption to their families’ lives, adding that state compensation they had already received was insufficient. [What do Albertans get when poisoned by the oil and gas industry, enabled by the regulators and government, some driven from their homes and livelihoods? ZERO. Unless they settle and shut up like Sakens did]
Friday’s ruling is the first of 30 lawsuits to be brought by Fukushima evacuees. Six years after the disaster, tens of thousands of people are still living in nuclear limbo, and many say they will never be able to return home. A small number have moved back to communities where the government has lifted evacuation orders.
The ruling echoed the conclusion reached by an independent parliamentary investigation, which described the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown as a “man-made” disaster caused by poor regulation and collusion between the government, Tepco and the industry’s then watchdog, the nuclear and industrial safety agency. [Sounds like Canada – especially Alberta!]
The report, published in 2012, accused Tepco and the agency of failing to take adequate safety measures, despite evidence that the north-east coast of Japan was susceptible to powerful earthquakes and tsunamis.
“The Fukushima nuclear power plant accident was the result of collusion between the government, the regulators and Tepco, and the lack of governance by said parties,” the report said.
“They effectively betrayed the nation’s right to be safe from nuclear accidents. Therefore, we conclude that the accident was clearly ‘man-made’.” [Emphasis added]
[Refer also to:
2016 11 07: “Devastating Domino Effect?” 5.0M Earthquake Causes “Substantial Damages” to 40-50 Buildings in Downtown Cushing, Rattles Residents Across State; Felt as far away as Johnson City, TN, 1297 km away
2016 11 01: USGS Study: Oil drilling may have caused 1933 California 6.4M Long Beach earthquake that killed about 120 people and caused massive damages. “There may be no upper limit” to the size of earthquakes caused by the oil industry
2016 08 16: Known risk of earthquakes caused by oil and gas development, BC Hydro worries about fracking unconventionals near dams, specifically coalbed methane and shale gas. “Alberta Offers Lessons In Keeping Oil and Gas Industry ‘Safe’ From A Public Endangered By Fracking”
2016 01 24: Listen To The Quakes & The Many, Not The Money. 2013: “These fluids are driving faults to their tipping point.” Is this what frac’d communities have to look forward to? 2016: 7.1M earthquake (refer also to 2013 11 07 below)
2016 01 05: NINE STUDIES: US Geological Survey (USGS), University Colorado (UC), Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS), Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory (LBNL) studied sudden man-made earthquakes in Oklahoma, California, Pennsylvania, Ohio, found fracing is the causation
2015: Italy’s supreme court clears L’Aquila earthquake (killed 308 people) scientists for good. 2014: Earthquake Scientists Exonerated. 2012: Jailed for Failure to Consider Specific and Relevant Studies “is Equivalent to The Death of Knowledge.” Italy judge says deadly L’Aquila quake was foreseeable, experts failed to accurately communicate risk to the public
Large earthquakes from distant parts of the globe are setting off tremors around waste-fluid injection wells in the central United States, says a new study. Furthermore, such triggering of minor quakes by distant events could be precursors to larger events at sites where pressure from waste injection has pushed faults close to failure, say researchers.
Among the sites covered: a set of injection wells near Prague, Okla., where the study says a huge earthquake in Chile on Feb. 27, 2010 triggered a mid-size quake less than a day later, followed by months of smaller tremors. This culminated in probably the largest quake yet associated with waste injection, a magnitude 5.7 event which shook Prague on Nov. 6, 2011. Earthquakes off Japan in 2011, and Sumatra in 2012, similarly set off mid-size tremors around injection wells in western Texas and southern Colorado, says the study. The paper appears this week in the leading journal Science, along with a series of other articles on how humans may be influencing earthquakes.
“The fluids are driving the faults to their tipping point,” said lead author Nicholas van der Elst, a postdoctoral researcher at Columba University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “The remote triggering by big earthquakes is an indication the area is critically stressed.”
Tremors triggered by distant large earthquakes have been identified before, especially in places like Yellowstone National Park and some volcanically active subduction zones offshore, where subsurface water superheated by magma can weaken faults, making them highly vulnerable to seismic waves passing by from somewhere else. The study in Science adds a new twist by linking this natural phenomenon to faults that have been weakened by human activity.
A surge in U.S. energy production in the last decade or so has sparked what appears to be a rise in small to mid-sized earthquakes in the United States. Large amounts of water are used both to crack open rocks to release natural gas through hydrofracking, and to coax oil and gas from underground wells using conventional techniques. After the gas and oil have been extracted, the brine and chemical-laced water must be disposed of, and is often pumped back underground elsewhere, sometimes causing earthquakes.
“These passing seismic waves are like a stress test,” said study coauthor Heather Savage, a geophysicist at Lamont-Doherty.
“If the number of small earthquakes increases, it could indicate that faults are becoming critically stressed and might soon host a larger earthquake.”
The 2010 magnitude 8.8 Chile quake, which killed more than 500 people, sent surface waves rippling across the planet, triggering a magnitude 4.1 quake near Prague 16 hours later, the study says. The activity near Prague continued until the magnitude 5.7 quake on Nov. 6, 2011 that destroyed 14 homes and injured two people. A study earlier this year led by seismologist Katie Keranen, also a coauthor of the new study, now at Cornell University, found that the first rupture occurred less than 650 feet away from active injection wells. In April 2012, a magnitude 8.6 earthquake off Sumatra triggered another swarm of earthquakes in the same place.The pumping of fluid into the field continues to this day, along with a pattern of small quakes.
The 2010 Chile quake also set off a swarm of earthquakes on the Colorado-New Mexico border, in Trinidad, near wells where wastewater used to extract methane from coal beds had been injected, the study says. The swarm was followed more than a year later, on Aug. 22 2011, by a magnitude 5.3 quake that damaged dozens of buildings. A steady series of earthquakes had already struck Trinidad in the past, including a magnitude 4.6 quake in 2001 that the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has investigated for links to wastewater injection.
The new study found also that Japan’s devastating magnitude 9.0 earthquake on March 11, 2011 triggered a swarm of earthquakes in the west Texas town of Snyder, where injection of fluid to extract oil from the nearby Cogdell fields has been setting off earthquakes for years, according to a 1989 study in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America. About six months after the Japan quake, a magnitude 4.5 quake struck Snyder.
The idea that seismic activity can be triggered by separate earthquakes taking place faraway was once controversial. One of the first cases to be documented was the magnitude 7.3 earthquake that shook California’s Mojave Desert in 1992, near the town of Landers, setting off a series of distant events in regions with active hot springs, geysers and volcanic vents. The largest was a magnitude 5.6 quake beneath Little Skull Mountain in southern Nevada, 150 miles away; the farthest, a series of tiny earthquakes north of Yellowstone caldera, according to a 1993 study in Science led by USGS geophysicist David Hill.
In 2002, the magnitude 7.9 Denali earthquake in Alaska triggered a series of earthquakes at Yellowstone, nearly 2,000 miles away, throwing off the schedules of some of its most predictable geysers, according to a 2004 study in Geology led by Stephan Husen, a seismologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich. The Denali quake also triggered bursts of slow tremors in and around California’s San Andreas, San Jacinto and Calaveras faults, according to a 2008 study in Science led by USGS geophysicist Joan Gomberg.
“We’ve known for at least 20 years that shaking from large, distant earthquakes can trigger seismicity in places with naturally high fluid pressure, like hydrothermal fields,” said study coauthor Geoffrey Abers, a seismologist at Lamont-Doherty. “We’re now seeing earthquakes in places where humans are raising pore pressure.”
The new study may be the first to find evidence of triggered earthquakes on faults critically stressed by waste injection. If it can be replicated and extended to other sites at risk of manmade earthquakes it could “help us understand where the stresses are,” said William Ellsworth, an expert on human-induced earthquakes with the USGS who was not involved in the study.
In the same issue of Science, Ellsworth reviews the recent upswing in earthquakes in the central United States. The region averaged 21 small to mid-sized earthquakes each year from the late 1960s through 2000. But in 2001, that number began to climb, reaching a high of 188 earthquakes in 2011, he writes. The risk of setting off earthquakes by injecting fluid underground has been known since at least the 1960s, when injection at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal near Denver was suspended after a magnitude 4.8 quake or greater struck nearby—the largest tied to wastewater disposal until the one near Prague, Okla. In a report last year, the National Academy of Sciences called for further research to “understand, limit and respond [to]” seismic events induced by human activity. [Emphasis added]
The gas field was discovered in 1956 and production began in 1962. Over the next 14 years, roughly 600×106 m3 of water, or 106 ton per km2, were injected. …
Beginning in 1976, a series of large earthquakes was recorded. The first significant earthquake occurred on April 8, 1976 at a distance of 20 km [12 miles] from the Gazli gasfield boundary. The earthquake magnitude measured 6.8. Just 39 days later, on May 17, 1976, another severe earthquake occurred 27 km [17 miles] to the west of the first one. The magnitude of the second earthquake was 7.3. Eight years later, on March 20, 1984, a third earthquake occurred 15 km [9miles] to the west of the second earthquake, with a magnitude of 7.2. … Aftershocks occurred in a volume surrounding the three hypocentres. These earthquakes are the strongest of all the known earthquakes in the plain of Central Asia. …
There was no clear relationship between the location of the earthquake hypocenters and any previously known active tectonic structures.
Closer investigation showed that the earthquakes had created new faults.
… In all these cases, the result of human interference was to change the state of stress in the surrounding volume of earth. If the stress change is big enough, it can cause an earthquake, either by fracturing the rock mass—in the case of mining or underground explosions—or by causing rock to slip along existing zones of weakness.
The situation in regions of hydrocarbon recovery is not always well understood: in some places, extraction of fluid induces seismicity; in others, injection induces seismicity.
… Even minor actions can trigger strong seismicity.
… The amassed data indicate that the Gazli earthquakes were triggered by the exploitation of the gas field. ]