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Study: Many nuclear power plants in tsunami risk zones

Spanish researchers compile a detailed map of high-risk areas

A NOAA map shows the paths of the energy generated by the March 2011 tsunami that devastated parts of Japan.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The Fukushima disaster might not be the last time a tsunami damages a nuclear facility, according to a team of Spanish researchers who there are a total of 23 nuclear power plants at various stages of operation or construction in high-risk areas.

The power plants have a total of 74 reactors; 29 are active and seven new plants with 16 reactors are under construction in hazard zones. The study, published the Natural Hazards journal, maps areas at risk of large tsunamis. The danger zones include the West Coast of North America,the Spanish/Portuguese Atlantic Coast and the coast of North Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean and areas of Oceania, especially in South and Southeast Asia.

“We are dealing with the first vision of the global distribution of civil nuclear power plants situated on the coast and exposed to tsunamis,” José Manuel Rodríguez-Llanes, coauthor of the study and researcher at the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) of the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. The authors used historical, archaeological, geological and instrumental records as a base for determining tsunami risk.

China is building 27 of the 64 nuclear power plants currently under construction, and 19 of them (including two in Taiwan) are in hazard zones mapped by the research team.

In Japan, which suffered the consequences of the worse tsunami in its history, there are seven plants with 19 reactors at risk, one of which is currently under construction. South Korea is now expanding two plants at risk with five reactors. India (two reactors) and Pakistan (one reactor) could also feel the consequences of a tsunami in the plants.

“The location of nuclear installations does not only have implications for their host countries but also for the areas which could be affected by radioactive leaks,” said Joaquín Rodríguez-Vidal, lead author of the study and researcher at the Geodynamics and Paleontology Department of the University of Huelva.

The Fukushima disaster was in a highly developed country with one of the highest standards in scientific knowledge and technological infrastructure.

“If it had occurred in a country less equipped for dealing with the consequences of catastrophe, the impact would have been a lot more serious for the world at large,” the experts wrote in their report.

Rodríguez-Vidal recommended drafting more local analyses that consider the seismic amplification of each nuclear power plant and design the facilities with adequate safeguards.

For the authors, prevention, based on previous scientific studies, is the best tool for avoiding such disasters.

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