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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Japanese Nuclear Explosion Sounds Warnings for UAE

As the UAE is turning to nuclear power generation to solve its future power shortages, the recent damage caused to Japanese nuclear power plants sounds a warning to the Emirates to reconsider the risks and rightness of moving in this direction.

Japanese Story Unfolding
On Friday 11 March 2011, reports emerged of damage to Japanese nuclear power plants after an 8.9 earthquake struck.

On Saturday 12 March 2011, authorities began evacuating residents near the Fukushima nuclear power plant due to the release of radioactive elements into the atmosphere. This has been interpreted as the signs of a possible meltdown at one of the reactors.

On Saturday afternoon, 12 March 2011, as workers began to repair the damage, an explosion occurred at the nuclear power plant, damaging one of the buildings.

Radiation Leakage
The evacuation of tens of thousands of people living within a 20km radius of the power plant was due to fears of radiation leakage.

An official in Kyodo said that the rate of hourly radiation leakage was equal to the amount usually permitted in one year.

A Japanese nuclear safety panel said radiation levels were 1,000 times higher than normal in a control room and 8 times higher than normal just outside the plant.

Implications for the UAE
The Japanese experience cannot at this stage be compared to the accidents at Chernobyl or Three Mile Island but it should alert UAE authorities to the risks caused by earthquakes to nuclear power plants.

In making a case to develop peaceful, civilian nuclear energy, the UAE’s White Paper carefully set out a range of safety standards and controls covering such issues as commitments to operational transparency, establishing independent regulatory authorities, the highest safety standards as they relate to power plant facilities and radioactive waste, a commitment to non-proliferation, safety in decommissioning old plants and controls to combat accidents caused through malfunction or external threats such as terrorism, sabotage and misuse of radioactive waste.

Nowhere does the White Paper specifically mention the threat of earthquakes to damage nuclear power plants and create danger for those nearby.

The earthquake damage to Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant this last week should give pause to those leading the charge in the UAE towards nuclear power generation.

How might the plants be constructed and controlled to prevent similar earthquake damage keeping in mind the seismic activity in the country?

How might UAE residents be involved in transparent debate that might ultimately reassure them that nuclear power generation is the right direction in which the country should move?

Take a Look
Have a look at this video of the blast at the Fukushima nuclear power plant as it was posted by Russia Today.

The timetable and details of the Japanese earthquake experience in relation to the damage is drawn from this article in the Guardian.

Geoff Pound

This article is also posted on the Fujairah in Focus Facebook Page.

Image: Smoke rises from Fukushima Daiichi No 1 nuclear reactor after an explosion following the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. (Photograph: courtesy of Staff/Reuters)

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