Like climate change, earthquakes happen. Human beings, being tiny specks of mammalian matter, matter little when measured on a geological scale. When the shaking starts one can only hope they are in the right place at the wrong time.
The wrong place would be near a nuclear power plant such as the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear facility in North Western Japan when a 6.8 earthquake occurs. Like the one on July 16, 2007, which resulted in 400 barrels of low-level nuclear waste tipping over at a storage facility and a leak of radioactive water into the Sea of Japan.
Tokyo Electric, Japan's largest power company, shut down the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa facility pending repairs and an investigation, citing the quake was stronger than planned for at the seven-reactor plant. The company also admitted the plant's planners hadn't known about a fault line just offshore. Data gathered from aftershocks following the July 16th quake suggests the fault might run underneath the nuclear facility, which was only 12 miles from the epicenter.
The Japanese government reportedly wants the Kashiwazaki plant to stay closed a year or more for safety checks.
As alarmist as this might sound, the implications of potential disaster is quite clear. Add to this the fact that there was a 6.6 earthquake earlier that day of coast of Honshu, Japan, as well as a 5.7 quake in mid afternoon. The day before there were two earthquakes measuring over 6.0 in the Pacific. The Aleutian islands of Alaska was rocked by a series of Earthquakes, and the island nation of Vanuatu was rocked by one measuring 6.1. On the two days following the Japanese quakes, seismic events measuring 6.1 were recorded south of the Fiji islands.
Earthquakes happen. The only variables are where, when, and how strong. It also matters what is in the way when the earth starts moving. The Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 is but one example, of how global forces can humble humanity in a matter of minutes. Imagine if there had been a nuclear facility on the Sumatran coast at Banda Aceh.
If a fault line does run beneath the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa facility, not dismantling its nuclear reactors would be criminality of epic proportions. Wouldn't it? Makes me wonder how many North American nuclear facilities sitting on earthquake faults.... known or otherwise.
For far too long the nuclear power industry has tried to label nuclear generation as a clean energy source, because it doesn't belch toxic particles into the air on a daily basis. Nuclear waste is dirty business, and the people of Kashiwazaki are lucky the damage was not catastrophic, as the potential is there, and always will be. Any talk of building new nuclear generation facilities, should be shouted down, and fought off.
Earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, and climate change all pose a threat to human life, liberty, and infrastructure. How, what, and where we build, will require an elevated commitment to ecological stewardship in hopes of preventing, or at least mitigating, nature related disasters.
What fault line are you sitting on?