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Japan Earthquake Expert Says Nuclear Watchdog Ignoring Risk via Bloomberg

Japan’s nuclear regulator ignored earthquake risk and its own rules in approving the safety of a nuclear power plant on the western island of Kyushu, said Kobe University professor and seismologist Katsuhiko Ishibashi.

Ishibashi, well-known in Japan for books and papers on earthquake threats that later became reality, said he has filed a formal complaint to the Nuclear Regulation Authority challenging the legality of its decision.

The regulator’s safety approval in September of Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai nuclear plant opens the way to restart two reactors at the station, possibly this year. They are the first of Japan’s operable reactors to pass the new standards introduced after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. All reactors in the country have been shut for safety checks for at least 18 months.

 Ishibashi has seen his warnings of earthquake dangers come true in devastating fashion at least twice in a country that accounts for about 10 percent of the world’s quakes.

In a 1994 book “A Seismologist Warns” he said building codes were putting Japan’s cities at risk. The following year, the Kobe earthquake buckled bridges, highways, and brought down buildings, killing more than 6,000 people.

Then in 1997, he wrote a report in Japan’s Science Journal where he coined the term “nuclear earthquake disaster.” The paper was written about 14 years before the Fukushima catastrophe, yet reads like a post-mortem of what happened: A major quake knocks out external power to the plant’s reactors and unleashes a tsunami that overruns its defenses, leading to loss of cooling and meltdowns.

[…]

Amid pressure from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government to process applications for nuclear plant restarts to help the economy, the NRA is under pressure to give utilities a pass, Ishibashi said. That makes the watchdog less rigorous in examining the safety assessments of utilities’ reactors, he said.

“Professor Ishibashi has his own opinions,” but members of the NRA’s committee made their own judgment, NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka said at a media briefing in Tokyo on Tuesday, according to a video of the briefing posted on the regulator’s website.

A Kyushu Electric spokesman said the company doesn’t have a comment regarding Ishibashi’s statements.

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