Japanese Quake Brings Safety Issue
Plant Standards in Focus After Radioactive Leak
Japan's Auto Output Hit
YUKA HAYASHI, REBECCA SMITH &
Wall Street Journal 19jul2007
Power Plants Number of nuclear-power reactors in selected major countries, May 2007 World 437 (30) US 103 (1) France 59 (0) Japan 55 (2) Russia 31 (5) S. Korea 20 (1) UK 19 (0) Canada 18 (2) Germany 17 (0) India 17 (6) Ukraine 15 (0) China 11 (4) note: numbers in (0) are being built source: World Nuclear Assoc.
Earthquake-resistance standards for nuclear power plants are drawing increased scrutiny following Monday's earthquake in Japan, which damaged the world's largest nuclear-power installation by output capacity.
Meanwhile, several Japanese auto makers — including the world's largest by vehicle sales, Toyota Motor Corp. — halted production at some or all of their domestic plants because an important supplier's facilities were damaged by the earthquake, showing how vulnerable the supply chain is in the auto industry.
Japanese government officials yesterday released findings from the country's meteorological agency that showed Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant may sit directly above a fault line, suggesting it may be prone to severe damage in the case of a major earthquake. The fault line was the epicenter of Monday's magnitude-6.8 earthquake in central Japan, which killed nine people
The quake was far stronger than what the plant was designed to withstand and caused problems including the leakage of small amounts of radioactive matters into the sea and the air, along with a fire at an electric transformer outside one of the plant's seven reactors.
Tokyo Electric and Japanese government officials said the leakage was small and the plant weathered the quake with no problems at critical facilities. Still, the incident caused fears that Japanese nuclear power plants, which supply about a third of the nation's electricity needs, may not be prepared to withstand the most powerful of earthquakes.
Nuclear experts said they were watching Japan to learn more about how the plant performed, especially as countries around the world invest in a new generation of nuclear facilities. "In the past, their plants have withstood earthquakes really well," said Adrian Heymer, senior director for new plant development at the Nuclear Energy Institute in Washington, D.C., an industry organization.
In the U.S. as in Japan, deep earth borings are made before plants are sited, to identify fault lines or other geologic threats. Facilities are engineered to withstand earthquakes even in zones not prone to them, as a precautionary measure.
U.S. plants are built to withstand seismic threats according to estimates of what the peak ground acceleration might be. In coming years, any plants built in the eastern part of the U.S. will be required to meet a higher seismic standard than in the past as part of the licensing process with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Plants proposed for western states probably will have to meet a still-higher standard, since the West is more prone to earthquakes.
Japan introduced new guidelines last year to strengthen nuclear power plants' ability to withstand earthquakes. But those rules are being phased in gradually.
No timetable is set for reopening the plant. Prolonged closure will hurt Tokyo Electric, particularly during the heat of summer, when energy demands soar. The 8,212-megawatt Kashiwazaki plant accounts for 13% of Tokyo Electric's total capacity. The company supplies electricity to 27 million households in and around Tokyo.
Before the plant was built, Tokyo Electric was aware of an active fault line that ran under the sea nearby. But the company's study showed the line didn't extend under the site itself. Government officials said that analysis following Monday's quake showed the fault line at Kashiwazaki — one of hundreds that crisscross Japan — may be longer than was earlier believed.
Toyota said it would cease production at all 12 domestic plants after Monday's earthquake damaged the main production facilities of Riken Corp., an engine-parts supplier. Toyota will stop production this afternoon and reassess tomorrow whether the plants can resume production Monday. The plants had a supply of parts that kept them running during the first days after the quake Monday.
Toyota produces at least 11,000 cars a day in Japan and exports as many as 60% of them. A spokesman declined to comment on how the shutdown might affect earnings.
Other car makers also said their production was affected. Mitsubishi Motors Corp. will suspend production for at least three days at three major assembly plants. Suzuki Motor Corp. said it will see a production loss of about 10,000 cars and 5,000 motorcycles because of a temporary shutdown at five domestic plants. Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., which makes the Subaru brand of vehicles, will stop production at five plants.
Honda Motor Co. said some of its car- and motorcycle-production facilities also could be stopped next week. Nissan Motor Co. said it is monitoring the situation, adding that it depends on Riken for parts.
The widespread impact highlights auto companies' reliance on a common parts maker for a crucial part of their product. Riken is Japan's biggest maker of piston rings for engines and of seal rings, which prevent leaks in transmissions. It provides parts for more than half the cars built in Japan and about 20% of cars world-wide, according to the company.
Riken, which had 77 billion yen ($631.2 million) of revenue for the year ended March 31, has plants in and around Kashiwazaki, the city most severely stuck by the quake.
The company said there was no serious damage to its main factory but there was damage to its warehouses. It is working with the auto makers to restore its facilities swiftly but noted that its gas and water supplies remain suspended. Riken hadn't determined how the damage would affect its earnings, the company said.
—Stephen Power contributed to this article.
source: p.A4 19jul2007