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Bad Timing: Japan Opens First Nuclear Plant Since Fukushima As Neighboring Volcano Erupts

In case last week’s deadly chemical explosion in the Chinese port of Tianjin wasn’t enough to satisfy your thirst for black swan-ish disasters that could serve to accelerate the ongoing global currency wars, Japan is now warning that Sakurajima, one of the country’s most active volcanos may be set to erupt. 

As Reuters notes, Sakurajima erupts "almost constantly," but based on the mountain’s "increased activity," experts say this eruption could be "larger than usual."

The Japan Meteorological Agency has raised the warning level from 3 to 4 and because these arbitrarily assigned numbers are largely meaningless to the anyone who doesn’t track volcanic activity, the agency is kind enough to provide a description for each level: 4 means "prepare to evacuate."

"The possibility for a large-scale eruption has become extremely high for Sakurajima," the Agency warned on Saturday. As for what fate would befall someone who failed to heed an evacuation warning, well let’s just say that molten stones "could rain down on areas near the mountain's base."

But the real problem is Sakurajima’s location - it’s just 50 kilometers from the Sendai nuclear power plant. 

As fate would have it, last Tuesday Sendai became the first nuclear reactor to be restarted in Japan since the Chernobyl redux at Fukushima in 2011. 

Critics, Reuters adds, have warned that "the plant is also located near five giant crater-like depressions formed by past eruptions, with the closest one some 40 km away" and as The Guardian points out, some experts claim "the restarted reactor at Sendai [is] still at risk from natural disasters," despite the fact that it was the first nuclear plant to pass new regulations put in place by the country’s Nuclear Regulation Authority on the heels of the disaster in 2011.

Here's some footage of recent Sakurajima eruptions:

Clearly, this isn't something one necessarily wants to see happen near a recently restarted nuclear reactor and indeed, residents of Satsumasendai (located near Sendai) say there's no clear plan for how people would be evacuated in the event of a meltdown. Here's The Guardian

Local campaigners say the plant operators – Kyushu Electric – and local authorities have yet to explain how they would quickly evacuate tens of thousands of residents in the event of a Fukushima-style meltdown.

 

“There are schools and hospitals near the plant, but no one has told us how children and the elderly would be evacuated,” said Yoshitaka Mukohara, a representative of a group opposing the Sendai restart.

 

“Naturally there will be gridlock caused by the sheer number of vehicles, landslides, and damaged roads and bridges.”

 

A survey by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper found that only two of 85 medical institutes and 15 of 159 nursing and other care facilities within a 30 km radius of the Sendai plant had proper evacuation plans.

 

About 220,000 people live within a 30km radius – the size of the Fukushima no-go zone – of the Sendai plant; a 50km radius would draw in Kagoshima city and raise the number of affected people to 900,000. “I can’t begin to imagine how chaotic that would be,” Mukohara said.

Neither can we, but what we can imagine is that Shinzo Abe - whose administration wants nuclear to make up between 20% and 22% of Japan's total energy mix within 15 years - is going to have a very hard time explaining why his government rushed to restart Sendai should a cataclysm at Sakurajima trigger a meltdown at Kyushu Electric Power's No. 1 reactor.