Japanese tsunami survivors camped out in a nuclear power plant


It's a little mind-blowing, in light of the ongoing disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. But, in another part of Japan, tsunami survivors are living in their local nuclear power plant.

The nuclear plant in Onagawa was built to withstand 30-ft. tsunami waves. (Fukushima, in contrast, was only designed for 18-ft. waves.) After the tsunami destroyed much of the city, some of the people who survived made their way to the power plant, looking for shelter. Weeks later, 240 of them are still living there, according to the Associated Press. The AP describes these people as sleeping and playing "next to the reactors", but it also says that the refugees are being housed in the power plant's employee gym. Because of that, I suspect the "next to"—and the resulting mental image of a bunch of huddled masses snuggled up against a containment vessel—is misleading.

The Onagawa plant is one of several nuclear power plants that suffered minor damage after the earthquake and tsunami. But the problems here were much, much smaller than at Fukushima, and operators were able to get the reactors into cold shutdown pretty quickly. Currently, the plant is still in shutdown mode.

The company that owns the power plant—Tohoku Electric Power Co., a different firm than the one that runs Fukushima Daiichi—is still keeping the facility pretty locked down. The gates aren't wide open to anybody. Only employees, and the refugees living there, are allowed in and out. So all the descriptions of life inside come from interviews the AP did with those people while they were off of the power plant grounds.

From the sounds of things, living in the power plant is a lot nicer than living in other refugee camps in Onagawa. Unlike other places, people living in the power plant report having access to electricity (The availability of which is why Onagawa is a refugee camp and Fukushima is a disaster zone. Onagawa also uses diesel generators, but theirs weren't damaged), as well as clean toilets and the Tohoku Electric Power Company's dedicated telephone network.

Image: Nekosuki600 via CC

Via Steve Silberman


  1. One thing I’ve been wondering about is…where is Japan getting all of those displaced MW of electricity?

    With half-a-dozen or more reactors in shutdown mode since the quake, I’m guessing they’re about 3,000MW (or more) short of their normal generating capacity. Do they really have enough overhead in gas plants and others to absorb that kind of load?

    Obviously with the amount of destruction that both the quake and tsunami caused – with entire towns wiped out – the load side of the equation decreased dramatically too. Is that figure significantly more or less than the lost generation? Or did both generation and load decrease by about the same amount…?

    Getting even more detailed – was the shutdown nuclear generation on the 50 or 60Hz grid? Are they having to import a lot more power from the other grid to make things up — incurring siwtching losses as they do?

    I’m sure that all of this will make for an interesting case study one day when the data is available.

      1. Nice. good sleuthing. guess they really didn’t anticipate much 50–>60 Hz power flow.

        still curious how lost generation and reduced load match up…

        1. I’m not sure they do match up. I’ve been hearing a lot about energy rationing and rolling blackouts.

          1. There are scheduled rolling blackouts for most Tokyo suburbs and other cities on the east coast.

            Also, most businesses across the eastern half of the country, (don’t know about the situation in Kansai as I don’t live there) have turned off their neon signs and some indoor lights to conserve energy. Other stores have reduced operating hours, and many factories are still on temporary shutdown.

  2. The Onagawa plant was also 2x closer to the earthquake epicentre.

    If they had shut down the aged Fukushima Daiichi reactors long ago and built modern nuclear power (as they ought to), we would be seeing the same thing in Fukushima.

    Good luck seeing new reactors built now, though, given the fear and misinformation.

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