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
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.