More than 20 years before the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, a scientist was issuing warnings that a tsunami of an unanticipated scale could knock out a nuclear reactor.
The scientist’s article ran in a trade journal for electrical engineers in Japanese. For his efforts, the utilities basically blacklisted the author.
“One thing that is often overlooked is functional disorder due to flooding,” said the article, which appeared in a 1988 issue of Electric Power Civil Engineering. “The possibility of flooding cannot be ruled out totally even if calculations show that a given location will not be flooded.”
Nobuo Shuto, a professor emeritus of tsunami engineering at Tohoku University, wrote the article upon request.
Tsunami pose a particular threat to nuclear plants, since it is difficult for numerical simulations to set a clear upper limit on their height. Shuto, now 77, pointed out that a tsunami that struck without warning could impact electrical and water intake systems, and called for safety measures to be taken even if there are no known precedents for one.
Shuto thought he was just writing frankly about the limitations of research and the need for preparedness.