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There are 23 nuclear plants susceptible to a tsunami like the one that struck the Fukushima Dai-ichi facility in March 2011.

Not only did the tsunami in Japan cause massive destruction, it also showed a series of negligence related with the resulting nuclear disaster.

With that in mind a group of Spanish researchers conducted a scientific study to identify atomic power plants more prone to suffering the effects of a tsunami. In total, 23 plants are in dangerous areas, including Fukushima I, with 74 reactors located in the east and southeast of Asia.

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Tsunamis are synonymous with the destruction of cities and homes and since the Japanese coast suffered such devastation in March 2011, they can also cause nuclear disaster, endanger the safety of the population and pollute the environment. Since tsunamis are still difficult to predict, a team of scientists have assessed “potentially dangerous” areas home to completed nuclear plants or those under construction.

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In the study, the researchers drew a map of the world’s geographic zones more at risk of large tsunamis. Based on this data, 23 nuclear power plants with 74 reactors are in high risk areas. One of them includes Fukushima I. Out of them, 13 plants with 29 reactors are active; another four, that now have 20 reactors, are expanding to house nine more; and there are seven new plants under construction with 16 reactors.

“We are dealing with the first vision of the global distribution of civil nuclear power plants situated on the coast and exposed to tsunamis,” said José Manuel Rodríguez-Llanes, coauthor of the study and researcher at the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) of the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. The authors used historical, archaeological, geological and instrumental records as a base for determining tsunami risk.

Despite the fact the risk of these natural disasters threatens practically the entire western coast of the American continent, the Spanish/Portuguese Atlantic Coast and the coast of North Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean and areas of Oceania, especially in South and Southeast Asia are at greater risk due to the presence of atomic power stations.

For Debarati Guha-Sapir, another coauthor of the study and CRED researcher, “the impact of natural disaster is getting worse due to the growing interaction with technological installations.”

Of the 64 nuclear reactors currently under construction in the world, 27 are in China. This is an example of the massive nuclear investment of the Asian giant. “The most important fact is that 19 (two of which are in Taiwan) out of the 27 reactors are being built in areas identified as dangerous,” the study’s authors said.

In the case of Japan, which in March 2011 suffered the consequences of the worse tsunami in its history, there are seven plants with 19 reactors at risk, one of which is currently under construction. South Korea is now expanding two plants at risk with five reactors. India (two reactors) and Pakistan (one reactor) could also feel the consequences of a tsunami in the plants.

“The location of nuclear installations does not only have implications for their host countries but also for the areas which could be affected by radioactive leaks,” as outlined by Joaquín Rodríguez-Vidal, lead author of the study and researcher at the Geodynamics and Paleontology Department of the University of Huelva.

According to the study, everyone should learn lessons from the Fukushima accident. For the authors, prevention and previous scientific studies are the best tools for avoiding such disasters. “But since the tsunami in 2004 the Indian Ocean region is still to take effective political measures,” the researchers said.

The Fukushima crisis took place in a highly developed country with one of the highest standards in scientific knowledge and technological infrastructure. “If it had occurred in a country less equipped for dealing with the consequences of catastrophe, the impact would have been a lot more serious for the world at large,” the experts said.

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