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8 Countries With Nuclear Power Plants Most At Risk Of Tsunamis

8 Countries With Nuclear Power Plants Most At Risk Of Tsunamis

The tsunami that destroyed a nuclear reactor at Fukushima, Japan, caused a major re-think of nuclear power, which up to the accident in 2011, had been considered a relatively safe, clean form of electricity generation.

The tsunami that followed shortly after a 9.0 mega-quake off the east coast of Japan was shocking in its magnitude - killing close to 16,000. But it was soon apparent that another disaster was in the making, when the surging waves inundated pumps used to cool down the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex.

The resultant fuel meltdown and leakage of radiation led to the immediate evacuation of the site, and a chain of events that eventually had Japan shutting down all of its nuclear reactors. Germany, a major consumer of nuclear power, permanently closed 8 of its 17 nuclear reactors following Fukushima; other European countries shelved their nuclear plans.

Related: Is France’s Love Affair with Nuclear Over?

While nuclear proponents view Fukushima as an aberration and trust that nuclear is mostly safe, opponents hold it, and other major accidents such as Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, as exemplifying the perils of nuclear power generation.

Oilprice.com took a look at the countries whose nuclear power plants would be most vulnerable to a tsunami. We based our list - which is in no particular order - on a report by the Community Research and Development Information Service (CORDIS), part of the European Commission, which mapped out the world's geographic zones that would be at most risk of large tsunamis. We then cross-referenced those countries with information from the World Nuclear Association, on each country's nuclear program. According to the CORDIS report, 23 nuclear power plants with 74 reactors were identified in high-risk areas. The riskiest country was China, which has 27 reactors currently under construction, the largest number in the world. Of those 27, 17 are being built in areas considered dangerous for tsunamis.


China currently has 21 operating nuclear plants, and 27 being built. The Chinese government plans to triple the country's nuclear power capacity to 48 GWe (gigawatt electrical) by 2020. This is mostly to move away from coal-powered plants for environmental reasons. China's most active earthquake zones are in the interior, far from its existing nuclear plants on the east coast. However, high earthquake activity on the Chinese east coast should not discount this threat. Moreover, as its electricity needs grow, China is likely to site new nuclear plants in the interior, including two proposed reactors in Sichuan - the site of a major quake in 2013.


Taiwan's six nuclear reactors provide a quarter of the island nation's base load power. Two of the reactors cited in the CORDIS report are in Taiwan. Taiwan has signed an agreement with China, whereby the two countries pledge to share information on their nuclear power plants and safety standards. Like Japan, Taiwan is considered high-risk of nuclear reactor damage from tsunamis due to its high frequency of earthquakes, historically, correlated to its land area - which is known as seismic density.


Japan has 7 plants with 19 reactors at risk of tsunamis, including Fukushima I, according to the CORDIS report. The country is currently in the process of restarting 48 reactors following a country-wide shutdown and safety review following the accident. A number of measures have been taken to shore up Japan's tsunami defences. Hokkaido is building a 6.5-meter-high seawall that will run 1.25-km at its Tomari site. Kansai will spend $2.5 billion over four years to earthquake and tsunami-proof its 11 reactors. Chubu Electric Power Co is increasing tsunami and flood protection at its Hamaoka nuclear plant, located in a region of high seismic activity.

South Korea

Twenty-three reactors provide 20.7 GWe of electricity, nearly a third of the country's needs. A planned 59 percent increase would bump capacity to 32.9 GWe by 2022. After Fukushima, the Korean government took measures to increase nuclear safety, including raising the coastal barrier at its Kori 1 reactor to 10 meters, waterproofing pumps, and fitting watertight doors to emergency diesel generator buildings. The investment represents about $1 billion over five years. However, CORDIS identified five reactors at tsunami risk, through the expansion of two plants.

United States

Many seismologists believe that the Cascadia subduction zone, running from Vancouver Island to northern California, is overdue for a major earthquake of equal force to what occurred recently in Japan and Chile, on other parts of the "Ring of Fire". That puts the U.S. on the high end of the risk scale, especially since the States is the world's largest producer of nuclear power, with 100 operating reactors and five under construction. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission put out a report in 2011 rating the nuclear reactors of highest risk of earthquake damage. Surprisingly, the Diablo Canyon power plant situated between the California coastline and the San Andreas fault was not considered most prone to a tsunami. That's because reactors constructed in California were built to withstand a major earthquake. Number 1 on the NRC list was the Indian Point Energy Center located 24 kilometers from New York City, with second and third positions occupied by nuclear power plants in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, respectively.


Pakistan has a small nuclear program, with just 725 MWe of capacity, but wants to increase that 10-fold - despite opprobrium from arch-rival India which fears the diversion of uranium into nuclear weapons. A 7.7-magnitude quake struck Pakistan's remote southwest region in 2013, killing at least 328. CORDIS identified one Pakistani reactor in its report that is at risk of a tsunami.

Related: How Fusion Energy Could One Day Disrupt Energy Markets



CORDIS also mentioned two nuclear reactors in India that could face tsunami damage. On a map of nuclear power plants either operating or under construction in India, the World Nuclear Association identifies 3 of 7 plants situated on the coast. India's seismicity is well-documented. A mega-quake measuring 7.7 on the Richter scale hit Gujarat in 2001, killing over 20,000. The same number of people were killed 8 years earlier, during a quake in Maharashtra.


Iran currently has one operating nuclear reactor, with a second one planned, despite calls by the UN Security Council to scrap its uranium enrichment program. After the Japanese tsunami, then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed that its Brushehr nuclear plant could not be hit because the facility is more modern than the 40-year-old Fukushima complex. In 2013, two earthquakes, one at 5.6 magnitude and the other at 6.1, struck the region around the Brushehr plant. The larger quake killed at least 37 and injured hundreds more. In both earthquakes, Brushehr was left undamaged.

By Andrew Topf of Oilprice.com

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  • Mark on November 04 2014 said:
    Often when a country says that nuclear energy provides a certain percentage of their energy, in reality you can divide that number in half.

    For example, in the U.S., you'll often read that nuclear energy provides 20% of U.S. energy. But the truth is that nuclear energy only provides 8.27% of energy consumed in the U.S.

    See this Lawrence Livermore Energy chart:


    The nuclear industry seems to puff up their numbers to make themselves appear more relevant.

    Plus, a fellow who posts on ENENEWS did an energy analysis of nuclear energy in India and discovered that nuclear energy is actually a zero-sum-gain:

  • Stephen DuVal on November 05 2014 said:
    In Fukushima prefecture, about 1600 people died in the tsunami and earthquake and another 1600 died due to the evacuation to protect them from radiation. No one died from radiation.

    After talking about the danger from tsunamis to nuclear plants, the article seems to focus on earthquakes. All of the nuclear plants in Japan shut down within seconds of the detection of the earthquake.

    Fukushima was a 1970 design for a nuclear plant. It would have survived the tsunami if the diesel generators had been placed at a higher elevation. The diesel generators were destroyed by the tsunami and were unable to provide electricity to power the pumps that take decay heat away from the reactor. Moving the diesel generators would probably have saved the nuclear reactors.

    A modern reactor (1990 design)such as the AP1000 would not have a problem surviving the tsunami.
  • Colin Megson on November 05 2014 said:
    Sometime/never, half the Canary Islands will slide into the Atlantic and generate a tsunami, which will swamp the East Coast of the USA to a height of 50 meters.

    If we assume the nuclear regulatory authority will only authorise new-build nuclear, along the East Coast, at 100 meters minimum above seal-level, then the probability of an accident 'disappears'.

    That is, if the mathematicians among us work it out at once in 5 billion years, then we ought to stop headlining the issue.

    Those with the power to keep such matters in the headlines, but with no responsibility for the ripples of doubt these headlines are designed to spread - take note!
  • Jamie on November 05 2014 said:
    The nuclear proponents are quick to trivialize any major nuclear accident. This very culture of negating any chance of an accident is the very problem with nuclear energy today. Instead of jumping to make sure that every possible safety system is tsunami proof they quickly go on defensive downplaying the risk and poo pooing any risk associated with nuclear power. Wouldn't it be much more prudent to go ahead and make the necessary changes to increase safety instead of fighting upgrades tooth and nail? Many of our older reactors are of the same type and design as the Fukushima reactor with the same weaknesses. It does not take a tsunami to knock out power. It can be as simple as human error when testing a circuit or a wind storm blowing a piece of metal. Nuclear power is not indestructible. If you're paying attention to the nuclear reports there are many close calls each year. It's better safe than sorry shut them down and phase them out.
  • Jonathan Cobb on November 06 2014 said:
    There is a major problem with the original study, which was written by José Manuel Rodríguez-Llanes and published as a short communication in "Natural Hazards" in 2012 (CORDIS wrote a news article on it.)

    The problem is that JMR-L just combined a map of areas where there is risk of tsunami with a map of nuclear reactors operating and under construction. They appeared not to take into account the fact that NPPs are built taking tsunami and seismic conditions into account. At Fukushima the reactor shut down as planned after the earthquake, but they got the tsunami risk very wrong, the flooding knocked out the power supplies and the reactors couldn't be cooled.

    The reviews that have followed globally are the reason behind the reassessment of earthquake and flooding risk and strengthening of flood defences and back up power supplies where needed that the article above mentions.

    Clearly the reviews that took place were necessary because of Fukushima. But the JMR-L study, which was actually submitted only a few months after the earthquake and tsunami in 2011, seems lacking as a useful contribution.

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