On 5 March 2016 The Telegraph had this strapline. When a supremacist and self-confident organ publishes such stuff, we ought to wonder why. It quoted Naoto Kan thus: “The future existence of Japan as a whole was at stake. Something on that scale, an evacuation of 50 million, it would have been like losing a huge war.”
One of Japan’s frequent earthquakes had caused a tsunami that “broke through the nuclear plant’s flood defences, cutting off power to the control room and the coolant systems of its nuclear reactors. Deprived of cooling three of the plant’s six reactors melted down. Explosive hydrogen gas built up, blowing holes in the reactor containment building and allowing radioactivity to escape”. Five years on, radioactivity is still escaping from the site in uncontrollable ways.
Could it happen at Hinkley Point, where two large new reactors are planned to complement the pair already there? However small a tsunami, two things that increase its wave height are the tunnelling of an estuary and shallowing water. Both exist in the Bristol Channel, to concentrate any tsunami upon those reactors.
Are tsunamis likely in the North Atlantic? One devastated Lisbon, Portugal, in 1755. Now a report with the impeccable academic credentials of The University of California, Santa Cruz, and University College London points to the unhappy coincidence of an earthquake waiting. to happen with its proximity to the coast of the North Atlantic*.
The Canary Islands are well—known for their spectacular volcanic mountains, descending steeply into the sea. Not so well-known is the hollowness of those vast cones, within which natural furnaces bubble and seethe. Eruptions of these are likely sooner or later to break off one flank of a mountain on La Palma, dislodging a volume of rock the size of the Isle of Man into the sea, lubricated by the molten lava beneath it. Experts vary as to when, and as to whether it will all go at once. If it does, the consequent tsunami will make Fukushima’s look like a ripple.
Risk of any event is always a product of likelihood and severity. Uncertain probability combined with calamitous damage can make for high risk. Audacious technologies require the safeguard of the Precautionary Principle. We do not essentially need any more nuclear power stations, so we ought not to build them at Hinkley Point.
*Stephen Ward and Simon Day, Cumbre Vieja Volcano — Potential collapse and tsunami at La Palma, Canary Islands. American Geophysical Union 27 June 2001
[It is possible this tsunami could travel as far as the lower North Sea and inundate Sizewell B — Ed]