The Japanese government was warned in 2008 that a strong earthquake would be a “serious problem” for the country’s nuclear power stations, WikiLeaks cables reveal. An International Atomic Energy Agency official declared twin concerns at a meeting of the G8’s Nuclear Safety and Security Group: that safety rules relating to earthquakes had only been updated three times in 35 years, and that an earthquake could exceed “the design basis for some nuclear plants.” The government did respond, by building an emergency response center at the Fukushima plant, but that center was built to withstand quakes up to 7.0—not Friday’s 9.0 temblor, the Telegraph reports.
And there’s more: Another cable reveals that the government opposed a court order to shut down a plant over concerns that it would not withstand an earthquake above a magnitude of 6.5, and could expose local residents to radiation. Japan’s nuclear safety agency disagreed, and the ruling was overturned in 2009. Two more cables go further, documenting concerns that a new generation of stations were “jeopardizing safety” and allegations that the government was “covering up nuclear accidents.” Meanwhile, the New York Times points out that concerns over Mark 1 nuclear reactors, the type used at the Fukushima plant, have been raised as long ago as 1972. Mark 1 reactors are not as strong as other types, and are thought to be at higher risk of failing in an emergency. (Read more Japan earthquake stories.)