Posts Tagged ‘Fukushima Daiichi’

According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Japanese authorities are now admitting the crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant in March may have been worse than a core meltdown.

IAEAIn an official report that will go to the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) set up in 1957, Japan now says nuclear fuel in three reactors possibly melted through several pressure vessels and into the earth below.  This type of event, called a melt-through, is the worst outcome in a nuclear accident.

GOSHI HOSONO, SPECIAL ADVISOR TO JAPANESE PM (Translation): At present there is damage to the bottom of the reactor container, we call this ‘core melting’ in English. Part of the nuclear fuel has fallen onto the dry earth floor and it’s possible that it’s still lodged there.

TETSURO FUKUYAMA, GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN (Translation): Hot spots were found, meaning there were certain spots with very high readings of radiation.

According to atomic experts, this is about as serious as it gets in a nuclear disaster. Dangerous levels of radioactive iodine and cesium have already contaminated the sea, the soil, groundwater, and the air.

This week plutonium was detected for the first time outside the stricken plant, and Strontium-90, known as a bone seeker because it can cause bone cancer and leukemia, has now been found as far away as 37 miles from the facility.

In a draft report to the IAEA, Japan admitted that it wasn’t prepared for the Fukushima meltdown.  Further, it also acknowledged that its nuclear regulator was run by a ministry, which has been the chief promoter of nuclear energy for decades (sound like another nuclear regulatory agency that we know closer to home?).

In an NRC memo issued on Thursday – Subject:  NRC MONITORED ALERT, FLOODING (and a FIRE!!!!) AT FORT CALHOUN NUCLEAR STATION (the portion in red are mine, the rest is the NRC’s memo).

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Tuesday monitored conditions at the Fort Calhoun Station, located 19 miles north of Omaha, Neb. The plant, operated by Omaha Public Power District (OPPD), declared an Alert at 9:40 a.m. CDT.

The Alert was declared due to an indication of fire in the west switchgear room at 9:30 a.m. Automated fire suppression systems activated as expected and the fire was confirmed out at 10:20 a.m. OPPD exited the alert at 1:15 p.m. An “Alert” is the second lowest of four emergency classes. OPPD briefly activated its Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and the Joint Information Center (JIC).

For the duration of the event the NRC monitored developments from its incident response center at its Region IV office in Arlington, Texas, and received updates from the onsite NRC Inspectors. OPPD notified the states of Nebraska and Iowa.

There was no danger to the public of a radiation release because the plant has been shut down since early April for a refueling outage and remains in that condition (much like the Fukushima Dai-ichi units 4, 5, and 6). Although the plant briefly lost its normal ability to cool the spent fuel pool, temperatures in the pool remained at safe levels and the plant recovered pool cooling without the need for any of the plant’s multiple backup systems.

The licensee previously entered a Notice of Unusual Event due to the rising level of the Missouri River and some onsite flooding on June 6. Since that time, NRC has provided round the clock staffing with its Resident Inspectors and they will continue to remain on site and monitor the situation during the flood conditions.

Just last month, two US nuclear plants went into emergency shut down due to outside power loss and a fire in a switchyard adjacent to the plant when tornados tore through the Southeast.  Neither of these two plants were hit directly by a tornado, which would have made containment of the situation much more difficult.  But, scarely.one was discovered, just three months prior to the tornados, to have had issues for as long as nine months with their backup coolant system, which would have made the incident following the tornado much more dire. 

The disaster in Japan has forced numerous countries to re-evaluate the safety of their nuclear fleet of power plants and their ability to respond to safety incidents compounded by natural disasters that make containment more difficult.  Switzerland and Germany have made the decision to pursue other renewable energy sources and to phase out their nuclear units as their licenses come to their end. 

As the US looks at three incidents, in three months associated with natural disasters

  • unusual flooding,
  • what is amounting to one of the most prolific and deadly tornado seasons this country has seen in decades, and
  • a hurricane season that has just come upon us and is predicted to be an above average Atlantic hurricane season according to the most recent forecasts by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Colorado State University Tropical Meteorology Project (CSUTMP).

In the words of Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry, “You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya punk?”

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The word “meltdown” goes to the heart of the big nuclear question – is nuclear power safe?  Richard Black,  Environment correspondent with the BBC News tries to answer this question and address questions about what is happening at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.   Click here to read the BBC article.

One issue he does bring up is that Fukushima Daiichi is bound to raise some very big questions, inside and outside Japan including here in Texas.

Last year Nuclear Innovation North America LLC (NINA), the nuclear development company jointly owned by NRG Energy, Inc. (NYSE:NRG) and Toshiba Corporation, announced they had reached an agreement with Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), that owns the Fukushima Daiichi, to partner in the two new nuclear units at the South Texas Project (STP).

Tepco has been implicated in a series of cover-ups down the years.

  • In 2002, the chairman and four other executives resigned, suspected of having falsified safety records at Tepco power stations.
  • Further examples of falsification were identified in 2006 and 2007.

As Austin Energy and CPS consider the Power Purchase Agreements NRG is peddling they should look very hard at what is happening in Japan and at TEPCO’s ability to remain a financial partner in STP.

In a Wall Street Journal article by Rebecca Smith (click here to read the entire article), she writes that the unfolding crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant casts doubt on the fundamental premise that has undergirded the global nuclear industry for five decades: that engineers can build enough redundancy into plant safety systems to overcome dangers.

Peter Bradford, a member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission at the time of the Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania in 1979 (who has spoken to local leaders in Central Texas about numerous issues that should preclude them from becoming partners in or signing power purchase agreements with NRG in the STP expansion), said that the accident exposes shortcomings in risk analysis as well as in engineering.

“The redundancy, such as it was, obviously was inadequate to the event that actually happened,” he said. He said the problem is that certain risks always are discounted in the licensing process as “so highly unlikely that you don’t have to plan for them.”

He said that may be the case in Japan, with an earthquake that apparently exceeded the level that the plant was designed to withstand, possibly compounded by other unexpected technical problems or by the tsunami. It’s not yet known if operator error may have played a role, as it did three decades ago at Three Mile Island.

“The really important question,” Mr. Bradford said, “is to ask how different licensing bodies decide what risks have to be guarded against and see if that analysis was adequate.”

Even Texas Congressman Joe Barton, who is chair emeritus of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and a strong proponent of the push for nuclear expansion in the U.S. is now saying:

. . . that nuclear plants are designed with earthquakes in mind. “They’re supposed to be double and triple redundant…. If I’ve been to one briefing, I’ve been to a dozen, given by the industry, where they talk about all the safety features and the built-in redundancy features that protect the reactors in the event of an accident, a natural disaster, even a terrorist attack.”

Mr. Barton added that he’s “very puzzled that, even as big as this earthquake was, the plant didn’t meet those standards. That’s something that even proponents of nuclear power want to get to the bottom of…. I believe very strongly in the future of nuclear power, but those who support it have to insist that the safety redundancy features perform.”

To date, the major stumbling block to the US rushing headlong into a “nuclear renaissance”  has been the huge financial cost and risks involved in building new nuclear plants in down economy.  It is tragic and unfortunate that it is taking the failure of these Japanese plants in the wake of what surely is one of the worst disasters in Japanese history to cause the US to look more closely at their rush to increase our country’s nuclear portfolio.

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