Fukushima Happened. Now What?

In the months and years to come, post-Fukushima, people who influence power plant construction decisions will be making choices that will have a large impact on future generations. In this reflective time of the year, it is important to gather the most accurate lessons learned and to offer some food for thought about the motives that might be leading some decision makers to completely misread the lessons that should be learned.

Brief summary of what really happened in the Fukushima prefecture

In March 2011, an enormous earthquake shook the north east coast of Japan. It rattled every part of the infrastructure, including several large nuclear power stations. Many parts of the infrastructure were seriously damaged by the earth’s movement. Apparently, all of the nuclear power stations were able to safely shut down and suffered no long term damage from the shaking.

The earth’s movement also generated a large tidal wave (tsunami) that reached heights as high as 45 feet (14 meters) in some places. That wave washed over the defenses that had been engineered to protect the people, factories, buildings, bridges, and ports that tend to concentrate in various parts of the coast all around the world.

There are many benefits for human society that are associated with living close to the ocean; there is a good reason why about 75% of the world’s population lives within 50 miles of the coast. There is also, however, a certain amount of risk associated with living near the ocean. Sometimes, it causes enormous damage as it surges over the structures that humans have erected.



That wave (actually multiple waves) of salt water severely damaged nearly everything in its path. The tsunami’s wide path included the sites of two large nuclear power stations in the Fukushima prefecture, one with six individual units (Daiichi – aka First) and one with four slightly newer units just a few miles away (Daini – aka Second).

At Daiichi, there were two groupings of nuclear units – a group of four right on the coast, and a group of two that were on slightly higher ground. Those two separate units were part of the last phase of the station construction; they included some refinements compared to the units that had been built in the earliest phases.

Daini (the second station in Fukushima) also included design refinements that had been suggested during construction at Daiichi, the plants were on slightly higher ground and the emergency power system was not quite so concentrated in basements and low lying portions of the plant site. As nukes would describe it, there was more “separation” and more “diversity” in the backups to the backup power supply.

We all “know” what happened to four of the units at Daiichi, the first nuclear station built in the Fukushima prefecture. The tsunami wiped out the plant’s primary power supply (the electrical grid) and wiped out nearly all of the backup power supplies (at least 8 of them). The wave also washed into the basements of the power plant buildings including the ones at each unit that housed the switchgear where the emergency diesel generators connected to the plant’s electrical power systems.

Aside; There was good justification for locating those vital systems in the basement at the time when the plants were constructed – devices that are vulnerable to being damaged in an earthquake fare better when they are put underground where there is less movement. However, the early designers did not pay as much attention to power system diversity as we do now (and as nuclear system designers have done since the late 1970s after learning from Browns Ferry.)

There is also a pretty good reason why the switchgear was never relocated, even after many people recognized the vulnerable location. Moving electrical power supplies is a difficult task that requires a lengthy plant shutdown. I cannot put numbers on those modifiers, but I can certainly understand why the plant owners and their government regulators (which includes those regulators that are responsible for electricity rate setting as well as those responsible for nuclear safety) might have determined that the cost was not justified by the reduction in risk. No one can afford to implement every good idea; there is always a limit on the available resources and a process of prioritizing the expenditure of those resources.

It is not fair of any observers to simply point to the fact of what happened to the station after the occurrence of a rather unlikely event. There was a high probability that the station owners could have operated the plants to the end of their design life without ever having experienced a rare (but obviously possible) tsunami. End Aside.

As a direct result of an insufficiently diverse and separated electrical power supply system, four units at Daiichi lost the ability to circulate water, the ability to add water, the ability to ventilate the secondary containment structures to prevent pockets of hydrogen from accumulating and the ability to monitor the conditions of the plants. The lost of those important capabilities, all enabled by having some form of electrical power available, led to the often repeated stories of significant plant damage and the release of easily sensed quantities of radioactive material.

The improved power supply systems at the newest two units at Fukushima Daiichi and the four units at Fukushima Daini allowed the operators at those facilities to put them into a safe, cooled down condition without releasing any radioactive material to the environment.

Brief summary of reactions to the events

In the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami, the developed world’s public consciousness was quickly directed to focus on the slowly developing events that were happening at one of the nuclear power stations that had been affected by the twin natural disasters. There is nothing automatic about that focusing; it was the result of thousands of individual editorial and production decisions about which facet of the story to cover.

The individuals who made those decisions had to consciously or unconsciously weigh the importance and the value of telling everyone more about the nuclear power plant woes (often filling valuable air time and print space by repeating the same story and the same video footage hundreds to thousands of times) while not telling them about the public suffering due to loss of family members, housing, income generating property, or about the woes at other industrial facilities – like the Cosmo oil refinery in Chiba that experienced a dramatic and photogenic fire that raged uncontrolled for 10 solid days.

Antinuclear activists around the world leaped into action to emphasize the events and even to spin tall tales about the possible “worst case” accidents. They are still working that story as hard as they can. There will be a study announced today (December 19, 2011) that is designed to instill as much worry as possible among Americans about radiation released from Fukushima. That study is written by three professional antinuclear activists, one who was an appointed senior official at the Department of Energy until being asked to resign in disgrace, one that was the editor of a completely discredited “study” of Chernobyl, and one that has been operating a discredited “Tooth Fairy” project for a couple of decades.

One particular Manchurian candidate activist who had fairly recently been appointed to a key strategic position as the head of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the widely recognized “gold standard” of government nuclear safety experts, testified to the US Congress that the situation at the power station was so bad that all Americans within 50 miles of the plant needed to evacuate.

That pronouncement has been repeated thousands of times and is often being used as the justification for actions to shut down existing nuclear plants that are within 50 miles of a large, difficult to evacuate population concentration.

Other lifelong antinuclear activists in public office took to the air waves and made dramatic statements about the tragedy and about the need to quickly move away from the use of nuclear energy since the events proved – to them at least – that nuclear plant designers were incapable of building safe facilities that could withstand every possible force that nature (or terrorists) might throw.

Aside. None of those public figures, by the way, ever talks about the six units – two at Daiichi and four at Daini – that stand as quiet testimony to the fact that nuclear plant designers are quite capable of learning and improving the resilience of their facilities when given the chance. End Aside.

During the public hearings held last week by the House Oversight Committee and the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, questioners repeatedly introduced the topic of Fukushima and the actions we should be taking in response to that event. In fact, the Senate hearing was specifically titled Review of the NRC’s Near-Term Task Force Recommendations for Enhancing Reactor Safety in the 21st Century.

However, it appeared to me that most of the people who brought up the topic had done little serious study to understand the full story. They appear happy to hope that no one else has done their homework either.

They did not appear to know that the four damaged units had been cooled down to a safe shutdown condition. They did not appear to understand that the water that had been contaminated was either being cleaned up by a filtering system or had been safely diluted by the bazillions of gallons of water in the Pacific Ocean.

They did not appear to realize that plans are finally underway to allow the forcibly displaced population to begin returning home to clean up. There is a lot of work to do to clean up both the effects of the tsunami and the artificially imposed effects on facilities and livestock populations that have not been maintained by human beings for more than nine months.

The people for whom “Fukushima” is a scare word designed to encourage others to abandon the beneficial use of nuclear energy did not appear to know that the “safety” levels that have been officially imposed regarding radiation exposure are so low that they will impose an added risk of contracting cancer – even using the most pessimistic assumptions and the most conservative model – of about 0.5%. That added risk is about 20 – 50 times less than someone might assume by smoking and about 10 – 20 times less than someone might assume by being obese.

They also did not appear to understand that the event that some antinuclear activists and their political friends have called the worst nuclear accident in history did not release radioactive material in a sufficient concentration to have injured or killed anyone.

A critical thinking, questioning person (like George Monbiot) would logically conclude that, if Fukushima Daiichi represents the worst nuclear accident in history, then we should be pursuing a rapidly expanding construction program. Compared to the risks imposed by all other energy alternatives, including the risk that would be imposed by not having sufficient quantities of reliable, affordable energy, Fukushima was not so bad. It was, in fact, a dramatic example that the risks imposed by accepting the benefits of affordable, emission free nuclear energy are well within the “acceptable” range, even in the worst realistic conditions.

Reaction from nuclear energy competition

One final aspect about Fukushima worth serious consideration and deep thinking is the response to the accident by the suppliers and speculators associated with the enterprise of suppling the same product that nuclear energy supplies. The competitors have leaped in with massive investments in ads and studies to prove that “in the wake of Fukushima” they are capable of stepping in to fill whatever voids in the power supply are caused by a lower output of nuclear energy.

The natural gas industry, in particular, is beating the drums to tell the story of its newly discovered ability to extract natural gas that is tightly bound up in large deposits of shale rock located several thousand feet below the earth’s surface. What some people call “the shale storm” is being offered as a bridge to a utopian vision of a world where there is no fossil fuel and no nuclear energy being used.

It is mighty “big” of fossil fuel suppliers and alternative energy system developers to tell us all that we do not have to worry about shivering in the dark. They claim that they are quite willing and able to sell us the power that we want. Of course, since digging up more coal, pumping and refining more oil and extracting more natural gas will be costly, they expect us all to pay higher prices to encourage them to undertake that increased effort.

Since building wind turbines, solar arrays and digging geothermal wells will provide a potentially large, but completely unpredictable quantity of energy, often sourced from remote areas, we will also have to pay, through electric power rates or through taxes or both, to build additional grid capacity there are other commercial enterprises standing by to provide the additional equipment and labor required – at a price with sufficient profit margins to encourage a prompt response.

The speculators are also telling investors that it is time to buy into natural gas stocks, coal mining stocks, and alternative energy system producers because it is inevitable that those will all benefit as society turns away from nuclear energy and slows down the nuclear power plant building revival that was expected to occur before the accident.

Do you think that it is remotely possible that the hype, attention and repetition about the tragedy and the lack of serious discussion about the actual results has been motivated by the financial interests of the people who benefit when people decide that nuclear energy is too scary? Do you think there is even the remotest possibility that we have all be lied to, through commission and omission, about the actual risk of nuclear energy in comparison to its competitors? Are people making decisions and forming opinions based on information that has been purposely slanted against nuclear energy in order to make already rich petroleum pushers even richer?

Should you really be afraid, or should you take a hard look at the situation, at the motivations, and at the real aftermath to determine that, if Fukushima represents the worst nuclear accident in history, it is time to move forward with all due haste to replace as much of our fossil fuel burning, CO2 generating, politically destabilizing industrial infrastructure as we can.

Please reflect deeply and identify the groups that are most logically the ones that are the most threatened by that proposition. If you decide to become an atomic energy advocate, please understand that there will be A LOT of well financed and organized opposition to even considering the possibility of turning from a hydrocarbon based economy to one that runs on uranium, thorium and plutonium.

About Rod Adams

49 Responses to “Fukushima Happened. Now What?”

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  1. James Greenidge says:

    NO conference or debate or townhall on nuclear energy should dodge Fukushima! Pull it out as the first issue and question! Nip it in the bud right off the bat and change the heat and reason of the discussion!

    You can’t make a more simple and factual nuclear PSA to the layperson:

    “How many were killed in the worst gas plant accident there ever was around the world?

    Uh, a lot, right?

    How many were killed in the worst oil plant accident there ever was around the world?

    A lot, right?

    How many have been killed by the worst coal plant accident there ever was around the world?

    Uh, a lot, right?

    How many have been killed by the worst nuclear plant accident?

    Duh, that’s easy! That’d be LOTS more!!

    Try zero.

    Zero?

    It’d still be a no-brainer fire-sale bargain for producing electricity even if a thousand were killed since nuclear energy came on the scene fifty years ago. Still, it’s zero. Not even just hurt.

    But they said millions would die!

    It’s up to you to listen to fear or fact, dear layperson. And what’s even worst is that coal and oil and gas keep killing almost every week by accidents and health-related pollution in the _normal course of operation_ — right this minute! Nuclear doesn’t — even on its very worst day. It’s a fact. Look it up and do the math.

    So whose side are you going to listen to for as much energy as you want to cheaply use without fouling or despoiling the earth or your or your grandchildren’s health?

    Facts figure.

    Go Nuclear.”

    Stick this on TV and newspapers and watch fright fly.

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

    • George Carty says:

      Fukushima wasn’t “the worst nuclear plant accident” though — Chernobyl was.

      • Rod Adams says:

        That fact – like many other facts – does not stop some people from making bizarre statements about using Fukushima as an excuse to halt the development of nuclear energy.

        Chernobyl was the worst nuclear plant accident – the radiation that it released still had a tiny effect on the health of the general public. Even the thyroid cancer deaths that can be blamed on the accident were small in number.

        • John Englert says:

          Chernobyl, as bad as it was, still pails in comparison to all of the atmospheric nuclear tests. The global fallout from tests exposed more people and resulted in a higher total population dose than Chernobyl (yet there are still 7 billion of us here today). Off course cigarette smoking dwarfs them all.

          I would like to see a non-radiation equivalent unit of health risk that people encounter everyday and could relate to accidents such as Fukushima. For example, what dose would be needed to equal the excess cancer risk from regularly eating well done meat?

        • Daniel says:

          John,

          You have been asking this question on a couple of occasions.

          Dr Cohen tackles some ordinary life situations in chapter 8 of his book. You can get it inline here. Hope it helps:

          http://www.phyast.pitt.edu/~blc/book/chapter8.html

      • John Englert says:

        Fukushima was an accident; Chernobyl was not. Chernobyl was deliberately put into a dangerous configuration with multiple layers of safety systems disabled just to allow the political leaders of the former Soviet Union to conduct their idiotic “test” on the plant.

        • Sam B says:

          Quote: “Fukushima was an accident; Chernobyl was not. Chernobyl was deliberately put into a dangerous configuration with multiple layers of safety systems disabled just to allow the political leaders of the former Soviet Union to conduct their idiotic “test” on the plant.”

          That’s a very astute observation, worth repeating. Here are few other, maybe related obseravtions:

          1. The Soviet economy operated under a _strict_ rule: “No tests on production premises”. Most planned economies operate that way. Millions of tons of low quality steel had been shipped only because the steel plant managers wouldn’t allow any tests on premises – free and safe tests offered to them by state universities. This is not unique to planned economies – Intel and many other companies operate in a similar fashion, although theirs is quite rational.

          2. If an “experiment” was necessary, it wasn’t performed by the technologists who manufactured and installed the plant equipment, during the ramp up of the plant – they were the only people qualified to do it at the only plausible time.

          3. The plant manager, who used _threats_ to make the employees disable the safety systems, had no education or experience in anything nuclear – he was transferred from a fossil plant a few months before the “experiment”.

          4. The Soviet Union at that time was suffering from the low oil prices on the world markets – the oil revenue was essential, because the country was a heavy importer of food and other essentials. After the “experiment” the price went up…

          5. There was a vicious fight for power within the Communist leadership – Gorbachev was clueless and the groups around sought to damage him and one another, and reserve a spot at the top.

          “Experiment”? experiment… not a technical one.
          Watch the top and your back… or else…

        • Daniel says:

          @ Sam B

          3. The plant manager, who used _threats_ to make the employees disable the safety systems, had no education or experience in anything nuclear – he was transferred from a fossil plant a few months before the “experiment”.

          Sounds like Chernobyl had a Jazcko way before the NRC.

      • Daniel says:

        And there are quite a few Chernobyl type of reactors out there. I think Armenia has some.

        The IAEA inspects the safety of these plants regularly but the intrinsic design flaws cannot be circumvented.

        I should think that these reactors will reach their end of life pretty soon by now and won’t be extended in their respective countries.

        • Rod Adams says:

          Russia recently announced a decision to extend the lives of its RBMK (Chernobyl style) reactors. It is doing so because it would prefer to use their power to produce electricity than to burn natural gas for that activity. Russians are smart enough to recognize that natural gas shipped to Germany and sold for several hundred euros per thousand cubic meters is much more valuable than gas sold to internal customers for about 50 euros per thousand cubic meters.

          http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111904563904576584831235317422.html

        • Daniel says:

          Rod,

          Have the RBMK’s been made safer ?

          • Rod Adams says:

            @Daniel – I know that the RBMKs that were outside of Russia in places like Lithuania were significantly improved, but I do not know about the ones inside Russia.

            I get a lot of grief when I say this, but there is nothing inherently dangerous about operating RBMKs properly. It took a whole series of deliberate operator actions to disable safety systems and then operate in a manner that introduced the maximum level of power instability due to fission product poison behavior before it ever became obvious that a containment building might have helped.

  2. Daniel says:

    Still there is no sense of urgency to have people go back home. The Japanese government has stated that all zones below 20 millisieverts were deemed OK to go home.

    Still that will only happen after a cleanup that will start in spring 2012 !?&% .

    Now who’s managing this project ? Have they not heard of the ways to crash a project schedule ? What is the risk of having everybody go back now and clean up in parallel ? Again, this could have been better managed as the plants are in cold shutdown state since November.

    This is wall to wall poor management.

  3. Daniel says:

    And we must point all all of those who say that the cold shutdown is only a cover up and that no one can know for sure what the state of those reactors might be.

    As for the 30 years of clean up, it has to be said that a mostly passive approach can be taken and that it will not be labor or capital intensive until the end. You can just wait and scoop.

    Am I right on this?

  4. Rob Brixey says:

    What next? Learn everything possible through analysis of the events and either commit to improvement or close up shop. Safety has no tolerance for acceptance of an identified vulnerability. Risk is identified, next you mitigate what is prudent and manage the residual and retain margin. (more on that later)

    US nuclear plants license documents are based on a Final Safety Analysis Report. Safety assurance is fundamental to a utilities permission to operate a reactor. In this document, the results of external events are considered. Among them, seismic events and flooding events. Fukushima prefecture saw three of ten reactors damaged by a combination of external events. 30% of the units suffering core damage is not success by any measure. Including “market share”. Nuclear has lost “market share” in Japan since these events.

    How “unlikely”.
    In the US in 2011, North Anna was struck by an earthquake in excess of its licensing basis, and Fort Calhoun was inundated by floodwaters including a resultant electrical bus failure. This reduces any temptation to dismiss the Tohoku Earthquake and historic Tsunami events as “unlikely”. Neither US plant’s reactors were adversely affected. Stringent US standards may be the reason for that outcome. Perhaps these plants could have been built cheaper and attained greater “market share” – with a less successful outcome.

    Experience has taught me:
    1)Success is obvious.
    2)Failure is obvious.
    3)Margin is subtle. It is only evident when it is depleted. It is best to not run out.

    In my opinion, exploding Reactor Buildings are a blatant indication of failure.

    “Fukushima was not so bad.”
    Lets localize that thought.
    As far as the (not a single death) results based analysis goes, if the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island (which also caused not a single death) had caused a 9 month dislocation of 20,000 residents – my guess is we wouldn’t be talking about a nuclear renaissance in the US. Purely conjecture.

    I have committed my life to this industry, and I’d like to see it expanded. I cannot dismiss the significance of a three core melts triggered by external events as a statistical fluke.

    The Japanese have challenges and have identified potential challenges to the nuclear industry.

    I am working with a utility and have assisted in their Fukushima response. Small changes in equipment, procedures, and training mitigates these types of events.

    From the operator training I conduct, rest assured that US operators will not require external permission and WILL be able to vent a Mark I Drywell locally at the pneumatic actuated vent valve with nothing more than a Nitrogen Bottle or SCBA tank. They know where gauges are mounted to monitor pressure and level (Yarway) with no power in the Control Room. They’re not leaving the plant because the basement is underwater.

    TEPCO needs to answer all of our industry’s questions and get on the bandwagon.
    The response on this blog seems to be attack Gregory Jazcko due to his personality / inexperience.
    He’s a steamer by some accounts, but he’s not the biggest problem at Fukushima, and we spend precious little energy discussing what was the biggest problem.

    Operator competency. Specifically; EOP / SAG implementation, Local Operation during power loss, basis knowledge including most significantly the the necessity to depressurize BOTH RPV and Drywell to enable low pressure external pump injection to PREVENT core damage.

    The first melt sort of surprised me, it was an Isolation Condenser plant, and Hydrogen generation can gas bind the IC HX – maybe that got them.
    The second was a circled bullet hole – HPCI and RCIC failed “due to no DC” while Fukushima Daiichi Units 5 and 6 had multiple DC buses powered by chargers fed from continuously supplied Offsite Power. Ever heard of running a cable? Swapping out discharged for charged battery cells? How did the single licensed operator perform when hit with multiple events and failures with his reliefs having no access to the site?

    First “Market share”. Now “Unlikely” and “Not so bad”.

    Sheesh.

    • Joffan says:

      Rob, thanks for the perspective on Fukushima response.

      I think it’s worth worrying about more than one thing at once. Gregory Jaczko is a separate topic to Fukushima, although I’d argue that events at Fukushima have crystallized some of the problems with his style.

      Success/failure/margin – a good summary. Success can occur under conditions of a near-critical loss of margin; was Fukushima Daini such a case, perhaps?

      Fukushima Daiichi was bad enough that nobody wants it to happen again. But the external event that initiated the problems was massive and severe, and nobody should forget that the widespread regional disruption also fed into those problems (no outside support). That’s not to dispute that there were opportunities to reduce the severity thereafter, and your examples are excellent, although “running a cable” is easier said than done in the conditions after the tsunami and even more so after RB#1 exploded. The opportunities to prevent that explosion at unit 1 are probably the most problematic for Tepco to explain – neglect of IC cooling and failure to vent as required.

    • Cal Abel says:

      Rob,
      Thank you very much for your argument it is very clear and well articulated. However, it does miss some key points.

      Safety and reliability have limits, the limits are not constrained by what we can do as engineers, but they are constrained by finance. The access to capital is what allows the selection of various technologies. When making a decision to incorporate a change some questions need to be fully articulated: What is it that I am trying to prevent? What is the consequence on the overall operation of the plant by incorporating this change? What is the benefit of change? What is the cost of the change?

      We typically answer the first four fairly well. The last one we rationalize that the cost is irrelevant. It is not.

      Safety and reliability are very similar and are often mixed up and confused with each other. The purpose of the NRC is to ensure public safety. That is all. They should not proceed to assume more as it dilutes their ability to effectively manage their primary mission. The question then becomes, what is the “safe” level of regulation?

      The basis of the safety regulations under the AEC was to compare the risk of nuclear power to that of other socially acceptable risks. Risk is only understood in context of the choices. If it is not then the consequence is ALARA, or as you stated, “What next? Learn everything possible through analysis of the events and either commit to improvement or close up shop.”

      So the let’s take the damage at Fukushima in context. We blew up three reactors because we were unable to vent the containments. You stated that this is a “blatant indication of failure.” I disagree, I look at it as a testament to the designs from inception of nuclear power. Nuclear power is safe. We have seen 4 western reactors melt down for one reason or for multiple reasons. With all of our accrued operating experience we have managed to not kill anyone. Our margin to safety, the loss of life, is enough. We proved that and undoubtedly will manage future opportunities to prove it again.

      The following quote is from Ted Rockwell in ASME “Fact & Fission”:
      “In the early days, General Electric argued that containment vessels should be vented right after a malfunction, before any radioactivity was released. But that sensible suggestion was hooted down. Containment leak-tightness became an increasingly significant cost item, despite tests showing that the steam and water always present in a nuclear accident quickly scrub out most of the radioactivity. Think of the cost saving if we could eliminate most of the heavy rebar-enforcement and tedious hermetic leak-tightness testing.”

      The sealed containment was based off of a flawed assumption that the release of any fission products is inherently bad. It is not. The release of noble gas fission products has very little impact on the health of the operators and the surrounding populace. A normally vented containment actually makes the plants safer overall. Any steam leakage serves to act as an air ejector eliminating the possibility of a hydrogen explosion in the containment. It also allows for rapid application of low head injection of water.

      Our pursuit to the margins of safety can and often does make things worse.

      The reliability issue is a whole other ball of wax. Utilities are in the business of making money. They need reliable and cost effective energy sources to be able to succeed in their market. Fair enough. TMI is a great example of why melting the fuel is not a good financial decision, and why the utilities, if they are concerned about staying in business, don’t want to melt the fuel. As it stands the NRC regulates fuel melting which does not necessarily pose a risk to human health. Melting the fuel is a reliability issue. If a utility melts the fuel in a reactor, they loose the reactor, access to the capital in the reactor, have to pay to clean up the mess, and have to pay to decommission the facility.
      I would be very surprised to find any utility that can eat a 4 billion dollar investment along with the loss of 1 million/day in revenue, 1 billion in clean up and decommissioning, and expect to stay in business. The utilities want and need a source of power that can withstand normal or even abnormal perturbations. They have to convince investors that they will manage and safeguard their money and return adequate equity in payment. A utility that can’t effectively manage its plants or operate its reactors safely will find access to capital difficult. INPO assesses this, and I think is the appropriate entity to objectively define operational excellence. OE provides a level of surety for investors return on investment. This is not the purview of the Federal government. Making people feel safe about the investment should be done by the entity that is receiving the capital.

      There becomes a point when the disaster reaches the point of where you don’t care about the loss of the 4 billion dollar asset. Fukushima is very close to that mark. Yes you can probably even design something that can withstand a direct hit from a nuclear weapon. If somebody is lobbing nuclear weapons at you, then you have bigger problems.

      I think the biggest thing that we can take away from this is importance of keeping the primary containment normally vented. This however would constitute a “relaxation” in safety philosophy, and would surely be opposed by many established in the industry.

      As for the evacuations that you site, why were the people evacuated in the first place? What was the risk that warranted their evacuation, 200 mrem? If that is our metric then our priorities of risk are really hosed up. This goes back to the ongoing debate that we have on this site on the impact of the LNT on public policy actions. The politicians think that no level is safe, because the agency that is responsible for identifying the hazard won’t give a safe level, for what I think are political reasons.

      As for Jazcko, my beef with him is that he significantly detracts from the primary mission of the NRC by forcing a political agenda, which is dangerous and amoral.

      Here is a link to the article by Ted Rockwell,
      http://memagazine.asme.org/Articles/2009/december/FACTS_FISSION.cfm

    • Rod Adams says:

      @Rob – have you read the INPO timeline report?

      http://www.nei.org/newsandevents/newsreleases/inpo-compiles-timeline-of-fukushima-events-after-japan-earthquake-tsunami/

      It provides some excellent basis for additional training sessions. It also helps one understand the difficulty that can be associated with “running a cable” that weighs several tons and with swapping out discharged cells with charged ones when you are in a place where there is perhaps one lonely diesel generator running within a few miles of your location.

  5. Regarding the two paragraphs above the Jaczko video…the 0.5% risk is associated with 100 mSv. This is based on the LNT dose response model.

    LNT is NOT the most conservative dose response model, a super-linear dose response model would be more conservative. It’s just that the evidence best supports LNT.

    The proposed Japanese limit is 20 mSv/yr. The risk to the individual will be based on the dose actually absorbed over the coming years which may be more or less than 100 mSv.

    Once can’t compare the radiation risks to smoking or obesity unless a metric is associated with smoking or obesity (number of cigarettes per year or percent overweight per year).

    The anti-nuclear activists are making some of their arguments based on the increased risk of death, not the immediate deaths.

    • Jon Wharf says:

      The evidence contradicts LNT as being overly conservative at low doses and dose rates – that’s why DDREF was invented. Not that LNT/DDREF is better, but it avoids blatant experimental disproof. Of course it also removes the experimental justification for linearity, but very few people notice details like that.

      Speaking of which, you haven’t used any low-dose rate factor for your 0.5% value – why not?

      And you are accumulating dose over many years – how cute. But again completely unjustified.

  6. Rob,
    it’s good we have people like you in training our operators. I think the due diligence and seriousness with which you view this is important.

    (I didn’t know there is enough pressure in an SCBA bottle to actuate a valve. Who new? I had the record in my Fire Brigade for donning and testing SCBA mask at my non-nuclear plant back in the day — 39 seconds)

    I think beyond operations the seriousness of Fukushima cannot be underestimated by ‘our side’ in this debate.

    I really only have one perspective on Fukushima: how to prevent it from happening again.

    I don’t agree with Rod in this. TEPCO had reports going back *decades* about the possibility of a tsunami doing damage to the plant based on it’s siting. It chose to ignore them. this was not the engineers fault, per se, but the corporate mindset of a very face-saving oriented corp. culture and its highly incestuous relationship with the regulators there.

    Rod once responded to me in a previous recent thread that regulators and gov’t should get out of the way and nuclear would be cheap and safe. I don’t agree, at all. Thank the god Promethous for *smart* regulation and “Big Gov’t” or nuclear wouldn’t exist, anywhere in the world today. We need *smart* pro-nuclear regulations.

    Part of this plant sitings and protection. The fact is that the citing of the fuel tanks at *waters edge* to make loading and unloading of diesel was *wrong*. They could of sited these tanks in a manner similar to the way PG&E did with DCNPP in San Luis Obisbo. That would of ‘cost’ money, however. The plants could of been designed with above grade diesels generators and made it them more hardened against flooding and quakes. They “could of, should of”, but they didn’t.

    So…plants NEED to be retrofitted. So I don’t care, honestly, what they did or didn’t do, we have to learn from these mistakes regardless of why they were caused. Fukushima taught us that EVERY sea wall in Japan is too low. That had this tsunami hit 100 miles south than it did, we’d be talking millions dead and more plants smashed. So we learn. We need to build higher sea walls, harden or secure aux. diesel generators and so on. GOOD. This is what the people of Japan should demand, not the shutting down of plants that will cause more harm than the meltdowns did.

    That and what Robb above is doing in terms of ops training.

    David Walters
    IBEW 1235, Retired.

  7. DV82XL says:

    The big PR issue is that while Chernobyl-type events are preventable, as are those specific to Fukushima, nature can always throw a curve so outside any reasonable planning that we will see nuclear plants disrupted by these causes again. Thus it is very important to dwell on the lack of casualties directly attributable to the plant’s failure.

    As I have written before, it is clear to me that the Japanese government blew this one event way out of proportion and overreacted in the way they did to keep the press occupied and not looking closely at the lack of civil defense preparedness in the rest of the country. The fact remains that less than half of those in vulnerable coastal areas evacuated, and almost half of those that stayed were killed or seriously injured. It’s this that should have been the focus of the media, but instead they were sucked in to covering the reactor as if it was a major tragedy. This is smoke and mirrors of the worst sort.

  8. Mark says:

    Cheers for that Rod, a helpful analysis.

    Mark

  9. Daniel says:

    Steelers vs San Francisco game delayed due to a power outage. California ain’t seen nothing yet. The beauty of green power.

    • Andrew G. says:

      CA were foolish to let Rancho Seco be closed – yes it was a B&W plant, but they should have sold it or leased it to another utility with the ability to run it properly. Shutting it down cost the utility its investment, plus the cost of replacement power, and it cost the grid 900+ MGW of base load generation. No one talked about that during the “Enron” energy crisis (what year was that? about 1999 or 2000 wasn’t it?).

      Of course, now California imports 25% of its electricity – some of that from coal plants in Nevada (calling Sen. Reid) – and that is a confirmed source of air quality problems in the inter-mountain west.

      Because California has a prohibition on new nuclear plants until there is a federally approved long-term spent fuel storage facility, holding up Yucca Mtn. (and I’m not a particular fan of a policy of YM alone, as I’d like to see reprocessing as well) without pressing an alternative preserves the status quo.

      That status quo has (1) nationally, delivered much of the industrial capacity to build new plants to competitor nations (2) handed over the CO2 free generation requirements of CA to wind & solar without fear of new nuclear plants being built (3) continues, or increases, California’s energy imports from adjacent states to the benefit of their energy producers, mineral severance taxes and property tax coffers, (4) transfers employment and capital investment from California to adjacent or distant energy producing states, (5) severs the most populous state in the country, and hence its largest market for nuclear energy, from the national market in nuclear energy. And probably lots of other things I’m not aware of.

      • Kit P says:

        Just so you know Andrew it was the ratepayers of SMUD who voted to close Rancho Seco. It was the SMUD board that voted not to sell Rancho Seco to a group that wanted to run. It was a neighboring utility that was able to get their nuke into the rate base.

        ENRON was not a utility in California. LADWP profited the most ripping off neighbor with coal generated electricity. Public power does not have to play by the same rules. I can list the others PUD that took advantage if you would like. Pretty good idea to get the press to blame ENRON.

        Also I am not aware of any air quality problem in the inter mountain west.

        I would agree that California energy policy is delusional. I suspect I am one of the few people to have actually read it. With respect to power generation, the idea is to talk a lot about renewable energy hoping no one notices all the natural gas fired power plants.

    • Daniel says:

      Brownouts are also to be part of the day to day life of Californians for decades to come.

      You get what you vote for.

      Bye bye high tech jobs.

    • Jody says:

      It’s good to see someone thnnikig it through.

  10. Joe B says:

    In the opening paragraph you state that “Apparently, all of the nuclear power stations were able to safely shut down and suffered no long term damage from the shaking”

    Really?

    Fukushimas Daini 1-4 reactors are damaged beyond repair and will have to be decommissioned. There were fires there and if there were leaks is anyones guess. It certainly would not be reported.

    Fukushima Daiichi’s 2 reactors that you claim were newer and were brought under control without incident, WHERE BOTH ALREADY OFFLINE AND IN COLD SHUTDOWN when the event occurred. Even so there has been a struggle to not have those buildings explode as well due to hydrogen build-up.

    I don’t have time right now to read through the comments so may ave missed something…

    • Brian Mays says:

      Joe – Once again you have exhibited the uncanny ability to cram the most nonsense into the smallest number of words.

      The four units at Fukushima-2 (Daini) were not “damaged beyond repair.” In fact, any damage from the quake was minor. The tsunami did damage some heat exchangers at the plant, making cooling the reactors a challenge, but all of the cores remained covered and all four units were in cold shutdown by March 16.

      There are no technical reasons preventing the Fukushima Daini plant from being restarted.

      Although units 5 and 6 at Fukushima-1 were in cold shutdown at the time of the quake, they still needed to be cooled by circulating water. Thus, while the access to power was interrupted, the core temperatures did rise somewhat, but the two units were restored to cold shutdown status by March 20. All of the fuel remained covered, and there was no “hydrogen build-up,” because no hydrogen was being generated.

      • Joe B says:

        And you have demonstrated once again that you are downplaying the truth.

        Google and ye shall find…

        And yes i am quite aware that 5 and 6 still needed cooling even though they were idle for months, just nowhere near as much as a reactor that was shutdown 1 hour before. right?

        You tell me what thermal output does an idle reactor produce vs running at 1000 mwe? in percent and watts please?

        That is an important detail that was omitted as is very common here.

  11. Kit P says:

    Brian is correct.

    Furthermore, just as no one has been hurt by radiation from the operation of commercial LWR; there have been no cases of Seismic I SSC being damaged by an earthquake even when the actual earthquake was worse than the design basis by a significant amount.

    Unless you live in California, most Americans do not understand what happens in an earthquake. My sister and I both prefer earthquakes as our choice of natural disaster to live through compared to tornadoes. I have been at a nuke plant for both. There is no better place to be. I think many do not understand how robust a nuke plant is constructed.

    So while some are focus on the most recent hazard in Japan, the most recent serious challenge in the US has been a tornadoes. Nuke plants have to be designed for all the hazards not the last one.

    At Ranch Seco, the main turbine was not covered by a roof. No tornadoes, hurricanes, or very cold weather required a robust building covering the main turbine to protect the asset as a practical matter.

    Just considering the normal dynamic forces in a power plants are built with lots of concrete and rebar. Since reactors need lots of biological shielding, more concrete is required. Since I worked 100 yards downwind from the reactor, I liked the concept of a containment building.

    If the dose is on the order of 10 Rem assuming a small amount of leakage, what would the unmitigated exposure be?

    Cal wrote,

    “We blew up three reactors because we were unable to vent the containments. ”

    No Cal, no reactors blew up. When my sister experienced an earthquake she left her house and turn off the gas. She did not return until it was inspected. Cal you may want to read about the 1906 earthquake. If you have natural gas and hydrogen in a building and then loose ventilation, you can expect explosions and fires.

    So where Brain is wrong is that even if no hydrogen is being generated by a damaged core, there is still plenty of hydrogen present at any large power plant to cause an explosion.

    Other things go boom and make fireballs. We design non-Seismic I buildings to ride through the natural disaster but then you should get out because all bets are off. Even if no damage was done to the cores, it is very unlikely that 40 year old power plants would be economical to bring up to the new design basis earthquake.

    • Brian Mays says:

      So where Brain is wrong is that even if no hydrogen is being generated by a damaged core, there is still plenty of hydrogen present at any large power plant to cause an explosion.

      Kit – What? Are you having another “senior moment”?

      Are you trying to say that the operators left their gas oven on when the earthquake/tsunami hit?

      The explosions at units 1-4 were the result of a buildup of hydrogen from chemical reactions in the zirconium cladding of exposed fuel rods.

      Sure, you can have trace amounts of hydrogen present all over the place. None of it matters unless the concentration of hydrogen gets to be above about 4% or so, because until then it is not inflammable. There was no danger of hydrogen explosions at units 5 and 6.

      • Kit P says:

        Careful Brian I can still kick your dumb ass with my motorized walker!

        So Brian you can provide a link to the root cause of the hydrogen explosions? While Brian has offered a logical explanation that I agree with, there are other explanations.

        What I am saying Brian is that forced ventilation is how we ensure hydrogen is below the explosive limit.

        “There was no danger of hydrogen explosions at units 5 and 6 ”

        There was no reactors at the coal plant in where one worker was killed. If you have hydrogen there is danger of a detonation.

        It is like this Brian, the NRC is concerned about hydrogen because an explosion can release and disperse fission products.

        I an worried about hydrogen as an industrial safety hazard because it will disburse your dumb ass all over the place. I was the certified ‘gas free engineer’ on my ship. I signed the confined space permits. At my fist commercial nuke, I received utility training to perform confined space entries. After the instructor finished, I started asking questions the first one being ‘what about hydrogen’. The reply was we do not have any hydrogen.

        I then proceeded to explain the ubiquitous nature of hydrogen at nuke plants.

        What you do not know Brian can kill you.

        • Rod Adams says:

          @Kit P – You are probably joking, but please refrain from physical threats to other commenters. Also, you might want to reconsider the way that you have phrased your threat – can anyone really kick someone using a motorized walker or would it more likely be used to run someone over?

          What I am saying Brian is that forced ventilation is how we ensure hydrogen is below the explosive limit.

          How well do forced ventilation systems work when the power is out?

          With regard to the ubiquitous nature of hydrogen at nuke plants, what I think you really mean is that hydrogen is ubiquitous at large power generating plants where the turbine generators produce in excess of about 150 MWe per unit. Below that power level, many engineers have determined that the cost of using hydrogen as a cooling medium is not worth the additional effectiveness that it has over less explosive choices.

          Of course, I am not an engineer and am only repeating what I have read and heard. I have not actually run the numbers for myself, but I think my poor liberal arts educated brain can grasp some of the measures of effectiveness and risk used in the analysis.

        • Brian Mays says:

          So Brian you can provide a link to the root cause of the hydrogen explosions?

          Kit – INPO believes that it was caused by oxidation of the zirconium cladding of the exposed fuel (PDF):

          In each of the three units, it is postulated that there is extensive damage with limited and localized melting of the fuel and internals and limited vessel damage. The lack of core cooling to compensate for decay heat resulted in excessive fuel temperatures and oxidation of the zirconium cladding. The oxidation of zirconium in a steam environment will create significant additional heat from the exothermic reaction and large quantities of hydrogen. This hydrogen contributed to the increases in containment pressure and to the subsequent hydrogen explosions on units 1, 3, and 4.

          Do you have a better explanation?

          The claim was that units 5 and 6 were in the same danger. That is certainly not the case.

  12. seth says:

    ” There is also a pretty good reason why the switchgear was never relocated, even after many people recognized the vulnerable location……after the occurrence of a rather unlikely event. There was a high probability that the station owners could have operated the plants to the end of their design life without ever having experienced a rare (but obviously possible) tsunami. ”

    Ya know Rod that is a series of the stupidest statements I’ve ever seen you make. Never ever ever repeat that (expletive deleted) in public.

    A nuclear power plant is designed and NRC certified to have a meltdown incidence of one every million years or so. Saving a few million dollars to expose a nuke plant to a one in a hundred event is crime that should punished by execution for treason. You seriously condone a bunch of corporate criminals risking the destruction of a plant with only a decade or so life left, potentially creating and enormous disaster because it was only one chance in five or ten that it would happen.

    Was Ft Calhoun at this same risk until a few years ago when the NRC ordered flood protection increased? Lord I hope not and if so the press never finds out.

    Can you imagine yourself on CNN telling the folks that a one in ten chance of a Fukushima meltdown at Indian Point to save a few million on some safety issue was a good bet?

    A nuke power plant is not a gas turbine where a damage is restricted to the immediate plant area.

    Go home, sit down and think before you ever write something so stupid again.

    • DV82XL says:

      @seth – Apparently you have no idea of how business is conducted. Nothing, nothing can be made 100% safe, and cost effective at the same time, and choices like this are made every day for systems in transportation and other domains where the real impact of failure would be several time greater than any recorded nuclear accident.

      Nether nuclear, or any technology for that matter, will grow if the public keeps demanding unobtainable levels of safety, and we pander to them by sugar-coating the facts.

      • Brian Mays says:

        Yeah, I definitely have to agree with DV8 on this one.

        It’s all too easy to rant and rave when you have the benefit of hindsight. Such decisions are not as cut-and-dry when you’re planning for the future. Frankly, I don’t have any problem with what Rod wrote. It made sense to me.

    • Rod Adams says:

      Seth – do you have a different set of information than I do about the likelihood of a tsunami that would not only breach the established barriers but also wipe out all of the surrounding infrastructure for the power station? The predicted probability that such an event would occur was WAY below one in a few hundred before it happened.

      Even though Fukushima did happen, the proven probability of it causing any injury or death to anyone is still darned close to zero. Why should you condemn the people who made the choice not to risk the certain loss of revenue and the significantly greater probability of increased death and illness due to burning fossil fuels for whatever time it would have taken to do the modifications?

      • seth says:

        The town of Taro in Japan has been hit 4 times in the last hundred years or so by waves bigger than the Daichi plant can handle.

        Is one meltdown every 25 years OK for you guys because I can guarantee not one nuke plant would ever be built anywhere if that was the accepted standard.

        Once again I refer you to the the NRC’s one melt down incident every million years. Is that reduced to one every ten years, twenty, hundred years, what for Japan. Nobody would ever be allowed to build a reactor if that was the meltdown expectation.

        If you go on the air and say its not worth spending money to prevent an accident in a US reactor, that might occur only once in a thousand years you’ll get every reactor in the US on a rapid shutdown schedule. We do have 100 or so reactors – do the arithmetic.

        • DV82XL says:

          Frankly, based on the above babbling, I don’t think you know what you are talking about.

          Antinuclear forces have been trying to shut down the industry for decades, and while they have had some local victories, the industry stubbornly persists. This despite a few high profile accidents. You might find that it is a bit more resistant than you think.

        • Daniel says:

          @ Seth

          Let’s do some math based on past events and project for 1 million meltdowns:

          1 meltdown in TMI — 0 death
          3 meltdowns in Fukushima — 0 death
          1 million meltdowns —- 0 death

        • Rod Adams says:

          @Seth – are there any reactors or other critical infrastructure installations in the town of Taro? It seems that the cost effective way to prevent exposure to a high probability of tsunamis might be to avoid building stuff in the places where they occur with such scary frequency.

          I never said that it was not worth spending money to avoid a meltdown. I said it was not worth spending an infinite amount of money to avoid what might be a very low probability event. If you want to tie me down, provide me with numbers.

          I will say that I think that a “one in a million” standard is absurd, especially if the consequence of that single chance is as low as what we saw from Fukushima. Since risk is consequence times probability, you (and our barriers-to-entry regulator) are demanding an incredibly low risk for a technology with an incredibly high potential benefit. The only rational (but immoral) reason to apply such a standard to nuclear safety but not to energy safety is to uniquely handicap atomic energy production in order to protect the profits of the petroleum pushers.

          You do the math and tell me just how valuable it has been to the coal, oil and gas marketers to keep nuclear energy in the United States restricted to a 20% share of the electrical power market instead of it reaching 80% in electrical power, perhaps 50% in industrial process heat, and maybe 60-80% in commercial ship propulsion.

          Excessive cost and schedule risk associated with attempting to meet absurdly restrictive risk computations enforced by federal law is a primary culprit in causing a 35 year hiatus in nuclear power plant construction and a move by the US Navy (even without NRC regulation) to limit nuclear energy applications to aircraft carriers and submarines where there is no real option available.

    • James Greenidge says:

      @seth
      “A nuke power plant is not a gas turbine where a damage is restricted to the immediate plant area.”

      Er, maybe you should sit down, take a stress pill to flush all the anti-nuke propaganda out, and check out video tours of Fukushima. Sure looks like the damage was well confined within the plant’s perimeter fence to me! Can’t say the same happens with most far more frequent gas and oil accidents with flying debris and dense acid-laden smoke. And again, if I had a choice of what “worst case ever” industrial accident to be involved in, I’d pick Fukushima hands-down.

      James Greenidge
      Queens NY

  13. Kit P says:

    Rod wrote,

    “You are probably joking,”

    You Think! As a group, ring knockers have no sense of humor. He is the joke. Brian supposed I was having a senior moment. That is called sarcasm Rod. Have you wife explain it to you. In reference to being old, I posed a mutually exclusive treat. You can not hurt someone if you can not catch them.

    “How well do forced ventilation systems work when the power is out?”

    Well that is the point, it does not work. We had to install blow out panels in a vent duct where vented hydrogen went from above the explosive limit to below by mixing it with lots of air. The problem was that loss of power or shutting off the system to change HEPA filters would ‘aim’ the explosion at an occupied work station.

    “With regard to the ubiquitous nature of hydrogen at nuke plants, what I think you really mean is that hydrogen is ubiquitous at large power generating plants…”

    I said what I meant to say. Both PWRs and BWRs have systems to handle hydrogen associated with the reactor during normal operations. This is an industrial safety issue and not a nuclear safety issue although I do not think the public would understand the difference.

  14. p a kenney says:

    Once again we see something happening that should have happened by virtue of poor planning and design. Should this almost inevitable event have been prevented? Sure. Could it have been avoided? Almost certainly.But once again we see a technology which could solve our energy problems being discredited not by its own objective risks but by the susbjective risk: greed, hubris and outright stupidity.

    Of course, there will always be those who capitalize on such disasters for political and/or financial reasons. Consider the tens of millions of dollars made by the gang who produced the China Syndrome. When will the nuclear industry put forth a clear and compelling case for its continued development?

    Interesting, is it not, that one of the world’s most highly regarded thinkers in science generally and environmental matters particularly, James Lovelock, has written so eloquently and with such technical credibility of the advantages of nuclear, even of its being more environmebtally friendly than wind power. We should all read the Revenge of the Gaia by Lovelock. So should every journalist, nuclear regulator, senator and congressman and our president — hello, even Jane Fonda should read it, if she can. She could then lend her copy to Sen. Harry Reid.

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