1. I agree with the statements: “The Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission seems to have made this decision on 50 miles himself against the advice of the NRC Staff. I evaluate this very bad decision as part of the campaign by the leader of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission to stop nuclear power in the United States.” Obama appointed an ant-nuke as NRC Chairman. Yup, we all know Bush put him in the NRC as a deal with harry Reid to get John Roberts confirmed. But he was then balanced with the simultaneous appointment of Peter Lyons. Now Lyons is out. Dale Klein, former chairman, was demoted once Obama got into office and Jackzo put in his place. Now Klein is out. I pointed this out again, and again and again, but certain pro-nukes still think they can find common ground by ingratiating themselves with the liberal left.

    BTW, GE’s idea of elevated spent fuel pools is still a foolhardy design measure. It was a minimalist approach. Sure, it makes refueling easier, but they could have built below ground pools and used the upper one only for offloading / onloading fuel during an actual refueling. Then once refueling is done everything could be transfered to the below grade pool. That’s what ESBWR is supposed to be designed for.

  2. This is an unfortunate time to have Jackzo in charge of the NRC.

    But hey, elections have consequences, as we’re finding out the hard way.

  3. In my humble opinion it would be nice if people could get there facts right:

    “You need to hear one more complication in the design. The fuel pool is really two pools separated by a gate. Fuel removed from the reactor goes first into the small, upper pool which is only 20 or 25 feet deep. Later they move the fuel to the big, deep pool. There was apparently only a little fuel in this upper pool at the time of the quake.

    This UPPER pool broke. The three-eighths inch steel liner is cracked and will not hold water. The concrete wall in front of this upper pool fell off. Fuel was severely damaged probably by explosion. Temperature profiles measured by helicopters show clumps of hot stuff that must be fuel scattered around the floor area. This scenario is consistent with the numerous reports of fire in unit 4.”

    The BWR MKI and MKII reactor building designs have only a single fuel pool for each unit. There is no “small upper pool and lower pool separated by a gate”. I believe that the author is referring to the BWR Mk III design where this is a true statement but has NOTHING to do with the issue a Fukushima concerning fuel pools.
    Since there is such conjecture on the events at Fukushima, I’ll throw in my 2-cents: there are currently operators at 30+ BWR plants in the US with their mouths gaping open concerning the OPERATOR ERROR/MANAGEMENT ERROR that allowed any damage at Unit 4. When the earthquake/tsunami hit, the ONLY action that the operators had to take for Unit 4 was to maintain inventory in the spent fuel pool (there was NO fuel in the Reactor pressure vessel). If they needed to do this by injection of seawater – they should have done it. Regardless of the damage caused by the tsunami, there was MORE THAN ADEQUATE time to use a diesel driven fire pump or rig up temporary pumps to add water. My only conclusion on this event is that the Japanese had INADEQUATE planning, procedures and training to deal with a relatively simple issue for Unit 4.

    As far as the more serious/difficult scenario for Units 1,2, and 3: My view is as follows: 1. NO PLANT in the world can currently cope with a station blackout greater than 3 days (currently they are at 21 days in japan) without core damage. However, US plants have emergency procedures and mitigating actions to connect temporary pumps/power supplies to ensure restoration of core and containment cooling. I challenge someone to show me the japanese coping studies for SBO 2. Concerning the issue with the uncontrolled release of radioactive materials, which is caused by the loss of secondary containment (blown up Rx buildings) and possible primary containment on Unit 2 (overpressurized to greater than 2x design pressure by OPERATOR ERROR): the japanese either didn’t have installed or didn’t use a hardened containment wetwell vent that is installed at all US MKI BWRs per NRC GL 89-16. The vent was specifically mandated to avoid containment failure if events propogated to the situation where a core melt with high H2 generation could occur. The japanese operators also would have VIOLATED US plant emergency operating procedures /severe accident guidelines to vent the wetwell when the containment design pressure is reached and no containment/core cooling is available (containment design pressure is about 56psig and they reach greater than 120psi containment pressure before they vented).

    Time will tell, but the entire situation in japan looks starkly similar to the same issues that occurred at TMI 30 years ago – lack of preparedness and lack of procedural guidance/training. Frankly, I’m a bit concerned at the Ex-navy nuke (Toy PWR)/commercial PWR community bashing of the BWR design and accident mitigation scenarios. Unless they have KNOWLEDGE, they shouldn’t be speculating. Perhaps this is payback for what the BWR designers said about TMI: if the initiating event that caused the TMI meltdown (stuck open primary system relief valve) had occurred at a BWR, then nothing would have happened.

    BTW: I’m ex US Navy submarine officer/engineer with 27 years experience in BWR design, testing and operation.

    1. @michael100 – I freely admit that I am no expert on BWR’s. I have also discovered that my level of knowledge about the management of used fuel was so week that I was guilty of what my nuke school instructors would have labeled as a GCE (gross conceptual error). I sadly regret that lack of knowledge and am working hard to improve upon it.

      Unfortunately, as you are well aware, the design details and operating procedures for most nuclear power plants are not readily available. The industry continues to be saddled with the legacy of the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 as amended by the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 and its subsequent tweaks along with the legacy of NNPI, and the legacy of fierce protection of “proprietary” information due to the competitive nature of the energy business.

      That is no excuse and I am not offering it as anything more than an explanation.

      With regard to your condemnation of the Japanese operators, perhaps you could have just a bit of empathy for the fact that the plant management was apparently working very hard to provide cooling to the three units that were operating at the time of the earthquake and may have been thinking they had more time available before needing to pay much attention to Unit 4. Unfortunately, they were made aware of a real problem at unit four by high radiation readings by sometime during day 3 or day 4. It took a day or so to convince themselves that somehow, their 27 feet of H2O had disappeared even though the fuel in the pool had been out of a reactor for more than 90 days at the time that the earthquake hit.

      Given the benefit of hindsight, half the circumference of the globe and the information provided by armchair critics, I am guessing that there was enough sloshing in the pool and enough shaking during the quake to cause a leak that exposed the fuel elements more quickly that one might have expected from mere heat up.

      With regard to your comments regarding units 1-3, all of the documents that I have read point to the conclusion that there was no hardened containment wetwell vent. I do not know anything about the reasons why that modification might not have been considered necessary by Japanese regulators or even if there was communication with them to recommend that mod. That is something for the green table.

      Please, anyone, feel free to correct me if I am wrong. I am just guessing.

      1. Rod,

        I’d like to point you to the following file from the japanese equivalent of the USNRC.


        I’d be interested in the documents that you have reviewed that provide the basis for the statement in the second to last paragraph of your response to my previous post concerning hardened vent. Can you please either post the links or PM me with the documents? Thanks

        RE your comment on empathy: I have nothing BUT empathy for the plant operators that are responding to the events. From the comfort of my home, I cannot begin to understand the physical and emotional stress that these folks are under, especially considering that most probably lived in close proximity to the plant and that their homes and possibly loved ones were lost in the earthquake and tsunami.
        Best Regards

  4. A summary that was probably good when delivered but now (even on post date on 4/1) seems outdated. I appreciated your mea culpa of 3/26 on the old blog, and hope you’re not slipping back into nuclear cheerleader mode.

    I first found your old blog shortly after the Fukushima crisis hit the news, in a search for informed commentary to balance mass-media hysteria. I was at first reassured, until unfolding events revealed the detachment from reality embodied in your early posts on the incident. A few weeks after the quake I was checking your blog every day mostly for humor value. You started to remind me of “Baghdad Bob,” the information minister under Saddam Hussein who became famous for his press conferences during Gulf War II, when he would tell reporters how brave Iraqi fighters were driving the invaders back in disarray while American warplanes shrieked overhead, until he was interrupted by a guided bomb landing nearby.

    I’m politically liberal, but recognize the key role that nuclear power could play in weaning the US from fossil fuels, with all their geopolitical and environmental costs. I’m far from unique, by the way – most (not all) liberal commentators under the age of 40 or so seem to agree on this point, and the frequent broad swipes taken by many in the pro-nuclear community against progressives should be seen as antagonizing potential allies. But that’s getting off track….what I’ve been wanting to tell you is that as someone who would like to see nuclear power play a larger role in the American mix, I think the cheerleader attitude does real damage to the possibility of future development and deployment.

    People are afraid of nuclear power. A lot of that fear is due to ignorance, sure. I know: we receive more radiation from the Sun every day than X, and from natural radiation in the food chain than Y. When some caveman first tried to harness fire, most of his tribe-mates were probably afraid of that, too. People fear things that are new and that they don’t understand – and in the case of nuclear it doesn’t help that it’s tasteless, odorless, and invisible, and can linger for years or centuries. Nor that it’s associated with birth defects, and cancer – some of the most deeply seated fears in the human psyche.

    But they’re afraid. And by “people” I mean “voters” and “utility bill payers.” Accepting the construction of one of the newest, safest nuclear plants – or even the continued operation of existing ones – anywhere upwind or upriver requires a degree of trust. (and as media coverage of Fukushima has shown – everywhere is upwind or upriver.) Even before Fukushima, nuclear advocates needed to work on building trust. Afterwards, so much the moreso. Advocates whose first impluse is to downplay risks and leap to the most helpful assumptions don’t build trust over the medium to long term, they damage it.

    Food for thought. Thanks for the blog – I hope you didn’t take the “Baghdad Bob” comparison too much to heart – and good luck at the new site.

    – Matt T

  5. Yes I agree that gross management and operational errors were made in some areas. And beyond design basis earthquake and tsunami, beyond design basis station blackout length, the oldest nuclear plants, and you’d think there would be a catasprophe.

    Yet despite all this design inadequacy and operational abuse, no one has died of radiation and it is unlikely anyone of the public will, as dose rates to surroundings are quite low, not anywhere near the 0.1 sievert required where increased chance of cancer starts.

    That is proof of just how robust the technology of BWRs is. There are worker safety issues just as with any industrial or power plant during a 9 moment magnitude earthquake and 14+ meter tsunami, but there is clearly no public risk of radiation.

    Nuclear was the safest form of power generation and it has not changed at all now! Deaths/TWh the lowest at 0.04 per TWh and hasn’t changed.


    That said I think there are important lessons for older plants such as increased battery capacity for control room, lights and critical valve/instrument operation, passive hydrogen recombiners, greater number of blast panels etc. Many of these measures are quite cheap.

  6. “I’m politically liberal, … most (not all) liberal commentators under the age of 40 or so seem to agree on this point, and the frequent broad swipes taken by many in the pro-nuclear community against progressives should be seen as antagonizing potential allies.”

    Matt – Is pointing out the obvious a “broad swipe”?

    As a political moderate who is following the nuttiness at both ends of the spectrum, I can’t help but notice the stark contrast between many on the left and many on the right. Although the coverage of the accident on TV by both the left-leaning (MSNBC) and right-leaning (Fox News) channels has been equally abysmal, the positions taken by the politically oriented media personalities has been quite different.

    On the left, George Monbiot is almost alone in his support for nuclear power in the wake of the accident. On the other side, almost all of the conservative talk-radio hosts came out early in support of nuclear power after the accident, and even though they did not get all of their facts straight (they did about as well as George, however), their support has remained steady. Even Ann Coulter has been trying to popularize the idea of radiation hormesis (again, not getting everything right, but she’s a blonde, not a health physicist).

    Let’s not be foolish enough to pretend that nuclear power isn’t a politically polarizing issue. If you want to do something about this, then I suggest that, rather than criticizing people you mostly agree with for making observations that are obvious, you spend some time and effort arguing your point of view on left-wing sites such as the Daily Kos, where they’re currently having a nuclear-hate-fest.

    The politicians are equally polarized. Are any Republicans calling for a moratorium on new licenses and license extensions?

    Yes, people are scared because they fear the unknown. However, nuclear advocates have largely failed in the past because they have not cheered enough. If trust is lacking, then you should ask, who is trying to undermine this trust? And why? If anything, those knowledgeable about nuclear science and technology have been too honest, which has left wide-open holes that the professional anti-nuclear advocates can exploit with their half-truths. People don’t want a complex, heavily nuanced message. They want to know whether something is safe or not. By any reasonable standard, nuclear power is safe, and the events at Fukushima-1 haven’t changed that.

    1. Brian – Mark Lynas and Chris Goodall have also provided a substantial amount of pro-nuclear commentary from the left. Here is one example – http://www.marklynas.org/2011/03/the-dangers-of-nuclear-power-in-light-of-fukushima/ . So has Stewart Brand (http://www.marklynas.org/2011/03/the-dangers-of-nuclear-power-in-light-of-fukushima/). I have no opinion about television commentators; I have no time for watching nonsense.

      I remain convinced that people fear what they have been – constantly – told to fear. As you point out, nuclear advocates rarely state their message clearly – nuclear energy is safe. In addition, many nuclear advocates have been told repeatedly that they are not allowed to compare nuclear against fossil fuel because their employer makes money from both sources of energy. In isolation, anything can be portrayed as scary. Life is all about options and choices.

      There is no form of energy that is safer than nuclear. Even the left leaning Washington Post ran a front page story yesterday (April 3, 2011) describing an objective study that resulted in the same conclusion.


      1. Rod – Well, it’s good to know that at least somebody on that side is trying to get some rational information out. Sadly, however, that doesn’t change the big picture much.

        I saw where you recently dropped a couple of comments on an article in the American Spectator, but have you been to any liberal blogs lately (liberal blogs that were not set up to promote nuclear power, that is)? Let me tell you, they’ve got the torches and pitchforks out.

        This is not bashing liberals. This is just telling it like it is.

        On the other hand, bashing coal gets you only so far. Sure, it will get “coal haters,” like Hansen and Monbiot, to come on board (not a bad thing), but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard on left-wing blogs that nuclear vs. coal (or gas) is a “false dichotomy,” because solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, fairy dust, etc., are going to save us. This argument apparently doesn’t work with the majority of those with such political leanings, at least in my experience.

        Last time I checked, we still live in a democracy. Thus, it’s the mean that matters; the outliers don’t count.

        On the left, there is still much work to be done. Ignoring the problem won’t get us anywhere.

        1. @Brian – I am not sure I understand your final comment. I fully agree there is much work to do to help people on both the left and the right understand the reality of energy choices. I am not ignoring the problem, but taking the best action I know how to take to alleviate it.

          Perhaps the problem is that you might not be following your own advice to essentially ignore the outliers. By definition a left-wing blog is going to be inhabited by people on the wing, aka the fringes. I converse with a lot of liberals who are much closer to the center than they are to the wings and they are quite rational people with questioning attitudes who are open to learning that they have been misguided by people like Lovins and Caldicott.

          1. Rod – Hmmm … Let’s take my example from above. Are you saying that DailyKos is populated by wing-nut extremists and doesn’t at all reflect mainstream liberal thought?

            Anyhow, my point is that these trends are obvious, and we all acknowledge them, at least implicitly. Take your recent article on George Monbiot. It’s interesting because it’s a “man bites dog” story; it’s the opposite of what we expect from a columnist in The Guardian. If, say, George Will had written that the dangers of radiation have been overblown by anti-nuclear activists, I doubt that you would be blogging about it.

  7. Thanx for composing so nice summary of Fukushima Nuclear Accident of BWR units.
    How ever, I could not gather any information by news nor from your article about the use of emergency steam condensers to remove decay heat. Each of these is big water filled vessel at higher elevation immersed with heat exchange tube bundle to condense reactor shut down steam when valved in. Are these provisions do not exist in Fukushima Daiichi plants or they were not put to use.
    It would be appropriate to include the information on this mode of decay heat removal, if you have.

    1. I believe you are refering to an original design feature of the RHR system “steam condensing mode?”
      To the best of my knowlege that mode really wasn’t very good and generally was not employed.
      You would need many of the same systems that were unavailable in order to operate in this mode.

      1. No, the reference is to the BWR-2/3 Isolation (or Emergency) Condenser. The Reactor Core Isolation Cooling (RCIC) turbine driven pump replaced the Isolation Condenser in the BWR-4. The Isolation Condenser is a relatively simple system, where the direct current outside containment isolation valve opens part way to initiate heat removal. However, unlike the RCIC, it did not add inventory, and required makeup water to the shell.

        It appears that the TEPCO did not make provisions to operate RCIC manually beyond the station battery lifetime.

        It also appears that their containment vent was not a hardened vent with direct flow to the plant vent stack. Their vent is probably directed through parts of the Standby Gas Treatment System. This is not unique to Japan.

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