1. @Rod – sounds like your early statements rooted in physics have been vindicated – I recall in the first couple of weeks of the incident, as Gunderson, et al., were proclaiming the fuel pools as drying up, you were pointing out that spent fuel that’s been out of the reactor for as long as that had could not possibly generate enough heat to evaporate off the large volume of water in the spent fuel pools unless it were left for a very long time.

    There was a question of whether the fuel pools had cracked/lost structural integrity, and whether the pools might have lost water to a large leak in the basin. Do we know if any such crack occured?

    Obviously, if the pool never went dry, the pool didn’t completely drain from such a crack, but did such a crack even occur?

  2. However we want to look at the events at Fukushima, we must always be careful to separate those problems which had root in this unique installation, and the operating practices and standards which were in force there and those which are systemic to the design and to nuclear power stations in general. It is important that the public not confound the former with the latter when coming to a conclusion about the overall significance of this incident to nuclear energy as a whole.

  3. @DV82XL,

    I think that opponents of nuclear would probably respond that it doesn’t matter how good the other 99 out of a hundred plants is maintained and run, they fear the problem with nuclear is that the one ‘weak link’ is going to cause hundreds of thousands of deaths (c.f. Helen Caldicott). They argue that because people are imperfect, and governments sometimes are corrupt, and corporations sometimes put short-term interests of the corporation over the long-term interest of the public-at-large, that if you can’t get perfection (which you never can), then nuclear is “too dangerous”.

    I’m not convinced we’re going to see many deaths or cancers result from Fukushima, but I suppose time will tell. With luck, I will live long enough (I’m in my early 30s, so, hey, I might live another 50-60 years, who knows) to see and know the truth.

    Based on what is known about Chernobyl, I don’t think the Greenpeace report claiming a million deaths is accurate, and so I don’t see that even when a Fukushima-style incident happens, it’s quite as big a deal as many are making it out to be. Again, we’ll see.

    1. @Jeff S – I’m not all that interested in debating with antinuclear zealots, in fact I think it is counterproductive on several levels the most important of which is that it legitimizes their false concerns. However, at the same time I do think it is important to be very clear when discussing nuclear accidents to carefully delineate those factors that are the consequence of local error, and those which are inherent to the technology itself. The important thing is not to engage with the opposition, but to constantly present our care as truthfully and as rationally as possible because I have found that people are listening and are analyzing what they hear, and are weighting it, before coming to a position on the subject. Regardless, I might add, of the assertions of those that have arrogated themselves to be the spokespersons of the public’s opinion on the subject.

      Personally, I take the position that anyone claiming that public’s opinion is this or that on nuclear related matters had better be able to back it up with references to surveys or polls, or I will go out of my way to tell them their statements are baseless.

    2. We know that the rate of water loss from the pool is consistent with loss from evaporation alone.

      Add to that TEPCO personnel are working in the space(s) directly below the pond, installing reinforcement, and aren’t apparently having problems with leaking water and any resultant exposure.

      That would seem to make it very unlikely that there’s any significant crack.

  4. @Rod,

    I wanted to address this statement:

    “My grapevine tells me that he also stationed a guard at the door who prevented even very senior professionals from entering to provide assistance and advice to the selected emergency team.”

    Sometimes there are good reasons why an individual is not allowed in a facility and they can’t be told why they are not allowed.

    1. Sometimes there are good reasons why an individual is not allowed in a facility and they can’t be told why they are not allowed.

      Good for whom?

      1. It wasn’t the control room of an operating reactor – it was 5 or 6,000 miles from the reactors in question.

        It’s a touch hard to see exactly what danger unauthorised access might have presented.

    2. If we were talking about the Pentagon, CIA or the NSA then I would agree with Mr. Englert’s statement that there are good reasons to keep people locked out.

      However, Jaczko is in charge of the NRC, not the NSA or CIA. The NRC has never been an organization shrouded in secrecy nor should it be. There are confidential issues the NRC deals with but for the most part those are related to commercial concerns or explicitly defined military issues. The NRC, per Mr. Jaczko’s own pledge, is supposed to be on the road of becoming a more open and non-secretive organization. He violated his own principals during an emergency right when openness was vital since the average citizen needed to be reassured there were competent people in charge.

      There are many people within the halls of the NRC that have far more nuclear emergency response education and experience then does Mr. Jaczko. Any competent manager, be they political or not, would have relied on that experience so that at the very least to make himself look good in front of the cameras, in print and especially for Congressional hearings.

      Instead, Mr. Jaczko decided to lock the doors on many, if not all, of the professionals who have trained for this very type of situation thereby displaying his lack of experience and knowledge. The only rationale I can see for him to lock the doors to other NRC commissioners and qualified NRC employees is if the information derived about Fukushima came from US military assets that were not cleared for general viewing. If Mr. Jaczko had explained it publically that he needed to restrict access to Fukushima information due to national security interests or stated he was under orders from the White House to restrict access to any information then he might not be facing such a volume of outcry against him. But he did not nor has he since.

      However, that that would be a weak argument since much of the information he had access to was, or has now been, released into the public domain. So once again to push this point, a competent manager of a large, supposedly non-political, regulatory agency would have found a way to transmit confidential information so it could be discussed during an emergency situation with his highly trained staff even if they weren’t initially cleared. A competent manager would have made this happen if his goal was to keep the general public informed and safe. He would have made sure to include those trained professionals in order to put forth a positive, confident and professional statement about the Fukushima emergency to maintain calm in the face of an evolving emergency.

      Instead, it appears that Mr. Jaczko will only stick to his stated principals as long as it serves his political goals. The question is what are those goals? He is open about his reservations on the AP 1000 despite his own people recognizing the robustness of the technology, but is secretive on his motivations about why he closed Yucca Mt and declared a 50 mile evacuation zone. Why is that?

      Additionally his decisions to stick to his political goals have made the very future of nuclear power around the globe murky and may be complicating the clean-up operations for TEPCO. His decision to stick to politics instead of true emergency response and communications has now put billions in nuclear investments at risk for the next 10-20 years. His decisions will affect power generation investment decisions of all types for the next two decades.

      The problem now for Mr. Jaczko is that even though it is unlikely he will be fired by the Obama Administration, he will face an increasingly hostile professionally trained workforce. Long term Washington DC employees are very good at throwing roadblocks in the path when they do not agree with the current political leader or that leader continues to throw them under the bus as has Jaczko. The objective for those employees then becomes one of waiting out said leader since they will still be there after the leader’s term ends. Jaczko has turned the NRC leadership position into a political position, has thrown his staff under the bus and will so incur those consequences.

      Additionally, Jaczko has basically used every play in his playbook and everyone is beginning to realize that fact. The next issue faced by the NRC staff such as the licensing of the AP 1000 will not be met a collegial, professional mindset. Since Jaczko has turned the NRC political and it will operate that way until he leaves or is forced to resign.

      That is his greatest crime in my viewpoint. He took an organization that was generally considered by all parties as non-political and has trashed that reputation in less than 2 years. Anti’s declared the NRC as a pro-nuclear business organization but rarely mentioned politics which is an important distinction.

      Jaczko’s decisions are resulting in nuclear related issues to be reopened when they took many years of engineering and legal wrangling, and therefore much taxpayer and ratepayer money, to resolve. Additionally competent people may decide to leave the NRC because of his tactics which will make the NRC less capable of performing its required duties.

      And it would appear I (some faceless commenter) am not the only one who shares this view. An article from former committee member Kenneth C. Rogers on how Jaczko has turned the chairmanship into a political position and the long-term detriments to the NRC if this continues.


      (And no, I have no relationship, professional or otherwise, to Dr. Rogers despite the commonalities in our last names.)

      So to quote Brian Mays, “Good for whom?”

  5. From time to time over the past weeks I have read articles in the news that say NRC regulators are concerned that plants in the US do not have enough time to restore grid power in the event of loss of external power to shutdown cooling systems. I have never seen a response to that anywhere. What is the response?

    1. They all have diesel generators that are supposed to jump in immediately whenever grid power is lost. From that moment on, the plant doesn’t need any grid power to safely shut down, all it needs is enough diesel fuel. At Fukushima the diesels did run and did successfully run all cooling systems after the quake, but then came the tsunami wave and flooded the diesels. Then they only had batteries, which were only enough to power the controls and displays, not the massive cooling pumps. In a normal situation they could have reconnected grid power in a day or two and not much would have happened, but the quake had devastated the surrounding area, including the airport, so there was not much help available.
      You’ll find this interesting:
      1. a plant lost grid power in April after a tornado http://world-nuclear-news.org/newsarticle.aspx?id=29873
      2. discussion of emergency diesel generators

  6. Over the past weeks I have several times read news articles saying NRC regulators are concerned about plants in the US not having enough time to reconnect emergency cooling equipment to grid after loss of offsite power. What is your take on that?

    1. @Craig – regulators are paid to be concerned, especially when there is a reason to react.

      The fact is that nuclear plants in the US are required to have far more resilient connections to the grid than any other load. They have several backup generators and large banks of batteries that can be recharged with portable generators. They are also supported by a large workforce of people, many of whom have the ability to improvise, adapt and overcome unforeseen circumstances.

      My take is that there is always room for concern, but that the plant owners and operators are just as concerned as the regulators. None of them want to have a power outage that results in destroying multi-billion dollar assets, especially if the risk of that can be reduced by relatively low cost investments. I do not see any reason or evidence why people who are not directly involved should worry much about the possibility of a catastrophe.

      I am not saying that the proper response is to simply trust, but to think hard, listen to the companies as they explain their plans and then realize that there are plenty of other things to worry about.

      1. Re

        “that can be recharged with portable generators. They are also supported by a large workforce of people, many of whom have the ability to improvise, adapt and overcome unforeseen circumstances.”

        Fukushima does raise one particular thought for me – in European practice, it’s not permitted to assume the use of externally stored equipment as part of a safety case, or to allow for any operator improvisation outwith the operations manual. I assume that’s the case in the US?

        The more I think about it, the more I wonder if that’s the right approach, particularly where off-site, but accessible equipment is permitted.

        If we think about the early hours of Fukushima, it seems to be the case that DGs were brought in from off-site, but couldn’t be used because of non-compatible connections. Had those worked, the core damage and all that ensued could have been avoided.

        Mandating storage of sufficient generation capacity, with compatible connections a mile or two from the site boundary would be an extremely cheap way of adding resilience; from a quick scan of a few vendors catalogues, £10-15K/100KW ($15-22,000/100kw)seems easily available. Aim to have (say) 5-10MW available within 1 hour would probably cost no more than £1-2M in capital terms, and maybe a couple of hundred thousand pounds per year in storage, maintenance, testing, etc. Again, for maximum resilience, aim at 10-20 sets in the 500KW to 2MW range. There’d have to be some minor retrofitting of connection points, of course – maybe another £1m/reactor.

        Perhaps an area where regulatory policy has been counter-productive, in terms of ignoring the potential of off-site kit.

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