APR: your source for nuclear news and analysis since April 16, 2010

Friday, February 17, 2012

Atomic Power Review- February 17, 2012

It's been a while since I've rounded up some of the more interesting news in the world of nuclear energy; thus, it's time for another Atomic Power Review.

FUKUSHIMA DAIICHI - TEPCO has arrived at the conclusion that the single lower pressure vessel high temperature reading is erroneous, but not before injecting boric acid twice and vastly increasing the injection rate (both core spray and feed line.) TEPCO then resistance checked the detector and found it to be faulty. As of February 16, the reading on this instrument dropped from the 200C range to roughly 0, and at times is now reading negative (below freezing) temperatures. TEPCO indicates it will drop the injection rate to the reactor, which it may have already by the time this is published.

NUCLEAR ENERGY IN THE USA. It has been brought to the attention of the nuclear industry and professional organizations that CNN has developed a fairly heavily biased story (and will run a TV segment, Sunday) concerning boiling water reactor plants which incorporate the Mk I containment. Allow me a few observations - having seen the online version.

Immediately, I'm struck by the fact that the CNN piece describes the plants of interest as being "GE Mk I reactors." There are no Mk I reactors. I have explained this exhaustively on this website before ... here are some links.

Click here to see an old but thorough video I made and which is on the APR YouTube channel that shows many facets of the Mk I pressure suppression containment, and related plant details. This was made for non-nuclear people to examine as well as those in the business; feel free to pause as needed. I recommend viewing it full screen or else as large as possible.

Click here to see an April 2011 article describing the difference between models of GE boiling water reactors (such as "BWR/3") and types of containment structures (such as "Mk I.") Note the many backlinks to even further APR descriptive stories. This article is a really good sort of "Nuclear 101" entry.

Now that we have our nomenclature fixed, let's turn to the real purpose of the CNN article, which namely is that of getting people everywhere to tie the Mk I containment to the Fukushima Daiichi accident. Let me be brief and clear - the real cause of the accident was the tsunami, which flooded the plant causing a loss of all AC and eventually DC power. This robbed the operators of all indications and all remote operability. Core damage in this condition was inevitable. This would have occurred whether these plants had Mk I pressure suppression containments, or Mk II or Mk III or, for that matter, dry ambient or ice-condenser PWR containments.

The article DOES go on to say what I've said above, to some degree. What it then does is assure us that the Mk I containment is unable to do its job - which is to contain the results of a major nuclear accident. What the article does NOT say is that many years' worth of work has been put into modifying and updating Mk I containment structures at all US plants which have them, and that it continues to be put into them even now. Click here to see a report I did on exactly this some time back. And, you can click here to see a recent document filed at the NRC from the BWR Owners Group discussing just one aspect of continued Mk I modifications - hardened wetwell vents. Seeing this information, it is clear that the NRC, GE, the architect-engineer firms and the Owners Group are working continually on making improvements and modifications to these plants as the needs arise and as new issues are brought to light. On the balance, the CNN article should have given more weight to the facts concerning continued effort to ensure safety of all plants which incorporate Mk I containment buildings.


INDIA - Nuclear Safety Regulatory Bill stopped by committee. Click here. In this author's opinion, it would be wise for the nuclear industry in India to get the public informed on what proprietary information is -- information that could be sensitive to the business of a company -- and inform the public that the 'right to know' legislation should not cover such data for the simple reason that such data are not likely to be of any use, ever, to the public. Further, the article says that information related to nuclear safety would not be disclosed if proprietary information were withheld but this is far from the case. Proprietary information is NOT safety-related information. We see here a nation just beginning to have open discussion and debate about nuclear energy and nuclear energy safety .. and the growing pains are all too obvious.

Further on India.. India's first nuclear powered submarine is about to go on sea trials. The ARIHANT is powered by an Indian-built 80 MW pressurized water reactor. A sister ship is under construction. Click here. Click here for an exceedingly detailed history of India's leased nuclear subs and its indigenous construction program including some historical perspective on its submarine PWR program. Click here for fas.org open literature summation on the Indian nuclear sub program.

KENYA - UN says "hold on" to a nuclear future in Kenya. Click here. One has to wonder what the motivation of the UNEP actually is in this case. Oh, wait a minute - we DO know, because the references to the UNEP report go on all the way through warning of global disaster. (Read the full article all the way to the end.) And somehow, Kenya is supposed to bank on low-reliability and low capacity factor solar and wind and geothermal energy to move forward. I would have to say that considering the number of solar companies that have failed, and given the low overall KW/H output of 'renewables' that nuclear would be a far better bet production wise and would also give Kenya a place and a reason to really focus serious technical education. Not that Kenya will go down this path. What this author finds alarming is the lock-step UNEP slapdown of nuclear in line with present thinking in Europe - or in some parts of it.

VIETNAM - ROSATOM promises quake and tsunami safety for Vietnam's first nuclear generating station. Click here. If Vietnam is to go nuclear, it's a sure bet that its nuclear plants will have to be built to the most rigorous and up to date specifications for both quake protection and tsunami protection; ROSATOM, selected to build Vietnam's first station starting in about two years, assures the nation that the plant will tap the company's long experience of building plants world wide in many harsh conditions and that it will be the safest possible. ROSATOM assures protection even against quakes as strong as 9 on the Richter scale.

That's all the news for this edition. Keep watching for further Fukushima Daiichi updates as well as US Nuclear Renaissance news.

9:50 PM Eastern February 17, 2012


  1. "the real cause of the accident was the tsunami". Sorry Will but I find this cause too easy.
    I feel the real reason is failure of the designers, and subsequent regulators / inspectors to make allowances for a large tsunami. After all, large tsunami's, big storms, earthquakes are certain events, we just don't know when. And Japan certainly knows about them and has a history of them.
    Alright, economically one can't protect everything against every event that nature MIGHT throw at it. But surely bulletproof backup power is not too much to ask for?
    The money saved by not making those design decisions has been well and truly blown away by the cost of whats happened.
    Probably of more importance, is how well are other nuclear stations around the world situated to cope should a huge tsunami hit them?

  2. Thanks for these capsules of info! The UN REALLY has to get this e=mcBomb mentality out of its system! I hope Kenya is helped along by the Chinese if not us in achieving reactors than listen to poison-pen letters from Europe. It still boggles me at Europe's knee-jerk reaction to a nature-caused zero-casualty/public property damage accident a quarter of the world away from them! I guess people getting sick and dying of lung diseases on an regular daily basis from coal emissions is just peachy keen with them!

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

    1. James, it was not a nature caused accident. Read http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/default.aspx?id=29666&terms=fukushima%20report

      Nature did not build and operate the reactor - man did. Man did not make adequate allowance for what it knew nature was capable of. Saying nature caused the accident is like blaming the sun when you get a fatal skin cancer.

      Dismissing the real cause is like brushing dirt under the carpet. It doesn't solve the problem. Blaming nature might be convenient, but it is not doing the future of the nuclear industry any favors at all.

  3. Further to my comment disputing the "real cause of the accident was the tsunami", here is the text from the World Nuclear Organisation report that you posted today (http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/default.aspx?id=29666&terms=fukushima%20report)

    "The tsunami countermeasures taken when Fukushima Daiichi was designed and sited in the 1960s were considered acceptable in relation to the scientific knowledge then, with low recorded run-up heights for that particular coastline. But through to the 2011 disaster, new scientific knowledge emerged about the likelihood of a large earthquake and resulting tsunami. However, this did not lead to any major action by either the plant operator, Tepco, or government regulators, notably the Nuclear & Industrial Safety Agency (NISA). The tsunami countermeasures could also have been reviewed in accordance with IAEA guidelines which required taking into account high tsunami levels, but NISA continued to allow the Fukushima plant to operate without sufficient countermeasures, despite clear warnings."

    They knew they were vulnerable. They knew it was likely. They did nothing. The tsunami was not the cause. Complacency and arrogance was.

    Whilst I am being critical let me also say a big thanks to you Will for keeping us so well informed with this excellent blog.

    So whats my answer to the future directions? I'm, an Australian retired ex coal fired power station operator with diddly squat nuclear knowledge. Blind Freddy can see that coal and oil won't last forever. Wind, solar and hydro can only go so far. Nuclear is the only big scale alternative. However it has a huge image problem.
    I feel that you folk with nuclear knowledge should be hammering down the doors of those in power to make sure that backup systems are better than bullet proof. The systems that you operators MUST have. To make sure that in EVERY nuclear power station the events of Fukushima can never happen again.

    So endeth my sermon.

  4. @Keith: Well, we can nitpick here or agree to disagree. First, let me thank you for your compliments about the site. Now, I do need to point out that I have read the reports - I don't need anyone to quote them to me. What I am tirelessly trying to get across is the fact that the tsunami caused the accident - not the earthquake, and not any faults of the GE BWR design, nor the Mk I containment. It was the site design that allowed the tsunami to cause the accident - but make no mistake. Trillions of gallons of water are the primary cause of the LOOP and SBO scenarios which led inevitably to the accident. Losing this focus causes anyone and everyone to start down the fear trail. Keeping this focus will allow us to apply the proper fixes to any plants that need them. I sure hope I'm crystal clear on this.

    Once we hold this fact as the truth, we can begin to design power systems and offsite access plans post-incident and post-accident to deal with these scenarios. Trying to "build in safety" in the inherent plant design itself (at least so far as US sited plants are concerned) is folly. Reliable electric power would have stopped this from becoming an accident, period.

    This is exactly why the AP1000 has been licensed without any "Post-Fukushima Task Force" alterations.

    No one is "blaming nature." We're labeling the cause and designing against it in the future.