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

Friday, March 18, 2011

Afternoon update, and commentary

It appears that not too much has changed in the evening hours in Japan, and as I write this at 3:15 in the afternoon here in the Eastern time zone it's 4:15 in the morning, Saturday and actions at the site appear limited at this moment to the continuing effort to get AC power to the No. 2 plant, which unfortunately isn't completed yet. We are not sure of the exact status, and it's very likely that the situation is very fluid... there may be no good fixed set of things to expect to need done at the site since most of the electrical equipment was inundated with seawater and it's likely that much of it is grounded, damaged or destroyed. This might make a minute by minute change in the specific details of the operation and what is needed (for example, everything stops because it's discovered that a certain type of large circuit breaker is now needed, and none is on hand spare) and is clearly stretching out the operation. Plans now are that the No. 2 plant might have AC power sometime during the day Saturday (local.)

We noted earlier the upgrading of the accident to Level 5 status... equal on that rating scale (the international scale) to TMI-2.

One alarming thing happened in the USA today, not Japan; and that is the cry by politicians, including the President, that a comprehensive review of US nuclear plant safety occur. They want to find out if any of what's being learned in Japan is applicable here.

We already have the answer: Yes, if we find some plant that can experience a tsunami in excess of the designed water height protection. Other than that, the answer is no.

I've just saved you all the time, effort, and surely billions of dollars the NRC and EPA are just getting ready to think about spending on what's sure to be a huge effort to re-invent the wheel.

The US nuclear energy program had its accidents, its "Apollo fire" moments that jerked it to a new level of realization. The whole regulatory orgy that occurred after TMI is testament to that fact. But what are we to do now? Do we need to reinvent any wheels? Is there a need to get ready for tsunamis?

The industry always learns its lessons from events, whether big or small, through shared incident reports. This has been in place since TMI. We must think clearly at this time about further legislating our nuclear energy resource, and supporting industry, into such a tight corner that it cannot operate.

We must be ready; we cannot be worried.

3:30 PM Eastern Friday 3/18


  1. Dear Will! I think there is one thing we definitely should learn from this accident: We should not rely on active systems! All this probabilistic went wrong, we simply have to accept Murphys Law that everything that can go wrong, goes wrong. One week ago, I would have said, that it is so absolutely unlikely that one plant will be hit be an earthquake far beyond its design criteria and than flooded by a tsunami also far above the design limits, we don't have to think about it. But now exactly this happened and the only things that worked, were the passiv systems that are failsafe by physics: the concrete, the steel, the basic principles of nuclear physics and thermo dynamics.

    Therefore I would conclude, that we have to rethink our designs with all this active Core-Cooling-Systems, Emergency-Core-Cooling-Systems, Containment-Sprinkling-Systems and so on, but rely on passiv systems that can stabilize a plant only by the laws of physics and not by the will of designers.

  2. RE lessons to be learned - sorry to differ, but I read a post elsewhere by a US plant Operator in which he observed that a potential lesson from this disaster is that incident planning that assumes only a loss of a single reactor at a multi-reactor complex (as his facility does) may be unrealistic. Thinking about even what was already known about earthquakes, that certainly seems like a no-brainer.

  3. See NRC order EA-02-026 issued after September 11th 2001 that directly states that operating entities should prepare plans to mitigage for losses of large areas of the whole power plant property. This would include more than one plant on a site.