Tag Archives: Fukushima

Fukushima Three Years Later

KashiwazakiKariwa

Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Station; Units 6 and 7 were submitted for safety screening in September 2013.

By Will Davis

In our collective memory, disturbing images played out on video around the world in the days following the apocalyptic Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami have somewhat receded, even if they haven’t lost their impact—images of rushing waters, floating vehicles, buildings and debris, massive (and unstoppable) outbreaks of fire, and implications of lives lost and lives ruined.

Peculiar among these images, however, are those refreshed by their association with the nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear station; peculiar because people remain out of their homes, because the cleanup at the plant has been protracted and troublesome and failure-prone, peculiar because a seemingly insidious enemy of people and life—ionizing radiation—is completely invisible in our images and films, quite unlike the rushing and thundering waters.

Indeed, what is not seen can be frightening, and what is not known can be daunting; what is happening is that the public, both evacuated Fukushima refugees and other peoples around the world, are beginning to grasp the realities of the present in addition to focusing on the days of the tsunami, the nuclear accident, and the evacuation—and the world is starting to respond.

The plant

In the past several months, the story at Fukushima Daiichi has had one parallel with the original disaster—the problem, quite plainly, is water. Lots of water. Millions of gallons of it, coming onto the site at a rate of several hundred tons per day, in the form of runoff and precipitation, and millions of gallons of water that have been used to cool the damaged reactor cores at Units 1, 2, and 3. This water is being both cleaned up and stored in a dizzying array of onsite tanks, and unfortunately occasionally is escaping out of the nuclear plant buildings and tanks and into places onsite where it should not be.

Personnel patrols among the giant, fabricated tanks now beginning to fill the entire hillside behind the nuclear plant (the shore side) have been stepped up to ensure tanks that overflow do not continue to; however, exposure rates can be high in areas around these tanks and failures have been missed. The news continues to be of struggles with these systems, and with those systems purifying the water.

What has received less press has been occasions of positive news—perhaps foremost of which is the continued, methodical removal of fuel elements from the spent fuel pool at Unit 4. As of now, 462 of the 1533 fuel elements stored there have been moved safely to the site’s common fuel pool. None of the dire predictions made by numerous anti-nuclear prognosticators concerning this spent fuel pool and its contents have come to pass, and TEPCO’s continued methodical removal of the elements emphasizes the fact that nuclear energy is a practice of procedure, of care, of attention to detail, and that this environment does indeed exist at the Fukushima Daiichi site.

Progress is in fact taking place on the water issues as well; the plant site is fairly well sealed from the harbor, and the harbor from the ocean. The mechanisms behind the spread of contaminated water around the site are known and preparations are underway to stop it using means both tried and new. The TEPCO video below demonstrates just one of the “small victories” that can be checked off in the massive effort to first contain the water and then decommission the nuclear plants.

The actual moment-to-moment actions that were taken during the progression of the accident—indeed, even the natural events such as the exact timing of the arrival of the first tsunami wave—continue to be debated, questioned, and analyzed by expert panels worldwide. Just this week, an analysis was released by the Atomic Energy Society of Japan, backing up the theory that the earthquake itself did no critical plant damage, and that the tsunami was the triggering event for the accident. This theory is espoused by a large number of experts and was backed up by evidence presented at the American Nuclear Society’s 2013 Fukushima Daiichi embedded topical meeting in November.

Questions about the operation of the isolation condenser systems at Unit 1, and the high pressure core injection system at the other units, remain at the forefront of discussion, as does the question of containment venting. Only the full decommissioning and teardown of the nuclear plants, piece by piece, will finally yield all the answers about what happened and when. For now what matters is preventing anything like it from happening again—anywhere.

Hokuriku Electric Power Company's Tomari Nuclear Station.

Hokuriku Electric Power Company’s Tomari Nuclear Station.

Prevention—machines and manpower

An approach to prevention underway in Japan is similar to that of the United States in one respect; it is recognized that preparation for cataclysmic events that could cause interactions among nuclear units on the same site is of utmost importance (e.g., a hydrogen explosion at Fukushima Daiichi Unit 1 stopped efforts for a time at all other units). To that end, Japanese nuclear plant owners and the Nuclear Energy Institute in the United States recognize that a massive array of stand-by generating trucks (for electric power), fire engines (for water pumping) and other vehicles, as well as personnel and the ability to get all of this to a plant site in short order are necessary developments. And the progress to this end is remarkable in both countries.

In Japan, there is a growing desire to get nuclear plants restarted so that they can provide energy at far lower cost than the fossil fuels that are now being imported. However, no nuclear plants can be started back up until they’ve passed new safety inspections mandated by the new Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) in Japan. Not surprisingly, the plants at which the most upgrade work has been completed are those that have already applied to restart. Seventeen units have applied as of now—see the NRA graphic below.

NRAplantrestartappsMarch2014

The efforts underway to allow restart are well known; this link details the work done at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s giant Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant and at Chubu Electric Power Company’s Hamaoka plant. Since that article was written, the containment vent filters have been delivered to and installed at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Units 6 and 7. Other plant owners have begun to take steps as well, including Hokkaido Electric Power Company at its three-unit Tomari Nuclear Station, as seen in the graphics below excerpted from an official company report.

HEPCOTomariPlan1HEPCOTomariPlan2

The steps above concerning plant additions to adapt to use of portable power and water supplies, in addition to the mobile supplies themselves, are typical of provisions being made throughout the country.

In the United States, similar work is also in process and showing real progress. By the end of this year, two regional centers, each with five full sets of mobile backup emergency equipment, will be opened. This backs up equipment already bought by and stationed near the nuclear plants themselves; NEI informs us that 20 nuclear plants will complete their FLEX preparations by the third quarter of 2014 in the area of mobile electric power. Twenty plants will also have installed spent fuel pool water level monitoring equipment. Already completed are plant-specific seismic walkdowns and flooding walkdowns; actions resulting from these are all forthcoming. In all, over 1500 pieces of equipment (such as generator trucks and water pump trucks) have been purchased for this FLEX effort, or are on order. NEI reports that all FLEX modifications at all nuclear plants in the United States will be complete by 2016.

In Japan, it’s expected that at some plants the modifications and provision of equipment will occur much sooner so that plants can be restarted in the near-term. The NRA has recently bolstered its staff significantly after having merged in an outside professional organization, and with the help of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the safety reviews (delineated in the table above) are now well underway. However, it may not in fact be the final safety reviews that hold up restarts. For example, TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant is assumed in TEPCO’s business plan to restart after July this year, but a revisit of the seismic conditions under the plant may take as much as six months by itself. This would push the safety review out at least that long; further, TEPCO may not finish all of the physical upgrades by July either. In a similar fashion, some of the other operators may not complete some large construction projects such as seawalls by summer. What’s important to realize is that operators now have safety squarely in mind, and not only do not wish to attempt to restart until it’s nearly assured as possible, but cannot do so anyway without NRA approval.

Public 0pinion shifting, people moving

According to a recent Kyodo News poll, 37 local governments in Japan (out of 156 total) would today allow restarts of nuclear plants when the NRA safety checks are passed. This is a surprise, given a continuous flood of negative press covering anti-nuclear sentiment in Japan. This follows the election of a government in Tokyo that is, at the very least, not anti-nuclear, and of course the exploits of Prime Minister Abe who is pushing for the restart of nuclear plants. Abe is also pushing to repatriate displaced families back to areas where safe return is assured.

As reported by NHK World, Abe visited Fukushima Prefecture last week, and held a meeting with persons displaced from Miyajoki District who will be allowed to return home April 1. This step is the first in the real recovery of Fukushima; the “real recovery” isn’t just about the nuclear plant, and “Fukushima” isn’t a nuclear plant, but a giant prefecture that was and again will be the home to many thousands of people, and the site of farms and villages and fishing ports—just as it was before March 2011. Prime Minister Abe was quoted as saying that the recovery of Japan cannot begin until the recovery of Fukushima is underway, and the progress seen so far as well as the ongoing efforts to ensure future nuclear safety (and thus reliable energy supply, safe living, commerce, and prosperity) are absolute sign posts on the road to a recovery that we all know is coming, and we can just see dawning on the horizon.

For more information:

NEI has very recently published a new resource entitled “Fukushima Daiichi Recovery:  The Facts,” which addresses many issues both in Japan and the US

Utilities Service Alliance: USA Fukushima team ensuring plants can respond

Events and Highlights on the progress related to recovery operations at Fukushima Daiichi NPS. IAEA February 2014.

Events and Highlights on the progress related to recovery operations at Fukushima Daiichi NPS. IAEA March 2014.

(Above two links contain information provided to International Atomic Energy Agency by the Japanese government.)

OECD/Nuclear Energy Agency: Accident Management Insights after the Fukushima Daiichi NPP Accident

June 2012 TEPCO handout on tsunami protection, other measures being installed at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa

Kyushu Electric Power Company – Initiatives for Ensuring Safety in Nuclear Power Stations. (Sendai NPP and Genkai NPP)

Kyushu Electric Power Company – Application for compatibility check to New Regulatory Requirements (Sendai NPP and Genkai NPP)

______________________________________

WillDavisNewBioPicWill Davis is the communications director for the N/S Savannah Association, Inc. where he also serves as historian and as a member of the board of directors. He is also a consultant to, and writer for, the American Nuclear Society; an active ANS member, he is serving on the ANS Communications Committee 2013-2016. In addition, he is a contributing author for Fuel Cycle Week, is secretary of the board of directors of PopAtomic Studios, and writes his own popular blog Atomic Power Review. Davis is a former US Navy reactor operator, qualified on S8G and S5W plants. 

Nuclear Matinee: Removal of Spent Fuel from Fukushima Pool No. 4

News out of Fukushima-Daiichi this week is encouraging:  TEPCO successfully transferred the first batch of fuel rod assemblies from the reactor unit No. 4 spent fuel pool to a common fuel pool building offering longer-term stable storage conditions. Completing the process for the more than 1,000 fuel rod assemblies that remain at No. 4 is projected to take a year, and will be a first major step toward decommissioning of the site.

The following video may be of interest to those who are watching and following events at Fukushima closely, as it shows the removal of one of the fuel rod assemblies via underwater camera. Much ink has been spilled over the past year concerning perils and hazards of this stage of decommissioning—so one might as well see part of how it’s done.

 

Cask with 22 fuel rod assemblies headed toward common fuel pool building (Kyodo News)

Cask with 22 fuel rod assemblies heads to common fuel pool building (Kyodo News)

 

2012 ~ The year that was in nuclear energy

Plus a few pointers to what’s in store for 2013

By Dan Yurman

Former NRC Chairman Gregory Jackzo

On a global scale the nuclear industry had its share of pluses and minuses in 2012. Japan’s Fukushima crisis continues to dominate any list of the top ten nuclear energy issues for the year. (See more below on Japan’s mighty mission at Fukushima.)

In the United States, while the first new nuclear reactor licenses in three decades were issued to four reactors, the regulatory agency that approved them had a management meltdown that resulted in the noisy departure of Gregory Jazcko, its presidentially appointed chairman. His erratic tenure at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission cast doubt on its effectiveness and tarnished its reputation as one of the best places to work in the federal government.

Iran continues its uranium enrichment efforts

The year also started with another bang, and not the good kind, as new attacks on nuclear scientists in Iran brought death by car bombs. In July, western powers enacted new sanctions on Iran over its uranium enrichment program. Since 2011, economic sanctions have reduced Iran’s oil exports by 40 percent, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

In late November, the U.S. Senate approved a measure expanding the economic sanctions that have reduced Iran’s export earnings from oil production. Despite the renewed effort to convince Iran to stop its uranium enrichment effort, the country is pressing ahead with it. Talks between Iran and the United States and western European nations have not made any progress.

Nukes on Mars

NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover is a scientific and engineering triumph.

Peaceful uses of the atom were highlighted by NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover, which executed a flawless landing on the red planet in August with a nuclear heartbeat to power its science mission. Data sent to Earth from its travels across the red planet will help determine whether or not Mars ever had conditions that would support life.

SMRs are us

The U.S. government dangled an opportunity for funding of innovative small modular reactors, e.g., with electrical power ratings of less than 300 MW. Despite vigorous competition, only one vendor, B&W, was successful in grabbing a brass ring worth up to $452 million over five years.

The firm immediately demonstrated the economic value of the government cost-sharing partnership by placing an order for long lead time components. Lehigh Heavy Forge and B&W plan to jointly participate in the fabrication and qualification of large forgings for nuclear reactor components that are intended to be used in the manufacture of B&W mPower SMRs.

Lehigh Forge at work

The Department of Energy said that it might offer a second round funding challenge, but given the federal government’s overall dire financial condition, the agency may have problems even meeting its commitments in the first round.

As of December 1, negotiations between the White House and Congress over the so-called “fiscal cliff” were deadlocked. Congress created this mess, so one would expect that they could fix it.

The Congressional Budget Office has warned that if Congress doesn’t avert the fiscal cliff, the economy might slip into recession next year and boost the unemployment rate to 9.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013, compared with 7.9 percent now. Even record low natural gas prices and a boom in oil production won’t make much of a difference if there is no agreement by January 1, 2013.

Japan’s mighty mission at Fukushima

Japan’s major challenges are unprecedented for a democratically elected government. It must decontaminate and decommission the Fukushima site, home to six nuclear reactors, four of which suffered catastrophic internal and external damage from a giant tsunami and record shattering earthquake. The technical challenges of cleanup are daunting and the price tag, already in the range of tens of billions of dollars, keeps rising with a completion date now at least several decades in the future.

Map of radiation releases from Fukushima reported in April 2011

  • Japan is mobilizing a new nuclear regulatory agency that has the responsibility to say whether the rest of Japan’s nuclear fleet can be restarted safely. While the government appointed highly regarded technical specialists to lead the effort, about 400 staff came over from the old Nuclear Industry Safety Agency that was found to be deficient as a deeply compromised oversight body. The new agency will struggle to prove itself an independent and effective regulator of nuclear safety.
  •  Japan has restarted two reactors and approved continued construction work at several more that are partially complete. Local politics will weigh heavily on the outlook for each power station with the “pro” forces emphasizing jobs and tax base and the anti-nuclear factions encouraged by widespread public distrust of the government and of the nation’s nuclear utilities.
  • Despite calls for a phase out of all nuclear reactors in Japan, the country will continue to generate electric power from them for at least the next 30–40 years.
  • Like the United States, Japan has no deep geologic site for spent fuel. Unlike the United States, Japan has been attempting to build and operate a spent fuel reprocessing facility. Plagued by technical missteps and rising costs, Japan may consider offers from the United Kingdom and France to reprocess its spent fuel and with such a program relieve itself of the plutonium in it.

U.S. nuclear renaissance stops at six

The pretty picture of a favorable future for the nuclear fuel cycle in 2007 turned to hard reality in 2012.

In 2007, the combined value of more than two dozen license applications for new nuclear reactors weighed in with an estimated value of over $120 billion. By 2012, just six reactors were under construction. Few will follow soon in their footsteps due to record low prices of natural gas and the hard effects of one of the nation’s deepest and longest economic recessions.

The NRC approved licenses for two new reactors at Southern’s Vogtle site in Georgia and two more at Scana’s V.C. Summer Station in South Carolina. Both utilities chose the Westinghouse AP1000 design and will benefit from lessons learned by the vendor that is building four of them in China. In late November, Southern’s contractors, which are building the plants, said that both of the reactors would enter revenue service a year late. For its part, Southern said that it hasn’t agreed to a new schedule.

The Tennessee Valley Authority recalibrated its efforts to complete Watts Bar II, adding a three-year delay and over $2 billion in cost escalation. TVA’s board told the utility’s executives that construction work to complete Unit 1 at the Bellefonte site cannot begin until fuel is loaded in Watts Bar.

The huge increase in the supply of natural gas, resulting in record low prices for it in the United States, led Exelon Chairman John Rowe to state that it would be “inconceivable” for a nuclear utility in a deregulated state to build new reactors.

Four reactors in dire straights

In January, Southern California Edison (SCE) safety shut down two 1100-MW reactors at its San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) due to excessive wear found in the nearly new steam generators at both reactors.

SCE submitted a restart plan to the NRC for Unit 2 in November. The review, according to the agency, could take months. SCE removed the fuel from Unit 3 last August, a signal that the restart of that reactor will be farther in the future owing to the greater extent of the damage to the tubes its steam generator.

The NRC said that a key cause of the damage to the tubes was a faulty computer program used by Mitsubishi, the steam generator vendor, in its design of the units. The rate of steam, pressure, and water content were key factors along with the design and placement of brackets to hold the tubes in place.

Flood waters surround Ft. Calhoun NPP June 2011

Elsewhere, in Nebraska the flood stricken Ft. Calhoun reactor owned and operated by the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD), postponed its restart to sometime in 2013.

It shut down in April 2011 for a scheduled fuel outage. Rising flood waters along the Missouri River in June damaged in the plant site though the reactor and switch yard remained dry.

The Ft. Calhoun plant must fulfill a long list of safety requirements before the NRC will let it power back up. To speed things along, OPPD hired Exelon to operate the plant. In February 2012, OPPD cancelled plans for a power uprate, also citing the multiple safety issues facing the plant.

In Florida, the newly merged Duke and Progress Energy firm wrestled with a big decision about what to do with the shutdown Crystal River reactor. Repairing the damaged containment structure could cost half again as much as an entirely new reactor. With license renewal coming up in 2016, Florida’s Public Counsel thinks that Duke will decommission the unit and replace it with a combined cycle natural gas plant. Separately, Duke Chairman Jim Rogers said that he will resign at the end of 2013.

China restarts nuclear construction

After a long reconsideration (following the Fukushima crisis) of its aggressive plans to build new nuclear reactors, China’s top level government officials agreed to allow new construction starts, but only with Gen III+ designs.

China has about two dozen Gen II reactors under construction. It will be 40–60 years before the older technology is off the grid. China also reduced its outlook for completed reactors from an estimate of 80 GWe by 2020 to about 55–60 GWe. Plans for a massive $26-billion nuclear energy IPO (initial public offering) still have not made it to the Shanghai Stock Exchange.  No reason has been made public about the delay.

India advances at Kudanlulam

India loaded fuel at Kudankulam where two Russian built 1000-MW VVER reactors are ready for revenue service. The Indian government overcame widespread political protests in its southern state of Tamil Nadu. India’s Prime Minister Singh blamed the protests on international NGOs (non-governmental organizations).

One of the key factors that helped the government overcome the political opposition is that Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited told the provincial government that it could allocate half of all the electricity generated by the plants to local rate payers. Officials in Tamil Nadu will decide who gets power. India suffered two massive electrical blackouts in 2012, the second of which stranded over 600 million people without electricity for up to a week.

Also, India said that it would proceed with construction of two 1600-MW Areva EPRs at Jaitapur on its west coast south of Mumbai and launched efforts for construction of up to 20 GWe of domestic reactors.

India’s draconian supplier liability law continues to be an effective firewall in keeping American firms out of its nuclear market.

UK has new builder at Horizon

The United Kingdom suffered a setback in its nuclear new build as two German utilities backed out of the construction of up to 6 Gwe of new reactors at two sites. Japan’s Hitachi successfully bid to take over the project. A plan for a Chinese state-owned firm to bid on the Horizon project in collaboration with Areva never materialized.

Also in the UK, General Electric pursued an encouraging dialog with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to build two of its 300-MW PRISM fast reactors to burn off surplus plutonium stocks at Sellafield. The PRISM design benefits from the technical legacy of the Integral Fast Reactor developed at Argonne West in Idaho.

You can’t make this stuff up

In July, three anti-war activitists breached multiple high-tech security barriers at the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Y-12 highly enriched uranium facility in Tennessee. The elderly trio, two men on the dark side of 55 and a woman in her 80s, were equipped with ordinary wire cutters and flashlights.

Y-12 Signs state the obvious

The intruders roamed the site undetected for several hours in the darkness of the early morning and spray painted political slogans on the side of one of the buildings. They were looking for new artistic venues when a lone security guard finally stopped their travels through the plant.

The government said that the unprecedented security breach was no laughing matter, firing the guards on duty at the time and the contractor they worked for. Several civil servants “retired.” The activists, if convicted, face serious jail time.

None of the HEU stored at the site was compromised, but subsequent investigations by the Department of Energy found a lack of security awareness, broken equipment, and an unsettling version of the “it can’t happen here” attitude by the guards that initially mistook the intruders for construction workers.

The protest effort brought publicity to the activists’ cause far beyond their wildest dreams and produced the predictable uproar in Congress. The DOE’s civilian fig leaf covering the nation’s nuclear weapons program was once again in tatters.

So long Chu

Given the incident at Y-12, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who came to government from the quiet life of scientific inquiry, must have asked himself once again why he ever accepted the job in Washington in the first place.

DOE Energy Secretary Steven Chu

Chu is expected to leave Washington. That he’s lasted this long is something of a miracle since the Obama White House tried to give him the heave ho this time last year after the Solyndra loan guarantee debacle, in which charges of political influence peddling by White House aides colored a half a billion dollar default on a DOE loan by a California solar energy company.

The predictable upswing in rumors of who might be appointed to replace him oozed into energy trade press and political saloons of the nation’s capital.

Leading candidates are former members of Congress, former governors, or just  about anyone with the experience and political know how to take on the job of running one of the federal government’s biggest cabinet agencies. It’s a short list of people who really can do the job and a long list of wannabes. With shale gas and oil production on the rise, having a background in fossil fuels will likely help prospective candidates.

_______________________________

Dan Yurman published the nuclear energy blog Idaho Samizdat from 2007–2012.

Japan launches nuclear safety agency

Restart of the nation’s nuclear reactors will be guided by its actions

By Dan Yurman

Shunichi Tanaka, chairman, Japan Nuclear Regulation Authority.

A new and independent nuclear safety agency—the Nuclear Regulation
Authority (NRA)—began operating in Japan on September 19, but its future is already clouded by controversy. Approval of the five members of the NRA’s governing commission was not obtained by the central government of the Diet, the Japanese parliament. The NRA’s chairman, Shunichi Tanka, has placed it on the tracks in the face of an oncoming locomotive.

Tanka said that none of Japan’s shut down nuclear reactors would restart until the NRA issued its own set of safety rules and applied them to restart decisions, a process that could take up to a year or longer.

Two weeks ago, Japan’s cabinet backed down from a decision by Prime Minister Yoshiko Noda to phase out all nuclear reactors by 2030. The reason was the implacable opposition to the loss of reliable electric power by Japan’s largest business federation, composed of heavy industry manufacturing operations. These firms, which are also among Japan’s largest employers, have threatened to take their operations offshore if the government doesn’t authorize restart of the reactors.

Tanaka, who has long experience in the nation’s nuclear industry, must know what he’s doing. He formerly was vice chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission. Plus, he has marching orders straight from the prime minister’s office.

Goshi Hoshono, who heads the environmental ministry in which the nuclear safety operation is housed, told Tanaka that he expects the NRA to operate independently of influence from the industry that it will regulate.

Previously, the nuclear safety function in the government was housed in the trade ministry where its functions were routinely compromised by industry influence. It was ineffective, however, in getting the Tokyo Electric Power Company to build a higher seawall at Fukushima, which led to the March 11, 2011, disaster in which a tsunami destroyed six of Japan’s 54 reactors.

Profile of the agency

The NRA will be responsible for developing and enforcing nuclear safety regulations, oversight of the physical security of sites, nuclear materials safeguards, radiation monitoring, and regulation of the use of radioisotopes in fields like medicine, construction, and food processing.

It will have a staff composed mostly of people transferred from the old Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency—about 400–500 people—and an annual budget reported to be in the range of $600 million.

The five people on the commission include its chairman Tanaka and four others:

  • Kenzo Oshima, former Permanent Representative of Japan to the United Nations
  • Kunihiko Shimazaki, professor emeritus of seismology at the University of Tokyo
  • Kayoko Nakamura, Ph.D, a nuclear medicine specialist
  • Toyoshi Fuketa, a senior manager from the Fuel Safety Research Laboratory, Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute

Tanaka, speaking for his colleagues, said that the NRA has to regain the trust of the Japanese public for nuclear power. It is unlikely that local government officials will agree to the restart of reactors without the oversight and assurances of the NRA.

Nuclear politics marches on

Yukio Edano, now the Japan Trade Minister, was the chief spokesman for former prime minister Naoto Kan during the Fukushima crisis.

While Tanaka was organizing his new agency, METI Minister Yukio Edano
wasted no time mounting a new attack on restart of the reactors. In a new book published this week, he called for the government to nationalize the reactors and to immediately begin decommissioning them. The reactors are owned by publicly traded utility companies. Nationalization would cost the debt-ridden government billions of dollars that it does not have. The likelihood of that option seeing the light of day seems to be very remote.

But Edano’s book isn’t meant to be practical. It is designed to whip up public opinion and to keep the anti-nuclear pot boiling. Trading on widespread public distrust of the nuclear utilities, Edano said that the government must take the lead in creating a nuclear-free society.

Edano also said that nine nuclear reactors that are planned to be built will be halted. He called for utility companies to take “voluntary measures” to stop the projects and he threatened legislative actions if they don’t. This threat also seems somewhat hollow since government seizure of privately owned assets would require compensation.

The projects that would be affected include No. 3 and 4 units at the Tsuruga Power Station in Fukui Prefecture and the No. 1 and 2 units at the Kaminoseki Power Station in Yamaguchi Prefecture.

Earlier, Edano said that three reactors already under construction could be completed. One of them, the 1383-MW Ohma plant being built by Japan Electric Power, is 40-percent complete. It is expected to be completed in 2014. By then, presumably the NRA will have rolled out its new safety regulations.

Fuel reprocessing center faces new delays

One of the problems with METI Minister Edano’s clarion calls for decommissioning the nation’s nuclear reactors is that Japan has no deep geologic repository for disposing of nuclear waste or spent fuel in a once-through cycle.

For years Japan has been developing a spent fuel reprocessing plant. It would produce mixed oxide from recyclable materials and put the rest of the waste in ceramic canisters. The plant, being developed by Japan Nuclear Fuel, Ltd., is not complete and has encountered a series of technical mishaps that have delayed start of production operations.

Japan is storing 17,000 tonnes of spent fuel at the site, which is in Rokkasho in the Aomori Prefecture. There, political leaders are nominally pro-nuclear because of the jobs and tax base that come from the plant and from several commercial reactors. Their agreement would still be necessary to begin to reprocess fuel on a full-time basis.

However, Kazui Sakai, a senior executive with Japan Fuels, told the Wall Street Journal on September 19 that there is no planned date to start operations other than sometime in 2013. The vitrification process, which Japan acquired from Areva in France, has been significantly scaled up and modified to meet local requirements. It hasn’t worked so far despite assurances from Japan Fuel that the company has solutions in the works for various technical hurdles.

Critics of the plant have tried several times to stop its development. It has survived these efforts for the same reason that Japan will likely restart many of its reactors within the next 12 months. The country has no other economically feasible sources of baseload electricity.

In the long term, Japan cannot hope to compete on global markets with China for supplies of oil and natural gas. Japan will have to live with its “plutonium economy” for at least a few more decades while it experiments with geothermal and renewable sources, or it will have to come to terms with a future that includes nuclear energy as a mainstay of its economy.

___________________________

Dan Yurman publishes Idaho Samizdat, a blog about nuclear energy, and is a frequent contributor to ANS Nuclear Cafe.

ANS video interview: Oxford Professor Wade Allison discusses radiation… and reason

At the ANS 2012 Annual Meeting, ANS Public Information Committee’s Dan Yurman caught up with Dr. Wade Allison, of Oxford University, UK.  They discussed radiation, health effects, Fukushima, Dr. Allison’s recent book Radiation and Reason, and Dr. Allison’s recent trip to Japan in this video interview.

Dr. Allison has been teaching physics at the University of Oxford for over 40 years (medical physics, radiation physics, nuclear physics, and associated disciplines).

Dr. Allison explains nuclear power and, especially, radiation in this must-read article posted just yesterday at the Nuclear Literacy Project: ”You can appreciate nuclear and its safety, just read and decide yourself.”  Take his advice, read, and decide yourself!

A Tragedy of Misunderstanding: There was no major radiation disaster at Fukushima,” invited talk at 2012 ANS Annual Meeting.

Dr. Allison’s written evidence submitted to Britain’s Parliamentary Select Commitee on Science/Technology, regarding Risk Perception and Nuclear/Energy Infrastructure.

The Radiation and Reason website:

Implications of improved radiation protection standards for Fukushima evacuees

By Rod Adams

The American Nuclear Society’s annual meeting for 2012 included a President’s Special Session titled Low-Level Radiation & Its Implications for Fukushima Recovery (Warning—the link leads to a 54 MB, 208 page PDF full of disruptive information that might change your opinion on the benefits of spending billions of dollars every year to keep radiation doses as low as unreasonably achievable).

The session was well attended and 200 printed copies of the 208-page compilation of presentations and papers were snapped up quickly. Unfortunately, I am not yet able to judge if the situation today is any more favorable to a rational reconsideration of current regulations than it was during the period between 1994–1999 when Jim Muckerheide, Ted Rockwell, Ted Quinn, Andy Kadak, and others arranged a sustained series of special sessions on the health effects of low level radiation at ANS annual meetings.

That series culminated in technical briefing papers that supported revised ANS and Health Physics Society (HPS) position statements in favor of taking new approaches to radiation protection and some acknowledgment by Nuclear Regulatory Commission commissioners such as Greta Dicus that the science being gathered supported the need for a reevaluation of the linear no-threshold model (LNT) model and the regulations that use it as their basis.

Unfortunately, that effort came to naught after the officially selected Committee to Assess Health Risks From Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation from the National Academy of Sciences decided that the evidence of no or positive effects from very low levels of radiation was not convincing enough. They refused to overturn their long-held assumption that the linear relationship between dose and damage was valid enough for government regulations all the way down to a zero dose.

Little changed in the radiation protection field as a result of the multi-year effort and more billions of dollars were spent—and collected by the recipients of the spending—each year for more than another decade to protect people from doses that have never been shown to cause harm to people. The LNT is used to justify such absurd regulations as requiring that the high level waste repository in the United States must designed to ensure that annual doses to the most exposed person will be less than 15 mrem per year. That is 1/20th of the average background radiation in the United States.

My curiosity about the conclusion reached by the BEIR VII committee was strong enough when I first read the report. I had attended a number of the special sessions at ANS meetings, become a member of Radiation, Science and Health and developed a high level of respect for Jim Muckerheide, Myron Pollycove, Jerry Cuttler, Sohei Kondo, and John Cameron, among others. I could not understand why the information those highly qualified and courageous scientists and engineers were developing and presenting was being ignored.

However, while working in Washington and living in Annapolis, Md., I developed a friendship with a member of the Uniformed Public Health Service. He served a tour of duty in the office of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that controls the expenditure of the funds that the U.S. government appropriates each year to support the Life Span Study (LSS) of the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki conducted by the Radiation Effects Research Foundation. He told me that the senior government service (GS) employees that controlled that funding had established a small fiefdom. They had decided that they would do everything in their power to make sure that the money kept flowing to people that supported the status quo assumption. They made no secret of the fact that the LSS was their career ticket during conversations in the office.

After hearing that story, I more fully understood why the BEIR VII committee was so sure that the Life Span Study of atomic bomb victims—whose doses were given in a very short period—was considered to be a gold standard. It can be difficult to argue with funding sources that have a preconceived notion about the answers they expect to receive as deliverables. The thing that still bothers me, however, is realizing that a tiny group of functionaries can selfishly hold so much power over so many for such a small thing as a government job.

During the intervening years since the last sustained effort to bring sense and science to regulations and emergency response criteria associated with low level radiation doses, I have engaged in numerous conversations with nuclear energy professionals who have resisted—sometimes quite strongly—the idea that there is such a thing as a safe dose of radiation. Some were shocked to hear me suggesting that science showed that it was possible that radiation might even be beneficial at certain doses. Those concepts go against so much of their training and indoctrination.

The report produced for the 2012 special session should help reach these skeptical professionals, especially the ones who have nurtured the important nuclear philosophy that they are learning professionals who must always maintain a questioning attitude that is open to change if given new, reliable information.

Even though it is a big file at 54 MB, the President’s Special Session: Low-Level Radiation & Its Implications for Fukushima Recovery should be spread widely and reprinted often. Far more nuclear professionals have unfettered access to high speed data networks now than they did in 1999. Though the Internet was available and papers from the ANS sessions were posted on web sites, the network was not very fast or very ubiquitous in the small towns that host the workers at most nuclear power plants and national labs.

I hope that the plight of the evacuated residents of the Fukushima prefecture will encourage interested observers to recognize the deleterious effects of maintaining regulations based on an inaccurate model in the name of “conservatism” or “precautionary protection”.  If sensible rules prevailed, nearly all of the Fukushima evacuees would be able to return home and rebuild their homes, villages, and lives.

So far, I am more hopeful than optimistic. Perhaps some of you can convince me that this time is going to be different, and we really will see a gradual shift toward more rational radiation regulations.

_______________________________

Adams

Rod Adams is a nuclear advocate with extensive small nuclear plant operating experience. Adams is a former engineer officer, USS Von Steuben. He is the host and producer of The Atomic Show Podcast. Adams has been an ANS member since 2005. He writes about nuclear technology at his own blog, Atomic Insights.

UC-Berkeley NE department receives ANS Presidential Citation

The University of California–Berkeley Nuclear Engineering Department has been awarded an American Nuclear Society Presidential Citation, ANS President Eric Loewen announced today. Loewen will present the award to UC–Berkeley nuclear engineering department representatives during the President’s Session of the ANS Annual ConferenceNuclear Science and Technology: Managing the Global Impact of Economic and Natural Events, being held June 24–28 in Chicago, Ill.

“The efforts by UC-Berkeley nuclear engineering faculty and students to provide accurate and authoritative information to the public following Fukushima were outstanding and serve as a model to emulate,” said Loewen.

The Presidential Citation recognizes the following achievements:

Nuclear Engineering Department, UC–Berkeley: For serving at the leading edge of communication to educate California and the nation about radiological impact to the United States from the Fukushima incident. By collecting atmospheric-transported radiation samples from Japan, explaining the significance to the public via public forums and the UC–Berkeley Nuclear Engineering Air Monitoring Station website, the UC–Berkeley nuclear engineering department gained national recognition as a trusted source for rational, accurate and authoritative information about radioactivity and its potential impacts on the U.S. population.

UC–Berkeley nuclear engineering department

Radiation and Reason: A Visit to Tokyo and Fukushima

By Akira Tokuhiro and Skye Anderson

I, Akira Tokuhiro, recently traveled to Japan to meet Wade Allison (professor emeritus of physics, Oxford University, UK) and David Wagner (Tokyo-based risk communication expert and consultant). A number of concerned scientists had expressed interest regarding the Fukushima accident. Specifically, there was concern regarding the significance and impact in the nuclear world and also the plight of the victims, especially the evacuees and the workers at the plant.

We wanted to get a message out regarding radiation exposure and health effects and saw a need for a public forum. The unequal standards for radiation exposure and fear, as discussed in Wade Allison’s book, Radiation and Reason, were something we felt needed to be put out into the public domain. At a minimum, we wanted to stir up some discussion, maybe a heated debate.

We hoped to initiate a discussion within the media and public and to elicit feedback regarding our message that prescriptive radiation levels (e.g., the International System of Radiological Protection’s, the Japanese government’s) are overly cautious and not scientifically based at lower levels.

(from left) Two Minami-Soma Hospital hosts, along with Wade Allison and Akira Tokuhiro. View toward plant from coastal road bridge near Namie village. The bridge is located 3-4km from Fukushima nuclear power plant.

Upon arriving in Japan, Allison and I went straight to Fukushima. Through contacts that Allison had made through an exchange program, we were able to connect with high school teachers and a student from Fukushima City and Soma High Schools.

A hospital in Minami-Soma arranged for us to take a tour of some of the damaged sites and we were able to get within 3 km of the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant itself, much closer than we had anticipated.

Tokuhiro and Allison, at Minami-Soma Hospital, during discussions with two senior doctors who monitored radiation exposure of evacuees.The hospital is located 25km north of the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

Through David Wagner, who sometimes writes for the Huffington Post, we were able to speak at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Japan (Japan Times report), as well as at the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (slides).

The ACCJ invited several foreign Chambers of Commerce, including the British and the Canadian Chambers. The ACCJ forum can be found on YouTube (ACCJ-Food Safety: October 3, 2011). In addition, we were interviewed by reporters from the Wall Street Journal/Dow Jones, Financial Times, Nikkei Business Page, and a video-based blog in Japan.

View taken from a coastal road bridge near Namie village. The bridge is located 3-4km from nuclear power plant.

The public had a spectrum of views based on various news releases; some saying that our viewpoints were completely wrong. But certainly radiation, whether it’s from a medical isotope or a damaged reactor in this case, does not choose “customers.”

At the very least, we put the discussion out there. Those who read between the lines may be alarmed by our assertion that the ICRP standards for exposure should be reviewed. Nonetheless, some skeptics have now reconsidered. This is good for us. Others were downright against the idea of reconsidering exposure levels. These varying reactions are to be expected. It’s always good to have the debate and to express points of view and exchange information.

Three dosimeter readings at a coastal road bridge near Namie village. Readings show 0.58, 0.40 and 0.529 µ Sv/hr. The bridge located 3-4km from Fukushima nuclear power plant.

Allison and I had a different sense and understanding of the situation. For me (Tokyo-born, U.S. educated), it was sad to see convenience stores abandoned and parking lots that were empty. Convenience stores are really the livelihood of the community in Japan. This is something that will stay with me for a long time.

One of the days as it rained, I wondered about exposure from fallout. My thoughts were not of concern for personal safety, but as I walked through the streets of Tokyo, I noticed all of the surfaces where fallout could be settled.

I really got a sense of the enormity of what happened in Fukushima, and to the nearby regional mountains, rivers, and forests. We visited Fukushima City, Iitate Village, Minami-Soma, all places with partial to full evacuation. We also visited Fukushima High School, where fallout has been measured by the students. Overall, I am still digesting this experience.

Our only expectation for this trip was to have these public forums and to get the message out that the prescriptive exposure rates are overly conservative. We tried to put things in perspective. There is a large psychological element, a great fear of radiation. Allison’s book is appropriately titled Radiation and Reason. We don’t often discuss radiation exposure and reason in the same sentence. We got the message out. In this regard, we accomplished our objective.

Tokuhiro, Allison, a hospital host, and a Soma High School science teacher host. Picture was taken in front of Minami-Soma Hospital, located 25km N of the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

Many people supported us. David Wagner, the risk-communication expert, was instrumental. James Hollow, a former student of Allison who works in Tokyo, collaborated with us. Mami Mita, an independent consultant, was instrumental in getting Allison’s book published in Japanese.

This is a good start. These people on their own time believed in the three of us and helped us to have a successful first trip to Japan. You have to understand that Allison, Wagner, and I had never met prior to this trip; we got acquainted through a social network and blogs.

The Fukushima accident was a global event of Internet proportions. There is something to be said about social networks bringing people together with a shared concern for what has happened to the people of Japan.

We are digesting our experiences and looking at the responses we have received. We will certainly look at the response in the media. We hope to return and reemphasize our message in March 2012, during the first anniversary of the tragic events.

On the Web:

A March 26 guest essay at the BBC by Allison, just two weeks after the Fukushima earthquake:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-12860842

Videos of presentations to ACCJ on October 3, 2011.

_____________

Tokuhiro

Akira Tokuhiro is a professor of mechanical and nuclear engineering at the University of Idaho. Skye Anderson oversees special projects for the nuclear engineering and industrial technology programs at the University of Idaho.

Is the NRC on target with its call to redefine nuclear safety?

A report by a Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff task force calls for sweeping regulatory change, but also acknowledges that information about the Fukushima accident is unavailable, unreliable, or ambiguous. What should be the response in the United States to the events in Japan?

Editor: Dan Yurman

In the third of a continuing series, the ANS Nuclear Cafe explores a significant issue affecting nuclear science and engineering by asking a diverse group of nuclear energy professionals for their views on a high-profile issue.

On July 13, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a 96-page reportRecommendations for Enhancing Reactor Safety in the 21st Century: The Near-Term Task Force Review of Insights from the Fukushima Dai-Ichi Accident—calling for a redefinition of the level of protection “regarded as adequate” for safety at the 104 operating nuclear reactors in the United States.

The NRC’s task force wrote in the report that there is a need to “support appropriate requirements for increased capability to address events of low likelihood and high consequence, thus significantly enhancing safety.”

National Press Club speech

In a July 18 speech at the National Press Club, NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko said,

Gregory Jaczko, chairman, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

“In its review, the task force did not find any imminent risk to public health and safety from the continued operation of the nation’s nuclear power plants. The task force was clear, however, that any accident involving core damage and uncontrolled radioactive releases of the magnitude of Fukushima–even one without significant health consequences–is inherently unacceptable.”

The NRC published a series of recommendations including boosting defenses against flooding and earthquakes, and protecting reactors and used fuel pools when there is a complete loss of electricity.

Within the NRC, and in response to the report and Jacko’s speech, three commissioners—William Magwood, Kristine Svinicki, and William Ostendorff—signaled that they disagreed with the push by Jaczko to put these changes on a fast track.

Commissioner Ostendorff told the New York Times, “I personally do not believe that our existing regulatory framework is broken.”

Nuclear industry response

Industry reaction was swift. The Nuclear Energy Institute’s senior vice president and chief nuclear officer, Tony Pietrangelo, said in a press statement that the NRC may be premature in calling for wide-ranging regulatory changes.

Tony Pietrangelo, NEI Chief Nuclear Officer

“The task force report does not cite significant data from the Fukushima accident to support many of its recommendations. Given the mammoth challenge it faced in gathering and evaluating the still-incomplete information from Japan, the agency should seek broader engagement with stakeholders on the task force report to ensure that its decisions are informed by the best information possible.”

Given the wide range of points of view about the NRC report, the ANS Nuclear Cafe asked some American Nuclear Society members to comment here on the task force’s report. Following are the responses. Your views on their brief responses or the task force report are welcome in the comments section of the blog.

___________

Stakeholder dialog is important by James Malone

Jim Malone

The US NRC has issued Recommendations for Enhancing Reactor Safety in the 21st Century. As I reviewed the report, I found there to be an underlying attribute that is an important element of a strong nuclear safety culture, i. e., a questioning attitude. The task force, while formulating the report, did not let prior evaluations, regulations, or practices bias the conclusions that it reached with respect to reactor safety.

The task force concluded “… a more balanced application of the Commission’s defense-in-depth philosophy using risk insights would provide an enhanced regulatory framework that is logical, systematic, coherent, and better understood.”

The report recommends consolidating the various rules and guidelines into the regulatory framework to address “extended design basis requirements.” This is the lessons learned portion of the process. The learning, however, should not be based solely on Fukushima.

One of the most important lessons learned is related to the impact of events on multiple units at a single site. As has been pointed out, the scenarios considered in the past focused on one unit experiencing an event.

The learning from Fukushima is that multiple unit sites must be prepared to deal with off-normal events at any or all of the units. Reforming the regulatory framework to incorporate lessons learned from low-probability, high-consequence events should be completed as soon as possible. It is also important that there be a dialogue among the stakeholders such that the resulting framework provides the appropriate protection of public health and safety.

Jim Malone is chief nuclear fuel development officer at Lightbridge Corp.

_____________

Getting it right will not be easy or quick by Margaret Harding

Margaret Harding

The world should read this report with caution. It is a mixed bag of good and bad, as has been well stated by others. My early observation of this report and the presentations that preceded it was that this task force seems to have gotten into a soul-searching exercise based upon the apparent short-comings of the Japanese regulator. That opinion still holds.

While some of the findings are well founded and targeted to potential weaknesses at current facilities in the United States, much of the substance of this report was given over to recommending significant revisions to current regulation.

Reviews and comparisons of what the Japanese regulator did or did not do can provide valuable insight into potential shortcomings in the regulations here. This effort seems to have become an opportunity to make new regulation that has relatively little to do with the events in Japan and how well prepared the plants in the United States are for similar events. Sweeping statements calling current regulation a “patchwork” and stating that a significant overhaul is required seems to me to do the NRC a real disservice.

The regulations under which the U.S. nuclear industry operate are among the most stringent and thorough in the world. They have provided for safe operation of the plants in this county for 40 years. The sweeping reforms recommended here should be approached with great caution.

Ultimately, I am concerned with how the NRC implements this report. Done poorly, they could significantly increase costs in the current operating fleet without improving safety one iota. But if done well, the NRC will get at the real issues, eliminating vagueness in the regulation and improving safety. Getting it right will not be easy or quick.

Margaret Harding, president of 4 Factor Consulting, speaks about the nuclear industry and advises clients on quality, regulatory, and technical issues. On June 28, 2011, she was awarded an ANS Presidential Citation for her role in communicating about events at Fukushima.

_____________

Does the NRC report rest on a false dichotomy? by Robert Margolis

Robert Margolis, PE

While the NRC task force report provides many helpful specific recommendations (station blackout mitigation, better used fuel pool makeup), there is an over-arching theme of an assumed conflict between risk-informed regulation and defense-in-depth permeating the document.

This is a false dichotomy. Defense-in-depth has no meaning without a risk context to provide which barriers and the amount of redundancy that are needed to ensure public health and safety. Adding requirements or systems in isolation could merely add redundancy where it is not needed and actually miss real safety problems while chasing any particular “issue du jour.”

Public health and safety are not served by a useless debate on how to codify and promulgate obsolete concepts or artificial distinctions from the past.

The future belongs to those who develop and implement a coherent framework in which risk-informed models and defense-in-depth designs coalesce into a regulatory paradigm. It is one that provides strengthened public health and safety in addition to clearer guidance that the U.S. nuclear fleet can more easily interpret and successfully execute.

The NRC must realize that the concepts of risk-informed and defense-in-depth are not competing methods, but elements of the same methodology that will bring regulation of the US nuclear fleet into the 21st century.

Robert Margolis, PE, is a nuclear engineer with more than 24 years experience as a reactor engineer, startup test engineer, project engineer, and safety analyst.

_____________

Mixed response on the NRC report by Jack Gamble

Jack Gamble

The initial statement that all operating nuclear sites are safe is the most important line in the report. I was also happy to see recommendations on emergency plans addressing multi-unit sites. Taking another look at Station Blackout (SBO) equipment and especially the operation of hardened vents during SBO is another area where the industry can learn from Fukushima. Finally, I was pleased to see the report clearly state that licensing of the Westinghouse AP1000 and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy’s ESBWR reactors should not be delayed due to Fukushima.

I disagree with the recommendation to change the framework of the NRC Reactor Oversight Program because of a foreign disaster affecting a foreign regulator. Fukushima should not be considered a condemnation of the NRC. Knowing what we know now, it’s reasonable to argue that the NRC has better prepared plants in the United States, given changes made after 9/11 and the command structure that doesn’t allow chief executive officers and politicians to dictate control room operator actions.

It’s important to remember that the report was written by six individuals based on incomplete information. The recommendations should be reviewed by the entire NRC staff with input from the industry and the public before being written into law.

Jack Gamble is a nuclear engineer. He blogs at nuclearfissionary.
_____________

Falling Flat on Its Face by Paul Dickman

Paul Dickman

The report released by the NRC’s Fukushima task force fell flat on its face, but this has nothing to do with the report’s content. Rather, the effort by NRC Chairman Jaczko to control his fellow commissioners hit a buzz saw when the other commissioners objected to his efforts to direct the process for implementing the task force recommendations.

On July 18, Jaczko gave a speech at the National Press Club. This was the day before the NRC meeting to discuss the task force report. It was an obvious public relations ploy to try to capture the headlines and control the story lines. Some of his remarks and responses to questions, however, caused alarms in the industry, as he linked timely passage of the recommendations to new reactor licenses.

While some in the media saw this as a bit of grandstanding, for NRC staff and the industry this speech signaled a new and disturbing direction. As it turned out, however, Jaczko failed to note that he was not speaking for the NRC but only voicing his personal views.

The next day it was the turn of the full NRC commission and it was apparent that Jaczko had not kept his fellow commissioners informed, and was also unlikely to get their support for his proposed process.

In addition, to counteract the publicity blitz emanating from the chairman’s office, two other NRC commissioners—William Magwood and Kristine Svinicki—took the unusual step of providing public statements outlining their own approaches to the task force recommendations and reassured industry and the NRC staff that a careful and deliberative process would be followed.

Following the commission meeting, Jaczko also had to address reporters to clarify that it was not his intention to hold new reactor licensing hostage to passage of the task force recommendations.

This was not a good way for the NRC to launch what should be a serious and far-reaching deliberation on the future of reactor safety.

Paul Dickman was a career federal scientist and served as chief of staff to NRC Chairman Dale Klein.

___________

What are the intrinsic and fundamental issues? by Will Davis

Will Davis

Having followed the situation in Japan very closely in order to serve the readers of my blog—the majority of which were, until about two months or so ago, decidedly non-nuclear people—and after having read the report, I wonder if the report itself really addresses any intrinsic, fundamental issues in Japan—even if all its recommendations are sensible, which they seem to be.

Following the development of the immediate post-accident recovery plans, various Japanese media began presenting—disguised—a number of people from various agencies and companies that appeared to claim that there was all too cozy a relationship between Japan’s large power companies and Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA).

There were further implications made that since NISA was a branch of the trade ministry, it really didn’t have an unbiased position. Further, reports of retired private executives having positions in regulatory bodies didn’t help matters, and recently the Japanese government has proposed a restructuring of its overly complicated regulatory structure in order that it might be closer to the arrangement that we have here in the United States.

It was such reasoning that spelled the end of the Atomic Energy Commission here—how can you have an agency that both promotes and regulates? The final opinion was that we can’t. The Japanese find themselves facing a similar question while also asking why their regulatory structure did not adequately see to the public safety.

Were we to simply apply plant-specific lessons learned at Fukushima to all U.S. plants, we might thus miss the bigger picture explaining how a nation with almost entirely coastally–based nuclear plants didn’t expect worst-possible tsunami effects. The answer may be a lesson we’ve already learned.

Will Davis is a former U.S. Navy reactor operator qualified on S8G and S5W reactor plants. He writes and publishes the Atomic Power Review blog.

___________

Closing thoughts

Reactions in the news media to the NRC report were mixed. The Washington Post, which has adopted a realistic approach to nuclear energy, said in its editorial pages on July 15 that the NRC should not throw the baby out with the bathwater:

“The NRC should use this review not merely to respond to a single event but to ensure that it is actively assessing low-probability but high-consequence risks. Polls show that Americans largely haven’t lost confidence in their nuclear plants. Government regulators should give them every reason not to.”

The New York Times editorial a week later on July 23 took an alarmist tone, asking if a Fukushima–type event could happen in the United States:

“The odds are remote that this country will confront a similarly powerful earthquake followed by an even more destructive tsunami—the twin blows that disabled Fukushima. But the possibility that something equally unexpected and unplanned for could exceed current defenses at American plants cannot be discounted.”

The Times, however, acknowledged NEI’s point that stakeholder engagement is needed to get the right regulatory approach in place. That said, the newspaper also called for the changes to regulation to be put on a fast track:

“There is no doubt that the commission would benefit from getting additional feedback from the industry, advocacy groups, the agency’s own experienced staff, and other experts to supplement the task force report. That could all be easily done in the next few months and must not be an excuse for delaying approval of the recommendations.”

The report calls for “redefining the level of protection that is regarded as adequate.” If that’s the case, just exactly what has the agency been doing up to now? This is not gratuitous skepticism. If a federal regulatory agency is moving the goal posts, then it’s necessary to take a close look at its reasons for doing so.

Yet, at the same time that the NRC calls for change, it acknowledges that the information it has on what happened at Fukushima is “unavailable, unreliable, or ambiguous.”

Even if more were known with certainty, there are lots of reasons why the 40-year-old design of the Japanese reactors at Fukushima would never be built in the current era. The task force report takes pains to point out that there is “no imminent risk” for U.S. nuclear reactors. The NRC needs to take care that it doesn’t overreact to problems in Japan that don’t and won’t affect the U.S. fleet.

_______

Dan Yurman

Dan Yurman publishes Idaho Samizdat, a blog on nuclear energy, and is a frequent contributor to ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Hall talk at ANS special session on Fukushima

Two people with long experience working with the nuclear industryone in Japan and one in the United Statesshare some “hall talk” with ANS Nuclear Cafe about Fukushima

By Dan Yurman

At its national meeting held during the last week in June in Hollywood, Fla., the American Nuclear Society conference included two back-to-back special sessions on Fukushima. ANS Nuclear Cafe had an opportunity to talk with two of the speakers in the halls.

Akira Omoto

Omoto

Akira Omoto is currently a commissioner with the Japan Atomic Energy Commission. Previously, he was at the International Atomic Energy Ageny where he headed up the organization’s division of nuclear power. This week he was a speaking to the ANS national meeting in Hollywood.

ANS Nuclear Cafe had a chance to catch up with him at the ANS President’s Special Session on Fukushima.

In response to informal questions after the session, he said that the first priority in terms of decommissioning the reactors is to remove the spent fuel from the reactor buildings. Next, it will be necessary to remove fuel and debris from reactors 1, 2, and 3.

Disposition paths for the spent fuel, heat deformed fuel, and debris from the reactor pressure vessels isn’t yet clear because Japan does not have a high level waste repository and is years away from establishing one.

Omoto said with uncharacteristic Western directness that Japan’s reaction to the announcement by U.S. NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko calling for Americans to evacuate to 50 miles was “an embarrassment.”

He pointed out that Japan had not been consulted and was still working at the time to establish its own basis for evacuating its citizens from around the reactor.

See also Commisioner’s Omoto’s slides from the ANS President’s Special Session on Fukushima held Monday June 27 at the society’s national meeting in Hollywood, Fla.

Nuclear energy for sustainable development

I asked Commissioner Omoto to talk about conversations he’s had with ordinary people in Japan about the nuclear crisis at Fukushima. He responded that in talks with family members, he has consistently emphasized the need for nuclear energy in Japan.

“It is vitally needed to attain sustainable development. We cannot reach this result without it,” Omoto said.

Omoto added, “The shift to a low carbon economy while not abandoning base load electricity is essential to sustain and improve the performance of the Japanese economy.”

Mike Weber

Weber

Another speaker at the ANS President’s Special Session on Fukushima was Michael Weber, deputy executive director, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Weber spoke to the ANS national meeting on Tuesday, June 28, as part of a second panel discussion on the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

He told ANS Nuclear Cafe that he has been involved with the rapidly changing situation in Japan since March 11. One of the first things that struck Weber as the NRC mobilized its emergency operations center was the enormous amount of information coming in from government sources and the Japanese news media and the challenge to make sense of it.

Initially, the NRC sent three people to Japan to assist the Tokyo Electric Power Company, but this was not part of an effort to get the word out generally on what was happening at Fukushima. The White House decided that the U.S. government would not be a source of information on Fukushima. The thinking was that this was a task for the Japanese government.

Moments of anxiety stretch into hours and then days

In the first few days of the Fukushima crisis, Weber felt a strong sense of anxiety about what was going on with the boiling water reactors at the site. The NRC wanted to know the status of the reactors, the condition of safety equipment, and whether everything was under control or whether there were real problems.

“Fundamentally, we wanted to know how much damage there was,” Weber said.

“The NRC staff felt a real sense of frustration that we could not do more since this was a Japanese nuclear power station and not a U.S. licensee,” Weber said.

Weber, who was working a series of graveyard shifts at the NRC, said that by the third day of the crisis there was more reliable information coming in from Japan.

The NRC’s ongoing assessment of the conditions at the Fukushima site was augmented by remote sensing information from a variety of U.S. government sources.

“It was vitally important to know where the radioactivity being released from the plant would go given prevailing winds. DOE’s aerial surveys helped us understand what might happen. With over 100,000 U.S. citizens, including military personnel, in Japan, we had to know what was happening,” Weber said.

The biggest concern, Weber noted, was whether any of the radiation from Fukushima would reach the United State and at what level.

Human factors

A human factor for the NRC was that it had been a while since the NRC had stood up a ‘round-the-clock’ emergency response. The agency had staffed its emergency operations center with three shifts of 80 people each. Between March and mid-May there were the inevitable needs to replace people needed elsewhere in the agency or who had to stand down for other reasons.

Weber observed that the newer people had a hard time getting up to speed and were initially less adept working in the emergency operations center.

“To use a basketball term, we didn’t have as much bench strength as we thought going into it (Fukushima),” he said

Differences from a U.S. response scenario

Another difference is that in a U.S. incident, the NRC would be getting real time data on reactor temperature, pressure, and other important information. In the Fukushima crisis, the NRC got this information only after the fact, when TEPCO or Japanese government agencies released it.

Also, in a U.S. incident, the NRC would have resident inspectors on the ground acting as the NRC’s “eyes & ears” throughout. Initially, in Japan, TEPCO barred the NRC’s first three reactor specialists from entering the company’s emergency operations center in Tokyo.

Taken together, these factors created the anxiety that Weber referred to as the NRC came to realize that there was no power to run cooling systems or power instruments at any of the reactors.

Revising the NRC’s assessment of Fukushima spent fuel pool #4

In mid-March, based on simulation and scenarios, and the limited information available, NRC Chairman Jaczko testified before Congress that the spent fuel pool at reactor unit 4 had lost all of its water.

It took several months to verify that, despite a hydrogen explosion, the fuel assemblies at that location were intact, covered with water, had not been deformed by excessive heat, and that there was only a small amount of debris in the pool area.

Weber said that the condition of the fuel in the pool was verified by use of a video camera and by water chemistry analysis.

“The information we had at the time indicated that there was a significant drain down of the spent fuel pool.  As we are now receiving additional information, it appears that there may not have been a significant drain down based on the condition of the fuel and pool water chemistry data.”

Weber, who has been through a lot, retains a mostly cheerful disposition about the NRC’s continued assistance to Japan and monitoring of the situation. He says that even when he got home at all kinds of odd hours, his family was still there to support him, for which he is grateful.

“They knew when I was spending all this time at the office on a weekend that something was up,” he said with a wry smile.

# # #

Dan Yurman publishes Idaho Samizdat, a blog on nuclear energy, and is a frequent contributor to ANS Nuclear Cafe.

May issue of Nuclear News magazine

The hard-copy May issue of Nuclear News will soon be in the hands of American Nuclear Society members. It will also be available electronically to members.

The May issue features the following:

  • U.S. capacity factors: Staying around 90 percent, by E. Michael Blake
  • Warren Stern: Detecting nuclear threats, interview by Rick Michal
  • Chernobyl 25 years on: Time for a “giant” leap forward, by Dick Kovan

The Fukushima reactor complex, before March 11, 2011

Other items of note in the May issue include news about U.S. power reactors to be examined for vulnerabilities in the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi accident; intervenor in Pilgrim’s license renewal proceeding notes similarity to Fukushima Daiichi-1; Tepco gaining control of Fukushimi Daiichi reactors, but cold shutdown still far off; IAEA’s Amano calls for high-level safety conference; Russian President Medvedev favors greater seismic siting restrictions; Italy imposes one-year moratorium on nuclear program; the Nuclear Regulatory Commission rejects UniStar Nuclear’s “negation” plan for obtaining Calvert Cliffs-3 combined operating license (COL); Levy-1 and -2 COL application advances through NRC approval process; Toshiba to seek design approval next year for 4S small modular reactor; Babcock & Wilcox and TVA provide more details on their plans for the mPower reactor; new concrete separation delays restart of Crystal River-3; updates on license renewal proceedings for South Texas-1 and -2, Hope Creek/Salem; the final site-wide environmental impact statement approved for proposed transformation of the Y-12 National Security Complex; the Department of Homeland Security conducts Securing the Cities exercise in New York City; Canada’s Bruce Power delays shipping used steam generators to Sweden for recycling; University of Saskatchewan receives funding for new research center; Sen. Diane Feinstein (D., Cal.) calls for more rapid transfer of used fuel from pools to dry cask storage; Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future reports on comments received from public; Sweden’s waste management agency submits application to build used fuel repository; Curtiss-Wright seeks licenses to export equipment for AP1000 reactors being built in China; FermiLab’s Tevetron produces possible new particle not predicted by Standard Model; Urenco USA enrichment plant passes NRC inspection; and USEC andTenex sign purchase agreement for supply of low-enriched uranium.