Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 25, 2011

Preventing the next meltdown

Filed under: Radiological & Nuclear Threats — by Arnold Bogis on March 25, 2011

While  most of the world’s nuclear attention is on the efforts underway to regain control of the troubled Fukushima reactors and spent fuel pools, some analysts are suggesting steps to prevent future accidents and beginning to predict the impact of the current crisis on the nuclear future. Harvard professor Matthew Bunn writes in the Washington Post about the need for a new way of performing safety inspections:

Every country operating nuclear facilities needs to undertake an urgent review — by an independent international team, not by the companies that own the plants or the agencies that have long regulated them — of whether there are risk-reduction steps as compelling as those the academy recommended that have not been taken.

He also points out the need to take security and not just safety into consideration:

The risk is not just accidents but attacks. Al-Qaeda has repeatedly considered sabotaging nuclear facilities. The 2006 study focused primarily on the danger that terrorists might succeed in draining the water from a spent-fuel storage pool, the same outcome raising risks in Japan.

Nuclear facilities around the world are much less prepared for security incidents than for accidents. While U.S. reactors are required to have armed guard forces, many reactors abroad — and even some sites with potential nuclear bomb material — have none. One senior U.S. nuclear official I spoke to last fall described security for most of the reactors he had visited abroad as “frightening.”

You can read the entire piece here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/how-we-can-reduce-the-risk-of-another-fukushima/2011/03/23/ABpyI3KB_story.html

In a similar piece in the New York Times, Princeton physicist Frank N. von Hippel suggests that oversight of the nuclear industry in this country isn’t up to snuff:

Yet despite the 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has often been too timid in ensuring that America’s 104 commercial reactors are operated safely. Nuclear power is a textbook example of the problem of “regulatory capture” — in which an industry gains control of an agency meant to regulate it.

As a result of weak regulation, Hippel points to a potentially precarious situation concerning spent fuel pools in this country:

More recently, independent analysts have argued, based on risk analyses done for the commission, it is dangerous for the United States to pack five times more spent fuel into reactor cooling pools than they were designed to hold, and that 80 percent of that spent fuel is cool enough to be stored safely elsewhere. It would also be more expensive, however, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission followed the nuclear utilities’ lead and rejected the proposal.

Praising the staff at the NRC, Hippel instead suggests that these issues begin and can be solved at the top:

Therefore, perhaps the most important thing to do in light of the Fukushima disaster is to change the industry-regulator relationship. It has become customary for administrations not to nominate, and the Senate not to confirm, commissioners whom the industry regards as “anti-nuclear” — which includes anyone who has expressed any criticism whatsoever of industry practices. The commission has an excellent staff; what it needs is more aggressive political leadership.

Even before the nuclear events unfolding in Japan there was little chance that many new nuclear power plants were going to be built in the United States.  Not due to fears of meltdowns and radiation releases, or even concerns about long-term storage of nuclear waste, but because the economics just didn’t (and still don’t) make sense.  With fossil fuel prices so low, there are few incentives for anyone to provide the money to cover the high construction and other start up costs that come with nuclear power plants.

This is not the case in other nations that have laid out plans for aggressive nuclear power expansion in recent years.  For an informed view of the potential impact of the current crises on these efforts in China, Russia, South Korea, India, and Iran, I recommend reading “The Global Future of Nuclear Power after Fukushima” in which researchers from those particular nations provide their views.

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9 Comments »

Comment by Arnold Bogis

March 25, 2011 @ 11:19 pm

Bill,

My apologies. We had some technical difficulties on the site and my post above was erased, along with your insightful comments.

While Google cached the post itself, it saved the site at a point before your input. So I was unable to retrieve that text.

Sorry.

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 26, 2011 @ 12:53 am

No problemo!

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 26, 2011 @ 1:04 am

If I remember my comments and probably don’t at least not accurately I think the following will do. Nuclear power needs to be managed by HRO [highlyl reliable organizations] which why in the US in the past many VP Nuclear Operations in the utility industry were retirees from the US nuclear Navy. This need does not end as the supply of these unusually capable people end.

When returning from active duty I could have gone to work at NRC and choose not to do so. I knew a number of current and former NRC Commissioners personally or they were parents of high school friends. An Aunt was the head of Congressional Relations for a long long time of TVA. Energy issues have fascinated me for a long time also. Who knows perhaps one way or another crisis management, Emergency Management, Homeland Security were always my calling one way or another. After all my first real job out of law school was to do it in German. Germany looks like the nuclear power issue again will be a driver in German politics. If the highly competent German and Japanese in technological matters have emotional reactions, not necessarily misplaced, to the thoughts that an odureless, invisible, soundless, and otherwise not detectable by the senses can highly dangerous unless properly handled then clearly the nuclear option may well have difficulties. After all the FIRE SERVICE fear of radiological threats drove the creation of a separate civil defense cadre in the USA. So it is no use saying that it is not a difficult technology. Unfortunately, to save life on earth it just may be a necessary one.

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 28, 2011 @ 12:42 am

Unfortunately looking worse not better for Japan.Thousands exposed in the worker ranks. More reactors implicated by seismic issues. And accurate information from both GOJ and TEPO in short supply or non-existent. The equivalent of the US FEMAC team has been deployed by the DOE to Japan. So US sending its best technical help but cooperation limitied with TEPO and GOI! A huge story is still getting bigger by the day even as the US chimes in all is hunky dory. And of course the economic impacts on world’s economy just starting to multiply. Turns out GOJ has adopted salami tactics–one slice at a time of bad news.

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 28, 2011 @ 12:43 am

Meant to say FERMAC!

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 28, 2011 @ 12:25 pm

MSM now consistently reporting plutonium in many soil samples around reactors.May not be reactor cores but fuel rods.
Even so never heard of this possibility before.

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 30, 2011 @ 11:25 am

Confirmation now that three (3) reactors in core melt status and must be scrapped. More to follow? Up to 3 more IMO. Time will tell.

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 30, 2011 @ 2:23 pm

GOJ now says 4 reactors to be scrapped!

Comment by Arnold Bogis

April 1, 2011 @ 1:41 am

As I mentioned in another post, I just wanted to point out that as soon as those in authority chose to pump seawater into the reactors and spent fuel pools, those particular units were “dead.” The seawater is corrosive enough that the emergency use of it signed the death warrant for those facilities as soon as it was utilized. This news is just official notification of ground truth.

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