We are all Fuked!
“Completely and Utterly Fail in an Earthquake”
Nuclear power plants in the U.S. are due for upgrades to guard against natural disasters. Will they come fast enough to satisfy a new generation of nuke critics?
What will happen to the aging U.S. fleet of nuclear reactors after Fukushima?
(Credit: Martin LaMonica/CNET)
One year after the worst nuclear disaster in decades reinvigorated fears of nuclear energy in the United States, we’re still waiting for the implementation of safety standards intended to address the problem.
In response to the devastating earthquake and tsunami that crippled the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan one year ago, a task force created safety recommendations for existing plants to protect against natural disasters, such as earthquakes and floods, and extended loss of power. Final orders are expected soon, but the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) said this week it doesn’t expect to be able implement the reforms within the five year deadline it set.
Even with the hardened security measures, seeing a technologically advanced country like Japan unable to effectively cope with the crisis was a sobering lesson on the limits of the safety system, even to people in the nuclear industry. A combination of insufficient planning and mistakes during the crisis led to events, including core meltdowns and the release of radiation, the nuclear industry never anticipated, said Ann MacLachlan, the European bureau chief for Platts Nuclear.
“True, the Fukushima plants were some of the oldest and [utility] Tepco had resisted improving the site protection because it didn’t believe such an accident was possible,” she said. “But the Fukushima scenario revealed potential vulnerabilities in all nuclear plants worldwide.”
As a result, there’s been a loss of trust in the nuclear industry and regulators’ ability to prevent Fukushima-like disasters. In the U.S., this eroded confidence comes at a time when a number of plant operators are seeking to extend the lives of the aging fleet beyond their intended lives.
A year ago on March 11, an earthquake and tsunami triggered a nuclear disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, leading to the evacuation of 160,000 people, a 12-mile exclusion zone around the crippled plant, and an ongoing crisis. A disaster of the same scale here, at Indian Point nuclear power plant, which sits just 35 miles from Midtown Manhattan, could cause the evacuation of as many 20 million people and hobble the nation’s largest city.
Don’t let it happen here. Even absent a catastrophe, Indian Point is a source of radioactive leaks and the killer of more than 1 billion fish and other river creatures every year. With Nuclear Regulatory Hearings on Indian Point’s future on the horizon this summer, we have the best opportunity in a generation to close a plant that is dangerously past its expiration date. We have better options, readily available, to provide low-cost electricity that is cleaner and infinitely safer.
Yeah… We have heard that one before. Nice try…
Takeshi Takahashi says removing melted nuclear fuel will be difficult, but blames overheating fears on faulty thermometer
Fukushima Daiichi manager says nuclear power plant is now in ‘a state of cold shutdown’ Link to this video
The manager of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan has conceded that it will be very difficult to remove the facility’s melted nuclear fuel, but dismissed fears that one of the damaged reactors had started overheating again.
“Our main challenge is to now remove the nuclear fuel from the reactors,” Takeshi Takahashi told visiting journalists on Monday. “Technically it’s a very difficult problem, but we want to take it step by step.”
Takahashi apologised repeatedly for the turmoil last year’s accident at the plant had caused the people of Japan, and thanked the international community for its support.
Three of Fukushima Daiichi’s six reactors suffered meltdown in the hours after Japan’s north-east coastline was devastated by a magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami on the afternoon of 11 March.
More than 100,000 residents from the area have had to leave their homes, and are unsure when, or if, they can return.
The government announced in December that the plant had reached “cold shutdown” – a safe state achieved when temperatures inside the reactors stay below boiling point and radioactive leaks are kept to a minimum.
But fears rose this month that fuel in the No 2 reactor was heating up again, prompting the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) to inject more cooling water along with boric acid, which is used to prevent a nuclear chain reaction.
Asked repeatedly to explain the dramatic rise in temperature, Takahashi said the cause had been traced to a faulty thermometer, one of three inside the unit.
“The plant has reached a state of cold shutdown,” he said. “We will now try to allow people to return to their homes as soon as possible.”
Takahashi, who looked pale and exhausted, dismissed questions about his health. He took charge of the plant in December after his predecessor, Masao Yoshida, took early retirement to receive treatment for cancer of the oesophagus.
Tepco officials said Yoshida’s diagnosis was not linked to his exposure to high radiation levels in the early days of the crisis when, he later admitted, he and his colleagues were convinced they would die.
Evidence of the damage inflicted on the ageing plant remains nearly a year on from the disaster.
Of the three reactors that went into meltdown, one is covered with tarpaulin and another appears intact, but the third is a mess of tangled metal. High radiation levels persist in areas close to the most badly damaged reactors.
About 100 new storage tanks, each capable of holding 1,000 tonnes of liquid, have been installed to store contaminated water from the reactor buildings. The water is then purified and used again to cool damaged fuel. The existing tanks will be full by April, Tepco said.
Yasuki Hibi, an engineer for a construction firm, said conditions at the plant had improved significantly in recent months, but added that workers were still limited to two three-hour shifts a day. “Radiation levels inside reactor No 3 are still too high for us to enter,” he said.
About 3,000 people continue to work at the plant each day, according to Tepco. They monitor radiation, decontaminate workers and vehicles, prepare uniforms and equipment, and clear radioactive rubble and other material.
Kazuhiro Sakamoto, who hires workers and buys equipment for a Tepco affiliate, said: “The worst time was when radiation levels reached 250 millisieverts a year [a temporary upper exposure limit the government introduced soon after the accident].
“We couldn’t find enough people to do the work, and we could only work in two-minute bursts.”