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June 20, 2018

Report finds gaps in US nuclear disaster plans

Washington (AFP) – US nuclear plants must better prepare for the risk of natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis and floods, said a report Thursday on lessons learned from Japan’s Fukushima crisis in 2011.

Current approaches to regulating nuclear safety “are clearly inadequate for preventing core-melt accidents and mitigating their consequences,” the report said.

As of now, US safety regulations are based on making sure nuclear plants can withstand equipment failures, loss of power and other malfunctions related to the design of the plant, otherwise known as design-basis events.

But history has shown that the biggest nuclear accidents — including at Fukushima Daiichi, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl — “were all initiated by beyond-design-basis events,” said the report.

Things like natural disasters, human errors and power outages “have the potential to affect large geographical regions and multiple nuclear plants,” said John Garrick, a nuclear engineer and co-author of the report.

“These include earthquakes, tsunamis and other geographically extensive floods and such things as geomagnetic disturbances,” he told reporters.

Titled “Lessons Learned from the Fukushima Nuclear Accident for Improving the Safety of US Plants,” the report was commissioned by Congress from the National Academy of Sciences, a non-governmental group of experts that provides scientific and policy advice.

– Call to update plans –

The March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami knocked out power to the Fukushima Daiichi plant, causing severe core damage in three reactors, releases of radioactive material, widespread evacuations and the eventual shutdown of all nuclear power plants in Japan.

The report did not find fault with Japan’s actions before or after the incident.

Rather, it called for nuclear plants and US nuclear regulators to actively seek out the latest scientific data on risks and revise their plans accordingly.

The United States operates 100 nuclear power reactors, whose safety procedures are overseen by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Nuclear plants should be ready to respond to a wide-spanning natural disaster that could damage infrastructure and disperse radioactive material beyond their 10-mile (16-kilometer) emergency planning zone, the report said.

It cited a number of off-site events that could interfere with electrical power to nuclear operations, from terrorism to human error to geomagnetic disturbances caused by solar storms that interrupt the electrical grid.

“There is some new evidence now that some of these events are not as rare as perhaps we thought,” said Garrick.

– Better understanding of risks –

The report did not include an in-depth examination of US preparedness for a nuclear accident, nor did it set a new safety threshold for whether US nuclear plants should be allowed to operate.

However, it said nuclear plants should examine emergency plans for backup sources of power as well as safety systems for monitoring reactors and spent-fuel pools.

It also recommended improved training for nuclear plant operators who may need to cope with unexpected disasters, and urged the US government to “incorporate modern risk concepts into its nuclear safety regulations.”

Risks of natural disaster are not necessarily greater than ever before, but experts now have a better understanding of their potential impacts, said the study authors.

Particular care should be given to treatment and evacuation of children, the elderly and the ill in case of a nuclear accident, the report added.

A number of changes have already been called for in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, said study director Kevin Crowley.

“Since the accident, in the United States and in many other countries, there have been a great many efforts to understand the lessons and to implement changes,” Crowley told reporters.

“It is really too early to know just how they are going to turn out,” he said.

See original article:

Report finds gaps in US nuclear disaster plans

Fukushima study: Think about unthinkable disasters

WASHINGTON (AP) — A U.S. science advisory report says Japan’s Fukushima nuclear accident offers a key lesson to the nation’s nuclear industry: Focus more on the highly unlikely but worst case scenarios.

That means thinking about earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, solar storms, multiple failures and situations that seem freakishly unusual, according to Thursday’s National Academy of Sciences report. Those kinds of things triggered the world’s three major nuclear accidents.

“We need to do a soul searching when it comes to the assumptions” of how to deal with worst case events, said University of Southern California engineering professor Najmedin Meshkati, the panel’s technical adviser. Engineers should “think about something that could happen once every, perhaps 1,000 years” but that’s not really part of their training or nature, he said.

“You have to totally change your mode of thinking because complacency and hubris is the worst enemy to nuclear safety,” Meshkati said in an interview.

The report said the 2011 Japanese accident, caused by an earthquake and tsunami, should not have been a surprise. The report says another Japanese nuclear power plant also hit by the tsunami was closer to the quake’s fault. But the Onagawa plant wasn’t damaged because quakes and flooding were considered when it was built.

Onagawa had crucial backup electricity available for when the main power went down, as opposed to Fukushima which had emergency generators in a basement that flooded. Onagawa’s operators had “a different mindset” than the executives who ran Fukushima, Meshkati said.

The other two nuclear accidents — at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island and Ukraine’s Chernobyl— were caused by multiple system failures.

Lee Clarke, a Rutgers University risk expert and author of the book “Worst Cases,” criticized the academy’s report as too weak. He said the tone of the report made it seem like the accident was unpredictable and caught reasonable people by surprise “and it shouldn’t have.” But the report itself said the “the Fukushima accident was not a technical surprise.”

David Lochbaum of the activist group Union of Concerned Scientists said the problem is that federal law financially protects the U.S. nuclear industry from accidents gives utilities little incentive to spend money on low-probability, high-consequence problems.

But Nuclear Energy Institute senior vice president Anthony Pietrangelo said the American nuclear industry has already taken several steps to shore up backup power and deal with natural disasters.

“We cannot let such an accident happen here,” he said in a statement.

Another issue the report raised was about how far radiation may go in a worst case accident.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission orders plants to have emergency plans for a zone of 10 miles around a nuclear plant. But the academy study said Fukushima showed that “may prove inadequate” if a similar accident happened in the U.S. People nearly 19 miles away in Japan needed protection from radiation. But the committee would not say what would be a good emergency zone.

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Online:

National Academy Report: http://bit.ly/1pMeTAX

Source:

Fukushima study: Think about unthinkable disasters