Friday, July 23, 2010

Normal and Abnormal Occurrences

sea_map Vietnam has become something like a cheerleader for nuclear energy, having committed itself to a plant there. But it wants everyone to share in the fun:

Vietnam has called on South East Asian nations to build nuclear power stations to meet rising energy demands.

The proposal came at an energy policy meeting held by the Asean group of countries in Dalat, Vietnam.

“Asean” countries are those that belong to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. You can see the list of members here.

No word on how the other countries responded, but there is this:

Some nations are looking to hydropower, building huge dams along the Mekong river. But these have angered local communities who complain that water flows and fish stocks have been affected.

It’s always something, isn’t it? It may be that there needs to be more thought given as to how to effectively integrate these energy sources to suit the people they mean to serve, but these nations are moving in the right direction. Moving forward with nuclear and hydro plants allows them to further industrialize without increasing their carbon footprint.

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Every year, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission releases a report of “abnormal occurrences” that happen at licensed facilities.

What is an abnormal occurrence?

An accident or event is considered an abnormal occurrence if it involves a major reduction in the degree of protection of public health and safety. Abnormal occurrences can include, but are not necessarily limited to, moderate exposure to or release of radioactive material licensed by the NRC or a state agency; major degradation of safety-related equipment; or major deficiencies in design, construction, use of or management controls for facilities or radioactive material licensed by the NRC.

So – a lot of territory in the abnormal sphere. Earlier this week, New York Time columnist Bob Herbert dinged the revival of nuclear energy in this country over safety concerns. Here’s a little of what he said:

We have to be concerned about the very real possibility of a worst-case scenario erupting at one of the many aging nuclear plants already operating (in some cases with safety records that would make your hair stand on end), and at any of the new ones that so many people are calling for.

Which, of course, is what the NRC busies itself doing. (And I still reject the use of “worst-case scenario” when it isn’t defined – but let’s leave that aside.) But Herbert just didn’t do his homework. If he had, he might have run across this report.

For FY 2009, there were no abnormal occurrences at the 104 NRC-licensed nuclear power reactors.

That’s pretty good.

Three of the nine abnormal occurrences in medical facilities involved NRC licensees, while the rest involved Agreement State licensees. (Thirty-seven states have entered into agreements with the NRC to regulate radioactive materials.)

This is a very small number when you consider all the diagnostic and therapeutic uses of radiation.

But nuclear power plants? it’s hard to imagine any industry matching this record. Makes your hair stand on end, doesn’t it?

You can find the whole report here.

The Asean nations. Click for bigger image.

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