Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Japanese Earthquake – NEI Continues Coverage

NEI will continue to update information over the weekend at its page dedicated to keeping you up to date on the earthquake. We’ll maintain silence here in favor of following events at the main NEI site.


forrest_blocker said...

I am really surprised you didn't follow up with commentary today. This is the biggest thing your are going to see in this industry. Hopefully, ever. Why not use your voice now?

David Bradish said...

There will be plenty of commentary to come, this event will be talked about and debated for a long time. Make sure to see what our CEO has to say on Meet the Press this morning.

Kelly L Taylor said...

Thank you for not making 'political hay' out of a nation coming to grips with devastation. I am ready to find some knowledgeable discussion to counter outrageous quotes from all brands of 'experts' that are taking the opportunity to get their names in print, but in the meantime, I'll thank this outlet for not being among them.

I do hope we return here, soon. This is one of several of my preferred sources of credible information, to moderate the hype.

danny said...

This event is clearly a game changer for the nuclear industry. I doubt that another new reactor will begin construction ever again. There is now video footage of an exploding reactor building.

The dream is over. My degree is in Nuclear Engineering (B.S. 1992), and I've believed (and preached) the pro-nuke gospel since I was a child.

I've just watched my religion melt before my eyes.

danny said...

The following came from the NEI FAQ on the Japan incident:

"4. What would U.S. nuclear plant operators do if they faced a loss of power from the grid and loss of emergency diesel generators like that faced by the operators at Fukushima Daiichi?

Nuclear power plant operators are trained to ensure that the plant will achieve and maintain safe shutdown during a station blackout scenario (loss of offsite power and loss of onsite emergency AC power). They have operating procedures that guide them on actions to be taken in responding to this scenario. The training includes regular classroom work as well as plant-specific simulator exercises."

That does not answer the question. What is the backup after the the AC generator? All this says is that the personnel are trained in procedures for various scenarios, and practice on simulators. But when is the next line of defense in the event of generator failure?

Anonymous said...


I agree the NEI canned answer doesn't answer what I think you are asking--what (not when) is the next line of defense following a loss of the emergency diesel generators.

There really isn't one. Some plants have other (non-safety-grade) generators that might be available, but, in general, if you lose AC to your safety-grade electrical buses, you can only do what the Japanese tried to do--bring in a generator from the outside or find a pump that can be driven from another type of prime mover (e.g., a diesel engine), try to maintain the necessary fuel supply, and rig the thing so you can deliver the water from your local ocean, lake, river, or pond to where you most urgently need it.

Actually, there is another line of defense, of sorts. You could just tell everyone not to worry, see what happens, and then favorably compare whatever results you get to the results of some other misfortune and declare it a victory for nuclear power. This seems to be the argument of some of the pro-nuclear zealots these last few days.

Brian Mays said...

"You could just tell everyone not to worry, see what happens, and then favorably compare whatever results you get to the results of some other misfortune and declare it a victory for nuclear power."

Yeah, it's called perspective. You should try it sometime. Perhaps then you might rid yourself of this silly notion that absolute perfection is required, always.

I wouldn't say that there is no need to worry, but I certainly don't think people should worry needlessly.

Danny should relax and take a deep breath. Support for nuclear power is not a religion. It comes from comparing the alternatives and arriving at a rational decision based on the merits of the technology.

Sure, a hydrogen explosion in a reactor building is a dramatic event, but at least it doesn't result in a 100-foot fireball. Have you seen the consequences of the earthquake at the natural gas facility in the Chiba Prefecture, or the fireball that erupted at an oil refinery there? More pictures: here, here, and here.

donb said...

Brian Mays has it right in his reply to danny. In a year to two when cooler heads will have looked at what has happened, nuclear power still will be found to be the safest form of energy. This will be true taking into account only the effects of the earthquake. Then take into account the health and safety benefit of nuclear power over the fossil fuel alternatives, and even renewables, the safety advantage becomes overwhelming.

No form of energy is risk free. Those who call for risk free nuclear power are unrealistic. If this unrealistic expectation prevents a nuclear power plant from being built, a riskier alternative will provide the power instead. Usually, though, those whose actions cause these riskier alternatives to be used are seldom held responsible for the consequences of their actions.

A piece of advice for danny: I am an engineer, 36 years in the profession. I still am passionate about what I do to help solve problems. You may be loved by your customer for the problems you solve, but don't expect to be loved by most people for it. Most people don't know and don't care, even if their lives would be worse off for the lack of your efforts. The things I do help keep the electrical grid running reliably, but for most people, electricity seems as natural as sunshine and rain. Only when it is not there do most people even give it a thought. If you want adulation from the crowds, quit engineering now and find some other line of work. If on the other hand you want to really help people to have better lives, so much so that they don't have to think about the benefits of your work, then engineering is for you.

danny said...

Brian: "Sure, a hydrogen explosion in a reactor building is a dramatic event, but at least it doesn't result in a 100-foot fireball."

You've got to be kidding. Do you honestly think that the currently situation at Fukushima is less serious than a refinery explosion. There are at least 3 units with exposed melting fuel cores. The condition of the spent fuel pools (possibly containing 40 years worth of spent fuel) is unknown.

On the GE Mark 1 reactors, the spent fuel pools are located up above the reactor level. What happened to these pools in the explosion. If the water evaporated, what is condition of the spent fuel.

This event spells the end of new nuclear power development. If you think there is a future for nukes after this, you are seriously deluded.

danny said...

donb: "Brian Mays has it right in his reply to danny. In a year to two when cooler heads will have looked at what has happened, nuclear power still will be found to be the safest form of energy."

Don't be deluded. The public will NEVER accept new nukes. To continue to argue that it is the "safest form of energy" when there are youtubes of an exploding reactor building is folly. No one will take you seriously.

Anonymous said...

I am stunned and saddened to see the nuclear industry's sudden reversal of their much-touted recent transparency being spun here as responsible restraint.

Don't complain about irresponsible or uninformed commentators. So no one should say anything about this disaster until the government has sorted out what we should believe?

Don't like inaccurate or alarmist commentary? Counter it with FACTS, not with silence and circling the wagons until you can work out your PR strategy.

Steve said...

Danny: I felt exactly the way you're feeling right now... almost exactly 32 years ago.

It has taken the country this long to recover from that accident, which was hardly on scale with what happened in Japan. There were no videos of exploding reactor buildings, no employees rushed to the hospital with radiation exposure. But due to that accident (then reinforced by the one in Chernobyl), Americans developed a irrational distrust of nuclear power.

I would like to think, as Brian Mays and donb have said, that perspective heals all wounds and cooler heads will prevail in a year or two. But if history is any guide, I'm afraid it will take decades for the country to get past the recent catastrophic events in Japan.

I hope I'm wrong.

Brian Mays said...

"You've got to be kidding. Do you honestly think that the currently situation at Fukushima is less serious than a refinery explosion."

Yes, I do, but that is because, unlike you, I am not hysterical and I'm not letting my emotions get away from me.

The explosions and fires at the fossil-fuel facilities have already released more carcinogenic material into the atmosphere than all three troubled nuclear reactors combined. (Do you know how many carcinogenic materials are found in the smoke of an out of control hydrocarbon fire in a modern industrial facility?!) Unlike the controlled releases at Fukushima, this material has simply been allowed to pour freely into the atmosphere. Given a choice, I know which facility I would prefer to be downwind of. How about you?

And I haven't even addressed the damage done locally from the intense heat of the fire.

Perhaps you haven't kept tabs on how many workers have been killed at nuclear facilities and how many have been killed at oil/gas facilities in the past year. It's night and day. The key difference, however, is that nobody gives a damn about workers killed at a gas power plant or on an offshore oil rig. The media hype is all about nuclear, and you've swallowed that hype hook, line, and sinker.

By the way, the spent fuel pool in the reactor building does not contain 40 years of spent fuel -- not anywhere near that much. Don't be silly.

Marcel F. Williams said...

Surprisingly, there has been little mention of a renewable energy catastrophe in Fukushima:

"Dam breaches following Japan earthquake

14 March 2011

A dam in the Fukushima prefecture of Japan was breached following the recent earthquake and tsunamis which have devastated the country.

According to media reports, the dam broke on Friday, with a wall of water washing away 1800 homes downstream."

FrankTrades said...

Are you going to be a news source or not?

If not, can you suggest a good one?

Anonymous said...


If you were the NRC, what regulations would you suggest to improve safety?

Anonymous said...

Are you going to be a news source or not?

NEI's webpage on the event that Flanagan linked to above is being updated every couple of hours

Momsense said...

I have been following several credible news sources and have found that the NEI webpage mentioned in the previous comment (which is the same as the one linked in the blog post on which we are commenting) to be the best. It has regular updates with facts and no spin, and links to other credible news sources.

Other sources:

Steve said...

Brian Mays: If Fukushima's spent fuel pool at the reactor site does not contain 40 years' worth of spent fuel, then where is it?

I am not aware of any Yucca Mountain-type nuclear waste storage facilities in Japan. (A High Level Waste Disposal Program is in the planning stages but not scheduled to be operational until at least 2030.)

Brian Mays said...

Steve - Some of it is in the common fuel storage pool at the site. Apparently, the site also has some dry storage casks. The point is that there is not 40 years of used fuel in the reactor buildings.

Don't forget that Japan has sent some of its used fuel to both France and the UK for reprocessing. (Where do you think they got their MOX fuel from?) Furthermore, Japan has already sent some of its used fuel to Rokkasho-mura for reprocessing, where it remains even though startup of the plant has been delayed.

Steve said...

Brian - Thanks. I couldn't recall Japan exporting any of their spent fuel. Good to know that 40 years' worth has not been stored onsite for these many years. (Those guidelines seem to be good enough for the NRC, though!)

donb said...

danny wrote:
Don't be deluded. The public will NEVER accept new nukes. To continue to argue that it is the "safest form of energy" when there are youtubes of an exploding reactor building is folly. No one will take you seriously.

Don't be deluded. In a few years, when the aftermath of the disaster in Japan is studied and put into perspective, people will be ready for nuclear energy again.

If it doesn't happen then, not much later when people are freezing in the dark because they can't afford electricity from increasingly expensive fossil fuels, nuclear will become acceptable.

It is also quite possible that fatigue from disaster sensationalism will set it. This happened with regard to aviation some time in the 1970s when air travel stopped decreasing in the wake of airliner crashes. Most people finally took a hard look at air travel and decided that it was the way to go for longer distances, even when there were alternatives. For some it was despite the risk. For others it was because the risk was lower than other forms of travel.

Steve said...

What I have pieced together, the nuclear facility withstood the earthquake. When the electricity went out the backup generators kicked in to run the pumps to cool down the reactors. It was the water that knocked out the generators. What happens is that water gets in the fuel tanks and displaces the fuel. Once the water reaches the pickup line, the generator sucks in water that kills the engine. A better way to dispense the fuel is to use floating suction lines that are plumbed in the middle of the tank rather at the bottom. This is how fuel is dispensed in the airline industry because there is no second chance in the air. When the pickup is several inches off the bottom as opposed to several feet it only takes a short time for something to go wrong.

Chris M said...

I had assumed that the generators had ingested water through the air intakes. This would destroy those engines quite effectively.

Anonymous said...

Danny may find the links below interesting.

Several leaders of countries have stated that this event will not affect their nuclear contruction plans at all. No leaders have said that they will abandon contruction plans.

Also, utilities (such as Southern) have said that they don't expect their contruction plans to be delayed (let alone abandoned) due to the event.

There's even a poll (Fox News, admittedly) showing that 79% of Americans oppose a moratorium on new nuclear plants.,atomic-power-summary.html

Jim Hopf

Chad said...

The NEI, IAEA, and ANS coverage of this situation needs to improve. Media outlets are putting updates out much faster and with more detail but through a filter of someone with a BA in journalism. Those of us who actually understand how the plant works are confused and are not able to convey to others what actually is going on.

danny said...

Jim... a number of the current new construction projects in the U.S. were heavily sponsored (both financially and with engineering) by Japanese companies like Toshiba, Hitachi, and TEPCO. In addition, the Japanese Government had pledged loan support for a number of these projects, in order to support their country's industry.

Given the current events in Japan, I can't imagine TEPCO investing hundreds of millions of dollars for U.S. reactors when they need to spend that money on their existing reactors. Nor can I imagine the government of Japan continuing to guarantee such projects.

Will the U.S. public accept new nukes based on Japanese designs? Toshiba now owns the GE ABWR design and GE-Hitachi are marketing the ESBWR.

Anonymous said...

Too bad they can't make use of the many idle trucks or cars with their batteries (daisy chaining) for electricity to help them out with some aspect of the crisis at the nuclear reactors.

Martin said...

I have read that the Japanese may use helicopters to drop sea water on the burning nuclear fuel at the Fukushima power plant.

Would it be more effective to drop HEAVY WATER ( deuterium oxide ) which could be supplied from Canadian designed Candu "heavy water" reactors that operate in Korea, China, Canada and other places? The Bruce Heavy Water Plant in Ontario is the world's largest heavy water production plant with a capacity of 700 tonnes per year. It is expensive stuff, but if it does the job then it would be worth using even at such a cost.

What do the experts say? Would the heavy water be more effective at cooling the nuclear fuel? If so, will Canada be asked to respond with assistance?

Chad said...

1) The fuel is not burning.
2) Heavy water is good of moderation, not putting our fires. Using Heavy water would actually add to the problem.