Saturday, April 02, 2011

Quick Hits: IAEA, Safety Codes, Whitman

The International Atomic Energy Agency starts a mission:
Starting Monday, they will hold meetings with the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. and others, Denis Flory, IAEA deputy director general and head of the department of nuclear safety and security, said at a separate news conference.
"The objective of this mission is to exchange views with Japanese technical experts and to get firsthand information what the current status of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is, measures to be taken and also future plans to mitigate the accident," he said.
"It is not an assessment team," he said, adding that this will also "pave the way for future missions which will be expert peer review missions."
It will also be interesting to see if the IAEA will feel it needs to rethink its own role in an incident like this. I'm not implying it has or hasn't done what it should - I really don't know - but insofar as IAEA has a role, I hope we'll see how well it's fulfilled it.
Some hopeful news from the same story:
Experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency said Friday that levels of radioactive iodine-131 measured in the village of Iitate, about 40 km from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, have dropped below levels requiring an evacuation order.
Iodine-131 has a short half-life, so having levels descend without more of it becoming apparent is good. But hopeful is what it is - the numbers are going in the right direction.
Christine Todd Whitman offers her views:
While the industry is doing this, with the support of the Obama administration and many policymakers, there are others taking a less productive approach. Critics are using this crisis to press for a ban on all future nuclear energy investments and a shutdown of current U.S. nuclear power plants.
That would not only be unwise – it is unrealistic. Nuclear energy provides roughly 20 percent of the electricity that our nation uses. It would take decades — and tens of billions of dollars — to replace that capacity.
Meanwhile, nuclear energy is still one of our country’s cleanest energy options. It provides 70 percent of the country’s carbon-free power every year, and is likely to be counted on even more in the future as Washington strives to rein in harmful emissions. No other energy source can now meet the nation’s future clean energy needs on the same scale.
Moreover, it is always a bad idea to make long-term policy in the middle of a crisis. We cannot guess today how Japan will emerge from this tragedy, or what lessons it will provide.

Very welcome, not least because these mirror my thoughts almost exactly - it's nice to have your views reaffirmed occasionally. Whitman is former Governor of New Jersey and later EPA Administrator under President Bush. She has continued in public service as co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition. An article well worth attending to.

The Times has an interesting article on the science of nuclear forensics:
Thanks to the unfamiliar but sophisticated art of atomic forensics, experts around the world have been able to document the situation [at Fukushima Daiichi] vividly. Over decades, they have become very good at illuminating the hidden workings of nuclear power plants from afar, turning scraps of information into detailed analyses.
While the Times has some examples of what these programs - called "safety codes" - do, I became a little uncomfortable with the awe-struck willingness to accept their diagnoses uncritically. Safety codes are valuable tools, but not magical ones capable of creating a full picture from a scrap of data. The more information they  get - and the quality of it - determines the quality of the output - the garbage in garbage out idea that attends all computer work.
That said, well, pretty amazing.
The Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque wrote one of the most respected codes. It models whole plants and serves as a main tool of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Washington agency that oversees the nation’s reactors.
Areva and French agencies use a reactor code-named Cathare, a complicated acronym that also refers to a kind of goat’s milk cheese.
So we may expect, when we hear assessments of events of Fukushima, that at least some of it is derived from the work of safety codes.

Christine Todd Whitman 

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