The Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of March 11, 2011 left over 16,000 people dead and 3,000 missing. While none of these lives were lost due to the nuclear plant accident at Fukushima Daiichi caused by the tsunami, we mourn the loss of these lives to forces of nature that we are striving to better understand to better protect our facilities and avoid future accidents.
Last September, it was sobering to see the towns ravaged by the earthquake and tsunami now suspended in time. The residents cannot return to recover and rebuild their homes and businesses due to contamination that remains from the multiple reactor accidents at Fukushima Daiichi.
It was equally uplifting to see how resilient the Japanese people are and the hard work at Fukushima Daiichi to recover and decontaminate the plant and surrounding area. While they face many problems, we are confident that our colleagues in Japan will see their way through.
Here at home, the design and construction of U.S. nuclear plants are extremely robust and can withstand a broad range of events that challenge plant safety. However, the U.S. industry is taking coordinated actions – some in conjunction with Nuclear Regulatory Commission requirements – to assure that an accident caused by events beyond the built-in capability of our plants does not occur.
Following the 2001 terrorist attacks, each nuclear energy station added portable equipment that is yet another layer of safety to enable nuclear fuel cooling if large portions of the plant were damaged by explosions or fires. Since March 2011, this system was greatly expanded and made more reliable by additional equipment, both on-site and at new regional response centers, as well as every other nuclear plant. Our power plants have the ability to cool the reactor core and used fuel in storage from outside the plant with temporary equipment if internal systems cannot operate.
In addition, there will be enhanced instrumentation to remotely measure the water depth in the used fuel storage pool at all plants and to reliably reduce the pressure in the containment of Boiling Water Reactors (like those at Fukushima Daiichi). Both are key safety enhancements.
As the knowledge and analyses of severe natural events increases, the U.S. nuclear industry is re-examining the possibility that earthquakes and floods greater than those considered in original plant designs could occur and taking measures to keep these facilities safe.
Simply put, we cannot let such an accident happen here.