Fukushima: One Year Later
Energy Institute Associate Director Dale Klein at Forefront of Special Committee’s Review of Incident and its Effect on U.S. Nuclear Power Industry
The following is a sampling of news coverage from the March 8, 2012 release of the American Nuclear Society’s Special Committee report:
Talking Fukushima One Year On
(Posted March 11, 2012) Now that the American Nuclear Society Fukushima report is out, here are a few additional notes. First of all the full report is available either in sections or as an all-in-one PDF file from the special ANS Fukushima website. Second, you can watch the full one-hour long streaming video of the National Press Club event held March 8 by Clicking Here.
Third, I had an opportunity to talk via phone with the four members of the commission who participated in the press event March 8 to get some insights into their views. I’ve added in some of their remarks from the press conference. I live ‘tweeted” it so I combined the two sessions in this blog post. Here's a summary of what they had to say.
The co-chairs of the ANS Commission are Dale Klein, the former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Michael Corradini, a senior faculty member (nuclear / mechanical engineering) at the University of Wisconsin (bios of both men here).
Klein prefaced his remarks by saying that one of the purposes of the ANS report is to set aside misinformation about Fukushima. He added that the purpose of the ANS report is not to affect policy and procedures at regulatory agencies, but to say what we know, and don't know, with technical and scientific accuracy. "ANS has an obligation to set the record straight." Klein, who worked in several senior positions in the federal government as a presidential appointee, has a firm grip on getting his message across in a matter of a few words. He starts by pointing out that no one has died from radiation exposure at Fukushima and that the health effects from radiation exposure are too small to measure. "Fukushima was no Chernobyl."
50 Mile Hike
One of the most contentious and still least understood events that took place from the U.S. point of view is the declaration March 16, 2011, by Gregory Jaczko, the current chairman of the NRC, ordering all Americans to evacuate to a distance of 50 miles from the Fukushima reactor complex. Klein and Corradini, speaking for the ANS Commission as a whole, said the technical basis for that decision is still unclear and that they remain "puzzled" by it.
While debate over the reason the Jaczko's statement continues, anti-nuclear groups have seized on it calling for the current 10 mile evacuation standard in a reactor emergency planning zone (EPZ) to be expanded to 50 miles. Klein's response to that viewpoint is that a very large evacuation zone could create more problems than any level of safety achieved by declaring it.
"Sheltering in place" is a viable strategy in many instances."
Corradini says a 50 mile hike is not a logical approach to the problem.
"The EPZ should be risk informed and not an arbitrary distance. The technical basis for the NRC's 50 mile evacuation order for Americans was based on incorrect information."
That information was a report that the water in the spent fuel pool at Fukushima reactor #4 has boiled off and that the entire contents of the pool had vaporized spewing radioactive materials into the atmosphere. This report turned out to be completely untrue. The spent fuel was never uncovered by water and suffered no damage from the hydrogen explosion that wrecked the outer containment building.
The hydrogen did not come from the spent fuel pool, but rather leaked into unit #4 from the adjacent reactor #3 which is believed to have suffered a partial meltdown inside the reactor pressure vessel.
Paul Dickman, the staff director for the ANS Commission, said the NRC transcripts of conversations during the early days of the Fukushima crsis show the effects of the "fog of war" where incomplete information coming from Japan contributed to difficulties in deciding how to respond.
Returning to the issue of what's been learned from Fukushima, Corradini said that nothing that has been learned from the experience at Fukushima shows that U.S. nuclear reactors are unsafe.
Design basis issues
Cooradini said, anticipating the NRC's action, that risk-informed regulations can help plan for unexpected events and mitigate their consequences. He points out that low probability, high consequence events require multiple "defense-in-depth" measures to deal with events like station blackout where off-site power is lost.
This point also gets at the definition of design basis. The ANS Commission report points out that TEPCO, the utility that owns and operated the Fukushima reactors, had multiple opportunities to build better defenses against tsunami events. A stone marker dated 869 AD was found at Fukushima which clearly showed the extent of waves from a 1:1000 event reaching much higher than elevation above sea level of the Fukushima site.
Corradini said there is a lesson learned there for the NRC which is that it should periodically review the design basis for extreme events like seismic activity and flooding. How much protection is enough? Klein says that cost-benefit analysis is useful because it will help explain how much safety is being added for the additional cost of proposed regulatory measures.
What about spent fuel?
Klein said that with all the focus on wet storage of spent fuel at the nation's 104 reactors, it is important to point out the Department of Energy's Blue Ribbon Commission has called for the creating of an interim storage facility for it. In terms of priorities, he says DOE's plan to simply move the oldest fuel first isn't the best approach. Instead, he says the fuel that should be moved first is what's left from decommissioned reactors. It's an expense in terms of security and should be the first material to be moved to an interim site.
Second. fuel should be moved that would otherwise require a utility to expand its wet or dry storage facilities. Relieving utilities of the burden of building new on-site storage should be a priority. He added that the "right of first pickup" is something that could be sold between utilities depending on their needs.
Any feedback from Japan?
It is too early to know what the Japanese nuclear community thinks of the ANS Report. In Japan ANS Commission member Akira Tokuhiro, rolled out a presentation at the Foreign Correspondents Club on Friday March 9. In a telephone call to this blogger from Japan a few days before the press event, Tokuhiro said that mistrust of the government runs deep and will be a significant impediment to efforts to restart the nation's reactors. As of March 10, 52 of the 54 units are shut down and the other two are expected to be shut down within the next 30 days. The 54 reactors supply 30% of Japan's electricity.
The Los Angeles Times confirms his view that the "insidious legacy may be a shaken trust in government."
The newspaper reported, "Many Japanese feel they've been lied to by their government," said Mitsuhiro Fukao, an economics professor at Keio University in Tokyo who has written about the public loss of trust. "In a time of disaster, people wanted the government to help them, not lie to them. And many wonder whether it could happen again."
Jacopo Buongiorno, a member of the ANS Commission, and a professor of nuclear engineering at MIT, said that the Japanese nuclear authorities and the government have been "even more forceful" in their critique of the design basis issues that contributed to the disaster.
Klein noted that the ANS Commission had good cooperation from Japanese sources and TEPCO. The utility provided Klein with a four-hour briefing on what it knew and when at various stages in the crisis.
NRC orders follow Fukushima task force report
What's next for regulation of U.S. nuclear reactors? This past Friday the NRC issued the first orders for enhanced safety based on its July 2011 Task Force Report.
According to the NRC two of the orders apply to every U.S. commercial nuclear power plant, including those under construction and the recently licensed new Vogtle reactors.
The first order requires the plants to better protect safety equipment installed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and to obtain sufficient equipment to support all reactors at a given site simultaneously.
The second order requires the plants to install enhanced equipment for monitoring water levels in each plant’s spent fuel pool.
The third Order applies only to U.S. boiling-water reactors that have “Mark I” or “Mark II” containment structures. These reactors must improve venting systems (or for the Mark II plants, install new systems) that help prevent or mitigate core damage in the event of a serious accident. Plants have until Dec. 31, 2016, to complete modifications and requirements of all three orders.
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Panel: US Should Rethink Nuclear Emergency Plans
By DINA CAPPIELLO and MATTHEW DALY 03/ 8/12 12:31 PM ET
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The U.S. should customize emergency plans for each of the nation's 65 nuclear power plants, a change that in some cases could expand the standard 10-mile evacuation zone in place for more than three decades, an expert panel is recommending.
That's one of the lessons to emerge in a 40-page report released Thursday – three days before the anniversary of Japan's nuclear disaster – from a committee that examined the incident for the American Nuclear Society. The panel includes a former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a fellow at an Energy Department laboratory and seven other nuclear scientists.
The report concludes that U.S. nuclear power oversight is adequate to protect public health and safety but that emergency zones "should not be based on arbitrary mileage designations."
Under rules in force since 1978, communities near nuclear plants must prepare federally reviewed evacuation plans only for those living within 10 miles of the facility. That's because in a severe accident, most of the early deaths – those from radiation sickness, not cancer – are predicted to occur within the first 10 miles. While that zone can be adjusted during an accident, the panel says emergency plans should account for how each nuclear power plant would react in a disaster before it happens. And if evacuation needs to occur, wind patterns and population also should be considered, the panel said.
"It's a matter of planning," said Michael Corradini, director of the University of Wisconsin's Institute of Nuclear Systems and the panel's co-chair. "For certain types of events and certain severities, they may change how they evacuate, or who would evacuate."
An AP investigation in June found that populations around the nation's nuclear power plants have swelled since the facilities were first built but that little has been done to account for the risks associated with evacuating so many more people.
The NRC approved a rule in August requiring nuclear plants to update estimates of how long it would take to evacuate nearby communities in an emergency. Plant operators now will have to update evacuation estimates after every 10-year census or when changes in population would increase the estimated time by at least 30 minutes.
The commission has not addressed the evacuation distance issue.
NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko has said that the 10-mile rule is merely a "planning standard" that could be modified in the "unlikely event" of an accident, based on the circumstances.
"So if we needed to take action beyond 10 miles, that's certainly what we would recommend," Jaczko said after touring the Indian Point nuclear complex, about 25 miles from New York City, last year.
The report also found the NRC's recommendation that Americans living within 50 miles of Japan's Fukushima plant leave the area "puzzling."
"I still don't know what the assumptions were that led to that, what kind of calculations were done," said Dale Klein, who headed the NRC from July 2006 to May 2009 and co-chaired the panel. "We just don't understand what the technical basis for that recommendation was."
The 50-mile zone was greater than Japanese officials recommended for their own citizens after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima facility. The expert committee found that the mandatory evacuation ordered by the Japanese government for all citizens to evacuate within 12 miles of the site, and a voluntary evacuation for those within 18 miles, was adequate.
US nuclear plants safe, but improvements can be made: ANS report
(Washington (Platts)--8Mar2012/402 pm EST/2102 GMT) US nuclear power plants are safe to operate, but improvements could be made to emergency planning and the assessment of severe accident risks, the American Nuclear Society, a professional organization of scientists and engineers, said in a report issued Thursday.
A "risk-informed" approach, which accounts for costs and benefits, should guide the consideration of proposed plant upgrades and regulatory reforms to address the lessons of the Fukushima accident in Japan, the ANS Special Committee on Fukushima said in its report.
Former Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Dale Klein and Michael Corradini, a member of NRC's Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards, were co-chairmen of the committee. "We have found no aspect of the Fukushima Daiichi accident to suggest that the level of safety of nuclear energy facilities in the US is unacceptable," ANS said in its report.
"The current level of oversight is sufficient to protect the health and safety of the American public," the committee said. "We are in strong agreement with the [NRC] on this point."
"The off-site health consequences" of the accident "may ultimately be negligible. No one has died as a result of radioactive materials released by Fukushima Daiichi, and no health consequences have been reported from health monitoring of workers and the public to date," the report said.
More complete information on the accident will not be available for years, but "we are already seeing false-science studies widely reported in the media" that attribute significant human health effects to the Fukushima accident, Klein said Thursday during a Washington press conference.
The ANS committee "felt an obligation to set the record straight" in the report, Klein said. The health impact of radioactive material released during the accident, Klein said, was "probably too small to measure -- Fukushima was no Chernobyl."
The committee made a number of recommendations, including that the NRC and US nuclear industry make more use of "risk-informed" methods to assess the risk of low-probability, high-consequence events, such as Fukushima. Had such methods been used more extensively in Japan before the accident, they would likely have revealed that enormous tsunamis, such as the one that engulfed Fukushima in March 2011, had occurred in the region within the past thousand years, Klein said.
The committee did not suggest schedules for the implementation of its recommendations. Reviews of proposed regulatory and other changes should be "a long-term effort" with input from the industry, the public and other stakeholders, Corradini said during the press conference. "We don't want a rush to judgment" such as what occurred after the Three Mile Island-2 accident in 1979, after which NRC required various plant modifications that were "costly and had to be undone" later, Corradini said.
US nuclear power plants "are in good shape" to mitigate a severe accident, particularly given enhanced capability provided by portable pumps and other emergency equipment the NRC required the industry to acquire after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, Corradini said.
The committee said "the NRC should periodically reanalyze and potentially redefine the design and licensing basis for severe natural events (earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, and fires) using the latest, accepted, best-estimate methodologies with quantified uncertainties and data available that are well vetted and have a strong consensus of technical experts. All risks to [nuclear power plants] from severe natural events should be periodically (e.g., every decade) reassessed using the same methodologies and data. Based on the outcome of the assessment, the NRC may mandate improvements based on cost-benefit analyses."
This recommendation diverges from NRC staff proposals that all five commission members approved. The commission last month approved the issuance of three orders to US nuclear power plant operators based on recommendations of the agency's near-term Fukushima task force. The staff said, and commissioners agreed, that the proposed orders should not be required to undergo cost-benefit analyses under NRC's so-called backfit rule.
Klein said during the press conference that such analyses of proposed post-Fukushima reforms are "appropriate" because utility ratepayers would ultimately bear the cost of implementing reforms.
The committee said the NRC should "work together with other agencies and industry to develop a more risk-informed approach to emergency planning," including possible reconsideration of how large an area might need to be evacuated during a severe accident.
NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko recommended on the week after the Fukushima accident started that US citizens evacuate from a 50-mile radius around the plant, an evacuation zone much larger than the Japanese government was recommending to its people.
The committee said in its report that Jaczko's recommendation was "puzzling." During the press conference, Klein said he still "does not understand what the technical basis for that recommendation was."
Klein noted that "evacuation plans have their own risks," such as traffic accidents, that must be taken into account in emergency planning. Corradini said evacuation plans must be "flexible," rather than "strictly" determined by distance from a nuclear plant.
Post-Fukushima U.S. Nuclear Reactor Rules Questioned Over Cost, Adequacy
By Brian Wingfield on March 10, 2012
The first rules for U.S. reactors imposed in response to last year’s nuclear disaster in Japan are fueling a debate over the adequacy and cost of the measures.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission yesterday approved three orders to improve safety at the nation’s 104 operating reactors, issued following a triple meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant, which occurred a year ago this weekend.
While the NRC’s orders “are necessary to address the major gaps in the nuclear power safety net,” they “do not go far enough,” Jim Riccio, a nuclear-energy analyst in Washington for anti-nuclear group Greenpeace USA, said in an e-mail.
The rules include a requirement for nuclear plants owned by companies such as Exelon Corp. (EXC) and Entergy Corp. (ETR) to have a plan to indefinitely survive blackouts. Reactor owners also must have adequate instruments to monitor spent-fuel cooling pools. Another order calls for older reactors with General Electric Co (GE).-design containment structures similar to those that failed at Fukushima to have sturdier venting systems to prevent damage to reactor cores.
One question for regulators: “As we put additional regulatory structures in place, are we getting some compensatory safety enhancements for a reasonable cost?” Dale Klein, a former NRC chairman, said in a phone interview yesterday.
The new the rules, which must be implemented by 2016, are exempt from an agency cost-benefit analysis, though future regulations may not be. A potential requirement for some reactor containments to have “filtered” vents to prevent radiation leaks may not be as cost effective as additional pumps and safety valves, said Klein.
The nuclear industry has already begun to implement a plan to install commercial-grade gear, including portable pumps and generators at plants to provide an additional layer of safety.
“The industry is trying to do it on the cheap and not have safety-grade equipment but who knows if the commercial-grade will function in the midst of a meltdown,” Riccio said.
Regulators should also require reactor owners to remove radioactive waste from cooling pools and place in ``dry cask'' storage containers, he said.
“The commission has taken a significant step forward on our post-Fukushima efforts,” NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko said in a statement yesterday. The orders take effect immediately, and the agency is also weighing a dozen recommendations from a task force to prevent a disaster similar to Fukushima from occurring at U.S. plants.
Jaczko, who wants all rules resulting from the disaster to be implemented by 2016, has said it’s “not acceptable” for reviews of seismic risks at plants to be completed in the latter half of the decade, which the NRC staff has proposed. Industry officials have said there aren’t enough technical resources to complete the assessments by Jaczko’s deadline.
The five commissioners are scheduled to testify on the orders March 15 at a hearing of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, led by Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who faults the agency for taking too long to develop new safety rules.
Reactor owners have agreed, as part of an industry plan, to begin installing emergency equipment at power plants. Companies will order the gear or have contracts in place by the end of the month, according to a March 6 statement from the Nuclear Energy Institute.
The order on equipment for blackouts calls for a phased-in approach, with power plants initially using portable equipment to keep reactors cool during an electric failure, supplemented by gear that can be shipped in “to sustain those functions indefinitely.”
The Nuclear Energy Institute, a Washington-based industry group, offered a plan in December that NRC officials said helped to speed the regulatory process. The industry may spend as much as $100 million to buy and install emergency equipment, including pumps and generators, at power plants. Reactor owners have already ordered or acquired more than 300 pieces of commercial-grade gear, according to the industry group.
The industry’s plan is “reasonable” and contains no“hidden agenda” to try to stave off more expensive regulations later, said Klein, the former NRC chairman.
“We need the NRC to be an industry watchdog, not an industry lapdog,” Representative Edward Markey of Massachusetts, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement yesterday.