Australian news, and some related international items

U.S. nuclear power stations not ready for climate change

Sohn: Climate clouds gather over U.S. nukes – Part 1, Times Free Press, May 5th, 2019by Pam Sohn

U.S. nuclear power plants weren’t built for climate change.

So says the headline in April 18 Bloomberg News special online expose. The lead example, of course, is Japan’s Fukushima-Daiichi reactor meltdowns after a 9.0 earthquake and consequent tsunami.

The earthquake itself, almost 81 miles offshore, did no damage. The two tsunami waves that followed were a different story. And no, earthquakes have nothing to do — that we know of — with climate change. Nor do tsunamis. But flooding certainly does, and that’s why Fukushima’s story illustrates this point.

When the quake hit the Fukushima plant — a near twin of TVA’s Brown’s Ferry plant in North Alabama, the reactors went into automatic shutdown mode, as all nuclear plants are designed to do. It’s a safety feature — like a fuse blowing when your circuits are overloaded. But not even shutdown could prevent catastrophe when less than an hour later two enormous ocean waves swamped the back-up diesel generators, the seawater pumps, the back-up electrical switchgear and a series of batteries in the plant’s basement. With no power, the pumped flow of cooling water to surround the hot radioactive cores ceased.

From there, the dominoes fell fast, and within three days, three of six reactor cores had melted. Explosions ripped away parts of the containment structures. Within hours, mandatory evacuations began in a radius at 1.2 miles and gradually expanded to 12.4 miles. A voluntary evacuation was requested in the 12.4-to-18.6-mile area, and 10 days later, the Japanese government set a 12.4-mile-radius “no-go” area. Some 160,000 people were evacuated from their homes. Years later, 81,000 evacuees remained displaced, as much of the nearby land is still uninhabitable. ……

the nuclear industry, on the whole, fought Jaczko’s recommendation of redesigning the plants. Nuclear people instead thought it would be enough to focus mainly on storing emergency generators, pumps, and other equipment in on-site concrete bunkers — a system they dubbed Flex, for Flexible Mitigation Capability. Flex was the process TVA adopted. Spokesman Jim Hopson says TVA was the first nuclear utility in the U.S. to implement and certify its FLEX facilities at Watts Bar, and among the first to certify its entire nuclear fleet.

In a sad way, we’re lucky that TVA took that early approach, because in January, NRC’s new majority — three commissioners appointed by President Trump — ruled that nuclear plants wouldn’t have to update equipment to deal with new, higher levels of expected flooding. The commission even eliminated a requirement that plants run Flex drills.

Jaczko and others told Bloomberg the NRC already hadn’t done enough to require owners of nuclear power plants to take preventative measures — and that the risks will only increase as climate change worsens.

Jaczko said the new ruling nullified the work done following Fukushima. “It’s like studying the safety of seat belts and then not making automakers put them in a car.”

Using data from the Union of Concerned Scientists, Bloomberg mapped the plants expected to flood an average of at least twice a month by 2060. Some 90% of the current 59 operating plants were shown as having a minimum of one to four flood risks for which the facilities were not designed. TVA’s Brown’s Ferry in North Alabama, Watts Bar in Spring City, Tennessee, and Sequoyah in Soddy-Daisy all made that risk list.

Should we worry? We’ll take a deeper look Monday.

May 9, 2019 - Posted by | General News

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