For the record.
Meltdown looms as errors mount at Fukushima nuclear plant
SHAWN MCCARTHY — GLOBAL ENERGY REPORTER
OTTAWA— From Wednesday’s Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, Mar. 15, 2011 7:55PM EDT
Last updated Wednesday, Mar. 16, 2011 9:22AM EDT
The nuclear industry uses a “defence in depth” approach – having backups for your backup systems – but cascading disasters and human error have overwhelmed those safety systems in Japan and pushed the country to the brink of a nuclear meltdown.
Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear station was clearly designed to withstand the worst earthquake to hit the country in modern times, but key backup safety systems failed under the resulting blackout and a massive tsunami that inundated the area.
That’s left a razor-thin margin of error for emergency crews working under enormous stress to prevent a meltdown that could spread radiation across their homeland. They’ve survived catastrophic natural disasters and explosions at the plant, but the failure to close a pressure gauge could lose the war.
The see-saw battle to regain mastery of the crippled plants has been hobbled by some design shortcomings at the 40-year-old facility – though the critical containment vessels appear to be intact. And there is a residual lack of trust in its operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which has an unfortunate history of hiding trouble from the public.
But the fundamental question is whether the global nuclear industry designs reactors to withstand a “perfect storm” situation, in which multiple calamities and human error conspire together to create what the industry calls a “low-probability, high-consequence event.”
Former nuclear regulator Linda Keen said the industry is often inadequately prepared.
“In my experience, I found the nuclear engineers extremely optimistic,” said Ms. Keen, former head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.
“They’re optimistic about everything: how fast they’re going to do things, the cost, the idea of whether you are going to have an accident or not.” Read the rest of this entry »