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Monday, June 13, 2011

'Fukushima Protocol' To Prevent Japan-Type Nuclear Disaster


Fukushima Daiichi Reactors 3 & 4

A recent article in The New York Times, "In Nuclear Crisis, Crippling Mistrust," describes the confusion of the decision makers at the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) and the Japanese government after the tsunami disabled the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station.  The Center sees the same organizational weaknesses in the United States if there is a complete loss of coolant at a nuclear plant.  It is for this reason that we are proposing a Fukushima Protocol that is a predetermined  response to a complete loss of coolant at a nuclear power plant, failure of nitrogen injection and failure of hydrogen venting to bring the reactor under control. The Center believes this emergency procedure wil prevent the sort of hydrogen explosions that exacerbated the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant facility.  It is being reported that the venting system at Fukushima failed due to loss of electricity and inability of workers to initiate manual venting due to high radiation levels.

The Fukushima Protocol calls for flooding a containment dome or containment building with sand, cadmium, boron, cement and concrete immedicately upon the complete loss of cooling at a reactor.  Of course, this means the loss of the reactor and does not necessarily prevent a meltdown.  It should be effective in displacing any hydrogen buildup, thus preventing a hydrogen explosion.  Cadmium and boron are neutron absorbers and should help in reducing fissioning.  The sand can quickly fill the containment structure and the cement/concrete mix will serve to seal the facility.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which has staff on site at nuclear power plants in America, would make the call and order the company to immediately implement the Fukushima Protocol.  Although nuclear plant operators will probably oppose this proposal, because they want complete control over every aspect of their billion dollar investment, we believe that the sort of hydrogen explosions that occurred in Japan simply cannot be allowed to happen again under any circumstances.  In our opinion, the nuclear plant operator has control of their reactor until the moment of total loss of coolant.  At that time the NRC should order the immediate implementation of the Fukushima Protocol.  This authority will probably require congressional legislation, but if possible, the NRC should promulgate a rulemaking to establish the protocol.

Not only was there mistrust between the Japanese government and TEPCO, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan did not follow established procedures to address such a crisis, which only made the situation worse.  Unlike in the USA where NRC has staff onsite, Kan did not put a government official at the Tepco office until days after the disaster.  That was too late.  According to one adviser to the prime minister, “There were delays. First of all, we weren’t getting accurate information from Tepco.”  Similar 'information problems' occurred at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.  The Fukushima Protocol eliminates this problem. (NYT, 6/12/2011, photo courtesy NYT)

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