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Friday, June 24, 2011

We Must Avoid The Nuclear Power 'Point Of No Return'


We suspect that Japan will never build another nuclear power plant.  And this is tragic because it is the best source of baseload electrical power in existence.  Unfortunately, an Act of God exposed a weakness in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant complex that has probably taken Japan's nuclear future to the point of no return.  We cannot allow that to happen in the United States.

We cannot allow ourselves to come to the conclusion that one mayor of Japan stated succinctly:
"We have lost our sense of faith in government promises about the safety of nuclear power after Fukushima," said Toshiyuki Sakai, the mayor of Karatsu City. (WSJ, 6/24/2011)
Although the backup cooling systems at American nuclear plants are robust with multiple layers, we absolutely cannot allow a hydrogen explosion to spew radioactivity into the environment.  The Center is proposing a 'Fukushima Protocol' to serve as a worst-case, last line of defense to prevent such an explosion:
The Fukushima Protocol 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 will 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 immediately 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.
The Center believes that this drastic measure must be in place as the absolute final fail safe method for dealing with a catastrophic loss of coolant, regardless of the circumstances.  Another component of the Fukushima disaster was the delay in decision-making by the nuclear utility and the government.  A predetermined response will prevent such a delay.  We believe such a measure would reassure the public that a hydrogen explosion like the one that occurred in Japan simply cannot happen here.  Maybe Japan can renew public confidence in nuclear power by implementing a Fukushima Protocol too.

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