The post-TMI de-facto moratorium on nuclear plant construction in America may have ended. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has approved the Westinghouse/Toshiba Pressurized Water system design, acronym AP1000. This is also significant news in Japan because Toshiba owns Westinghouse’s nuclear division. The new system has 30% fewer operating parts, which means fewer things to potentially malfunction. It also uses passive (no power needed) safety systems for fuel cell cooling in the event of an accident condition. In fact, an electrical blackout like the one which crippled Fukushima Daiichi should have little or no effect on AP 1000 safety system operation. Although the designers could not have foreseen it, the AP 1000 meets all NRC “lessons learned” recommendations enacted as a result of Fukushima. American Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the certification “marks an important milestone toward constructing the first U.S. nuclear reactors in three decades.”

Of course, the usual prophets of nuclear doom attacked the NRC’s action. Friends of the Earth (an oxymoron if there ever was one) president Erich Pica may have best summed up all of the criticisms, “In the wake of the ever-expanding nuclear disaster at Fukushima…it seems incredible that the NRC had enough safety information to approve the AP 1000 reactor design. This is nothing short of a Christmas gift to the beleaguered nuclear power industry, and a lump of radioactive waste for everyone concerned about the safety and efficacy of this reactor design.” Long-time nuclear critic, US representative Edward Markey, condemned the action saying the containment
around the system could “shatter like a drinking glass” if hit by a crashing jetliner or if subjected to a Fukushima-type earthquake.

From our perspective, the critics are merely spouting fearsome rhetoric to try and darken the good news. We at Hiroshima Syndrome are environmentally-focused and advocate the elimination of fossil fuel burning for the production of electricity. Nuclear power plant operation produces no greenhouse gasses. The approval of AP 1000 marks what we hope is a beginning of an energy direction that will eliminate the burning of fossil fuels before 2025, hopefully stemming the human contribution to climate change before it becomes catastrophic. It can only be done if we build a large number of nukes and supplement them with solar and wind generation. We feel that “no nukes” is the equivalent to climatic suicide.

Here’s the weekend updates…

  • The government’s Fukushima investigative panel has issued its preliminary report. Although the report’s technical and operating topics seem woefully ill-informed, the over-all conclusions relative to TEPCO accident preparations and the government’s inept public protection response appear to be spot-on. The panel stressed that disregard with respect to preparation for unexpected, potentially catastrophic events caused poor emergency responses by TEPCO and the government. Many problems were linked to the absence of measures to deal with severe nuclear accidents caused by tsunamis and failure to plan for a nuclear crisis combined with a natural disaster. ”It cannot be denied that people who have been involved in nuclear disaster response and those in charge of managing and operating nuclear power plants have lacked the big-picture viewpoint for seeing nuclear disaster preparedness,” the report says. (Kyodo News) The report specifically admonishes the government for poor internal communication, self-inflicted problems with information gathering, failure to use high-tech computer predictions for the dispersal of radioactive materials, and virtual dis-use of the emergency facility located 5 kilometers from Fukushima Daiichi due to inadequate radiation shielding. The reprimands toward TEPCO include inadequate tsunami protection even though a 2008 report said a huge tsunami was possible, absence of emergency procedures for a prolonged station electrical blackout, and lack of operator training needed to handle such an extreme condition. (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • Japan’s Atomic Energy Commission president Shunsuke Kono had a worst case computer scenario run on the Fukushima accident’s potential for devastation. He had completed a 20 page report by March 25 and submitted it to Prime Minister Kan. The report postulated additional hydrogen explosions following those of March 12th through March 14th. It also assumed severe aftershocks that permanently knocked out all cooling flow to #4 SPF, causing all fuel bundles in the pool to melt. Kondo’s report hypothesized additional radioactive releases would have contaminated a 170 kilometer radius with Chernobyl-type levels, forcing permanent evacuation. In addition, areas as far as 250 kilometers from Fukushima, including Tokyo and Yokahama, would have to have been temporarily evacuated. In September, Prime Minister Kan admitted he initially believed it possible that, “All residents would have to be evacuated in areas 100, 200 or even 300 kilometers from the plant if the leak of radioactive substances can’t be stopped.” It seems the Kondo report put that nightmare into his mind. (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • The new radiation exposure and ingestion limits to be enacted in the spring are causing problems for Japanese local governments and manufacturers. The new limits are several times more stringent than international standards, and much lower than those set by any other nation in the world. After announcement of the new standards, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry officials “looked proud” of their decision to make Japan the “scientifically strictest” nation on Earth. While the officials say they based the new limits on relevant international standards, none of the new parameters are anywhere close to those of the international community. Ministry spokespersons did admit, however, the new standards are intended to reassure the radiation-fearful public of safety. As a result, all affected entities will have to purchase much-more-sensitive detection equipment than they now use, and train personnel on how to run the new technology. This will cost a lot of money. The most pressing problem concerns drinking water, which will be restricted to less than 10 becquerels of Cesium per kilogram. This is more than 100 times more restrictive than any other drinking water standard on Earth. To confidently test for a level this low equipment must be sensitive enough to detect 1 becquerel per kilogram, which is essentially research laboratory capability. An official for the Kita-Ibaraki municipal government said: “It is extremely hard for us to obtain a high-performance measurement instrument because of our budgetary constraints. We would have no option other than leasing it from an institution outside of our government.” (Yomiuri Shimbun) The financial impact of implementing the new drinking water standard across all of Japan could be staggering, and not only in the cost of new equipment. The residual Cesium spread across Japan from South Pacific atomic bomb tests in the 1950s could make all water sources seem “unsafe” to a radiophobic population, and the investment in residual Cesium removal could be huge.
  • With this past weekend’s shutdown of the last operating Genkai NPS nuke, 90% of Japan’s nuclear plants are now idled. As a result, Kyushu Electric has asked their customers to reduce electrical consumption at least 5% below the decreases experienced last summer, or face rolling blackouts. Across Japan, 5 plants have submitted their “stress test” data to Tokyo but there is no indication of the government working on the documents. Successful completion and acceptance of stress tests is needed before nukes will be allowed to restart. However, Kyushu’s government says they will not support restarts until Tokyo’s new nuclear regulatory body is established (in April?) and new, more stringent nuclear regulations are created (who knows when?) In addition, the locals say they do not trust Kyushu Electric because of an Email scandal last spring. (JAIF)
  • Tokyo’s Cabinet Office ran a survey between October and November to ascertain public opinion on numerous issues. 6,200 citizens responded. Of importance to Fukushima and radiation issues, we find that 38% are very concerned about protecting themselves from unfounded rumors. When asked what agenda should be the government’s top priority, resolution of the Fukushima accident came in sixth, relative to social security which was #1 and tsunami recovery which was #4. (JAIF)