Nuclear Safety Equipment Has “no impact on public health and safety”?

I recently saw a report that failure of a piece of safety equipment had “no impact on public health and safety”. If  so why is it there?

I was going to write this post several months ago. However, a recent comment on one of my posts has prompted me to write it now.

What originally sparked this post was an incident at Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant in the USA in April 2015. Following a power cut to the plant an emergency generator started but tripped after 11 seconds. The same generator had failed to start in a similar incident in 2010. Also one of the three saltwater pumps also failed to restart1.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) said that “there was no impact on public health and safety”. This is a statement from the organisation that is meant to be overseeing health and safety at nuclear sites in the US. It was not from the site owners or the press. So if such equipment has no impact why is it there?

A similar event happened at Hunterston power station in Scotland in December 1998. During what is now called the Boxing Day Storm the power station lost grid connection. The reactor was shut down, diesel generators started and cooling was quickly restored. When grid connection was restored the diesel generators and emergency cooling system was turned off. However, grid connection was then lost for a second time. However, the diesel generators had been set to manual rather than automatic and failed to start and there was no cooling to the reactor. Staff (working mainly in the dark) eventually restarted the diesel generators and cooling was restored2. However, despite an on-site emergency being called the operators stated: ” that no radiation was released and there had been no danger to staff or the public.”3

The comment on one of my posts which I mentioned above prompted this post4 says:

Small fires due to the contact of minutes amounts of water/humidity with sodium did happen at Superphenix and other FBR-Na, but none has been serious.

So do we need to worry if nothing serious5 happens?

Let us say you are driving along in your car and after several miles you notice that your brakes are not working properly. You come off the road a few times so do you think “but none has been serious” and so “there had been no danger to myself or the public”. Hopefully you do not since there is of course a probability that you will not be so lucky next time and you will kill yourself or one or more members of the public.

It is important to realise that a large scale nuclear accident has a much bigger consequences than a car crash. Fukushima and Chernobyl were lucky escapes. Cooling water was restored to the spent fuel ponds at Fukushima in time and they did not have major fires. At Chernobyl miners dug underneath the plant and a large concrete slab stopped the core from melting down and reaching the groundwater.

Since the consequences are so large the probability of such an accident must be extremely low – the nuclear industry often quote a figure of 1 in 1 million reactor years or even 1 in 10 million reactor years.

To achieve this a nuclear power plant should have back-up systems and even back-up systems of back-up systems in case the initial system fails. Let us look at a very hypothetical situation – the numbers will not be realistic, the system will be over simplified but it will give you an idea of what is happening.

  • Let us say that the probability of the complete loss of off-site power is 1 in 10.
  • The probability that the diesel backup do not work is 1 in 100
  • The probability that the backups for the backups do not work is 1 in 100
  • The probability that this loss of power causes a meltdown and a radioactive release is 1 in 10

So the overall probability is 1/10 x 1/100 x 1/100 x 1/10 which is 1 in 1 million. However, if we have lost off-site power then the probability of loss of off-site power is 1.0 – i.e. it has actually happened. Therefore the overall probability is 1 x 1/100 x 1/100 x 1/10 which is 1 in 100,000. If the backup power supply does not work the the probability is 1 x 1 x 1/100 x 1/10 which is 1 in 1000.

So in the two examples I give at the beginning of this post even the loss of outside power would have considerably increased the risk to the public. The failure of the backup generators would have increased the risk even more.

The nuclear industry and their proponents (unfortunately including various ‘nuclear regulators) see nuclear accidents, even large ones such as Fukushima6, as nothing more than a problem with public relations.


1 NRC Sends Special Inspection Team to Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Plant, Nuclear Regulatory Comission, April 13 2015 (http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/news/2015/15-016.i.pdf)

2 The United Kingdom’s National Report On Compliance With The Obligations Of The International Convention On Nuclear Safety, UK Department of Trade and Industry, 2001 (http://www.onr.org.uk/cns2.pdf)

3 Nuclear alert at Scottish plant, BBC, December 30, 1998 (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/244765.stm)

4 Comment By Roberto Kersevan on my post Energy Density of Uranium (http://www.plux.co.uk/energy-density-of-uranium/#comment-2229)

5 One person was killed and 4 injured at an explosion at the French Rapsodie FBR in 1994 – see Fast Breeder Reactor Programs: History and Status, International Panel on Fissile Materials, February 2010 (http://fissilematerials.org/library/rr08.pdf).

6 Revealed: British government’s plan to play down Fukushima, The Guardian, 30 June 2011 (http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/jun/30/british-government-plan-play-down-fukushima)

Share

9 Responses to “Nuclear Safety Equipment Has “no impact on public health and safety”?”

  • Peter Smith says:

    I was aware of this serious incident at Hunterstun as I was Head of E/C&I at Hinkley ‘A’ at the time. I previously had been Head of Elec on Hink ‘B’. This was a serious incident at Hunterstun & should have been reported more widely. My understanding is that many of the Ops staff were running around like headless chickens during the event & police were sent out to bring in my opposite number to help resolve the situation. Had this happened on a PWR a very seroius incident could have resulted.
    The nuclear industry always play down incidents. It’s never too late to report this event more widely!!
    I am now a member of Greenpeace & an anti-nuclear activist.

    • Peter Smith says:

      Delusion & denial only lead to one place.

    • Pete Pete says:

      Just to point out that (for other readers not you Peter) the reason it would be more dangerous in a PWR is that they have a much higher power density and much lower thermal inertia. Therefore there is much less time to react to such accidents.

  • marianne says:

    Many Thanks Peter for exposing the Alice in Wonderland world of “nuclear safety’ which so many appear to blindly buy into despite the overwhelming material evidence. More of the same next to the most dangerous site in Cumbria..? NO Thanks!

  • roberto kersevan says:

    @peter lux

    “The comment on one of my posts which I mentioned above prompted this post4 says:

    “Small fires due to the contact of minutes amounts of water/humidity with sodium did happen at Superphenix and other FBR-Na, but none has been serious.”

    So do we need to worry if nothing serious5 happens?”

    Nonsense conclusion masked as a rethorical question!

    The text you’ve commented simply shows that the “unmaneageble liquid Na fires” which anti-nuclear activitst/organizations had used as an excuse against Na-cooled breeder reactors was not a threat at all, in fact both Phenix and Superphenix had to face some of these fires and they did it without too much trouble, in fact, en passant, they developed new technologies to handle just that kind of situations.
    The reactor and cooling loop of Superphenix has been already emptied of its thousands of tons of liquid Na without a single problem, neither fires not radiology.

    Please note that these are documented FACTS (ASN web site and documents therein), not unsupported opinions based on wishfull thinking and/or popular galore.

    R.

  • roberto kersevan says:

    @peter lux

    “The nuclear industry and their proponents (unfortunately including various ‘nuclear regulators) see nuclear accidents, even large ones such as Fukushima6, as nothing more than a problem with public relations.”

    Another unsubstantiated statement of yours, Peter!

    The nuclear regulators do their job quite well, in fact (just to stick to Fukushima), in spite of 3 reactors melting completely, and the spent fuel pool remaining with no cooling for several days (but the expert Peter Lux is not happy with that, read above) there has been, DEMONSTRABLY, no person killed by radiation, nor there will be any DISCERNIBLE increase of radiation-related illnesses in Japan… that is already clear now, the only possibility would have been an increase of thyroid cancer, which will not happen in Japan because the doses from iodine have been a lot lower than those in Chernobyl.
    I know, Peter, it must be disappointing for you this lack of cooperation from the population around FD-1… they don’t want to get sick!… it is sickening, uh? 🙂

    As I already said, have a nice continuation of crusade.

    R.

    http://pubs.giss.nasa.gov/abs/kh05000e.html

    http://www.fukushimaminponews.com/news.html?id=435

    “Update June 1, 2015 – Ushiku City of Ibaraki Prefecture announced their latest child thyroid data. 48 of 89 children were given either an A2 or B diagnosis. A2 designates detectible thyroid anomalies of less than 5 millimeters for nodules and/or 5mm and cysts >20mm. 40 of the Ibaraki children were found to have A2 anomalies and 8 with B level. Those diagnosed A2 will be monitored for future changes, and the B children studied for possible cancer. Thus, the rate of anomalies for this small cohort was about 54%, which compares favorably with rates found in Nagasaki, Aomori and Yamanashi Prefectures since 2012 (56%). Ushiku City is about 200 kilometers southwest of F. Daiichi. The rate for Fukushima Prefecture is about 42%. This further indicates that there is no actual child thyroid cancer outbreak from the Fukushima accident.”

  • roberto kersevan says:

    @peter lux

    “I recently saw a report that failure of a piece of safety equipment had “no impact on public health and safety?. If so why is it there?”

    Example: a car with only the driver in it has an accident, a flat tyre takes it straight into a pole. Upon hitting the pole the PASSENGER’s air-bag doesn’t deploy, but since there was only the driver inside THERE IS NO IMPACT ON THE HEALTH OF THE (missing) PASSENGER.

    Next?

    • Pete Pete says:

      If the car gets hit my a meteorite then neither of the air-bags would do any good at all – so let’s get rid of airbags since they have “no impact on health and safety”.

      • roberto kersevan says:

        Don’t be silly Peter!

        The “had no impact on health and safety” means that IN THAT PARTICULAR INCIDENT/ACCIDENT there has been no health and/or safety outcome… so difficult to understand?

        Amazing what blindly applied ideology can make on a science-trained brain!

        R.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Captcha: * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

Subscribe