Panorama, the BBC investigative journalism program, released a new documentary this week on the Sellafield nuclear power plant (formerly called Windscale) in England warning that areas of the complex are dangerously rundown. The film titled “Sellafield’s Nuclear Safety Failings” was first broadcast on BBC One on September 5th.
The Sellafield facility is one of the world’s most dangerous radioactive wastes sites and is widely known as being home to some of the first nuclear reactors of the atomic age, enormous pools of mysterious radioactive sludge, leaking silos storing nuclear waste, and the potential risk of fire and explosions from gases generated by corrosion, but it also has a long secret history of safety failures, accidents, leaks, spills, scandals and cover-ups dating back to the 1950s.
Sellafield is home to four decommissioned nuclear reactors, nuclear fuel reprocessing facilities, and vast amounts of nuclear waste. The Sellafield site is also the location of “the most hazardous industrial building in western Europe” (Building B30) and the second-most hazardous building (Building B38), which hold a variety of leftovers from the first Magnox plants in ageing ponds. Many of the facilities were constructed with sole consideration given to the technical challenges faced by designers, with no thought given to how they would ultimately be decommissioned.
The BBC investigation highlights safety problem after safety problem, but largely centers around claims of dangerous handling of radioactive materials, the aging and degradation of critical safety equipment, and inadequate staffing levels.
While Sellafield no longer generates electricity or reprocesses nuclear waste, it still stores nearly all of Great Britain’s nuclear waste. The facility has been described as the “most hazardous” site in all of Britain by the United Kingdom’s National Audit Office, and poses significant risks to people or the environment.
The BBC documentary investigation was initiated after testimony of a whistleblower who used to be a senior manager of the Sellafield facility. One of the greatest concerns listed by the whistleblower is that if a critical fire were to break out and reach the silos of nuclear waste stored on-site that it could generate a plume of radioactive materials that would be spread across Western Europe. Some of these silos contain pyrophoric (will ignite if exposed to air) and highly radioactive nuclear wastes including cladding and fuel elements.
The whistleblower featured in the BBC documentary says that many of the problems it identified over the course of its investigation were indeed simple and not very complex, like staffing issues. In the one year span between July 2012 and July 2013, there were 97 recorded incidents where some facilities at the side did not have adequate minimum staffing levels on shift. Staffing levels are one of the key performance indicators for Sellafield and any deviation from safe minimum staffing levels is not acceptable according to Sellafield documents.
BBC was able to acquire a report from 2013 which documents in photographs how physically rundown and degraded certain areas of the plant have become. Documents clearly illustrated how years of neglect ultimately lead to intolerable conditions in some areas of the site.
The documentary also exposed how radioactive materials were not handled or stored appropriately, because of a lack of investment of Sellafield managers in equipment that would more safely store the hazardous radioactive materials at the site. The film uncovered how thousands of plastic bottles, designed for temporary storage use, are being used for the storage of liquids containing plutonium and uranium, and the storage containers are now degrading.
Rex Strong, head of nuclear safety at Sellafield, was interviewed for the documentary. Strong commented on the storage of uranium and plutonium in plastic bottles, “The organization is now focusing on putting right some underinvestment of the past in order to support the hazard and waste reduction mission that the site has.”
David Pethick, Director of Nuclear Management Partners – a company formerly contracted to own and operate the Sellafield facility, says that the infrastructure that was in place at Sellafield when they arrived to manage the facility was “very poor”.
In the film, Jack Devine, former Chief Decommissioning Officer at Sellafield cautions the viewer that at Sellafield we are in a race against a ticking clock, and at some time that clock will run out and be a problem.
The documentary has been criticized by current operators of the Sellafield complex who claim they have made investments over recent years to make the facility safer in response to pressure applied on them by nuclear safety regulators.
According to recent estimates, it will take over $216.4 billion USD and at least a 100 years to decontaminate and decommission the Sellafield complex.]]>
This week the IAEA released a new report titled Managing Human Performance to Improve Nuclear Facility Operation.
The publication shows the need for additional emphasis on the role of human performance in sustaining and improving performance at nuclear facilities.
According to the report, some 80% of significant events at nuclear industry facilities can be attributed to human error, and only 20% can be attributed to equipment failure. Additionally, 70% of human errors (or 56% of all events) at nuclear plants were found to be the result of organizational and process weaknesses, not individual behavior.
In the past, great emphasis was placed on designing system hardware and software to intercept and mitigate events that could cause adverse consequences, but in the advent of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima Daiichi – the impact of the human component has proven to be even more complicated to resolve.
Historically, the industry has assumed that human error is a motivational issue or problem with an individual, however the report highlights that weaknesses in organization processes and cultural values have contributed significantly more to the occurrence of significant events than have individual mistakes. Still, despite the fact that human errors are inevitable, regardless of training, experience, and punishment, there are still things which can be done to predict, manage, and prevent systemic errors and many random errors from occurring.
The essential first step in effective error prevention is, understanding how and why unsafe acts occur. How often have we read about licensed nuclear power facilities where repeat errors are made, sometimes even on the same system or piece of equipment?
Now the IAEA is shifting focus and acknowledging that the individual behaviors and processes in place will only be as good as the organizational structure which supports them.
According to the publication, “While these organizational deficiencies are often hidden in management processes, values or organizational structure, they can create workplace conditions that lead to a human error or degradation in the integrity of defenses, such as quality of procedures or reliability of systems.”
The report concludes that it is possible for events to occur even when individuals are capable of performing the work, and proper procedures are in place. It notes that events may occur because the culture of the organization does not support the right behaviors.
If licensees were to work to resolve these deficiencies in organizational processes and cultural values, the IAEA believes that the effects over time would lead to; a reduction in the number and consequences of significant events, increased involvement by employees in the organization to achieve its goals, improvement of core and supporting processes in the organization, attention to issues at a lower level before they become significant issues, improvement in quality and safety, reduction in total operating costs, and the increased trust of stakeholders in the organization.
The summary of the report also includes a warning, “It is generally postulated that without continuous efforts on human performance improvement, safe performance of nuclear facilities would be unsustainable,” and also adds that the situation can be improved either reactively after an event, or preferably proactively before a problem arises.
Officials in Canada are preparing to introduce new legislation what would increase the liability for civilian damages for nuclear operators from $75 million to $1 billion.
Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver will introduce the new nuclear safety act today in the Commons.
The new proposal would establish a claims tribunal to speed up damage claims in the wake of a potential nuclear accident, expand the range of damages that can be claimed, and would lengthen the amount of time a person could make a claim for latent illnesses from 10 years to 30 years.
Currently, Canada’s nuclear industry generates some $5 billion dollars per year in electricity, and if the legislation is approved would have to find $500 million in insurance, but would be allowed to use other forms of financial security for the remaining $500 million. There is concern that the insurance premiums necessary to cover potential claims filed 10 to 30 years after an accident would make insuring those claims impossible without some additional form of government support.
The new legislation will allow Canada to ratify the international convention on nuclear liability that it signed in 2013.]]>
On Monday, during a New Year’s speech at the Fukushima Daini nuclear power plant, some 10 kilometers away from the Fukushima Daiichi plant, Kazuhiki Shimokobe, chairman of Tokyo Electric, urged employees to rededicate themselves to working for the evacuees of the disaster.
Later, Naomi Hirose, president of Tokyo Electric acknowledged that TEPCO was incapable of adequately dealing with problems in 2013, and was continually responding late to issues as they arose. Hirose said that the utility will do its best this year “not to have any problems.”
It is impossible to believe that TEPCO will not experience any problems over the course of the next year, further it seems almost ignorant to even assume that there will not be any problems. Over the last three years Tokyo Electric has not made much progress, if any, in locating the three melted reactor cores, except for determining where they are not. Most of the work onsite has been to prevent things from deteriorating rather than bringing the situation to a close.
In most safety-related industries, trainers work hard to remind workers that being ‘casual’ about safety can lead to a casualty. Safety doesn’t happen by accident, it is a state of mind. A famous proverb reminds us that it is better to be careful a thousand times than dead once.
This type of brazen over-confidence is often a prime example of “too much of a good thing.” The “it’ll never happen again” attitude habitually leads to improper procedures and methods of work, all of which have the ability to lead to additional surprises or accidents.
Additionally, one of the key common causes of most industrial accidents is an astounding lack of awareness or proper understanding of the difficulties being faced, which often leads to taking shortcuts in the hopes of getting the job done faster and at a lower cost. What we are not aware of and what we do not properly understand are often also things which are easy to minimize and take for granted.
Workers at Fukushima Daiichi are being asked every day to accomplish critical tasks with incomplete instructions. It is nearly impossible to do a job safely and right the first time if forced to rely on incomplete information.
Bob Alvarez, a former official at the Department of Energy, routinely reminds those following nuclear-related matters that “the only surprise is when there are no more surprises.” Unfortunately, a little ignorance can also easily lead us into surprises.
What we are witnessing is not exclusive to the nuclear industry as much as it is the typical response of industries as a whole to a devastating disaster; chiefly, that they react uncharacteristically slowly and in an inefficient fashion.
Poor attitudes towards quality, safety, and production, create hazards of all types. The same attitudes can be found at other industrial accidents like Bhopal, Exxon Valdez, Deepwater Horizon, etc.
In large-scale industries, safety has always been negotiable when it stands in the way of making profit. Once placed upon the scales of industry, safety precautions do not carry near the same weight when balanced against cost efficiency.
There are many differences between natural disasters and industrial disasters, largely that what were once considered achievements now have become a source of havoc, and additionally that despite our efforts — all of our precautions failed to prevent them.
This is not the time for public reassurance through the form of PR statements. It is the time for action and candor. It is also admittedly a time when sacrifices will have to be made. We aren’t dealing with “best-case” alternatives as much as we are working to avoid “worst possible” outcomes.
What we really need at Fukushima Daiichi are leaders that the public can get behind and support. Leadership requires characteristics like wisdom, openness, and honesty, characteristics which are rarely visible at the site of Japan’s worst nuclear disaster.]]>
To work at a nuclear facility in the United States, a worker must be trustworthy and reliable in the eyes of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the licensee. The problem is that no definition of trustworthy and reliable can be easily found.
The lack of definition has allowed questionable interpretation and use of 10 CFR 73.56 (c), which says that licensees must provide high assurance that individuals granted unescorted access to nuclear power plants, like licensed reactor operators, are trustworthy and reliable.
It is the sole responsibility of the licensee to fulfill this requirement. While the Nuclear Regulatory Commission monitors the licensee’s processes and procedures which assure compliance with the regulations, they do not oversee the fulfillment of the requirement of each individual person given unescorted access to nuclear facilities.
When it comes to working in the nuclear industry, honesty is the best policy in any situation related to one’s criminal history or memberships with various organizations. The logic is that if you cannot be honest about your history and affiliations, then you cannot be trusted, and security clearances can be revoked just for lying.
Some workers have found however, that honesty is not always the best policy in keeping a job.
Prescription medication is not an easy thing to regulate in the nuclear industry. Many prescriptions have a wide variety of side effects, and it is difficult to pre-determine how they will affect each individual who takes them.
A worker at a nuclear power plant in the Midwest was taking prescription medication when he became involved in a very minor incident at the nuclear facility he worked at. One of the contributing causes of the event was a missed step in a sequence of procedures the worker was conducting.
The event in question was so minimal, that it did not even require notification of the NRC – however, the worker was dissatisfied with his own performance.
Shortly thereafter, the worker met with his doctor again, and asked if a recent change in his prescribed medication may have adversely affected his attention to detail. The doctor agreed that this was a possibility, but no conclusions could be made after the fact.
Armed with this information, the employee self-reported the news to his supervisor, in an attempt to be trustworthy and reliable.
The licensee responded by removing the worker from his position and demoting him to a lesser one.
The licensee specifically quoted 10 CFR Part 26 which requires workers to be trustworthy and reliable in defense of their actions. They said that the employee failed to proactively inform his supervisor about the change in prescribed medication, and that had rendered him non-trustworthy and unreliable.
The employee was confused and concerned. The licensee had failed to take action against him like this in the wake of the incident, only after he had consulted his doctor and self-reported a potential contributing cause. There were no regulations from the NRC or company policies which required him to disclose a change in doctor prescribed medications, nor had he been required to consult with his physician regarding the possibility that the prescription change factored into the incident. It appeared that had he not consulted his physician on his own accord, and left the matter alone, that he would have been able to continue his work in his previous position with no problem.
For doing more than was required — displaying traits consistent with trustworthy and reliable individuals — the worker was demoted for being non-trustworthy and unreliable. The worker noted that “trustworthy” and “reliable” is not defined within 10 CFR Part 26 or any NRC guidance document, making it hard for workers to understand the expectations and very easy for subjective determinations of what is and is not trustworthy, reliable behavior.
Thomas King was a Field Service Engineer who worked in the nuclear industry, for nearly 30 years, at over 30 installations.
In 2011, while working at the St. Lucie nuclear power plant, King was approached and asked to sign a falsified nuclear training record which he never attended, as he had not even been employed by the contractor on the dates of the training. He refused to sign the document, and took the matter to the licensee, worried that the contractor had attempted to get other contract workers to sign falsified training documents.
Unfortunately, at the time of King’s concerns, the licensee was preparing for a large and expensive refueling outage, if the contractor was found to be unfit for work due to lack of training, it could take over a month to find another contractor able to do the work, and each reactor costs the licensee about $1 million per day it is shut down.
King was subsequently dismissed and has been unable to find work since. He filed a complaint with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, who after two years released a 2,800 page report on the investigation, which claimed that the problem was just clerical errors.
While it may be easy to agree that hatred and violence have no place at licensed nuclear facilities in the United States, most readers would be surprised to learn that regulations have no ability to prevent members of extremist organizations from becoming licensed reactor operators.
In context, being a member of an extremist or radical organization does not make one untrustworthy or unreliable in the eyes of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. In fact, not even a criminal conviction on record prevents one from obtaining access authorization to a nuclear power plant. There are no specific criminal offenses that are disqualifying.
Federal laws prohibit discrimination based on a person’s national origin, race, color, religion, disability, sex, and familial status. Simply, this means that people cannot be denied equal opportunity just because they are associated with certain groups, even if they are extremist or radical in nature – promote violence and hatred, etc.
This was first brought to public light in the 1980s, when it was learned that Robert E. Schlonegar, a licensed reactor operator at the Zion nuclear power plant north of Chicago, had also founded his own Ku Klux Klan Klavern – the Order of the Fiery Cross.
This situation was discovered by a reported for the Herald newspapers in Chicago, Illinois. Neither the licensee, nor the NRC, admitted being knowledgeable of the issues related to Robert Schlonegar prior to the publication of the investigative journalism piece.
The journalist began his story at a KKK rally, where several small children under the age of 10 were being inducted into the clan. Schloneger was one of the leaders of the event and joked with the undercover reported that “Not even God wanted to rain on Hitler’s parade.”
In the story, Schloneger is reported to have been a follower of William Luther Pierce, an American physicist and one of the most prominent neo-Nazis in the United States. Pierce had written The Turner Diaries, a book about a future race ware in the United States which includes detailed descriptions of mass hangings, and later famously was alleged to have influenced Timothy McVeigh to perpetrate the Oklahoma City bombing. It was Pierce who loathed the civil rights movement and Anti-Vietnam War movements of the 1960s, thinking them Jewish-led, communist-inspired, a threat to real Americans, and who wanted to bring about a white nationalist revolution in the United States.
Arch Dragon Schloneger was a self proclaimed terrorist, who spoke out against law and order in favor of chaos. Though it is not know if Schloneger made his allegiance known at the time he was hired by Edison in 1971, the outspoken nature of his membership during the end of his employment was what saved his job.
As long as Schloneger did not bring his radical views to the workplace, or allow them to affect his job in any way, his bosses at COMED and the NRC had their hands tied. Even though they may not sanction organizations like the KKK, they could not also discriminate against them, unless someone could prove that the group intended to harm nuclear power facilities.
The NRC however did not even feel the need to punish, fire, or remove unescorted access to the nuclear power plant from Schloneger after he told a reporter that his fantasy was to walk into a Jewish hospital with a flame-thrower and hose down every room, when it was discovered that he was amassing more than 300 pounds of ammunition and guns at a farm in Wisconsin, after he referred to a black mail man as an “ape”, or after it was discovered that he carried a Smith & Wesson .38-caliber special handgun in the glove box of his car and had “been tempted to plug a couple of real assholes out (driving) on the road”, until his better judgment got the best of him.
A week after the initial article was published by the Herald, another article was published by the Waukegan News titled “Edison values alleged KKK leader.” The article documented that Schloneger was rated highly as an employee by Commonwealth Edison, the utility which operated the Zion nuclear power plant in Illinois. “He is an above-average control room operator,” said James Toscas, the spokesman for Edison.
Schloneger’s affiliation with the KKK was discovered four years prior to the publication of the first article in the Herald. At that time, Schloneger said that the FBI raided his home and questioned him, before he was allowed to return to work. One of the conditions of his being able to resume work was his promise not to share his beliefs at the plant and not to mention the plant’s name in interviews with the press.
His employment at the Zion nuclear power plant did not last long after the articles. On December 1st, just a few short weeks after the initial reporting, Schloneger was forced to resign in part due to his Klan activities. As the story goes, Edison was “reassessing his status as an employee” in light of the news articles which had been published about him. Specifically, Edison was attempting “to ascertain whether he was abiding by the agreement he and the company had that he would not conduct any activities or attempt to sell any of his philosophies inside of the plant itself.”
In the end, it appears that despite the agreement made between the licensee and Schloneger, they were unable to prevent him from at least discussing his beliefs on-site. Which makes one question whether or not the regulations we have in place are really effective at preventing problems, or just allow us to react to violations, not proactively circumvent them.
Nuclear power facilities are a part of the nation’s critical infrastructure. They also are the front lines of the fight between national security and civil rights. Since no one is forced to work there, it is not outside the realms of expectation that some civil liberties may need to be given up to ensure protection of the public health and welfare. But this has not happened as of yet, in fact the NRC has tried to stay away from individual beliefs, questionable affiliations, etc.
One of the more prophetic parts of the articles quoted a pamphlet marked “internal circulation only” which was being circulated by Schloneger which read, “It may be prudent for us to contemplate the use of deception rather than force.” While the pamphlet was pointing out the telltale signs of a societal breakdown and rendezvous plans for members of the KKK klavern, the same approach may be just as useful to a potential terrorist at a nuclear facility. The instructions continued to direct members to disguise themselves as police or personnel, service or road workers, even as priests, in order to help facility their movements. The KKK even understood that they didn’t need to necessarily use a direct force approach, that deception could be a more useful tool.
In fact, it is not outside the realms of belief to think that members of extremist organizations could infiltrate nuclear power facilities at any time, if the proper precautions are not taken to ensure that all employees are trustworthy and reliable. Therefore, it would seem judicious to know all affiliations and allegiances of workers, especially ones with unescorted access to nuclear power facilities, in order to prevent any scenario where said infiltration could occur undetected.
I contacted the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Office of Public Affairs, and submitted questions through Scott Burnell to the NRC staff.
I was surprised to learn that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has never conducted any survey of the organizations that licensed reactor operators are members of. Perhaps I should not have been, considering that the NRC also does not keep track of the number of foreign citizens working at nuclear power plants. In fact, owners of reactor facilities are not even required to limit the access of foreigners.
There have been a lot of troubling reports recently about the nuclear workforce. It has been shown that reported drug and alcohol violations at nuclear power plants are on the increase.
Our recent coverage of the Michael Buhrman and Landon Brittain case even show how two criminals attempted to recruit other workers at a nuclear power plant in Illinois to join their nefarious activities.
The question which should be asked at the end of this investigation is, are the current regulations in place effectively ensuring that employees are trustworthy and reliable? I think the answer must be no, at least until we can determine for once and for all what trustworthy and reliable really are.]]>
The Mainichi Shimbun report that nearly half of Japanese nuclear power plant equipment exported over the last ten years failed to undergo safety inspections through the national government. Instead of requiring all equipment to be subject to the government safety inspections, the Japanese government only conducted the safety inspection if the manufacturer received a loan from the government-affiliated Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) or applied for insurance from Nippon Export and Investment Service.
In the last decade, Japan exported roughly 124.8 billion yen worth of nuclear equipment to 23 countries and territories, only 73.7 billion yen worth of equipment sold to China, the United States, France, Belgium, and Finland received government safety inspections. Approximately 51.1 billion yen worth of equipment failed to receive such inspections. The unchecked equipment included key safety-related components such as, reactor pressure vessels, reactor pressure vessel lids, and control rod driving systems. Three major manufacturers, Hitachi, Ltd., Toshiba Corporation, and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. are among those who exported nuclear equipment without safety inspections.
Despite the on-going Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been promoting nuclear exports from Japan and loudly reassuring the international community that Japanese nuclear technology is the world’s safest, yet another outspoken claim from the boisterous Abe that would later be put under intense scrutiny.
“It came as a surprise to me that many exported nuclear plant-related devices failed to undergo safety inspections,” said Keio University professor Masaru Kaneko. “Prime Minister Shinzo Abe claimed in a speech overseas that Japan can provide the world’s safest atomic power technology, but how can Japan guarantee the safety of nuclear plant equipment Japanese firms export without a proper system to examine it?”
Source: The Mainichi Shimbun]]>
On Sunday, tens of thousands of Taiwanese marched through the capital city, chanting slogans urging the government to cease the construction of the nuclear power project. Organizers said over 30,000 people took part in the demonstration.
For over thirty years nuclear power has polarized life in Taiwan, but today many people in Taiwan are so concerned about the safety of a nuclear power plant under construction near the capital, Taipei, that the government is being forced to hold a referendum on nuclear power by the end of the year. Taiwan, like Japan, has been called unsuited for nuclear power plants as active seismic faults are known to run across the island. In 2011, a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council evaluated the seismic hazard to nuclear reactors around the world and placed all of Taiwan’s nuclear reactors in the highest risk group along with some of Japan’s reactors.
Even though the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou is promoting nuclear power, the latest polls conducted show that some 70% of the surveyed responders oppose the completion of the construction of the Lungmen nuclear power plant in Taiwan, which would be the fourth nuclear facility. The construction work began in 1999, but has grown to be one of the most expensive and divisive projects in national history.
Source: Straits Times]]>
Currently, more than two thousand safe energy organizations and co-petitioners have filed a petition for emergency enforcement action directly to Nuclear Regulatory Commission Executive Director of Operations Bill Borchardt. Readers can read the full petition and also support Mr. Jazcko’s call to start closing flawed nuclear power plants by signing the petition to revoke the NRC operating licenses for Fukushima-style reactors here in the United States.
Source: New York Times
On Wednesday, officials from Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority approved a new set of nuclear safety guidelines for utilities to follow in order to prepare for emergencies and natural disasters, the new rules will go into effect in July. The rules are stricter in controlling how utilities prepare for serious accidents and most will need to be met in order to restart any shutdown nuclear reactors. Next, the new guidelines will be updated after taking the public’s opinion into account.
Most attention now will be focused on how the Nuclear Regulation Authority will apply the new safety guidelines to the operational reactors at the Ohi nuclear power plant and to screen idle reactors wanting to restart. Last month, officials from the regulatory agency decided not to apply any new safety guidelines to the Ohi plant until their regular inspections later in the year.
Source: JiJi Press]]>
South Korea recently shut down two of its nuclear reactors after having found that the safety certificates for replacement parts had been forged, but mentioned that the problem would be investigated at 5 other sites as well. This week, South Korea extended the probe into all 23 of the nation’s nuclear power plants, but authorities continued to go through great pains in order ensure the public that there was no safety risk.
The scandal has led to the president of the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) to tender his resignation, along with other officials.
“I am sorting out what happened in the past. I will resign at any time once this is settled,” Kim Kyun-seop, head of Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power.
South Korea’s Nuclear Safety and Security Commission has appointed a team of 58 investigators to inspect the 23 nuclear reactors to check for parts supplied with forged certificates.
Source: LA Times
Measuring radioactivity has a long history and innumerable academic and commercial applications in nuclear safety, defense, medicine, biology, material sciences, etc. That may soon change, now anyone can start their own virtual lab and explore nuclear science with a $20 webcam.
It’s more than just radiation detection with devices like Geiger counters, the software capabilities can classify the type of radiation and can differentiate between various kinds of radioactive materials. They track the real-time dark noise statistics to find the right threshold. Then, there is an analyzing step when the particle energies are estimated, all software-based and done in real time.
The webcam sensor is shielded from visible light by aluminum foil and uses a special software package to analyze the video stream for characteristic patterns.
Beta particles can be measured with high precision (error < 5%) but the relative hit rate depends on the material of the measurement sample – this indicates that the sensor’s sensitivity varies with the particles’ energy. It is however unable to detect neutrons even from strong sources, and further work would be needed to do so, such as submersion in helium gas.
Source: Vienna University of Technology
“GeigerCam: Measuring Radioactivity with Webcams” – Overview
Step by Step Instructions]]>
The nominations were called off over a week ago when the nominees were leaked in the press which almost caused a complete meltdown in the search for qualified appointees. Traditionally, the Japanese refuse to consider nominations to key posts if they have been leaked, but this time they chose to exempt the nominations from the “no leak” rule this time, citing the limited pool of qualified candidates.
Not all the difficult decisions take place in the Japanese Parliament, which has been battling back and forth over the shape of the new regulatory body, there has been a lot of contention stemming from the search for candidates who are not visible icons of the nuclear industry, who can be cast in a different light than their predecessors.
The nominees are being identified as low-profile experts, and must be approved by the Diet to be officially appointed, one of the problems being found is that the views of the new commission nominees are not well known, a fact that may not rest well with the Diet or the public. There is a feeling of enflamed expectation as many discussions are held as to whether or not the nominees may be too closely linked to the “nuclear village.”
Members of the industry are less inclined to give their opinions on the matter, for much the same reason. “I don’t know what to say, because I have not heard of them,” said Kazuhiko Watanabe, senior researcher of the Japan Electric Power Survey Committee, which was repeated by others that the Wall Street Journal contacted for comment.
There is only but a few degrees of separation at best, for the nation had taken up the model exampled internationally, effectively consolidating its experts and popular figures in the previous agencies, even professors who taught nuclear science and physics in universities have been found to be on the industry payroll, and that has greatly diminished the pool of candidates.
Enter Shunichi Tanaka, an expert in radiation physics, and a former deputy head of the Cabinet Office’s Atomic Energy Commission.
Tanaka was nominated for the new safety watchdog along with four other candidates, the reactor expert Toyoshi Fuketa – deputy chief of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency’s safety research center, a radiology expert Kayoko Nakamura – of the Japan Radioisotope Association, Kenzo Oshima – former ambassador to the United Nations and seismologist Kunihiko Shimazaki, in an effort which is meant to be a step forward to restoring trust in the government and its officials.
“We’re in an extremely severe situation as to whether we can regain public confidence in the state and the administration,” Environment Minister Goshi Hosono told reporters after the government put forward the nominations to parliament.
Environment Minister Hosono defended Tanaka’s nomination, saying he had already offered “an apology” for the disaster and had contributed to decontamination efforts in his home region.
Hosono has also adamantly said that the problems in the response have mostly arisen from the nuclear safety system itself, and not the experts or officials, “All experts were promoting nuclear technology, because they were part of a country that was promoting it,” he said. This has only added fuel to what is now an excruciatingly hot fire of contention, as it contradicts statements from many organizations and witnesses in testimony to investigation probes into the Fukushima disaster.
The timing of this appointment is very interesting. Last week, Japan’s education ministry admitted that it had inappropriately responded to the Fukushima disaster, and one of the key faults found was related to informing residents and addressing parents’ concerns about radiation exposure.
There have been plenty of problems already identified, and many more details yet to be revealed. Radiation data which was lost or not backed up, radiation detection stations overwhelmed by the earthquake and tsunami, radiation detection stations overwhelmed by the radiation levels, predictive systems data not released in time, communication breakdowns continually broke public trust, and repeatedly forcing international agencies and experts to assess the severity of the disaster on their own, as shown by the failure to properly assess the severity in terms of the international disaster scales and evacuation zone identifications are just some examples.
It didn’t stop with just informing the public and addressing the concerns, the report also admitted the ministry’s mishandling of setting radiation exposure limits for outdoor school activities. The report highlighted that part of the communication problems were caused because the emergency response program was set up differently than how the manuals regulators used had instructed.
Vice education minister Takashi Kii told reporters that following manuals is not enough to protect people’s lives and assets during emergencies, and added that ministry officials must use their imagination and act without waiting for orders.
Let’s be honest though, the problem was not with the “manuals”, rather the people who found themselves in the cross hairs, on the spot, under pressure, and repeatedly and repetitively cracked, folded, and failed to proactively approach the nuclear disaster.
The manuals might have explained what COULD be done, but they could in no way ENSURE that the instructions would be carried out. In the end, the individuals involved chose to deviate and apparently not even check the manuals for advice, they knew what they wanted to do and they did it.
Even now the response is limited in capacity and capability to such an extent that no reason exists to rationally justify it. Prime Minister Noda wrestled the Ohi Nuclear Power Plants restart from the hands of the public, who were making their dissatisfaction clear in a noise that even Noda had to admit he “could hear.”
There are many questions that still need answers. For example, if there was an unexpected event and radiation release at any nuclear power plant which may be restarted in Japan, how would the new regulating body compile the potential exposures of the surrounding population from Fukushima radiation for the last 15 months, and use that to update evacuation recommendations from a potential accident at any restarted reactors?
During the restart of the Unit 3 and Unit 4 reactors operators experienced over 50 alerts which were all later reported to be “insignificant” and none of which were thought to be more important or in any other way hinder the timing of the restarts. But maybe the even more concerning details is that the utility has been asked by the complacent Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency to test to examine whether or not a earthquake fault lies directly underneath BOTH reactors.
Disaster and uncertainty challenge every individual in many ways, and we can either, react to the shocking nature with which it strikes, or act proactively to protect ourselves from threat before it strikes, efficiently mitigate the damage when it does occur, and respond with overwhelming finality. A job half-finished is always more extensive and more expensive than securing or better, exceeding the targeted goals the first time.
Source: Japan Today
Source: Wall Street Journal
Source: Fox Business
Enformable Editor’s Note – In our ongoing effort to highlight critical issues, we invited Mr. Walters to share this important article with our readers, and he graciously accepted. If you have an article that you would like to submit, you may always contact us using the contact link in the menu and share your submission with us.
Vis-a-vis the recent news that the San Onofre Nuclear Power Station (SONGS for short) is going to start up again with new steam generators, much attention has focused on these two reactors that provide 2000MWs of low carbon energy for San Diego and the counties north of San Diego to the L.A. border.
[ It is the largest generator south of LA and Riverside counties. Every MW being lost due to the two reactors being off line is now made up with by the ever more powerful natural gas industry’s main project: fossil fuel. When the reactors start up, millions of cubic feat of natural gas will not be burned up.]
But nevertheless, many have wondered about the future of, and reliability of, these two reactors. The first line of independent safety investigation are those whose live really do depend on the industry being safer, or at least safer than anything in the competition.
There is virtually no dispute that the health and safety of nuclear power plant workers is paramount. They, not the stock holders of, or the rate payers for, these utilities, are at risk whenever anything goes wrong generally.
There are two levels of safety as an issue: general industrial safety of any power plant worker concerning hazardous materials (solvents for cleaning, lubrication oils that are extremely toxic, vapors, fiber glass, etc etc), the hazard of lots of heavy mechanical equipment (cranes, fork lifts, machines like lathes and drills) and the danger of high voltage electrocution, from a 110V outlet used for lighting up to the 20,000v terminal voltage of the generator. 99% of all injuries in power plants result from these and things like hearing loss due to sounds and similar, yet very common, safety issues.
If a plant is unionized (and currently the expansion of gas turbines has often staffed by non-union personnel) union safety committees exist to enforce and report to the management safety violations that can cause both individual worker health hazards to issues concerning the outlying or nearby community.
I was on several of these union safety committeesduring my 20 years at PG&E‘s Portero Power Plant.They can be highly effective and, when management gets the upper hand in negotiations or, is able to smash the union, it’s usually the first thing that goes. Utilities by and large do not like any entity not controlled by the business to look inside or under the dirty linen of their plants. This is as true for public power utilities as private investor owned utilities as anything that gets found, and has to be corrected, is usually blamed on the frontline and plant supervision by the utility bureaucracy up the chain of command.
The other area, with regards to nuclear, is of course radiation safety. Each plant has a whole dept. dedicated to the safe running of the plant, per NRC regulations, and run by health and safety radiation engineers and operators.
There are special laws dedicated to insuring, on a state by state basis, the rights of whistle blowers to go outside even the independent union safety structures to complain when safety issues are not addressed. The protection of these whistle blowers is paramount for the safe running of these plants. Not just at the level of union members who do the front line technical, mechanical and operational work at a nuclear power plant, but at the mid-level engineering and accounting divisions as well where safety issues as an aggregate of other issues can be spotted such as, the failure to fill out hazardous waste forms, a consistency in certain parts failing, and so on.
The history of abuse in the nuclear industry (very broadly defined here such as fuel fabrication, component manufacturing, special fuel outage crewing and repair, etc) is established. The most famous, of course, was OCAW (Oil Chemcial and Atomic Workers) union organizer Karen Silkwood. She died, and many, including myself, think she was murdered, by her employer, the now bankrupt fuel fabricator Kerr McGee.
There have, over decades, been many “nuclear whistle-blower”, some of whom are listed here.
Whistle-blower are important because knowing that their own work force could turn them into the authorities (OSHA, NRC, etc) or, worse, the news media, keeps nuclear plant management and boards of directors on their toes. Thus preserving these laws that protect them, and extending and enforcing them, is of concern not only union members and the labor movement specifically, but all employees of nuclear companies and the general public.
Recently there was an article in the KPBS web site that talks about and publicizes the case of a SONGS employees who wants such protection. But because all these laws are under state, not federal authority and the plant sits on Federal land, the whistle-blower in question is not covered. This needs to be changed.
Here are the pertinent paragraphs from the article:
“But in 2010, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission revealed that some San Onofre employees had told regulators they did not feel free to report safety concerns for fear of retaliation. What’s more, the NRC said that the plant had 10 times the industry median of complaints from workers“That’s a huge problem for everyone in Southern California,” said attorney Maria Severson, who represents former San Onofre employee Paul Diaz. He said he was fired in 2010 after he came forward to his managers with safety concerns.
But Severson said Diaz is not protected by California’s whistle-blower laws – among the strongest in the nation — because San Onofre sits on federal land ceded to Southern California Edison back in the 1960s.”
This, obviously, is a flaw that needs to be correct ASAP.As a strong proponent of nuclear energy, I feel that not having such universal laws to protect employees does several things:
1. it erodes as the article notes the confidence of employees to come forward.
2. it erodes public confidence in the technology due to the clear lack of protected transparency.
3. it endangers the work force and, potentially, the general public.
Some whistle-blowers only come forward after they have been fired. Others get fired or quit and then become professional anti-nuclear activists (the well know nuclear celebrity Arnie Gunderson is one). But over all, whistle blower protection is critical for having the most professional workforce, union or not, running these power plants.
I should end by pointing out that nuclear energy represents the proven safest form of energy in the United States today. The general health levels of nuclear plant workers is second to none, with a health risk no more or less than others in heavy industry but better than workers in fossil fuel industries. It has also been the safest to the public at large despite propaganda to the contrary. Nevertheless to maintain this means a general strengthening of these laws mentioned above and an increase in unionization at those nuclear plants that are non-union.
IBEW 1245 (Ret).
When Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and three other cabinet ministers agreed to restart two suspended nuclear reactors at the Oi power station in central Japan they said that the central government “had confirmed the safety and the necessity” of the nuclear reactors.
Ever since the decision to restart, the public response has been overwhelming, with some public protests drawing nearly 50,000 members. Opinion polls show the Fukushima disaster has turned the majority of Japanese against nuclear power.
Safety standards post-Fukushima face “severe setback”
Katsuhiko Ishibashi, a seismologist at Kobe University, has been long ignored by Japan’s nuclear village, despite watching his predictions of disaster unfold before his very eyes: First involving the 1995 Kobe Earthquake, and later after the March 11th nuclear disaster.
Ishibashi told reporters that seismic modeling by Japan’s decrepit nuclear regulator did not properly take into account active fault lines near the Ohi nuclear power plant.
“The stress tests and new safety guidelines for restarting nuclear power plants both allow for accidents at plants to occur,” Ishibashi told reporters. “Instead of making standards more strict, they both represent a severe setback in safety standards.”
Mitsuhisa Watanabe, a tectonic geomorphology professor at Tokyo University, said at the same news conference.
“The expertise and neutrality of experts advising Japan’s Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency are highly questionable,” Watanabe said.
Japanese blogger Ex-SKF has been closely following events surrounding the nation’s financial, energy, and political issues, with an especially sharp focus on Fukushima and the Ohi restarts. This week his site confirmed that the utility operating the Ohi nuclear power plant cannot find photographs of the crushed zone that runs through the plant compound, between Reactor 2 and Reactor 3 buildings
The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency disclosed on June 25 that the photographs of the crushed zone that the agency had asked KEPCO to submit weren’t submitted.
NISA started collecting information after Watanabe had pointed out the danger of the crushed zone shifting, earlier this month.
The “Amateur” Seismologist
These days, Ishibashi is well-respected in Japan, he is hailed as one of the first voices in admitting that Japan was at risk of a nuclear disaster following a large earthquake, and his book, “A Seismologist Warns,” has become a bestseller.
Ishibashi said he still remembers his fear of quakes when he was a boy. He slept with a flashlight next to his pillow in case he had to escape in the night. “There was a radio broadcast that night saying Japan didn’t have enough earthquake experts,” he said, adjusting his steel-rimmed glasses. “I decided I’d do that.”
In 1976, when the then 31-year-old researcher at Tokyo University made his first important discovery — that a fault line west of Tokyo was much bigger than assumed — the risk to Chubu Electric Power Co.’s Hamaoka nuclear plant in Shizuoka prefecture didn’t occur to him. The plant had opened that year above the fault.
Ishibashi says he didn’t start out as a critic of Japan’s nuclear industry, rather his view changed after a magnitude-6.9 quake killed more than 5,500 people on Jan. 17, 1995, and toppled sections of elevated expressway.
After a disaster that Japanese engineers had said couldn’t happen, the nuclear regulator didn’t immediately re-evaluate its construction standards. The revised seismic standards didn’t reflect evidence that earthquakes could occur in areas where there were no signs of active faults. The omission allowed the utilities to carry on without undertaking expensive retrofits, Ishibashi observed.
It said the plants were “safe from the ground up,” as the title of a 1995 Science Ministry pamphlet put it. So, Ishibashi decided to investigate further.
The result of his investigations culminated in an article on the Hamaoka nuclear power plant which was published in the October 1997 issue of Japan’s Science Journal. Professor Ishibashi, coined the term genpatsu-shinsai (原発震災), from the Japanese words for “nuclear power” and “quake disaster” to express the potential worst-case catastrophe that could ensue.
The analysis read like a prediction of the Fukushima disaster: A major quake could knock out external power to the plant’s reactors and unleash a tsunami that could overrun its 6-meter defenses, swamping backup diesel generators and leading to loss of cooling and meltdowns.
When the local prefecture questioned industry experts about Ishibashi’s paper, the response was that he didn’t need to be taken seriously. The current head of Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission, Haruki Madarame, at the time was a professor at the University of Tokyo school of engineering, an dismissed his concerns as those of an “amateur.”
“In the field of nuclear engineering, Mr. Ishibashi is a nobody,” Madarame said in a 1997 letter to the Shizuoka Legislature.
On October 24th, 2011, Madarame was asked after a regular press briefing for the commission if he’d changed his opinion about Ishibashi.
“Because of the accident there’s a need to take another look at things, including the earthquake engineering guidelines, and we’re doing that,” he said. “Ishibashi contributed a lot to the revisions to the earthquake guidelines and his comments there are important.” He declined to comment further.
In February 2012, Madarame told a parliamentary inquiry that there were flaws in, and lax enforcement of, the safety rules governing Japanese nuclear power companies, and this included insufficient protection against tsunamis. “Japan’s atomic safety rules are inferior to global standards and left the country unprepared for the Fukushima nuclear disaster last March.”
Ishibashi still cautious about recognition of danger
Disregard for the science extended to a government panel started in 2001 to revise seismic engineering standards for Japan’s nuclear plants, said Ishibashi. After five years of debate that he called “rigged and unscientific ,” the seismologist resigned from the panel in exasperation on Aug. 28, 2006.
“The point I was trying to make was that if you’re going to have nuclear plants here in Japan, they should be built to withstand the most severe shaking that’s been observed,” he said. “They tried to chip away at that as much as they could,” he said.
“What was missing — and is still missing — is a recognition of the danger,” Ishibashi said in a Bloomberg interview after the March 2011 nuclear disaster. “Changing the energy policy is a good thing, but I really do wonder if there will be follow-through,” he said.
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At a public meeting Monday night in San Clemente, officials from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission blamed faulty computer modeling by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) as the most likely cause of the unacceptable amount of vibration and wear from rubbing which had been found in the steam generator units, but none of the parties involved can come up with a fix.
The replacement steam generators were supposed to over six decades, specifically, MHI claimed that “60 years” is just design lifetime and the limitation of integrity is considered to be much longer than that. In just a year, tubes in Unit 3 had worn down so much that a break occurred, which has brought the nuclear power plant to an unexpected halt.
Multiple issues yet to be addressed
There are multiple issues at stake, first Mitsubishi seriously undervalued the operating conditions that the steam generator tubes were expected to be subjected to, by a factor of three or four.
Greg Werner, who headed the NRC inspection team, said a Mitsubishi computer analysis vastly misjudged how water and steam would flow in the reactors, and overall failed to predict the type of conditions which could be expected, and resulted in the tube shaking.
There’s a thin line between tubes which are thin enough to transfer heat, and thicker tubes, which are more likely to maintain structural soundness under heavy pressures.
Secondly, there are issues with the V shaped support structures which are only installed in the Unit 3 replacement steam generators, where the worst tube damage has been found.
“This is a significant, serious safety issue,” said NRC Regional Administrator Elmo Collins. “This is a very difficult technical issue, and to be honest, it’s not one we’ve seen before.”
Liability likely to fall on licensee
The NRC official added that even though Mitsubishi did the computer modeling, the ultimate responsibility lies with Edison, and they could face penalties.
The analysis concludes that two or more of the generators may need to be replaced, but the most costly loss would be the expensive decommissioning of the plant due to the enormous financial strain it would put on the already low-performing investment.
“The ultimate responsibly resides with them … because they are responsible for safety,” said Regional Administrator Elmo Collins, the agency’s top official in the western U.S.
The NRC is not above the situation, there was a series of alterations made to the equipment, and known fabrication issues prior to transporting the replacement steam generators from Japan to the United States. On Monday, the environmental group Friends of the Earth said that federal regulators should have reviewed the new steam generator design.
In retrospect, there should have been a much more thorough and inclusive review of the replacement steam generator design, and serious questions are now pointed at the quality assurance program. This is not due to old equipment breaking, rather new equipment that wasn’t up to par in the first place.
The utility notified the NRC in August 2009 that the replacement generators for Unit 3 had developed cracks in a weld that connects a 5-inch-thick steel plate that supports each generator’s innards.
To install the new replacement steam generators, the utility was forced to cut a hole in the vital concrete containment dome for the reactors, as the equipment was too large to fit through the equipment hatch, and required cutting heavy metal tendons which cannot be restored to pre-installation fortitude.
Edison admittedly altered the assembly in the Unit 3 steam generators, however overall the new design for both units was nearly 24 tons heavier than the original steam generators and packed in an addition 400 tubes using a different alloy.
Despite all of the noticeable differences, they were stamped with approval from the utility and the regulator as an “in-kind” or identical replacement, which severely limited the federal agencies inspection responsibilities.
Independent analysis lead by Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds Associates finds that there are numerous changes to the San Onofre steam generators that are not like-for-like or “in-kind”.
“The design codes used to build these replacement steam generators have now been shown calculate the wrong answer by a factor of 400%. This speaks to larger quality assurance problems within Edison and the NRC, both of which went to Japan to inspect this design,” Mr Gundersen said, “How can a 400% error go undetected? Clearly this was not a like for like modification.”
Furthermore, the facts reviewed by Fairewinds makes it clear that if Edison had informed the NRC that the new steam generators were not like-for-like, the more thorough NRC licensing review process would have likely identified the design problems before the steam generators were manufactured.
Depending on the outcome, Edison may be forced to amend its license for the changes.
Other problems are even less able to be adequately defined, but involve what is often perceived as a international track record between utilities and regulators to assume downplay over details based approach. If all else fails, with probabilistic risk scenarios it is easily possible to justify known deficiencies in multiple areas at nuclear power plants, which allow for a plethora of profit-based decisions.
Neither parties, Edison or the NRC did much to better their public relations or set a new reputation thus far in the investigation, and have only continued to field complaints for relying too heavily on rhetoric and forward-looking statements to attempt to “whitewash” the issue.
This is a problem which has haunted the nuclear industry since inception, and critics have long argued that risks are not appropriately mitigated as much as they are compartmentalized and minimized.
Edison has historically not been candid about problems at SONGS, and the distrust of locals has only increased, a far cry from Edison’s stated objectives for the proposed replacement steam generator project in 2004, to “Extend useful life of steam generators, and to ensure continued supply of low-cost power.”
Now, rate payers and investors alike will need to decide if they want to keep investing in boiling water with fission or move to wind and solar and conservation.
SONGS Meeting Slides
Source: LA Times
Source: Business Week
Source: U/T San Diego