This file picture taken on February 28, 2012 shows workers walking at the emergency operation center of the stricken Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Okuma, Fukushima prefecture.
At the first anniversary of the March 11, 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, the nuclear industry outside Japan and central Europe is largely continuing as before the accident, says a World Energy Council report.
In the US, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is issuing a series of new requirements, but the industry has not seen new delays in regulatory decisions like licensing new plants or renewing old licenses, and no units have been shut due to Fukushima-related concerns as both regulators and industry insist US units are safe to operate.
“The incident is likely to encourage operational and technological improvements, and result in a wide range of actions and measures to improve the safety,” the WEC report says, but “the Fukushima accident has not so far led to a significant retraction in nuclear power programmes in countries outside Europe, except in Japan itself.”
Japan’s Total Loss
The accident occurred after a 9.0 earthquake struck off the coast near Fukushima Daiichi, and an hour later, a tsunami that may have reached 50 feet high hit. That wave wiped out almost all backup power supplies and left four units slowly heating up and, eventually, melting down. Those reactors are now under control but considered total losses to owner Tokyo Electric Power Co.
Today, all but two of Japan’s 50 operable reactors are shut for “stress tests” to check they could handle a Fukushima-like event. The country’s regulator, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, has begun approving test results, but so far local officials have not agreed to allow restarts.
Consumers deal with power shortages, and the cost of importing substitute fossil fuels threw Japan’s balance of payments into deficit in 2011 for the first time in three decades. Tens of thousands of people who lived near the plant remain displaced while workers locate and remove radioactive material from the accident.
In Europe, Germany decided soon after the accident to accelerate phase-out of its nuclear plants and shut eight of the 17 reactors operating. Italy, which has no operating plants, suspended plans to build any, while Switzerland, which has five reactors, dropped plans for a sixth.
As You Were
But elsewhere, construction and operation of nuclear units continues, including in the US, where the NRC issued the first new construction license in three decades last month, to Southern Company for two reactors at Vogtle in Georgia. Another license for two more units, at SCANA’s Summer plant in South Carolina, is expected shortly.
NRC has also just issued a series of orders stemming from the accident, but commissioners unanimously agree the 104 operating reactors can keep running while the Fukushima lessons are incorporated in plant designs and operations. The orders require a series of evaluations, including each plant’s monitoring for spent fuel pools and hardened vents for two early models of General Electric reactors. The Fukushima units used GE’s first model.
Charles Pardee, Chief Operating Officer of Exelon and chairman of an industry task force on Fukushima, said this week that operators are “collaborating” with NRC on meeting Fukushima requirements, and are already building on measures they took after the 9/11 attacks to enable response to extreme natural events. Those measures involved stationing portable equipment, like power generators, batteries and pumps, around a plant so it could be connected to a stricken unit at need.
Analysis of the Fukushima event, Pardee said, showed having more mitigation equipment at more locations increases the chances of equipment being available at need, no matter what happens to a plant – from a terrorist aircraft to a hurricane or earthquake.
He said the industry is starting to stockpile more backup equipment in more locations, and to plan industry-funded emergency regional centers, from which equipment could be transported – even air-lifted – to a stricken plant at need.
Pardee said the cost so far is running $1-2 million per plant, with no one yet estimating future costs.
For more coverage of the anniversary of the Fukushima disaster this weekend, follow the “Fukushima Anniversary” tag on Breaking Energy.