Monday, July 11, 2011

Fukushima: Nuclear power's VHS relic?

The most obvious cause of the disaster at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station was the massive wall of tsunami water that swept the site clean of back-up electricity generation on 11 March, removing cooling capacity from reactor cores and resulting in serial meltdown.

Would a newer reactor have fared better? Was the relationship between industry and regulators too close? Perhaps.

A question less often discussed, but equally intriguing, is whether decisions made half a century ago for reasons of commercial and geopolitical advantage have left the world with basic designs of nuclear reactor that are inherently less safe than others that have fallen by the wayside.

Alvin Weinberg, a physicist who worked on many of the early US reactors and directed research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), said

during an interview in the 1980s that the scaling-up of PWRs for commercial use rendered them fundamentally flawed.

"As long as the reactor was as small as the submarine intermediate reactor, which was only 60 megawatt (MW), then the containment shell was absolute, it was safe," he said.

"But when you went to 600MW reactors and 1,000MW reactors, you could not guarantee this, because you could in some very remote situations conceive of the containment being breached by this molten mass; and that change came about, I would assert, because of the enormous economic pressure to make the reactors as large as possible." More >>>

This goes to reinforce my argument that safety standards must be regulated at a much higher standard than is presently the case. Perhaps this should be handled by the IAEA. Editor

Location:Cayman Islands

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