Accident highlights nuclear peril

The power outage that shut down spent nuclear fuel cooling systems and other facilities for 29 hours last week at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant underlines the fact that conditions there remain precarious two years after the massive quake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, triggered triple meltdowns.

It also shows that Tepco failed to learn important lessons from the catastrophe at the plant — that all-out efforts must be made to prevent power outages that disrupt cooling functions at the plant. This incident will deepen people’s distrust of Tepco.

If the power supply had not been restored in time, a meltdown of spent nuclear fuel could have occurred, resulting in a release of a massive amount of radioactive substances into the environment. Tepco and the government should not play down the gravity of this accident.

The power failure occurred on the night of March 18 and affected nine facilities at the nuclear power plant. It shut down the critical cooling systems for the pools containing spent nuclear fuel assemblies in buildings for reactors 1, 3 and 4 plus a common large pool containing 6,377 nuclear fuel assemblies.

Facility operations to remove radioactive substances from water used to cool the crippled reactor cores also ground to a halt.

Evidence strongly suggests the power outage was caused by a rat gnawing on wiring in a makeshift switchboard set up two years ago after the meltdowns of reactors 1 through 3. The animal was likely electrocuted when it touched terminals of the switchboard, thus causing it to malfunction.

The fact that this vital switchboard was designed in such a shoddy manner that a rat could gain entry and shut down plant systems suggests again that Tepco has not learned the lessons of the 3/11 nuclear disaster — which was ultimately caused by Tepco’s poor plant design and its lack of caution.

The power outage demonstrates once again that even a minor incident can trigger a serious accident at a nuclear power plant.

If the temperature of spent nuclear fuel in the pools had risen enough to begin a self-sustaining critical reaction, a meltdown could have resulted.

It is deplorable that Tepco refuses to call the power outage an accident because radioactive substances were not released into the environment. It also did not make a public announcement for three hours after the power outage occurred.

Clearly Tepco retains the arrogant mentality of the nuclear power establishment.

The power outage accident revealed once again the dangerous side of nuclear power and the sloppy management and lack of sincerity on Tepco’s part.

The government should drop its policy of restarting the nation’s shuttered nuclear power plants.

  • Bruce

    There are already 3 (possibly more) ongoing melt-throughs (worse than a meltdown) – constantly emitting for 2 years now. There were almost 14 meltdowns when the accident occurred – caused by the earthquake (proven, and peer-reviewed) – not caused by the tsunami. Many existing nuclear power plants in the world are facing the same danger of catastrophic meltdown due to earthquakes or seismic events.

    The effects of radiation on the human body, especially young human bodies is clear: there is no safe dose of radiation – natural or manmade.

    The children of Belarus know the effects, the doctors in Iraq know the effects (depleted uranium) and Angela Merkel knows (she’s a phycisist and chemist).

    It’s time to stop deluding ourselves and look more seriously into alternative forms of energy.

    Nuclear power plants only provide about 8% of the energy in the U.S. and Canada, despite Canada’s claim of 15%. They constantly leak tritium into rivers and lakes (e.g. The Great Lakes) and they are a net loss to society as a whole.

    Shutting them down would only be a start to the solution given the ecological damage already caused.

    • january37

      Mr. Conway, I would like to use your opinion and your words in the Readers’ Views column of a little newspaper I contribute to. j-boudart@northwestern.edu. Jan Boudart,

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeff.takada Jeff Takada

    Thank you for continuing to holding TEPCO accountable, JT. While no one could have prevented the tsunami’s devastating effects, TEPCO’s historically gross negligence put the Japanese people at risk in a more palpable way than even the militarist government did as bombs rained on Japanese cities. Their actions are a disgrace that can only begin to be righted when trials for criminal negligence begin.

  • GRLCowan

    A rise in spent fuel pool temperature, and evaporation of the water, both tend to reduce criticality, not increase it, as the editorial’s words “risen enough to begin a self-sustaining critical reaction” would suggest.