Risk of another Chernobyl or Fukushima type accident plausible, experts say — University of Sussex, Phys.org

” A team of risk experts who have carried out the biggest-ever analysis of nuclear accidents warn that the next disaster on the scale of Chernobyl or Fukushima may happen much sooner than the public realizes.

Researchers at the University of Sussex, in England, and ETH Zurich, in Switzerland, have analysed more than 200 nuclear accidents, and – estimating and controlling for effects of industry responses to previous disasters – provide a grim assessment of the risk of nuclear power.

Their worrying conclusion is that, while nuclear accidents have substantially decreased in frequency, this has been accomplished by the suppression of moderate-to-large events. They estimate that Fukushima- and Chernobyl-scale disasters are still more likely than not once or twice per century, and that accidents on the scale of the 1979 meltdown at Three Mile Island in the USA (a damage cost of about 10 Billion USD) are more likely than not to occur every 10-20 years.

As Dr Spencer Wheatley, the lead author, explains: “We have found that the risk level for nuclear power is extremely high.

“Although we were able to detect the positive impact of the industry responses to accidents such as Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, these did not sufficiently remove the possibility of extreme disasters such as Fukushima. To remove such a possibility would likely require enormous changes to the current fleet of reactors, which is predominantly second-generation technology.”

The studies, published in two papers in the journals Energy Research & Social Science and Risk Analysis, put fresh pressure on the nuclear industry to be more transparent with data on incidents.

“Flawed and woefully incomplete” public data from the nuclear industry is leading to an over-confident attitude to risk, the study warns. The research team points to the fact that their own independent analysis contains three times as much data as that provided publicly by the industry itself. This is probably because the International Atomic Energy Agency, which compiles the reports, has a dual role of regulating the sector and promoting it.

The research team for this new study gathered their data from reports, academic papers, press releases, public documents and newspaper articles. The result is a dataset that is unprecedented – being twice the size of the next largest independent analysis. Further, the authors emphasize that the dataset is an important resource that needs to be continually developed and shared with the public.

Professor Benjamin Sovacool of the Sussex Energy Group at the University of Sussex, who co-authored the studies, says: “Our results are sobering. They suggest that the standard methodology used by the International Atomic Energy Agency to predict accidents and incidents – particularly when focusing on consequences of extreme events – is problematic.

“The next nuclear accident may be much sooner or more severe than the public realizes.”

The team also call for a fundamental rethink of how accidents are rated, arguing that the current method (the discrete seven-point INES scale) is highly imprecise, poorly defined, and often inconsistent.

In their new analysis, the research team provides a cost in US dollars for each incident, taking into account factors such as destruction of property, the cost of emergency response, environmental remediation, evacuation, fines, and insurance claims. And for each death, they added a cost of $6 million, which is the figure used by the US government to calculate the value of a human life.

That new analysis showed that the Fukushima accident in 2011 and the Chernobyl accident in 1986 cost a combined $425 billion – five times the sum of all the other events put together.

However, these two extremes are rated 7 – the maximum severity level – on the INES scale. Fukushima alone would need a score of between 10 and 11 to represent the true magnitude of consequences.

Further, the authors emphasize that such frequency-severity statistical analysis of holistic consequences should be used as a complementary tool to the industry standard Probabilistic Safety Assessment, especially when aggregate consequences are of interest.

Professor Sovacool adds: “The results suggest that catastrophic accidents such as Chernobyl and Fukushima are not relics of the past.

“Even if we introduce new nuclear technology, as long as older facilities remain operational—likely, given recent trends to extend permits and relicense existing reactors—their risks, and the aggregate risk of operating the global nuclear fleet, remain.”

Finally, the authors emphasize that this work is not comparative in nature, i.e. it does not quantify the risks of other energy sources. It provides a risk assessment for nuclear power alone, thus informing a single criterion, for a single power source, in the selection of a portfolio of multiple power sources, where many criteria must be considered.

Fellow co-author Professor Didier Sornette stresses: “While our studies seem damning of the nuclear industry, other considerations and potential for improvement may actually make nuclear energy attractive in the future.”

The 15 most costly nuclear events analysed by the team are:

  1. Chernobyl, Ukraine (1986) – $259 billion
  2. Fukushima, Japan (2011) – $166 billion
  3. Tsuruga, Japan (1995) – $15.5 billion
  4. TMI, Pennsylvania, USA (1979) – $11 billion
  5. Beloyarsk, USSR (1977) – $3.5 billion
  6. Sellafield, UK (1969) – $2.5 billion
  7. Athens, Alabama, USA (1985) – $2.1 billion
  8. Jaslovske Bohunice, Czechoslovakia (1977) – $2 billion
  9. Sellafield, UK (1968) – $1.9 billion
  10. Sellafield, UK (1971) – $1.3 billion
  11. Plymouth, Massachusetts, USA (1986) – $1.2 billion
  12. Chapelcross, UK (1967) – $1.1 billion
  13. Chernobyl, Ukraine (1982) – $1.1 billion
  14. Pickering, Canada (1983) – $1 billion
  15. Sellafield, UK (1973) – $1 billion “

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Japan to raise nuke safety check competency per IAEA review — AP via ABC News

” Japanese nuclear regulators said they will revise laws, nearly double inspection staff and send some inspectors to the U.S. for training to address deficiencies cited by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority announced the plans Monday in response to an IAEA evaluation of Japan’s nuclear safety regulations since the 2011 Fukushima disaster. The report was submitted to the government last week.

The IAEA review, its first since the Japanese nuclear authority’s establishment in 2012, was conducted in January to determine whether the country’s new regulatory system meets international standards. The IAEA report said even though Japan has adopted stricter safety requirements for plant operators, inspections are reactive, inflexible and lack free access. The report noted that the nuclear authority has made efforts to increase its transparency and independence.

The authority’s commissioners met Monday and decided to give inspectors greater discretion and free access to data, equipment and facilities.

Current on-site checks have largely become a choreographed routine. Inspectors’ requests for access to data and equipment outside of regular quarterly inspections are not mandatory, and there is no penalty for plant operators that fail to meet safety requirements. Inspections also tend to be limited to a checklist of minimum requirements.

The IAEA report came as nuclear safety concerns increased among the Japanese public following two powerful deadly earthquakes in southern Japan.

Three reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant suffered meltdowns in March 2011 following a massive earthquake and tsunami. A series of investigations have blamed safety complacency, inadequate crisis management skills, a failure to keep up with international safety standards, and collusion between regulators and the nuclear industry as the main contributing causes of the disaster.

The authority plans to revise laws next year and enact them in 2020 to implement the IAEA’s recommendations, officials said Monday.

The authority also said it would increase the size and competency of its staff. The IAEA urged Japan to develop training programs and step up safety research and cooperation with organizations inside and outside the country.

Japan plans to send five inspectors to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission later this year for training in nuclear safety inspections. The trainees will be sent to NRC regional offices and its technical training center in Tennessee, according to Shuichi Kaneko, an authority official.

“We look to the U.S. as a model,” he said. “We are finally beginning to catch up, though a framework is not there yet.”

While the 1,000 U.S. inspectors are given two years of training, Japan has only 150 staffers who receive just a two-week basic course, Kaneko said. He said on-site inspections at each plant in the U.S. average 2,000 hours a year, and only 168 hours in Japan.

The authority plans to start hiring more staff next spring and eventually increase its staff by at least 100 to adapt to increased inspection needs, Kaneko said. Theoretically, to match U.S. safety inspection levels, Japan would need at least 250 inspectors.

Japan largely ignored an IAEA review in 2007 that concluded that its inspection system was inadequate. ”

by Mari Yamaguchi, Associated Press

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IAEA official notes quake-resistant center’s role in Fukushima crisis — Kyodo News

” A senior official from the U.N. nuclear watchdog on Wednesday underlined the importance of building an emergency response center that can sufficiently withstand a disaster at a nuclear power plant, noting the effectiveness of such a facility is one of the lessons learned from the Fukushima crisis.

At the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, a so-called seismically isolated building played an important role providing shelter to emergency responders in the wake of the 2011 nuclear accident caused by a powerful earthquake and tsunami.

Juan Carlos Lentijo, the organization’s deputy director general and the head of the department of nuclear safety and security, said the quake-resistant center “was instrumental for conducting mitigation operations.”

“I think this is one of the major lessons from Fukushima,” the official from the International Atomic Energy Agency said in an interview with Kyodo News.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. set up the quake-resistant building equipped with devices and resources for power generation, communications, radiation exposure mitigation at Fukushima after an administrative building was rendered unusable by a major earthquake at another multi-reactor power complex in Niigata Prefecture in 2007.

Unlike reactor-housing units, the seismically isolated building sustained no major damage in the disaster and currently accommodates staff engaged in disaster containment operations at Fukushima.

In Japan, whether to install seismically isolated facilities is drawing renewed attention as the nation has been rebooting nuclear reactors that had been mothballed after Fukushima. Not all the plants have such disaster response setups.

Kyushu Electric Power Co. has been criticized by the government’s Nuclear Regulation Authority for scrapping a plan to establish a reinforced building with an earthquake buffer mechanism at its Sendai plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, after the plant was restarted last year.

Kansai Electric Power Co., meanwhile, said that it has yet to decide when to start running a seismic isolation facility at its Takahama plant in Fukui Prefecture, backing away from its earlier plan to begin operating it by the end of March 2018.

Lentijo said that “it is important to build a strong center” with “appropriate resources to deal with an emergency, even a severe accident.”

“Fortunately, in Fukushima Daiichi, they had this center that survived both — the earthquake and the tsunami,” he said.

And risks stem from not just earthquakes, he noted. “In other countries the lesson is to enhance this center to deal with flooding, for example, or with hurricanes.”

Regarding the Japanese utilities’ plans for seismic isolation buildings, Lentijo said it is for the national authorities, which have knowledge about specific sites, to evaluate. ”

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Five years after Fukushima: How to avoid the next nuclear disaster: Foreign Affairs

” Five years ago next month, one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded hit Japan, destroying its long-standing myth of zero-risk nuclear energy. The meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant revealed significant shortcomings in Japan’s safety culture, which the country has since learned from and has been trying to address. Countries charging ahead with nuclear power should heed these lessons to avoid another Fukushima.

In the years since the accident, the Fukushima plant’s damaged reactors have been stabilized through a makeshift water-cooling system, and releases of radioactivity have been greatly reduced. Meanwhile, after decontamination efforts, some of the over 100,000 evacuees have been allowed to return home.

However, despite some notable successes in cleaning up the site, tens of thousands of people are still displaced, work conditions at the plant remain poor, storing the accumulating radioactive water is an ongoing concern, and Japan remains decades away from fully decommissioning the mangled reactors. The total economic damage has been estimated at over $100 billion, and none of the six reactors at Fukushima Daiichi will ever operate again.

There have been no deaths from the effects of the radiation (according to the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, any increase in cancer rates is expected to be too small to detect). On the other hand, forced evacuation is estimated to have played a role in over 1,000 premature deaths, and according to a World Health Organization health risk assessment, as with Chernobyl, the psychological toll of the disaster is a major concern and potentially outweighs other health consequences.

The disaster prompted many other countries to take stock of their own nuclear programs. The take-home lesson for some, including a majority of the Japanese public, was to move away from nuclear power. For example, Germany vowed to phase out all nuclear power by 2022, Italy voted overwhelmingly not to restart its nuclear program, and Switzerland banned the construction of new reactors.

Other nations were hardly slowed in their expansion of nuclear energy. China, India, and Russia lead the way with, all together, more than 40 reactors under construction and over twice as many planned. In their haste, it seems that many of these countries have not absorbed the key lesson from Fukushima: the importance of a rigorous and all-encompassing safety regime.

Before the Disaster

According to a National Academy of Sciences study, prior to the Fukushima accident, Japan’s nuclear regulatory agencies did not seem to have sufficient expertise, authority, resources, or independence to adequately protect public safety. In hindsight, the problem appears to be a classic case of regulatory capture, reinforced by the common practices of amakudari (descent from heaven), referring to retired powerful public officials being hired into private sector jobs, and amaagari (ascent to heaven), referring to private sector experts moving into government-related positions.

Moreover, the regulatory body was housed in the very ministry charged with promoting nuclear energy, which created a potential conflict of interest. (To avoid similar issues, in 1975, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission was split to separate the Nuclear Regulatory Commission from promotional functions.)

An independent regulator is not sufficient, though: a strong culture of safety must also be cultivated throughout the nuclear network—from operators and construction workers up to plant owners—as well as throughout the supply chain. Pride must come not just from the megawatts produced; each entity should prioritize public safety when building or operating nuclear plants and maintain alertness through frequent drills for workers at all levels.

The 2011 meltdown turned a spotlight on the flaws in the safety regime of Tokyo Electric Power Co., the Fukushima Daiichi operator. It had falsified reports and fudged safety-related inspections long before Fukushima; it had also failed to update its seismic and tsunami safety standards. To be sure, it is difficult to prepare for an event that seems nearly impossible, such as an earthquake and tsunami of the magnitude that hit Japan, but a superior safety culture can make a difference—some have argued that that was why the reactors at the Onagawa power station, which were slammed as hard as Fukushima Daiichi, remained intact and were safely shut down.

Praiseworthy Progress

Since the accident, Japan has taken admirable, although incomplete, steps to set up an independent regulator and to improve its safety culture, including by bringing in respected international advisers. Last year, it began gradually to reactivate some of the country’s functioning reactors. Before Fukushima, the more than 50 reactors had provided Japan with some 30 percent of its electrical power, but all were taken offline in the months after the accident.

Of course, Japan is not alone in facing these types of safety-related problems. After dissolving the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, the United States, the world’s leading producer of nuclear energy, has faced criticism for the amount of influence the industry wields over its rule-making process. South Korea’s nuclear industry, too, has had problems, including a history of falsifying safety documents.

But most worrying are the developing countries entering the huddle. China leads the way, with plans to triple its nuclear-generating capacity by 2020, but its regulator is neither structurally independent nor well staffed. Because an accident has such massive potential for widespread damage, tight quality control is essential. China’s track record in this regard is not promising. For example, in 1987, the crew constructing a nuclear plant near Hong Kong misread blueprints and initially failed to incorporate a large portion of the requisite protective steel, raising questions about competence and oversight.

Some new powers are more prudent, including the United Arab Emirates, which began creating a solid regulatory framework, with a team of international experts to regularly assess the program’s progress, long before its first reactor comes online in 2017.

Others are more cavalier, such as Vietnam, another one-party state with nuclear ambitions and no precedent for any type of independent regulatory entity. Iran, a seismically active country, also has attracted concern over the safety of its current and future reactors and the lack of independence of its regulator, despite the recent nuclear deal with the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, plus Germany). India is another fast-growing nuclear power, with over 25 reactors either under construction or planned. But it is stuck on the question of regulatory independence since a proposed law on regulation, tabled in reaction to the Fukushima disaster, was not passed by the legislature.

Calls for International Atomic Energy Agency reforms that will require more rigorous international safety checks are welcome, but it must not stop there. Generating nuclear energy should be recognized as a serious responsibility, given the scale of damage and suffering when things go wrong—as the world was reminded five years ago. ”

by David Roberts and Norman Neureiter

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IAEA chief: Interest in nuclear power up despite Fukushima — ABC News

” Despite the Fukushima nuclear disaster that devastated northeastern Japan in 2011, interest in nuclear power has increased significantly, mainly in Asia, the U.N. nuclear watchdog chief said Monday.

International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano said the appetite for nuclear power has grown in Asia because of the need to fuel the region’s bustling economies and demand for relatively clean energy amid concerns about climate change.

Globally, at least 30 developing countries are seriously considering the use of nuclear power, Amano said, adding that more than 440 nuclear power plants are currently operated worldwide.

“After the Fukushima Dai-chi accident, some believed that is the end of nuclear power. It was not the case,” Amano told a news conference in Manila, where he attended a conference and discussed with Philippine officials how to harness nuclear technology for economic progress.

“Nuclear power plants or use of nuclear power is increasing significantly,” he said.

The meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in northeastern Japan following an earthquake and tsunami displaced more than 100,000 people due to radioactive contamination and spurred a national debate over resource-scarce Japan’s reliance on nuclear power.

The plant “was not well prepared for the severe natural hazard,” Amano said. Following the disaster, Amano said he visited nuclear plants in several countries and saw that considerable safeguards had been introduced.

“After Fukushima, lots of improvements have been made,” he said.

Each government, he said, ultimately has to decide whether to embrace nuclear energy for power generation based on many factors, including the availability of other options like hydropower.

Japan remains committed to nuclear power despite the meltdowns at Fukushima. Only two of the country’s 43 workable reactors are currently online, with the others shut down pending safety checks, but the government wants to restart as many as possible.

To offset the shortfall in power output, Japan ramped up imports of oil and gas and fired up more thermal power plants, slowing progress toward reducing its emissions of greenhouse gases.

Countries, meanwhile, need to ensure the security of nuclear power plants and materials amid terrorism threats, Amano said, adding that the IAEA has provided training and other assistance to help governments deal with such concerns.

“If nuclear materials fall into the hands of terrorists, that can be used for dirty bombs,” he said. “If it happens in a big city, that can cause a panic.”

“Terrorists always target the weakest link, so we need to be well prepared for that to address nuclear security,” he said. ”

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Citizen-Scientist International Symposium on Radiation Protection – IAEA and UNSCEAR criticism

Starting at 37 minutes, Dr. Keith Baverstock states an important opinion. He asserts that there needs to be better international oversight of the ongoing disaster in Fukushima. The Japanese government needs to put pressure on international organizations, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for reform. The IAEA needs to clarify its role. “It [the IAEA] cannot continue to be the promoter of nuclear power and the organization responsible for safety. The failure of the IAEA to respond in this particular instance is very good ammunition to move towards getting that view heard at the UN General Assembly, and that would be something which politicians would have to do.” There is a lack of information presented in the media and a lack of general understanding of the situation in Europe. There needs to be a proper risk assessment of the Fukushima disaster because UNSCEAR has not provided one. The accident needs to be properly evaluated by an independent group.

see Dr. Baverstock’s bio here.

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