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US Nuclear Industry Plans "Rescue Wagon" To Avert Meltdowns 184

Posted by samzenpus
from the get-on-the-wagon dept.
Hugh Pickens writes writes "AP reports that if disaster strikes a US nuclear power plant, the utility industry wants the ability to fly in heavy-duty equipment from regional hubs to stricken reactors to avert a meltdown providing another layer of defense in case a Fukushima-style disaster destroys a nuclear plant's multiple backup systems. 'It became very clear in Japan that utilities became quickly overwhelmed,' says Joe Pollock, vice president for nuclear operations at the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry lobbying group that is spearheading the effort. US nuclear plants already have backup safety systems and are supposed to withstand the worst possible disasters in their regions, including hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes. But planners can be wrong. The industry plan, called FLEX, is the nuclear industry's method for meeting new US Nuclear Regulatory Commission rules that will force 65 plants in the US to get extra emergency equipment on site and store it protectively. The FLEX program is supposed to help nuclear plants handle the biggest disasters. Under the plan, plant operators can summon help from the regional centers in Memphis and Phoenix. In addition to having several duplicate sets of plant emergency gear, industry officials say the centers will likely have heavier equipment that could include an emergency generator large enough to power a plant's emergency cooling systems, equipment to treat cooling water and extra radiation protection gear for workers. Federal regulators must still decide whether to approve the plans submitted by individual plants. 'They need to show us not just that they have the pump, but that they've done all the appropriate designing and engineering so that they have a hookup for that pump,' says NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said. 'They're not going to be trying to figure out, "Where are we going to plug this thing in?"'"
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US Nuclear Industry Plans "Rescue Wagon" To Avert Meltdowns

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  • Don't build them in areas subject to storms, earthquakes, etc., and don't cut corners on the design, construction, maintenance, and inspections in order to save costs.

    I happen to think that nuclear power is a good idea, but if our species isn't mature enough to do the above, we've got no business using it.

    • by BenSchuarmer (922752) on Monday December 10, 2012 @01:26PM (#42244249)
      does such a place exist?
      • does such a place exist?

        Sure; about 100 km above the surface.

        • But then it’s subject to orbital decay. And if I learned one thing from ST:TOS, without power things in orbit deorbit fast.

          • But then it’s subject to orbital decay. And if I learned one thing from ST:TOS, without power things in orbit deorbit fast.

            A) I was just using that as an arbitrary delineation for space.

            B) Good point; I mean, where the hell would an orbiting nuclear power plant get power from?

            • by Zalbik (308903)

              B) Good point; I mean, where the hell would an orbiting nuclear power plant get power from?

              Who cares about that? Where is the moon getting it's power from?!?!

              • B) Good point; I mean, where the hell would an orbiting nuclear power plant get power from?

                Who cares about that? Where is the moon getting it's power from?!?!

                Secret Nazi bases, [wikipedia.org] duh.

              • B) Good point; I mean, where the hell would an orbiting nuclear power plant get power from?

                Who cares about that? Where is the moon getting it's power from?!?!

                It is common knowledge that the moon is stealing it's power from the sun. We shouldn't let the moon get away with this anymore, I suggest a land war....err, on the moon that is.

            • B) Good point; I mean, where the hell would an orbiting nuclear power plant get power from?

              From puppies running around on little wheels. Obviously.

              • B) Good point; I mean, where the hell would an orbiting nuclear power plant get power from?

                From puppies running around on little wheels. Obviously.

                In a weightless environment, would those puppies be running on the outside or inside of the wheel?

          • by Zalbik (308903)

            And if I learned one thing from ST:TOS, without power things in orbit deorbit fast.

            Yep....that's the real reason the Apollo astronauts went to the moon. Replace the batteries.

    • by captaindomon (870655) on Monday December 10, 2012 @01:28PM (#42244277)
      And where would you consider to be a "safe" area in the US that has no storms, no earthquakes, etc? And is also somewhat accessible and relatively close to a large population center?
      • And to what extent do you avoid cutting costs? Avoid 99% of failure scenarios? 99.9%? 99.9999%? How would you justify where you cut the line? It's not a simple answer.
      • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Monday December 10, 2012 @01:30PM (#42244297) Homepage

        And where would you consider to be a "safe" area in the US that has no storms, no earthquakes, etc? And is also somewhat accessible and relatively close to a large population center?

        Why, your back yard. Of course.

        • That's probably the best place, your backyard.

          Everyone's backyard.

          Put a small reactor in each neighbourhood. Scale down the energy required, scale down everything, reduce the transmission costs to nearly nothing, and use smaller pebblebed style systems.

          • MTBF of N independent identical units in parallel scales as 1/N. Why do you think that in order to perform huge tasks engineers design a small number of giant things?
      • To be fair, maybe we shouldn't be putting large population centers in those areas that are dangerous to nuke plants. I'll let you know if I find a safe place for them.

      • They need to be located near a large river or lake, too

      • by jhoegl (638955)
        Arizona/New Mexico/Texas
      • by jeffmeden (135043)

        And where would you consider to be a "safe" area in the US that has no storms, no earthquakes, etc? And is also somewhat accessible and relatively close to a large population center?

        I know this was just snark but here goes: There is a significant variation in the US when it comes to disasters. Everyone likes to think that disasters are truly random, but then again everyone (in general) is terrible at assessing risk. You don't have to look very hard to find areas that receive significantly fewer damaging hurricanes, damaging tornadoes, damaging earthquakes, damaging floods/tsunamis, damaging wildfires, etc. Do you really think that everywhere in the US is as prone to calamity as, say,

        • by Uberbah (647458)

          I know this was just snark but here goes: There is a significant variation in the US when it comes to disasters. Everyone likes to think that disasters are truly random, but then again everyone (in general) is terrible at assessing risk. You don't have to look very hard to find areas that receive significantly fewer damaging hurricanes, damaging tornadoes, damaging earthquakes, damaging floods/tsunamis, damaging wildfires, etc. Do you really think that everywhere in the US is as prone to calamity as, say, S

          • by Zalbik (308903)

            Fukishima was just fine, until it was hit by a once-in-a-thousand-years disaster. ...
            tornado, flood, or earthquake? Or the plants in Minnesota don't get hit with it, maybe your plant in Oregon does. Or Vermont. Or Indiana.....

            WTF? Fukishima was not "just fine", nor was it hit by a once-in-a-thousand-years disaster. It was a poorly maintained plant, with a history of safety issues [wikipedia.org]. Heck, in 2007 and 2008, TEPCO and the AEC released reports citing concerns over how the plant would handle a tsunami, or

            • by Uberbah (647458)

              WTF? WHOOSH much?

              Fukishima was not "just fine"

              It was "just as fine" as other for-profit nuclear power plants run around the world. You came sooooo close to cigar of the real problem with nuclear power: the profit motive. As long as there is a buck to be made, corners will be cut, especially when you put the industry in charge of it's own oversight....like what's happened in the U.S. and Japan.

              nor was it hit by a once-in-a-thousand-years disaster.

              It's been around a thousand years since an earthquake of tha

              • by jeffmeden (135043)

                To be specific about how wrong you are about almost everything: yes disasters can happen anywhere, at any time. But NO, there is NOT the same chance of a major earthquake happening in Minnesota, as there is of one happening in southern California. And to that end, the list of disasters is not infinitely long, as you suggest, which is the only way that the net disaster rate for any given spot on the surface of the earth could be the same. Some places are far far far safer to live than others. Deal with i

                • by Uberbah (647458)

                  But NO, there is NOT the same chance of a major earthquake happening in Minnesota, as there is of one happening in southern California.

                  Just how stupid are you, really? The point - the obvious one that you somehow managed to miss - is that even "safe" areas like Minnesota can still have the occasional earthquake or F5 tornado, and your plant had better be able to handle it.

                  "But but but those kind of disasters are soooo rare that you're a fool to worry about it" fanboys like yourself bleat - like you did fi

          • by jeffmeden (135043)

            Thank you for providing the textbook demonstration of the human nature of completely fucking up risk assessment. I couldn't have said it better myself. You pointed out all the things that are wrong with demand driven disaster planning, right down to the complete misunderstanding of what terms like "once-in-a-thousand-years" means. Kudos!

            • by Uberbah (647458)

              Thank you for providing the textbook demonstration of the human nature of completely fucking up risk assessment. I couldn't have said it better myself. You pointed out all the things that are wrong with demand driven disaster planning, right down to the complete misunderstanding of what terms like "once-in-a-thousand-years" means. Kudos!

              Thanks for the projection. The last time Fukishima was hit with an earthquake of that magnitude was around a thousand years ago. The chances of "rare" disaster like happen

      • by lessthan (977374)

        Off the top of my head, Yucca Mountain?

      • by slinches (1540051)

        How about in the desert to the west of Phoenix, AZ? It's about as safe an area as I can think of from natural disasters and Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station [wikipedia.org] is located there.

        The desert around Las Vegas would also be a good place geographically, but may not be cost competitive against Hoover Dam.

        • by afidel (530433)

          Huh? According to that wikipedia entry Palo Verde is the nuclear site with the 18th highest risk of earthquake damage, hardly what I'd call risk free.

          • by slinches (1540051)

            Based on the references, it's a 1/26316 chance per year of a damaging earthquake. Seems fairly safe to me, especially when you consider that there's virtually no risk from tornados, hurricanes, flooding or volcanos.

            • by Meeni (1815694)

              So over the lifetime of the station, that's 1/1000 of blowing up*. That's about 10 times more likely than you dying in a car accident of some sort in the US over the same time period. Seems pretty unsafe to me.

              Anyway, you can't put a nuclear station anywhere, it needs massive amount of water for cooling, so it requires a major river or an ocean nearby.

              What mesmerizes me, is that its only now that they are discussing this addition. That's an obvious need, when the station is flooded (as what almost happened

      • by eth1 (94901)

        And where would you consider to be a "safe" area in the US that has no storms, no earthquakes, etc? And is also somewhat accessible and relatively close to a large population center?

        I would think earthquakes are the only one of those disasters that are really hard to deal with. Floods? Pretty much anywhere has a few local high spots that won't flood. If not - make one. Storms? You can always follow the "add more concrete" school of engineering, I guess, but I'm guessing nuclear plants normal construction probably makes them all but immune to wind already.

        So really, find a geologically stable area, and you can deal with the other problems.

      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        Doesn't need to be close. HVDC gives you a 3% loss over 1000km. Problem solved.

    • by icebike (68054)

      Don't build them in areas subject to storms, earthquakes, etc., and don't cut corners on the design, construction, maintenance, and inspections in order to save costs.

      There exist no such areas on earth. Every place on the planet can have storms and earthquakes. Plus, you need a large quantity of water available. That limits the geographical areas by quite a lot. Almost all nuke plants are near bodies of water. That alone makes for possible flooding issues.

      As for cutting corners, that is largely a myth. Design requirements change over time, and older plants don't all meet current standards. But nothing short of a rebuild would change that. We wouldn't build the plants w

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That sounds great if you don't pay attention to anything regarding nuclear power construction.

      At least in Western models (I don't know much about Soviet designs), very rarely are corners cut. All fo the reactors that have had problems were Generation 1, even Fukushima. We are currently building Generation III+ designs and working on Gen 4 designs, which all have significantly enhanced safety features. What they should be doing is retiring the Gen I reactors and replacing them with modern designs; a Westi

      • No way Westerners would cut corners on something like a nuclear reactor [french-nuclear-safety.fr]. Especially not in a modern third generation one [nytimes.com].

        Serious problems first arose over the vast concrete base slab for the foundation of the reactor building, which the country's Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority found too porous and prone to corrosion. Since then, the authority has blamed Areva for allowing inexperienced subcontractors to drill holes in the wrong places on a vast steel container that seals the reactor.

        In December, t

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Uberbah (647458)

        That sounds great if you don't pay attention to anything regarding nuclear power construction.

        You're not paying attention if you think the criticism of nuclear power is based on plant construction, fanboi.

        At least in Western models (I don't know much about Soviet designs), very rarely are corners cut.

        You mean like turning off earthquake sensors [crooksandliars.com] or cutting back on emergency and evacuation drills? [commondreams.org]

        We are currently building Generation III+ designs and working on Gen 4 designs, which all have significantly enha

        • And the new roof you put on your house will use greatly improved construction methods and materials compared to a roof put up in the 70's. Doesn't mean your new roof doesn't share the same basic hazards as the old one: heat, cold, and precipitation.

          No shit Sherlock. Of course the new roof faces the same hazards - that's why I put the new roof on in the first place. What an idiot you are -pretty much all of your "criticisms" amount to the same thing, ignorant hand waving, bible thumping, and name calling.

          • by Uberbah (647458)

            No shit Sherlock. Of course the new roof faces the same hazards - that's why I put the new roof on in the first place.

            Then why is your head buried so deep in your ass, Watson? Too busy engaging in four-letter projection to notice that the point was to debunk the "ohhh but new reactors are soo much safer!" canard - which you just agreed with?

        • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

          You have billions in construction and refining costs. Billions in operation costs. Hundreds of billions in long term storage costs of nuclear waste - which will be with us for hundreds of years. Billions in insurance costs, most of which are born by the taxpayer as opposed to the for-profit corporation running the reactor.

          Don't forget decommissioning. We are currently looking at £70,000,000,000 [bbc.co.uk], with the caveat that it might go higher.

        • by Meeni (1815694)

          "Germany gets the same amount of solar energy as Alaska, but that hasn't stopped them from investing in solar power."
          Germany is 350,000 km^2m Alaska is 1.7 Mkm^2. That's pretty irrelevant statistic right there. Not that I agree with the rosy picture above, but you just make a fool of yourself and of your opinion by being so grossly partisan.

      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        Actually Japan has more renewable energy available than they need, they just have to capture it. A combination of offshore wind and geothermal, with solar PV on buildings, would be more than enough to meet their needs now and power EVs so they can reduce dependency on oil.

        The problem is that it all takes time to set up. People are now saying that actually it is less time than was first though, especially since Japan got through the peak summer demand periods without any issues and only a few working reactor

    • The problem is that most were build 30 to 40 years ago and environmental protesters stop just about every plan to build or upgrade them. They're basically trying to make their own predictions come true. Modern reactor designs simply can not meltdown. It's physically impossible, natural disaster or not. We need to be replacing our old reactors with these new designs... sadly we are not.

  • This scenario evokes International Rescue. Obviously that says I'm old.
    • I'm thinking more along the line of the big square trucks in "Men In Black". Guess I'm not that old.

      • Or SHADO. [wikipedia.org] Deploy Skydiver!

        Get-off-lawn disclaimer: I'm a bit too young to have caught that when it originally aired.

        • Or SHADO. [wikipedia.org] Deploy Skydiver!

          Get-off-lawn disclaimer: I'm a bit too young to have caught that when it originally aired.

          The best part of that skydiver scene was the "Boosters ready!! *shake*" girl. Wearing a mesh shirt and nothing underneath.

    • This scenario evokes International Rescue. Obviously that says I'm old.

      They will have to build something to carry this stuff. I imagine it'll be big and green and kind of look like a frog. It'll have a modular container system so it can carry different payloads for different disasters including one with a submarine.

  • Good for a few years (Score:5, Interesting)

    by icebike (68054) on Monday December 10, 2012 @01:33PM (#42244325)

    This plan sounds good, and might actually be well planned. But only for a few years.

    Then, plants will start using the existence of the backup capabilities as excuses not to build their own. And it will all be perfectly legal, as subtle rule changes are introduced with little public knowledge. You can already see the seeds of this in TFA:

    The NRC staff said the industry initiative, called FLEX, may satisfy the proposed order to mitigate certain safety challenges.

    The fox runs the nuclear hen house in the US, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been captured by industry.

    Still, any plan is better than no plan. The length of time power was out and systems were down due to Hurricane Sandy should indicate just how long such emergency systems have to be prepared to operate. Multiple weeks of fuel must be kept on hand. Alternate water supplies must be identified.

    • Exactly! ANY safety plan will always be degraded over time by cost-conscious managers who become confident that nothing bad will happen, until the level of preparedness drops below the threshold where a giant disaster happens, at which point it will all start again.
      • by Uberbah (647458)

        Exactly! ANY safety plan will always be degraded over time by cost-conscious managers who become confident that nothing bad will happen, until the level of preparedness drops below the threshold where a giant disaster happens, at which point it will all start again.

        That's the central flaw in nuclear power always overlooked by the nuke fanboys: the profit motive. Corners will be cut, lies will be told, "unnecessary" safety precautions like earthquake monitors and evacuation drills will be eliminated to make

  • not a bad idea (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    not a bad idea overall. Probably be cheaper and more efficient than mandating each site has backups for the backups for the backups for the....
    It could be a huge example of fraud and abuse though. store/buy old worn out shit repainted to appear new at new prices.

    Hell the National Guard does this already just in case they need a few M16s in front of the local walmart. Be a good idea to combine these stores with air national guard sites for quick deployment.

  • by gestalt_n_pepper (991155) on Monday December 10, 2012 @01:51PM (#42244483)

    ...to run all this wonderful equipment. You can stabilize fuel, of course, but not forever. Eventually, you'll have to change it out, and dispose of the old stuff.

    Quite frankly, old nuclear power plants that don't use passive safety systems and depend on grid electricity are an accident waiting to happen. A far better idea would be to design and build new plants

    • by couchslug (175151)

      "Eventually, you'll have to change it out, and dispose of the old stuff."

      No problem. Use the diesel to fuel plant vehicles in order to rotate the stock. Fuel sampling is old news. Military POL troops handle stuff like that under austere conditions worldwide.

  • New Madrid fault, anyone?

  • It is great that the industry is finally doing something. To be honest, I am amazed that FEMA did little about that in the past. However, that is not the real issue.
    We are working with reactors that actually expired long ago. These should be taken down AND REPLACED. Not with coal, or Nat Gas, etc. but with a SAFE reactor that can burn up most of the current spent fuel.

    GE's PRISMs could do this, but even better would be thorium reactors. It would be in the West's as well as America's and the nuke indust
  • by ElitistWhiner (79961) on Monday December 10, 2012 @02:14PM (#42244701) Journal

    Anyone else think there's time to re-act, re-locate, re-spond with their Emergency Erector Set? Chernobyl anyone?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by sinij (911942)
      Not Chernobyl hysteria again. Different reactor design, plus in Chernobyl's case safety mechanisms and fallbacks were intentionally disabled in attempt to prevent safety shutdown. They succeeded in overriding safety shutdown and melted whole thing.

      In case of Japanese disaster - yes, they had time to react.They probably had enough time to had it fly from US, had something like that was available.
  • Is it really so difficult for the USA to implement when it's been used successfully for decades in several other countries?
    • by Tailhook (98486)

      Is it really so difficult for the USA to implement...?

      Yes. Replacing the fleet means fighting interminable battles with activists armed with judges that injunct whatever they're told to. Even when we do grown-up things like create a law and a tax [wikipedia.org] to fund waste disposal it gets wrecked [slashdot.org] by statists [senate.gov]. Capital knows better than to have anything to do with US nuclear; the US electorate are hysterical children, bought a paid for with bennies and led around with FUD.

      Nuclear power is out of our league now. We're just not competent to govern such things any longer.

  • In the case of a Fukishima type nuclear emergency, the US military already has the most of the equipment need for a quick response such as generators, armoured vehicles, radiation monitors, airlift etc. Under 18 U.S.C. 831, the Attorney General may request that the Secretary of Defense provide emergency assistance if civilian law enforcement is inadequate to address certain types of threats involving the release of nuclear materials. Such assistance may be by any personnel under the authority of the Departm

  • by k6mfw (1182893) on Monday December 10, 2012 @03:33PM (#42245567)

    20 years ago, Ed Teller was a speaker at an Engineers Week banquet. He suggested instead of a few large nuclear plants with all complexities of sheer size plus containment vessel and security, make many smaller plants that are more manageable. I wish this was taped, I took some notes and published in one of local engineering society newsletters (did best I could capturing Teller's actual phrases). Seems to be a reasonable idea, a friend who was in Navy sub service said there are about 30 different emergency procedures (or steps?) on dealing with reactor problems. He feels large commercial plants are so complex, certain situations which can overwhelm operators. Of course there are many issues when dealing with lots of small nuclear power plants. I'm just throwing out some things I've heard.

    Regarding a "rescue wagon" which I don't think will be practical. Unlike other disaster response plans (i.e. for various natural disasters), events of large scale nuclear disasters are very few in between. Having an effective team with resources will continually on "high state of combat readiness" will be very taxing with highly trained crews waiting years for The Big One. Perhaps if going with large nuclear plants, put in extra protection i.e. backup systems. Yes, these backup systems cost additional money but far cheaper than cost of the disaster itself if it were to occur. And some of these "once in 10,000 years events" do actually happen in your lifetime.

    • by Chuckstar (799005)

      I actually think your argument tends to favor central "rescue wagon" teams. You either need a few central teams that can be airlifted to the site of trouble, or you would have to have an equivalent team in place at every facility. Seems like it would be more effective to have a few central teams, well trained, on 24-hr alert, then have to provide that same level of training and readiness in place at each and every facility.

    • by PPH (736903)
      Step 30: Abandon ship.
  • by dfenstrate (202098) <dfenstrate&gmail,com> on Monday December 10, 2012 @03:36PM (#42245583)

    Folks,
    I'd like to introduce you to "Extreme Damage Mitigating Guidelines" (EDMG), which are procedures created in response to NRC Security Order Section B.5.b. That order was created after 9/11/2001, when crashing airliners into important structures became a known tactic.

    The industry response to the B.5.b requirements is not unlike what you would expect for Fukashima contingencies (you've lost large portions of your plant to widespread fires and destruction. How can you mitigate the release of radionuclides to the public when areas x,y and z of your plant are heavily damaged?)

    A certain local nuclear power plant I'm familiar with has a diesel-powered pump stored onsite but far away from the power block. It's the exact same type of pump that would have saved the plants at Fukushima, and because of 9/11, we already had the pump, hoses, flanges, and connections required to inject cooling water into the reactor or steam generators under the most adverse conditions. This equipment and the required contigencies plans were in place a few years before Fukushima.

    Now the post-Fukushima problem is a natural disaster could conceivably wipe out this B5B pump, putting this contingency plan at risk.
    That, presumably, is where this FLEX equipment comes in.
    If you can't count on ANYTHING onsite being available, then you need to have it stored safely offsite. If you're going to do that, might as well share the equipment and costs.
    One might argue about the size of the regions where this equipment is shared, but the FLEX equipment is:
    a backup plan (FLEX)
    to a backup plan (EDMG per B5B)
    to a backup plan (Severe accident mitigating guidelines and backup pumps and backup- backup generators that pre-date 9/11)
    to a backup plan (original emergency diesel generators and emergency operating procedures that have been at the plants from the start.)

    Japan did not develop EDMG's after 9/11, and consequently were far behind the US nuclear industry in terms of emergency preparedness.

    Now, the NRC has required a number of changes at existing and planned US nuclear facilities in response to the Fukushima meltdowns, however, that builds upon changes already made in response to the B5b regulations that came about a decade ago.

  • isn't it time we switched to reactor designs that are inherently safe, don't require redundant backup cooling systems?

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