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

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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  • by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Monday December 10, 2012 @02:18PM (#42244167)

    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.

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

    by icebike ( 68054 ) on Monday December 10, 2012 @02:33PM (#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.

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

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 10, 2012 @02:40PM (#42244387)

    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 WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Monday December 10, 2012 @02:58PM (#42244555) Journal
    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 industry to spend some money helping local companies get their thorium reactor designs tested and passed. These have ZERO chance of a meltdown (unless you can avoid the laws of physics or the NRC allows piss-poor designs). Likewise, these can be factory built which will make them a great deal safer AND CHEAPER than the build-on-site monsters. Note that by using the 'waste' that is on-site, it would be possible to lower the amount of real waste. And with much smaller amounts that need to be discarded 100 years out, well, this becomes today's issue that solves itself down the road.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 10, 2012 @03:33PM (#42244875)

    The safety record is appalling?

    (The estimates are neither the highest nor the lowest for nuclear power to give it the least death toll. Check the comments if you want the worst, in which case it will no longer be the absolute best but it'll still be a very good option up there with all the other non-burning tech).

    The problem isn't that nuclear safety is bad, the problem is it's very very easy to see the results of nuclear safety failures compared to other safety failures because nuclear plants are so compact relatively speaking that you get a "holy fuck" disaster that kills a bunch of people every few decades instead of thousands of isolated one-offs. And while it's possible nuclear deaths are under-reported, I'm not convinced that it's more likely than other energy forms -- it's relatively easy to look for things that can be attributed to a nuclear accident because again, it's so concentrated by comparison.

  • by k6mfw ( 1182893 ) on Monday December 10, 2012 @04:33PM (#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 dfenstrate ( 202098 ) <> on Monday December 10, 2012 @04:36PM (#42245583)

    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.

No extensible language will be universal. -- T. Cheatham