Lessons Learned from Japan — and Elsewhere

The recent earthquake and tsunami spurred one of the world’s most serious nuclear accidents. It was a defining moment in the history of nuclear power and it is a catalyst for the NRC to review how we do our job.

But it’s important to note that the Japanese emergency is not the first catalyst for dramatic changes in the way the NRC works. While our regulations have consistently changed and improved over time, there were three paradigm-shifting events that brought about dramatic developments in our approach to nuclear risk, safety and security.

The first of these events was the Browns Ferry fire in 1975. The incident started when a plant employee, using a candle to search for air leaks, accidentally set a fire. This was a standard way to check for leaks in coal-fired power plants and – as crazy as it sounds now — it had been carried over to the nuclear industry. (It may surprise you to learn that one of the preferred methods for plant personnel to extinguish these not-uncommon fires was by beating them out with their flashlights.)

In the aftermath of the Browns Ferry fire, the NRC instituted a number of changes to ensure that nuclear power plants more effectively prevented fires and could react more successfully if they did happen. The Browns Ferry fire also spurred the development and incorporation of modern risk analysis into the NRC’s nuclear safety program.

The second of these defining events was the Three Mile Island accident in 1979. As the most serious accident in the history of the U.S. nuclear industry, this event precipitated changes in nuclear safety so numerous and far-reaching that it’s difficult to overstate the impact. We overhauled our approach to emergency management, developed systematic approaches to evaluating operational experience, shifted toward more risk informed regulation, significantly expanded our resident inspector program, and reorganized the NRC.

But perhaps the most important insight we gained from Three Mile Island was the central role of people in plant safety. Before this accident, engineering and equipment were considered the foundation for nuclear safety. The Three Mile Island accident, with its operator errors, changed that. This important insight led to an increased focus on human performance, and the revamping of training and staffing requirements for operators. Even today, more than 30 years later, the importance of people to plant safety continues to resonate throughout the NRC and the nuclear industry.

The third major event was the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Although not a nuclear event, the attacks spurred the NRC to take immediate, aggressive actions aimed at the security of the nation’s nuclear facilities and materials. The long-term effect of September 11th extends far beyond those early steps. By keeping us focused on the ever-evolving and highly dynamic nature of the threat environment, 9/11 has left an enduring imprint on our approach to nuclear security.

These three significant events transformed how we understand the nature of nuclear safety and security, and what we needed to do to protect the public. The events in Japan have the potential to raise new concerns and offer lessons that may evolve our understanding of nuclear safety. I can assure you that our ongoing safety review will be systematic and methodical, and conducted with an appropriate sense of urgency. I expect there will be lessons learned and changes made as a result of this tragedy.

Gregory Jaczko
Chairman, NRC
 
Moderator note: An op-ed by Chairman Jaczko on nuclear safety is available here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gregory-jaczko/ensuring-nuclear-safety_b_867666.html.

Author: Moderator

Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

58 thoughts on “Lessons Learned from Japan — and Elsewhere”

  1. The more I learn of nuclear power plants the more I am amazed that they were ever built. This is a prime example folks of what happens when industry controls government and government regulators.
    Chairman Jaczko said that they used to check for air leaks with candles, and beat out the fires this invariably caused with FLASHLIGHTS. This is the kind of thought that went into these plants when they were constructed. We are very lucky that we haven’t had a disaster here. But it’s only a matter of time. When people use the “safe” nuclear argument they fail to realize the industry is only around 50 years old, and the consequences of one disaster lasts centuries.

    Moderator Note: Some verbiage removed to adhere to comment guidelines.

  2. Maybe the next solution is solar energy, with the new technology its should be more powerfull, be patience when its happen.cause every country on stuck situation by nuclear atom

  3. Now a day many country are trying to gernate power from solar and wind energy but they still not main source of energy

  4. Unsputable – atomic energy is extremely powerful and usable in use, however, as we can see also extremely dangerous. And that’s not even mentioning weapons. There are enough precursors – Ukraine (Chernobyl), Japan (Fokushima). I understand that using the sun and wind energy at the national level does not provide, but nuclear energy is very dangerous for me, although it gives a lot.

  5. Recently I am studying with Nuclear Plant and public awareness. Students are writing about environmental pollution but they are not aware of nuclear Pollution. I am afraid about the future/

  6. Why does not everyone use the sun or wind as a source of energy? just open your eyes and see how much the solar battery or windmill cost, and then add the cost of installation and maintenance there. And do not forget to add the cost of the batteries, you will not sit without light when the sun goes down, right?

  7. nice blog thanks for such a awesome article japan just came back from destruction in no time

  8. It is very good to provide new form of energy to the country, but nuclear is too dangerous. We have to plan and think of what we’ll leave to the future generation.
    In a good way to educate the young may be we should teach them the benefit of resources like solar energy.

  9. Thank you for this complete article. In a country with many magnitude-8 earthquake a nuclear power plant is closer to serious accident than in any other country. Japanese need to start producing in a large scale greener and healthier energy from sun and wind.

  10. One alternative renewable energy is solar power energy. Solar power energy has the environmentally friendly nature, does not cause pollution in the air, free energy source of the sun and support a greener earth.

  11. It is very important to note that Japan has reinvented and modernized itself in every disaster. After their economic struggles, I’m amazed at how well their society does, with limited resources and financial strain. Their people and culture should be respected for the diversity and struggles they have overcome.

  12. I don’t say that we should turn off the reactors now. But we need to move to alternative directions and it should be one of our primary tasks and not just a way to entertain some scientific minds. And safety issues need to be better controlled.
    The only lesson that should be learned is that we have to put an end to nuclear power someday before it puts an ent to us, the sooner the better. Radiation pollution is something no one cannot hide from, even those who used to profit from nuclear power immensely.

  13. Every nuclear power plant is exposed to human error and technical shortcomings, but we must also count on the environmental effects. It is difficult to prevent them but if nothing is done, things such as Japan.

  14. i think nuclear power must be dissapear from the planet earth, it will heart our earth condition in long term, thanks for share this information

  15. We need to find and utilise new greener sources of power. However, demand outstrips supply, so we must be realistic and live with nuclear power. This is one way we can meet present and future demands, but we must also be constantly looking for the next viable option. We owe this to future generations.

  16. The Department of Energy is responsible for implementing energy policy in the U.S. The NRC does not do research into other means of generating electricity, as that is not our mission.

    Moderator

  17. Is there research of safe ways to get energy, is not it. Nuclear energy is cheap, very cheap. But is it it compared to the risk.

  18. Very good article. Solar power is definitely the way of the future. It is clean and sustainable.

  19. Frank Konarski Rios:

    I appreciate the forthright communication of Gregory Jaczko about his and his team’s reaction to the Japan disaster. Unfortunately, accidents do happen, and they are only truly in vain if we do not come to learn from them. It’s been many years since the Japan disaster, and I can only come to conclude from Mr. Jaczko’s posting that serious improvements have been made in reaction to the Japan disaster.

    Frank Konarski Rios, Housing Developer & Landlord
    Tucson, AZ & Nogales, AZ

  20. I think its vital to give new power source which is not unsafe to life on earth. Atomic vitality is extremely risky in the event of radiation break. One option renewable vitality is sunlight based force vitality.

    Regards
    digitaltechnology.institute

  21. The solely lesson that ought to be learned is that we tend to have to put an end to nuclar power sometime before it puts an ent to us, the earlier the higher. Radiation pollution is something no one cannot hide from, even those that used to benefit from nuclear power immensely. I don’t say that we should turn off the reactors currently. But we tend to need to move to various directions and it ought to be one in every of our primary tasks and not just a means to entertain some scientific minds. And issues of safety need to be better controlled.

  22. I really enjoyed reading your blog, you have lots of great content. I look forward to reading more posts from you.

  23. thank you for this article. This article shed some light on such crisis and what we should do about it. Everybody must learn what he or she do during such crisis and that will reduce the loss of lives. This lady in the video was able to find answers to her questions and all of us must do the same. Watch her story

  24. Nuclear power is not necessary!!! There are many resources which we can use instead of nuclear. Seriously, one day our home is going to full of the nuclear craps and destroy our life!

  25. Nuclear power is not necessary!!! There are many resources which we can use instead of nuclear. Seriously, one day our home is going to full of the nuclear craps and destroy our life!

    Please stop it.

  26. I think its important to provide new power source
    which is not harmful to life on earth. Nuclear energy is very dangerous in case of radiation leak.
    One alternative renewable energy is solar power energy. Solar power energy has the environmentally friendly nature, does not cause pollution in the air, free energy source of the sun and support a greener earth. It is very important to the survival of all living creatures on the face of this earth now and in the future.

  27. This website was… how do I say it? Relevant!! Finally I have found something that helped me.
    Many thanks!

  28. The existence of nuclear enegry seems normal and defensible until the moment it affects you or someone from your famliy. My uncle is an old man now and they (he and his wife) don’t have children because he was exposed to radiation. An aquantance of mine commited a suicide because of intolerable pains from radiation sickness which could not be relieved my any meds, he left a wife and 2 kids behind whom he loved very much. These are the real faces of nuclear power.

  29. ACRS meeting agenda, meeting transcripts, and letter reports are available through the NRC Public Document Room at pdr.resource@nrc.gov, or by calling the PDR at 1-800-397-4209, or from the Publicly Available Records System (PARS) component of NRC’s document system (ADAMS) which is accessible from the NRC website at http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/adams.html or
    http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/acrs/agenda/ .

    The contact for this meeting is Kent Howard, Cognizant ACRS Staff (Telephone: 301-415-2989, E-mail: Kent.Howard@nrc.gov)

  30. Moderator,
    Is there anywhere we can find the full text of the ACRS meeting on 6-6-2011?
    I tried to post on the open forum but couldn’t.
    Thanks

  31. Moderator,
    I apologize if I came off a little hard on the NRC in my post on 6-2-2011, and thank you for posting the link I requested. I just hope the NRC understands the public’s (those of us who have a clue anyway) justifiable concern that these plants cannot survive an extended large scale power outage. Some of us live near your plants and our families have lived on the same land for generations, and we are very concerned that an accident at one of your facilities could leave us all out in the cold. None of us relish the thought of running for our lives with a bunch of other scared people.

    If a large scale power outage were to occur it is reasonable to believe that the government couldn’t contain the situation, much less deal with multiple nuclear meltdowns. It is believed that fukushima melted down 3.5 hours after it lost cooling power. The general public may have forgotten about it, but the NRC knows that there has been little improvement in the situation in Japan. Multiple simultaneous meltdowns at your plants have the potential to cause the US to cease to be a functional nation state. This is unacceptable, especially when the utilities will not be held responsible for the damage that is caused to our land, you know what I’m talking about. Please act aggressively to make every plant independent of the power grid and petroleum industry in regard to emergency cooling.

    Also cut them from the internet to at least mitigate the possibility of cyber attack directly against the plant. It is unrealistic to believe that the power grid can be made safe from cyber attack so make your plants independent from the power grid.

  32. Thanks for those links John they were enlightening and thanks moderator for posting the link to that petition.

    An interesting point was brought up. The nuke plants can’t depend on power to come from the grid. They must have plans and technologies in place on-site that can keep cooling going for years. While all that waste is stored in the spent fuel pools they have to be cooled. The pools are more dangerous than the reactors, and have no containment.

    Chairman Jaczko brought up 9/11, a hostile attack. If he says that this caused changes in policy then I hope the cyber attacks in the news lately have give you pause. In the last week, both Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman have fallen victim to cyber intrusion. The goal of these attacks appears to be to steal information about defense systems. These are two of the most advanced defense companies in the world, it is safe to conclude that their cyber security is leaps and bounds above that of the power industry. The power industry makes electricity not weapon systems, but if a nuclear plant were attacked the devastation that it can cause would be worse than if all of Lockheed and Grummans weapon systems were turned against us. In past years it has been admitted that power plants and the power grid have been targets of probing attacks via the internet. It is safe to believe that these probes were designed to find vulnerabilities to be exploited in the event of hostilities with the US.

    If these defense contractors can be hit anyone can be hit. This includes the power grid. There are hundreds of companies that own parts of the power infrastructure. If a hacker gets access to anyone of them there is no telling what mayhem they can cause. Some government studies conclude that 75% of the power grid can be disabled by cyber attack for months. I hope you at the NRC realize that this will knock out petroleum refining for that long too. And what is it that you are counting on to run the diesel generators for cooling if the power is out? Plants must be made to survive extended blackout and it must be planed that no fuel will be coming for the generators.

    Last week it was reported that a hole had been found in the security of the software that protects the Siemens technology that runs safety features at power plants and on the electric grid. This hole could allow someone to take over the systems at a plant or destroy the grid. If there is one hole there are more. I would not be surprised in the least, if right now, at this moment there is a 14 year old in Southeast Asia playing with the cooling valve on one of our reactors in the US, from his laptop. I don’t want to know what you are doing with cyber security but you better be doing something NRC.

    Even if you defend the plants you can’t defend the grid. Your plants must be walk-away safe.
    If hackers can take down Sony’s Playstation Network they can take down our grid. I just imagine that the Playstation network had better security than some of our electric utilities.

  33. The more I learn of nuclear power plants the more I am amazed that they were ever built. This is a prime example folks of what happens when industry controls government and government regulators.
    Chairman Jaczko said that they used to check for air leaks with candles, and beat out the fires this invariably caused with FLASHLIGHTS. This is the kind of thought that went into these plants when they were constructed. We are very lucky that we haven’t had a disaster here. But it’s only a matter of time. When people use the “safe” nuclear argument they fail to realize the industry is only around 50 years old, and the consequences of one disaster lasts centuries. You guys should look at this article

    http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,765949,00.html

    It’s about how the people in a village in Japan are being affected by the nuclear disaster there. Read it and know this could be happening to you and your families and friends. It is only a matter of time. This village is 40km from the plant and the radiation level is higher than in the Chernobyl exclusion zone. The Chernobyl exclusion zone is only 30km and they had NO CONTAINMENT around their reactor. There are 23 of the GE mark I containment systems in the US just like the one that has FAILED in Japan. But the NRC insists they are safe.

    There is also currently a serious safety flaw at all US plants that prevents them from being cut from outside power or being left without operators. The plants have backup diesel generators, but no one can 100% guarantee that they can be resupplied with fuel in a disaster. The NRC ASSUMES that any power outage will be short and they will be able to get fuel for the generators. Did anyone else’s parents tell them what ASSUMING does? The potential exists for power outages lasting years. Mainichi press reported last week that one reactor melted down 3.5 hours after it lost cooling power. A lot is riding on the NRC’s belief that power will not be out for long
    .
    http://mdn.mainichi.jp/mdnnews/news/20110523p2a00m0na019000c.html

    Thankfully I heard that one foundation is doing the NRC’s job for them. There is a petition open now for public comment (PRM-50-96) that addresses the dangers of long term power outage to the reactors and spent fuel pools. It is NRC-2011-0069 on the regulations.gov site. Please post a comment on it then maybe the NRC will do it’s job and make these plants safe.

    Moderator, please post a link so people can get to the petition on the regulations site. I feel kind of bad asking you to do something after getting on your case so bad, but I’m really looking out for you too. I know your corporate “benefactors” (cough, cough,… bosses)have probably promised you guys a place in one of their bunkers in the unlikely event that their plants lose power and self destruct. But you have to think, even if us serfs are the only ones with radiation raining down on our heads how are you going to eat in the bunker? Most of the US farm land and water will be poisoned for centuries if just a few of your plants implode. That’s a long time to wait to grow food again. I hope those corporate bunkers have a deep pantry.

  34. The only lesson that should be learned is that we have to put an end to nuclar power someday before it puts an ent to us, the sooner the better. Radiation pollution is something no one cannot hide from, even those who used to profit from nuclear power immensely. I don’t say that we should turn off the reactors now. But we need to move to alternative directions and it should be one of our primary tasks and not just a way to entertain some scientific minds. And safety issues need to be better controlled.

  35. Hope we’ll find a lot of good alternatives to nuclear power…

  36. Wake up. Nuclear power is not only unnecessary but down right stupid. What? Does the entire planet have to become unlivable before you “jeniuses” figure that one out?

    Yeah, I know, you were bought and paid for a long time ago. You suck just like all the other puppets of the power and oil industry. Sick, greedy jerks. Hope all your children enjoy the world you are helping to destroy.

    Get a soul, if not a brain.

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