U.S. NRC Blog

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Marking Three Years of Post-Fukushima Progress

Allison M. Macfarlane

The approach to the Fukushima Dai-ichi reactor complex winds through empty villages where weeds grow in silent communities, storefronts are shattered and advertising signs entice a population that may be years in returning.

A year ago I visited the site of the devastating March 11, 2011, accident triggered by a massive 9.0 earthquake and subsequent 46-foot tsunami.

Chairman Allison Macfarlane and other NRC officials stand in the darkened interior of Reactor 4 at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex northeast of Tokyo Dec. 13, 2012. Photo courtesy of TEPCO

Chairman Allison Macfarlane and other NRC officials stand in the darkened interior of Reactor 4 at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex northeast of Tokyo Dec. 13, 2012. Photo courtesy of TEPCO

The site where four of six reactors were inundated bears testament not only to the power of the natural forces but also to the huge hydrogen explosions that rocked three of the reactors. Rusting trucks lay about the property. And thousands of workers in protective gear and full-face respirators scramble over the shattered industrial complex.

It is hard to visit the site without coming away impressed with the forces at work and a recognition this cannot be allowed to happen again anywhere. In the United States, we must redouble our efforts to prevent such an accident here, whether caused by an earthquake, another natural disaster or a man-made event.

Not long after the accident at Fukushima, the independent U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission I chair embarked on a concerted effort to learn and apply lessons from Fukushima. The Commission set out a three-tiered program of safety enhancements.

Many of the recommendations — while complex — are grounded in simple concepts. Among them are ensuring all U.S. plants take the latest seismic and flooding information into account; ensuring that the 31 U.S. early design boiling water reactors similar to those at Fukushima have the capacity to vent pressure and perhaps even filter vented air; ensuring there is sufficient additional equipment at the ready to deal with a loss of power at a reactor site and provide backup cooling; and getting additional sensors and cooling capacity for spent fuel pools.

The NRC staff and the nuclear industry have made good progress in responding to the recommendations to date.

We have approved plans for nuclear power plants to buy additional equipment and distribute it around their sites so that they will be able to respond even if a severe event disables permanently installed equipment. They are in the process of installing spent fuel pool instrumentation, and this spring and fall they will begin major work to accommodate hardened venting systems and additional wiring and piping to connect to newly installed cooling equipment.

JLD vertical CEvery U.S. plant is in the process of completing an in-depth reanalysis of their sites’ potential for floods and earthquakes. We’ve checked the first flooding analyses and expect more in soon. We also expect the earthquake analyses from the vast majority of U.S. plants by the end of March. We’ll ensure the plants compare their sites’ new analyses to their existing designs to see what enhancements might be needed.

The NRC has conducted our work following Fukushima in a spirit of openness and transparency, and we’ve benefitted greatly from public feedback. Over the past three years we’ve addressed Fukushima-related topics in more than 150 public meetings. These meetings let the public see and participate in discussions on proposed NRC actions and the industry’s responses.

Finally, let me address the occasional Internet-based concerns we’ve seen about Fukushima contamination in the Pacific Ocean. Contamination near Japan’s coast is well below U.S. and international drinking water limits. And the Pacific’s vast volume has greatly dispersed any contamination before it can reach our west coast. Here the concentrations are projected to be hundreds or a thousand or more times below already strict U.S. and international limits that protect public health and the environment. Scientists have not seen any Fukushima contamination that raises a concern about the U.S. food supply, water supply, or public health.

The images of Fukushima are indelibly impressed on my mind. Even now I’m still struck by the experience of seeing the empty nearby villages, each holding memories of the 160,000 people displaced by the accident. Fukushima put nuclear safety in the spotlight. As we continue our work to address lessons learned, the NRC is committed to keeping it there

71 responses to “Marking Three Years of Post-Fukushima Progress

  1. Andrew May 18, 2016 at 5:29 pm

    I would like to say first, I appreciate your article and the efforts to provide accurate information. But, I strongly disagree with the current standards for drinking water the United States has as standard.

  2. uobd2 March 19, 2014 at 2:50 am

    I hope that such events never happen again, also hope the world peace.We go to work every day, and your family happy together, you are safe.

  3. CaptD March 17, 2014 at 7:59 pm

    Reblogged this on nuclear-news and commented:
    Many good comments here worth reading if you are interested in reactor “safety”.

  4. CaptD March 14, 2014 at 3:05 pm

    I propose that the Chairman of the NRC would be well advised to fund an independently done History: After 3/11 and then once it is completed, use it to examine exactly what responses by the NRC were later found incorrect, in order to determine how they occurred, since it is obvious that the NRC chain of command failed in its duty to keep the public informed with factual up to date information. This effort would be similar to an NRC AIT review and would result in the NRC being far better prepared if/when the next nuclear incident/accident occurs so that it can fulfill its mandate by responding far more Professionally.

    This History is very important because if/when the next “Fukushima” occurs, the NRC needs to respond in a more Professional manner that relies upon best practices, instead of just nuclear industry protectionism. Since the NRC already has existing funds for many programs and/or studies, funding this historical review should be given top priority. I believe that Paul Langley, myself and a few others that have been documenting this information since 3/11/11 would be most interested in this undertaking since we have already collected most of the publicly available documentation that we would need to complete this History.

    Example: Paul Langley’s Nuclear History Blog

    A multi-part series of “Flashbacks” of the News released immediately after Fukushima occurred.

    Paul Langley’s series uses actual News accounts that were published and/or official reports that were considered factual at the time they were released. This series also illustrates just how MSM was really only reporting information that (no surprise to many of us) was later found to be completely inaccurate because it tried to protect the nuclear industry from the fallout of Fukushima’s triple meltdowns!

  5. Moderator March 12, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    Please note that according to the blog guidelines, comments need to be related to the topic of the post (in this case, the accident at Fukushima). We are applying that guideline liberally here, but please, for comments unrelated to the Fukushima accident, we’d appreciate you using the Open Forum section of the blog.


    • Rich March 12, 2014 at 1:37 pm

      I assume Mr Moderator you are referring to my blog on a huge potential flooding problem at the Fort Calhoun Station. You are probably right, the only connections that I could see to Fukushima were tsunami, flooding, seismic design, and earthquakes. Mentioning terrorism was way off base.
      I apologize.

  6. Rich March 12, 2014 at 12:17 pm

    Nuclear Safety
    Thanks for the update.
    As noted the NRC has been working on Fukushima issues for three years. Important earthquake and flooding reviews continue.
    My major concern is how a nuclear plant downstream of a vulnerable earthen dam can be allowed to continue operation when the NRC has information that the plant’s flood protection design basis is woefully inadequate in the event of a catastrophic failure of the dam. Long ago the NRC calculated that Fort Calhoun Station would be hit with a tsunami-type surge of 46 feet if the upstream dam failed. This would far exceed the plant’s design flood elevation resulting in a Fukushima accident at the plant.
    The nuclear industry prides itself in taking a conservative approach with regard to nuclear safety. Why does the NRC not take a similar approach in this situation? I know a more detailed flood analysis is underway but even if the 46 foot surge is off by 50% a devastating accident would still result. It is almost spring and it brings to mind the serious Missouri River flooding that occurred just 3 years ago at about this time of the year. One can only imagine the impact of a dam failure with a high reservoir level on everything downstream including a nuclear power plant. As upstream dams are not protected from terrorist attack, it makes these dams a tempting terrorist target. Also these dams would fail under earthquake conditions that are not nearly as severe as to what the nuclear plant itself is designed to withstand.
    Somehow the NRC must believe that the licensee will figure out a way to “evaluate” it’s way out of this problem. Common sense tells even the layman that if a dam failed during the significant 2011 flood event the plant would have been subject to a severe accident.
    NRC, please put safety first.

  7. Aladar Stolmar March 12, 2014 at 2:31 am

    Severe accident prevention strategy = reactor core firestorm prevention
    In order to regain the public support for nuclear power we must abandon the practice of defending against diverse initiating events and demonstrate a successful severe accident prevention strategy. It is evident that the severe accident in the PWR and BWR plants is a firestorm of cladding – coolant reaction within the core, destroying the first barrier between the radioactive fission products containing fuel pellets and the environment. Preventing the firestorm ignition is the winning strategy for the future of nuclear power, and it does not require the abandonment of PWR and BWR proven designs. It just requires the full understanding of the dynamics of severe accident progression and the timely intervention of operators by rapid depressurization and staged all the way to gravity flooding of reactor. Do we have all the means to do that? What additions we have to make to our hardware and what are the necessary corrections in our accident response manuals?

    • Garry Morgan March 12, 2014 at 12:23 pm

      Engineering can not solve the issue of deceit, a problem within the nuclear industry. The issue of deceit has taken off like a “firestorm” in an oxygen enriched environment since the Fukushima disaster.

      Defense in depth must begin at the levels of leadership in both the corporate level and at the regulator. False information, propaganda, gag orders, failing to keep the public properly informed does not, nor will it ever build confidence in nuclear power nor our NRC Regulator.

      Your statement Mr. Stolmar is bothersome, “…we must abandon the practice of defending against diverse initiating events.” Is that not the same as: “…demonstrate a successful severe accident prevention strategy.”? Planning, preperation and training for any event which may occur, isn’t that part of defense in depth.

      If you are not aware or identify the worse case scenario, how are you going to plan, train and engineer a response? There seems to be a denial that non-design basis events may occur and result in a disaster. That denial is often initiated by leadership for the purposes of benefiting the nuclear corporation’s bottom line; not protecting the health and welfare of the citizenry.

      • Aladar Stolmar March 13, 2014 at 1:53 am

        Dear Garry Morgan, I used the phrase “…we must abandon the practice of defending against diverse initiating events.” to point to the fact that there is a common cause in all of the severe nuclear reactor accidents which is not acknowledged, disregarded, even covered-up by the very NRC and IAEA, suppose to be the government bodies to prevent the disasters.
        When I raised as a Safety Concern the issue of cladding -coolant interaction in 1987(!) in Westinghouse as being misrepresented in the computer codes, I’ve been denied even the possibility to defend myself from ridiculous accusations…
        Now I’m proposing a solution to prevent the ignition caused by any diverse initiating events. Do You think that after Fukushima and the additional 4 (four) reactors lost for the same common cause I’m getting any attention?!
        What I’m stating that the ignition of firestorm in the reactor core can and should be prevented by venting of steam and depressurizing the reactor, and indeed gravity flooding of the core. Which means that the non-design basis events could be prevented, the fuel will remain intact in any event.
        I also propose to design only demonstrated safe reactor systems, which means that the reactor must be placed in a containment designed for the consumption of the entire Zirconium inventory and the worst detonation of the Hydrogen produced from that (1000 kg in 10 seconds for PWR and 1800 kg in 10 sec for BWR) in the containment. Even if we prevent the ignition of the firestorm in the core.
        Only such a doubled safety could be considered real safe nuclear power plant design.

  8. James Greenidge March 11, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    Lily, if it wasn’t you who claimed that airline pilots used the radioactivity from Indian Point as a beacon maybe a year or two back, I apologize for the error. Still, if you’re going to make these deaths attributed to anything nuclear DO please cough up the beef in terms of links and addresses of your certified sources. It’s only in being accurate — and honest to the public. And I do not place the deaths of evacuees on the reactors but rather the bad knee-jerk reactions of clueless government officials. The evacuees would’ve done well enough staying put without someone’s ill-researched judgement and incompetence booting them out. Chernobyl was a grand test example that it wasn’t necessary to clear everyone out of Dodge, and Fukushima was hardly a Chernobyl.

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  9. CaptD March 11, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    Great article with links:
    The Betrayal of Mankind by the Radiation Protection Agencies

  10. CaptD March 11, 2014 at 4:16 pm

    To Engineer-Poet The USS Reagan task force was contaminated by Fukushima “fallout” and they were lucky to only have as few crewmen and crew women affected as they did, since the US Navy did nothing to prevent them from being exposed!

    • Rod Adams (@Atomicrod) March 12, 2014 at 5:49 am


      I have more faith in the integrity of the US Navy than you do. My former employer took good care of its people, treating the radioactive contamination in the sea off of the coast of Japan with what I believe was an excess of caution.

      The USS Reagan, as a nuclear-powered ship, carried adequate monitoring gear and employed skilled people to conduct surveys and samples.

      According to the report issued as part of the Operation Tomodachi Registry (https://registry.csd.disa.mil/registryWeb/Registry/OperationTomodachi/DisplayAbout.do) the maximum doses a sailor on the USS Reagan during the period from March 12, 2011 through May 11, 2011 would have received are as follows: (https://registry.csd.disa.mil/registryWeb/docs/registry/optom/OPTOM_USS_RONALD_REAGAN.pdf)

      Whole body: 0.008 rem
      Thyroid: 0.11 rem

      That computed maximum dose makes the following assumptions:

      “These estimates were calculated based on you spending 24 hours outdoors/on-deck,
      having a constantly high physical activity level (and associated breathing rates), and being
      exposed to the radiation over the entire 60-day period. Your actual radiation doses are expected
      to be lower due to the protection afforded by being below deck and lower levels of physical
      activity for much of this time.”

      Rod Adams
      CDR, USN (Ret)

      • Garry Morgan March 12, 2014 at 1:01 pm

        As you know Commander Adams, estimates are not facts of the actual radiation dose received by the ships company. Like you, I have faith in our Armed Forces and the varied missions they may be assigned to perform. There is the appearance there was an element of negligence involved in the operation.

        The actual dose received may be calculated based on the classified information contained in the ships daily status report and the dosimeter readings of each individual exposed. It would be negligence knowing that you are sailing into a highly radioactive plume and not issue individual dosimeters. Unfortunately, it appears this is exactly what happened; is that not true Commander?

        A commander in a peacetime operation should not jeopardize the health and welfare of those under his or her command when the information available in real time indicated a dangerous hazard in the form of a highly radioactive plume, as was the case in this incident.

        There are reports which have surfaced, due to the ongoing legal action, indicating dangerous levels of radiation were present and known by Naval Commanders participating in the operation.

        I thought it very revealing that not one Sailor, or Marine, including officers shown in hundreds of photographs during the operation displayed personal dosimeters.

        Garry Morgan
        U.S. Army Medical Department, Retired

      • CaptD March 14, 2014 at 3:37 pm

        To Garry Morgan Thanks for adding your “spot on” comments, I look forward to reading many more from you. Regarding sailing into radiation, one would hope that the US Navy would know exactly what types and amounts of radiation were in the area since the USS Reagan was nuclear powered and therefore had a complete complement of Nuclear Trained Officers

        I also have read that there were not enough Iodine pills aboard and that most of those that did receive them were Officers instead of the enlisted men and women that were tasked with sweeping the decks and doing other activities that kept them outside instead of inside the ship.

        The US Navy also had sailors sign health releases that many are now questioning, since they had no idea of what exactly they were for, if in fact the task force was exposed to enough radioactivity that the ships (and exposed equipment like aircraft) of the task force had to be decontaminated…

        The NRC should help everyone understand what the health effects are of exactly what happened.

    • Garry Morgan March 12, 2014 at 12:30 pm

      Commanders and Radiation Protection Officers involved in this event who failed to protect those under their command, should as a minimum be forced to retire, resign or face Non-Judicial punishment for their negligence.

      Those directly responsible for jeopardizing the health and welfare of sailors needlessly under their command should be Court Martialed. Apparently, the commanders at sea ignored their alarm warnings that they were in a highly radioactive plume.

      • Rod Adams (@Atomicrod) March 13, 2014 at 5:54 am

        @Garry Morgan

        You have made some pretty damning accusations, held court and declared guilt, apparently based on news reports and photos where you did not “see” any dosimetry.

        Don’t forget that radiation is easy to measure. The general area doses were measured and below the levels at which there is any need for dosimetry.

        Airborne contamination levels were well above background, but they were not at levels high enough to put anyone at risk.

        Yes, there was some measurable contamination on surfaces, but it was not at a high enough level to put anyone at risk. Yes, it was above the “standard”, but since the standard is “not detectable” it is a very low trip wire that is designed to indicate an issue worth investigating. The standard is not a radiation health issue.

        I presume that you are a traditional radiation protection person who believes there is no safe level, but that stance is not supported by science; it is a political stance that is used to establish regulations. According to the best science, there is no evidence for any negative health effect for doses less than 50-100 mSv (5 to 10 rem). No one even came close while assisting the Japanese people to recover from a terrible natural disaster.

        No one jeopardized the health and welfare of sailors needlessly. They took appropriate actions in a situation that was probably less hazardous than sending sailors into smoky areas or operating on a normally operating flight deck. Military members inherently know that they occasionally need to take moderate risks in order to accomplish important missions or to save people’s lives.

        Rod Adams
        CDR, USN (Ret)

      • CaptD March 14, 2014 at 3:52 pm

        Rod Adams ===> Since you were not aboard and are using either hearsay or releases made by the US Navy, remember that there are also many US Navy sailors that now have health issues since their USS Reagan deployment and even those civilians workers working aboard the USS Reagan have reported health issues, so the proper thing to do is to first find out much more by getting the US Navy to release all the radioactivity data they have, so that the public can better understand exactly what happened.

        For you to say that someone else has “made some pretty damning accusations, held court and declared guilt, apparently based on news reports and photos where you did not “see” any dosimetry” is putting yourself in the the exact same boat, since you are doing the same thing in saying that they are wrong!

        Data and factual information must rule the day, and if nothing else, this points out that the US Navy should have reported what they observed in almost real time, because not doing so, has now made them look like they are covering up something and/or for themselves.

      • Rod Adams (@Atomicrod) March 17, 2014 at 3:55 pm


        Please go back and review my post. My source is the US Department of Defense Operation Tomodachi Registry. It is not a slanted news report or an attempt to interpret information posted by unknown sources on the internet.

        My knowledge is admittedly not “first hand,” because I was not on a ship off of the coast of Japan in 2011. I have reviewed official documents and spoken to responsible individuals. In my last US Navy assignment, which ended in September 2010, I worked in the OPNAV office that was responsible for oversight and funding of all of the Navy’s intermediate maintenance establishments. I have excellent sources of information and direct contact with people who were responsible for both operations during the humanitarian efforts and for the ship clean-up.

        Rod Adams
        CDR, USN (ret)
        Publisher, Atomic Insights

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