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Documenting a Sobering Trip to Fukushima

Scott Burnell
Public Affairs Officer

Reflections on FukushimaAs we mentioned on the blog last year, senior NRC leaders visited the site of the Fukushima nuclear accident and the surrounding area. Now, the agency has published a report that includes essays on what the team members learned. The report helps ensure current and future NRC staff can benefit from the team’s experience in the future.

The group included managers from the agency’s reactor oversight, research and emergency preparedness programs. They make up most of the agency’s Fukushima Steering Committee, which guides the staff’s implementation of what we learned from the accident. They also take active roles in ensuring U.S. nuclear power plants are prepared to deal with events similar to what happened at Fukushima experienced.

It’s clear from the team members’ essays that the visit affected them deeply. For example, Bill Dean (now director of the NRC’s Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation) was Administrator of the NRC’s Region I office outside Philadelphia when he took part in the trip. “Most importantly, it enabled us to observe firsthand the far-reaching impacts of a nuclear disaster—not only its physical effects on the facility and the surrounding countryside but also its impact on a nation’s psyche and its people,” Dean writes. “What resonated with each and every one of us is that we cannot allow a Fukushima-like event to occur in the United States.”

Marc Dapas, Adminstrator of the Region IV office in Arlington, Texas, reflects on discussing the accident with plant staff at Fukushima. “Hearing these TEPCO employees describe what they faced and then seeing the actual physical configuration of equipment at the Fukushima sites left an indelible impression on me regarding the importance of being prepared for the unexpected,” Depas writes. “In that context, I considered the safety measures and enhancements that the NRC has required … The key in my view is to ensure that these safety measures are rigorously implemented and maintained.”

The team’s visit covered both the damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi plant and the nearby Fukushima Daini plant, which safely withstood the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The visit also covered Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, a nuclear power plant on Japan’s west coast that survived a strong 2007 earthquake.

You can read the essays from Dean and the other trip participants in the report, and you watch a summary video about the trip on the NRC’s YouTube channel.

31 responses to “Documenting a Sobering Trip to Fukushima

  1. Public Pit Bull November 1, 2015 at 7:35 am

    Honestly Abe?!
    Contrary to what most (60%) Japanese want, Japanese Prime Minister (PM) Shinzo Abe is directing the restart of nuclear plants in Japan. Honestly Abe you are really rolling the dice.
    The following is a quote from a CNN article at:
    http://edition.cnn.com/2015/10/22/opinions/abe-nuclear-restart/index.html
    “The PM is at the heart of the controversy and is often seen as the point man for the “nuclear village,” the name used by Japanese to refer to the pro-nuclear advocates — from the industry, big business, bureaucracy, politicians, the media and academia alike. It is well represented in the corridors of power, and Abe has vigorously promoted reactor restarts to cut fuel imports, bolster economic growth and to promote exports of Japanese nuclear knowhow and technology.
    Restarts are vital to Abe’s hopes of promoting nuclear plant and technology exports as it’s hard to make a sales pitch if the country’s reactors are shut down for safety reasons.
    As the first Japanese nuclear reactor fired up again (after the 2011 Fukushima disaster), Abe was touting Japan’s nuclear safety regulations as the world’s strictest. But such rhetorical grandstanding aside, the staff of the new Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) — the body now tasked with overseeing safety standards — is almost entirely culled from the discredited Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency that was supposed to be ensuring compliance with regulations before Fukushima, but failed to do so.”
    Other items from this article with my comments noted:
    • (As a result of this disaster) Japanese “utilities have spent a lot of money in upgrading safety standards in terms of hardware such as higher seawalls, better vents and safer remote command centers,…”

    Comment: The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has done considerably less to upgrade identical nuclear power plants here. For example, the NRC bowed to US nuclear industry pressure to not have to install a filtered vent system to reduce the amount of radioactivity released to the environment in the event of a Fukushima-type accident here. That’s not all either. Forget providing or improving seawalls here for plants on the sea-shore. Forget reducing the inventory of used but highly radioactive fuel stored in nuclear plant spent fuel pools at over 90 locations in the US. (Thank God Japanese spent fuel pools had but a fraction of the amount of spent fuel stored in them than US spent fuel pools when the disaster occurred! Unlike the US, thanks to better planning, safe, centralized, off-site interim storage was provided in Japan for this fuel.) And even this is not all. Bowing to more nuclear industry pressure to not require important but costly safety improvements, the NRC has allowed US nuclear plant owners to only provide mitigation (NOT prevention) strategies in the event of a similar disaster here.
    In addition to the over 1,000 deaths in Japan due the evacuation of citizens around the Fukushima reactors, now the first radiation death has been attributed to Fukushima (Please see http://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/japan-acknowledges-possible-fukushima-nuclear-radiation-casualty-n447596).
    Undoubtedly the first of many!

    • “Japan’s nuclear safety myth evaporated following the 2011 Fukushima disaster, where a huge earthquake and the subsequent tsunami caused a meltdown in three reactors at the northern Japanese plant.”
    Comment:
    The article goes on to note that following the disaster, the government, along with the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), lost credibility as claims that they downplayed the severity of the accident, misled the public and left more than 100,000 nuclear refugees stranded in limbo, emerged.
    Those of us who painfully remember the 1979 Three Mile Island (TMI) disaster in this country recall the additional pain that was caused by similar downplayed & misleading information from both the TMI owner and the NRC. The TMI information was also slow in coming.
    • “Japanese citizens remain skeptical about nuclear power after media revelations about the cozy relations between safety watchdog authorities and the utility companies that compromised public safety.
    Comment:
    In the aftermath of TMI the US nuclear industry and the NRC took a number of very significant & costly measures to prevent a similar tragedy in this country. The prevailing motto at the time was that we would never allow another TMI. Sadly, as time has marched on, our nuclear folks believe that our plants are now plenty safe and that if anything we went overboard on safety improvements. As a result the NRC has relaxed many regulations & it has allowed the industry to come up with its own “initiatives” to improve safety rather than requiring safety improvements through regulation. As these “initiatives” are not requirements they cannot be inspected or even enforced by the NRC.
    • “(In Japan) three major investigations into the accident have detailed a series of errors, assumptions and omissions that enabled a culture of complacency to prevail — safety inspectors are perceived as having deferred to the utilities, averted their eyes from violations and demonstrated an unseemly tolerance for best case scenarios”.
    Comment:
    Despite top NRC officials actually visiting the devastation caused by the Fukushima disaster in Japan and promising to make sure a similar disaster is avoided here in the US, the NRC has not required preventative measures to be taken in this country. Only much less costly mitigation measures proposed by the nuclear industry have been instituted.
    A sweeping change in how the US NRC enforces its regulations was made fifteen years ago. As a result over 96% of the violations identified at nuclear power plants no longer require a written response from the power plant owner. There is no longer a written public record of just what specific actions were taken by the owner to identify the root cause of the violations nor is there any information on just what was done to correct the problem and prevent its reoccurrence.
    • “(Japanese) utilities are also deemed to have ignored specific recommendations prior to the 2011 accident from safety officials — that in retrospect look very sensible and would probably have ensured that Fukushima did not become Japan’s Chernobyl.”
    Comment:
    After the ’79 TMI disaster actions were required by the NRC to not only mitigate a disaster in the US but more importantly to prevent one here in the first place. After Fukushima the NRC has not required US nuclear plants to take any actions to prevent a similar disaster here. I guess it will take yet another nuclear disaster in the US to prompt real action to protect the public.
    I guess our NRC is just a tombstone regulator. We must experience casualties of our own here before anything substantial is done to protect public health and safety.
    In my opinion there is a dangerous mind set in our country by nuclear plant owners & the NRC regarding the safety of our nuclear power plant fleet. Namely, that our plants are the safest in the world and that a Fukushima, a Chernobyl, or another TMI simply cannot happen here.
    Pride and complacency go before a fall.
    And it is not the nuclear industry and the NRC who will suffer and die!

  2. Janice Savage March 29, 2015 at 9:35 pm

    What I would like to believe is that some of the people that work in this business, and visited Fukishima, actually , are following current status, of the continuing damages incurring, there, and moving across the World, – and instead of trying to cover up, are actually trying to gather scientists, and anyone else able to help, from any Country , Background, to get Control of any leaks , stop them and any further contamination.This is no time for foolish human games,- too much at Stake … Destroying Mother Earth and Her Living Beings for any reason, Cannot work, it will destroy us.

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