The crippled Fukushima reactor is a grim reminder of the Three Mile Island crisis. It has some common technical and safety aspects, and brings to mind broken promises by the industry to resolve open safety issues. The Japanese crisis certainly demonstrates the propensity for obfuscation by the industry while the public is left sifting through hundreds of media reports.
The first indication that the Fukushima reactor was in serious trouble came from reports that the Japanese military was flying batteries to the plant. This clue made it clear that the operators were having more problems than just trouble with circulating reactor coolant. It revealed that the operators were losing or had lost electrical control of the reactor systems and that the emergency diesel generators were not working. But the Japanese government and the industry continued to downplay the dire conditions facing them.
This same pattern of denial happened here at Three Mile Island leaving the citizens and their governor bewildered and confused. In fact, radioactive releases at TMI are presently being reported as a miniscule amount of radiation. At least 13 million curies of radiation were released. So it is easy to see how the Japanese crisis brings back various details of the TMI crisis.
Knowing that station blackout is the leading cause of accident conditions in hypothetical analyses, the industry failed miserably by allowing the placement of emergency diesel generators at an elevation which allows flooding or washout by a tsunami.
In 1999 Scott Portzline of TMI Alert performed a study on emergency diesel generator at US nuclear reactors. He found that more than half of US reactor had problems with their generators.
Portzline has urged the NRC to require US nuclear plants to have an extra set of diesel generator which can be driven to the reactor and connected to the electrical bus if the primary set is lost.
A few more facts:
Electrical cables at US nuclear plants have never been tested under accident conditions.
The valve which allowed the loss of coolant at TMI is still not rated a safety component.
Just last week, as a result of steam leaks at two PA nuclear plants, power was reduced. Both of the aging plants recently changed their license to operate at higher temperatures, pressures and output.
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