Stress Testing the new Nuclear perceptions

The Lad is not going to give something useful at this stage of the Japanese tragedy. Like all engineers, he is aware of how little is yet known to the world outside the Control Rooms of the Fukushima 1 plant. So he will not be trying to be clever-clever or exagerate, as the media usually do, the catastrophic potential. Just note a couple of things.

Let us not not discount the seriousness of the plant damage to the people of Japan, the operators of the plant and to the nuclear engineering profession. It is gross. But it is not another Chernobyl.

The plants ‘exploding’ approach of the headlines is probably partly due to the exigencies of containing, not nuclear power but headline lengths. It is not put under too much pressure, however, to ensure that this is the exactly correct word. We had to read further in the heavy papers to discover that the outer buildings are destroyed by an explosion and that the power generating circuits are probably not seriously damaged – by the explosions at least. If serious, complete meltdowns cannot be avoided this may change however. Even this though is not certain – with the pumping in of large quantities of sea water that is currently occuring.

The Lad just wants to note that the power generating circuits are built on a Fort Knox design paradigm where the outer buildings are more akin to a B&Q shed. Albeit the shed has a very strong crane and load lifting tracks.

Some commentators have commented with barely concealed disdain that the Stations are built close to the sea. “The sea has tsunamis, you know. What were they thinking about, the fools?” The answer is simple. Most are built near the sea or, at least, large bodies of water for precisely the reason that we see in operation in Japan. When problems arise with pumped internal coolant supplies, give ourselves access to an effectively infinite thermal sink. Tap into an endless source of cold water as a bank of last resort. An inland plant does not have this facility, only a very large river may be suitable and this less so after a long, hot  Summer. That is the vital reason that is immeasurably strengthened by the events in Japan not weakened.

The question that The Lad does ask himself, though, is why the back up power supplies apparently failed so soon. Is there a problem that these 40 year old plants did not have a proper Failure Modes and Effects Analysis [FMEA] when they were designed? Or was it simply one single error. The latter seems to The Lad unlikely as he considers all serious accidents are the result of a chain of errors.

He thanks his lucky stars that he is not having to wrestle face to face with the brute forces of the runaway generation of vast quantities of heat in the shut-down Reactors. He will seek, in the months to come, to examine the answers on the causes of the tragedy to the unfortunate Japanese people living near the plants that are put forward.

Watch this space.

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