Three serious incidents came to light in recently that show a disturbing level of risk to the public from nuclear power plants around the world. The Kakrapar nuclear plant in India had a serious incident that is ongoing. A serious near miss at Fessenheim nuclear plant in France happened in 2014 but is just now coming to light. Then today, among the terror attacks in Brussels, nuclear plants nearby have been evacuated and stepped up security.
Threats in Belgium
The Tihange (and possibly also the Doel) nuclear plants have evacuated all non essential staff following today’s terrorist bombings in Brussels. Security has also been increased at the country’s nuclear plants. Footage of a senior staff member of Belgium’s nuclear regulator was found in the flat of an arrested terror suspect. It is suspected they planned to force the official to help them build a dirty bomb. Months earlier there were scares around France and Belgium as someone flew drones over nuclear facilities sparking concerns of terror plots. Both Tihange and Doel sit in densely populated areas in a strategic location within Europe that could make a serious accident impacting millions of people. Belgium has been reluctant to end their use of nuclear power as they do not have sufficient amounts of other power sources available. This over reliance on nuclear power has evolved into a serious risk not just to Belgium but all of their neighbors. This is also not the first time terrorists or rogue countries have considered nuclear power plants to be potential targets. Terror attacks on nuclear power plants is something the US has had concerns about for some time. Adding to the concerns, apparently one of the terror cells had someone able to obtain security clearance who was working inside the secure area of the nuclear plant.
Near Miss In France
On April 9, 2014 the Fessenheim nuclear plant experienced a flood. Flood waters were able to reach the electrical control panels and cause them to fail. This eerily familiar problem happened at Fukushima Daiichi as the tsunami waters flooded the plant and is suspect in a power panel problem at Ft. Calhoun when that reactor also experienced a flood in 2011. At Fessenheim, this power outage took out the control system that allows them to stop the reactor by inserting the control rods. The secondary system also failed. They had no way to stop the running reactor as the plant grounds flooded.
They were only able to stop the reactor by injecting boron to kill the fission. This near miss was not told to the public at the time and only became known recently when a report was made in a trade journal. Also coming out in 2016 is a review of emergency diesel generators in France’s nuclear fleet. A large number of generators were found to be in a degraded state that could cause them to not work when they were required in an emergency situation. Only 2.7% of the inspected emergency generators were found to be in a good state. These generators are a critical piece of an emergency response. Without them any loss of off site power could rapidly lead to a station blackout condition similar to what happened at Fukushima Daiichi that lead to the three reactor meltdowns. This risk also impacts large populations and close neighbors to Fessenheim and France’s other nuclear plants. Germany and others have been urging France to shut down Fessenheim for years due to the multiple high risks at that facility. France said earlier this month they would permanently shut down Fessenheim around 2017.
Nuclear Accident In Secrecy
The Kakrapar nuclear plant north of Mumbai experienced a loss of coolant failure on March 11, 2016, the fifth anniversary of the Fukushima Daiichi Disaster. Information from the incident has been very limited. Making the problem even worse, government owned radiation monitoring stations do not share their data with the public and it may be illegal to possess a geiger counter or radiation meter in India. This leave the potentially impacted population in a state of information black out.
The accident itself has been short on information to the public. Reports said a pressure tube in the reactor had failed causing a loss of some heavy water cooling fluid. Workers have been unable to clearly characterize the leak and do not have a plan on how to repair it. More concerning was that they needed to vent the containment building indicating that there was a build up of pressure and possibly steam from the reactor systems to the containment structure. More details were not provided but venting a containment structure is a serious step. The plant has a filtered venting system but there is no way to confirm their claim that it did not release radiation into the atmosphere. The now failed pressure tubes were replaced in 2011 with a new form of zirconium alloy. Similar problems developed in steam generator tubes at the San Onofre nuclear plant that eventually caused the plant to be permanently shut down early.
These three incidents show the high risk reactor facilities pose to the public and how many people could potentially be impacted in such a disaster.
Atomic Chicken by Mauricio Bayuelo Vanegas
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