WBEZ | Fukushima Daiichi http://www.wbez.org/tags/fukushima-daiichi Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en At U.S. nuclear reactors, crews train for the worst http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-07-05/us-nuclear-reactors-crews-train-worst-88772 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/npr_story/photo/2011-July/2011-07-06/nuclear-control-room-simulation_custom.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Some nuclear industry officials say if Japan had U.S.-style training for its operators, they might have fared better during the multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. In Japan, workers train on generic simulators. Here, every nuclear power plant has an exact mockup of its control room so plant operators can practice more realistic disaster scenarios.</p><p>Take for example the Grand Gulf Nuclear Generating Station, south of Vicksburg, Miss., on the Mississippi River.</p><p>One recent morning, reactor operators who would normally report to work at the plant instead showed up for work in a building outside the fence, overlooking the plant's iconic cooling tower. They step into a room that looks exactly like the control room where they spend most of their working days.</p><p>"What you're seeing is a physical replica, down to the books on the shelves and where the trash cans are located, of what the operators will use on a day-to-day basis in the plant," says Pat Berry, who heads training for Entergy, the plant's owner.</p><p>He's here today to watch as the plant's crew is put to the test, with a simulated "bad day at the plant."</p><p><strong>(Simulated) Crises Unfold</strong></p><p>Lights start flashing almost immediately.</p><p>"We have a CRD malfunction, due to bravo CRD pump trip," calls out Roger Bond, who's in charge of the faux control room.</p><p>In other words, a pump has failed. And just as the crew checks to be sure a backup pump is working properly, they're hit with another barrage of alarms.</p><p>"Ready for update?" Bond calls out. After a chorus of readies, Bond reports that this simulated plant has now lost a big chunk of its electric power supply. If power can't be restored quickly, the rules say to shut down the reactor — fast. And now adrenaline starts to flow.</p><p>"Attention all personnel, attention all personnel, evacuate containment — evacuate containment," comes a voice from over the loudspeaker.</p><p>As each event unfolds, the crew reacts by the book. Literally. They flip open loose-leaf binders that guide them through the crisis procedures. At this point, it's time for an emergency shutdown.</p><p>"Reactor pressure is about 950 p.s.i.g. and stable," a worker calls out. "All control rods are full in. Reactor power is zero and stable."</p><p>But just as it seems everything is under control, more alarms ring out.</p><p>"Ready for update?" Bond calls out again. "We have a LOCA in the drywell. End of update." LOCA is a "loss of coolant accident." In real life, this is very serious — it was the cause of the meltdowns at Fukushima Dai-ichi.</p><p>"So essentially they have a hole in the reactor, so they're losing water out of the reactor," explains training chief Pat Berry. "So the challenge to the crew now is how to keep the core covered and cooled, even though they've got a hole in a pipe, they've got the loss of a major part of the electrical power distribution system, and they're missing that control-rod drive pump we took away from them at the beginning of the scenario."</p><p>They open a series of valves and release billows of make-believe steam into a chamber called the drywell. That relieves pressure in the reactor so they can and pump more water into it. In real life, Berry says, this would ruin the nuclear fuel, but it would prevent a meltdown.</p><p><strong>When Training Isn't Enough</strong></p><p>At this point, the instructors stop the scenario so they can critique it. This one went well, Berry says, though every now and then the crew does end up in the midst of a simulated meltdown.</p><p>"It can happen," Berry says. "If the operators take the right actions, we should be able to avoid that, but occasionally we'll challenge the operating crew to the point where they may find difficulty in doing that."</p><p>Berry says reactor operators in these training scenarios can respond to some pretty intense crises, on the scale even of Fukushima.</p><p>But David Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer at a watchdog group called the Union of Concerned Scientists, says he's skeptical that the mess in Japan could have been prevented, given the real-world conditions there.</p><p>"Training would have helped deal with the challenge they had, but when you're faced with a loss of power for as long as Fukushima went, I think they might have changed the pathway a little bit, but I think the destination would have been largely the same," Lochbaum says.</p><p>He adds that you can't truly simulate the kind of crisis response we saw at Fukushima, where a lot of the action took place outside the control rooms. Workers scrambled around to try to read dials, fix electrical circuits and struggle with stalled pumps. And he adds training might not be enough when a crew is confronting not only severe conditions but simultaneous crises at multiple reactors.</p><p>"Fukushima showed us that we could have an across-the-board situation where all the reactors are in jeopardy and there's no on-site cavalry that can come running to the aid of the accident unit," Lochbaum says.</p><p>He adds that overall, the U.S. training system is an important element of emergency preparedness. But it's no guarantee that crews here can handle anything and everything thrown their way. <div class="fullattribution">Copyright 2011 National Public Radio.</p> Tue, 05 Jul 2011 23:01:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-07-05/us-nuclear-reactors-crews-train-worst-88772 Nuclear information gap spreads doubt, fear in Japan http://www.wbez.org/story/history/2011-03-16/nuclear-information-gap-spreads-doubt-fear-83801 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/primeminister_6587347.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The uncertainty that has gripped Japan in the days since its nuclear crisis began is erupting into public and official anger over the lack of reliable safety information.</p><p>Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan seemed to be speaking for his entire country Tuesday when he met with executives from the Tokyo Electric Power Co. "What the hell is going on?" Kan demanded, according to a report from Japan's Kyodo news agency.</p><p>It's a question many are asking, and not just those living near Japan's compromised reactors in Fukushima, where the plant's operators were desperately trying to use seawater to control overheating nuclear fuel. Fear of the invisible threat of radiation exposure is spreading, but answers and trust are harder to come by.</p><p>"TEPCO answered the first question — is the plant shut down and is saltwater going in?" says Harold Denton, a nuclear expert with experience managing the response to a significant nuclear incident. "But they haven't answered the second part of the question: What's escaping? How much? Can they stop it?"</p><p>The lack of consistent, credible information, and confusing reports about radiation levels around the stricken Fukushima Daiichi plant, are driving public anxiety. Thousands living near the facility in northeast Japan have begun fleeing the area, ignoring government warnings to stay indoors with their windows closed.</p><p>"What's missing in all of this is some sort of credible briefing that would tell everyone what's really going on," Denton says.</p><p><strong>Lessons Learned</strong></p><p><strong></strong>Denton is intimately familiar with the importance of putting out timely and accurate information during an unprecedented crisis. He was the senior Nuclear Regulatory Commission official sent by President Jimmy Carter to monitor the response to the 1979 partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant near Harrisburg, Pa. The experience, Denton said, had its low points — including a misinterpreted radiation report that almost triggered an unnecessary mass evacuation.</p><p>Any unfolding crisis of the magnitude of Three Mile Island and the current situation in Japan requires managing information and politics, as well as the potential for public panic. There is the hardware issue, in terms of what is physically happening in the plant. And there's the equally important public communications issue.</p><p>Denton says he learned that in Pennsylvania more than three decades ago. U.S. nuclear regulators "did not treat emergency preparedness before Three Mile Island as anything more than a building-facility hardware issue," Denton says. "Not until TMI did we realize that the existence of a workable, demonstrable emergency communication plan was a necessary part of safety."</p><p>John Ullyot reaffirmed those lessons when he helped assemble a 2008 report for the Senate Homeland Security Committee on how to handle communications in the event of a different kind of nuclear incident — an assault by terrorists using radioactive material. Ullyot, a senior communication consultant in the Washington office of Hill & Knowlton, says he was struck by two major findings: People potentially affected by disasters or attacks want to know all the information available, good and bad; and they want to hear it from a local official — not the president or a Cabinet secretary, but someone who would also be directly affected by the incident.</p><p>Ullyot also says the public wants the information early, and they want it to be accurate: "More than 80 percent said they want to know the full extent of the problem with no sugar coating, so they can make the best decisions for themselves and their families."</p><p>Disaster briefings also need to be "candid, frequent, informal and direct," he says. "But the key is credibility. If someone says one thing, and it turns out not to be the case, there is no way to break through the rumor and chatter out there."<strong></strong></p><p><strong>Recovering From Missteps</strong></p><p>For Dick Thornburgh, Three Mile Island was a "searing first experience." He was just 72 days into his first term as Pennsylvania governor when the incident began to unfold. He says the plant owner and operators initially told him that "all the systems had worked, and there was no danger." And Thornburgh relayed that information to anxious Pennsylvania residents.</p><p>"That was clearly a misrepresentation, as our own engineers and nuclear regulatory people could see at the site," says Thornburgh, who later served as attorney general under presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. "Clearly I was a lot more skeptical after that. ... If you pass on some bad information, you better get out and get in front of it."</p><p>Ironically, Thornburgh says admitting that he had put out bad information ultimately helped his credibility.</p><p>Denton helped, too. Thornburgh described the NRC official as a scientist with a knack for putting "nuclear speak" into plain English.</p><p>"He had a very disarming manner — a North Carolinian with a Southern drawl — and he'd talk to anybody who was covering that event," the former governor says. "We didn't know the technology, and we didn't have any particular skill at translating nuclear speak. He could."</p><p>The governor and Denton began holding daily news briefings — and Thornburgh says the combination of scientist and elected official seemed to give their appearances extra credibility.</p><p>While criticized for early missteps, Thornburgh says the crisis at Three Mile Island strengthened his administration — and left him with three lessons:</p><p><ul></p><p><li>Develop an accurate picture of what's going on, and do not be swayed by conflicting advice and rumors from "experts" with their own agendas.</li></p><p><li>Don't become a conduit for every rumor and accusation.</li></p><p><li>And once you have an accurate picture, share it with the public so they can make a decision on what to do.</li></p><p></ul></p><p>"I'm very sympathetic to Japanese officials and executives," Thornburgh says. "To be honest, we really didn't have a firm handle on Three Mile Island until President Carter dispatched Harold Denton."</p><p>"The public can handle news, good and bad, so long as they are confident in the source," he adds.<strong></strong></p><p><strong>'I Cannot Believe It'</strong></p><p>That kind of confidence appears to be missing in Japan, where each new report of an explosion or a fire at the Fukushima plant and conflicting details about the extent of radiation leaks seems to be testing the public's trust.</p><p>The government has ordered those within 12 miles of the Fukushima plant to evacuate, while urging those in a 19-mile radius to stay put.</p><p>But many residents from a far wider area ignored the recommendations to stay indoors and were fleeing in lines of cars that stretched to the horizon.</p><p>"According to the news, the government said just live inside the house," one woman from Koriyama, 40 miles west of the plant, told NPR on Tuesday. "But I cannot believe it." Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit <a href="http://www.npr.org/">http://www.npr.org/</a>.<img src="http://metrics.npr.org/b/ss/nprapidev/5/1300286845?&gn=Nuclear+Information+Gap+Spreads+Doubt%2C+Fear&ev=event2&ch=134454848&h1=Japan+In+Crisis,History,Media,Politics,World,Home+Page+Top+Stories,News&c3=D%3Dgn&v3=D%3Dgn&c4=134573800&c7=1020&v7=D%3Dc7&c18=1020&v18=D%3Dc18&c19=20110316&v19=D%3Dc19&c20=1&v20=D%3Dc20&c31=134454848,134454848&v31=D%3Dc31&c45=MDA0OTc2MjAwMDEyNjk0NDE4OTI2NmUwNQ001"/></p></p> Wed, 16 Mar 2011 08:30:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/history/2011-03-16/nuclear-information-gap-spreads-doubt-fear-83801 Japan struggles to control nuclear crisis http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-03-15/japan-struggles-control-nuclear-crisis-83737 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/segment/photo/2011-March/2011-03-15/110111424.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The death toll following Japan&rsquo;s 8.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami has reached 3,400 and is expected to rise. Meanwhile, the nuclear crisis continues to unfold at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in the northeast. There have been three explosions and one fire at the plant since Friday&rsquo;s earthquake, which damaged Fukushima&rsquo;s cooling systems. According to the Japanese government, radiation levels have fallen since a spike this morning, but the crisis is not over. Aileen Mioko Smith, executive director of the Japanese environment group <a target="_blank" href="http://www.greenaction-japan.org/modules/entop2/">Green Action</a>, will give us a sense of where things are headed with Japan's nuclear crisis.</p></p> Tue, 15 Mar 2011 16:36:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-03-15/japan-struggles-control-nuclear-crisis-83737