Print 38 comment(s) - last by kattanna.. on Apr 25 at 12:37 PM

Negligent design doomed the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant to failure. The President of its operator, Tokyo Electric, is stepping down, dishonored.  (Source: AP Photo)

Tokyo Electric's President met with the Governor of Fukushima this week to apologize. The Governor demanded the Fukuhima I plant be completely retired. He also demanded TEPCO to fully compensate farmers, fishers, manufacturers, and the tourism industry for lost business.  (Source: Mainichi)

"A Fukushima" is entering the pop culture vernacular as a term for something that's a mess -- particularly due to a history of negligence. For example, Lindsey Lohan was referred to as a "medium Fukushima", while Saab's recent plant shuttering was a "small Fukushima".  (Source: TMZ)
TEPCO President vows to step down for endangering public by failing to waterproof plant's backup generators

Yuhei Sato, the governor of Japan's tsunami-stricken Fukushima province, vowed this week that the damaged Fukushima Daiichi (Fukushima I) nuclear power plant would not be allowed to restart.  Meanwhile the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) (9501) is facing serious questions and financial liability, for its role in only the second major nuclear power mishap in history.

I. How Did We Get Here?

Few energy sources have as high a power density as nuclear plants.  Yet the public is very fearful of new, safer nuclear designs, while the U.S., Japan, and other nations have fought to slow new reactor deployments.  The net result is that legacy plants' lifespans are being extended well past their original timelines.

To make matters worse, utilities operating Japan's 30+ year old Fukushima nuclear plants failed to water-proof backup generators despite the plants being in a region prone to tsunami and monsoon flooding.  

The combination of the lengthened deployment plus negligent engineering and/or management decisions proved a dangerous one.

While most modern nuclear designs are incapable of melting down, the Fukushima plants were ancient designs very capable of doing so.  They escaped the earthquake itself unscathed, but were unable to cool the rods after the reactions were stopped.  

As a result, some of the reactor cores are suspected of at least partially having melted, releasing radioactive caesium and iodine into the local air, soil, and water.

II. Harsh Words for TEPCO

Fukushima's governor is not responding kindly to TEPCO's blatant negligence.  He held a 15-minute meeting with TEPCO president Masataka Shimizu, stating, "A resumption of plant operations must be impossible."

Mr. Shimizu profusely apologized for his company mistakes and promised to resign from his position when the time was appropriate.  It is traditional in Japanese culture to abdicate a leadership position or engage in even more extreme gestures of repentance, when you are dishonored.

The TEPCO chief had tried to meet with Gov. Sato twice before, but was rebuffed.  At the time the governor commented, "The anger and fear of people in this prefecture have reached the limit."

Gov. Sato accepted the apologize, conditionally, demanding that Mr. Shimizu fully compensate local farmers and fishermen whose crops and catches were forced to be destroyed due to radioactivity contamination.

He also demanded that TEPCO repay manufacturers who lost money due to the evacuation of the 20-mile radius surrounding the plant and to tourism businesses who have seen a massive drop in foreign visitors since the accident hit international news outlets.

The Governor said that while TEPCO's performance was disappointing, its employees performed admirably in trying to shut down the damaged plant and prevent further radiation release.  He called TEPCO's workers the "rising stars for Fukushima" and complained that Mr. Shimizu needed to provide them with better medical coverage.

III. The Fate of the Fukushima Plants

Fukushima I's reactor 1 had been operation since 1970.  Prior to the disaster it was scheduled to be decommissioned in April.  Reactors 2-4, built in the 1970s were expected to soon follow.  

Following the disaster, TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata had told reporters that four of the six reactors had been decommissioned.  But he failed to make clear what the fate of the newer reactors 5 and 6 would be.  It now appears those will undergo a mandatory shuttering, as well.

The decision by the government to force the complete closure of the Fukushima I power plant likely kills plans to build two advanced boiling water reactors on-site.  Ironically, these ABWRs would have been meltdown-proof, due to their design, which includes passive emergency cooling.

While the fate of the damaged northern plant appears to be sealed, the fate of the southern Fukushima II power plant, which also sustained damage, is unclear.  The second plant featured more modern second-generation designs, built in the 1980s.  It is thought that containment at these plants largely held due to the design improvements, despite a similar loss of backup power.

It is possible that Fukushima II will resume operations.  

Hopefully, the plans for the meltdown-proof ABWR reactors will be shifted to the second site, which currently only houses four reactors.  There are no guarantees, though, as the people of Japan, like many in the U.S. have largely entered in an under-informed state of nuclear panic and hysteria. 

Some at least seem to be getting the underlying message of several small negligence-induced problems leading to bigger issues.  Jalopnik recently quoted Saab's Chairman Victor Muller referring to his plant shutdown as a "small Fukushima" -- to which a commenter quipped, "Coincidentally for those very same reasons, Michael Lohan calls his daughter a 'medium Fukushima'."

Comments     Threshold

This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

I have to object to the following:
By Amiga500 on 4/22/2011 12:01:17 PM , Rating: 5
The combination of the lengthened deployment and negligent engineering proved a dangerous one.

I'd be quite sure the engineers have recommended waterproofing (we are a very cautious bunch... and the nuclear crowd are extra anal about safety).

I'd guess management probably over-ruled the engineers on cost grounds.

RE: I have to object to the following:
By RamarC on 4/22/2011 12:16:50 PM , Rating: 3
40 years and 3 (near)meltdowns of hindsight is influencing your observation. In the late 60s (when this plant was designed and began construction), it was probably state-of-the-art and likely considered bulletproof. The thing weathered several typhoons and tsunamis in the past so that's a testament to its durability.

RE: I have to object to the following:
By Amiga500 on 4/22/2011 12:24:36 PM , Rating: 2
The reactor was a design from the 50s I believe!

Although yes, the plant would have been 60s era design philosophies. (+updates along the way...)

RE: I have to object to the following:
By DanNeely on 4/22/2011 1:02:35 PM , Rating: 2
Could be. It was a GE BWR-3 with a MK1 containment building. Fukushima Daiichi 1 began construction in 1967, and judging by the completion date was one of the first built. I'm not sure how much lag would be in the design process itself.

RE: I have to object to the following:
By Samus on 4/22/2011 1:38:12 PM , Rating: 2
I got an MK1 in my garage with no BWR-3 to make it useful.

RE: I have to object to the following:
By ekv on 4/22/2011 2:45:36 PM , Rating: 3
Probably made by Jaguar which would explain why it's in the garage.

RE: I have to object to the following:
By Dorkyman on 4/23/2011 1:09:11 PM , Rating: 4
...and probably outfitted with Lucas electrics, which means it can't be trusted.

RE: I have to object to the following:
By ekv on 4/23/2011 11:52:55 PM , Rating: 3
Lucas electrics

Good God, man. Did you have to mention Lucas ... "the prince of darkness"? Here's a cheeky little url [to our friends across the pond ... it is humour after all 8]
The Original Anti-Theft Device - Lucas Electrics.
Q: Why do the British drink warm beer? A: Because Lucas makes their refrigerators.

RE: I have to object to the following:
By benny638 on 4/22/2011 12:23:56 PM , Rating: 3
I agree we are cautious. You hit the nail right on the head with the "I'd guess management probably over-ruled the engineers on cost grounds" :-)

RE: I have to object to the following:
By GoneToPlaid on 4/22/2011 4:02:06 PM , Rating: 1
That is exactly what happened. Management stripped the expensive passive cooling system from Fukushima's Mark 1 design to save money, claiming that the passive cooling system was not needed.

RE: I have to object to the following:
By DanNeely on 4/22/2011 6:48:05 PM , Rating: 3
I thought the passive cooling unit wasn't added until much newer designs and was only offered as an upgrade/retrofit on older models.

By Lerianis on 4/23/2011 10:01:47 PM , Rating: 2
That is what I heard as well. Wikipedia's article seems to lean that way as well.

RE: I have to object to the following:
By Arsynic on 4/22/2011 12:56:51 PM , Rating: 3
Happens all the time. Execs have a hard time seeing beyond the tip of their noses.

RE: I have to object to the following:
By Dorkyman on 4/23/2011 1:16:14 PM , Rating: 2
Not fair. We are all "armchair quarterbacking" here. The plant was hit by a STUPENDOUS Mag 9 earthquake, 100 times worse than they ever expected, and even then, it survived. Then the un-freaking-believable tsunami generated by that stupendous earthquake came in.

What logical auto exec would say, "You know, we need to add 5,000 lbs of armor plating to our Prius product because it's remotely possible that some sniper out there is going to take a shot at one of our passengers. Yeah, it'll add $40,000 to the cost of the car and reduce the mileage to 12mpg, but it's worth it."

RE: I have to object to the following:
By Lerianis on 4/24/2011 9:49:00 AM , Rating: 2
Good point there. The plant was hit by an over-the-reasonable-limits once in SEVERAL lifetimes quake.... to say that it could have been made safer misses that these things happen very infrequently and there is a point where the added cost is not economically feasible compared to the chance that the situation in question would happen.

By Nik00117 on 4/24/2011 10:19:00 PM , Rating: 1
I have to agree what we saw here was a freak accident one that was simply didn't predict. The fact that the plant survived an earthquake that was stronger then what it was designed to withstand is a great sign, however the tsunami that did the real damage...Honestly I know you guys are saying that "O the Exces can't see past their noses" but fact is with the information they had available they made the best decision possible, we live, we learn, shit happens move on.

This is where you need to make recommendations, ok we need to add in passive cooling, bigger sea walls, and water proof our back up power supply.

However one could argue that you safety nuts that prevent the nuclear field from moving forward in part are to blame, you've prevented the industry from building new plants, with new technology, and design features that improve safety and reliability. Maybe if you let us retire the old and bring in the new this problem may not have happened.

RE: I have to object to the following:
By ekv on 4/22/2011 2:58:15 PM , Rating: 2
I'd guess management probably over-ruled the engineers on cost grounds.
And now management is being over-ruled by the Public. Hope the ABWR's get moved to the southern Plant.

This knee-jerk response is what we saw after the China Syndrome / TMI. Fortunately, despite sensationalist hype from TV "reporters", the facts have won out here. So far.

RE: I have to object to the following:
By futrtrubl on 4/24/2011 2:16:12 PM , Rating: 2
I really don't find it negligent for a reactor to be able to survive a magnitude 9 quake when designed to withstand a magnitude 8 quake.
I definitely don't find it negligent that they built the tsunami defences to withstand a tsunami created by that magnitude and then further reinforced those defences during it's life and then be surprised by a tsunami that nobody thought could be produced by an earthquake of less than 9.5.
It is not negligent to build based on the best data available at the time and to upgrade based on changing data.

By Nik00117 on 4/25/2011 12:04:12 AM , Rating: 2
Nor do I, it's like building a bomb shelter to survive a 2,000 LB bomb and then it gets hit by a nuclear bomb...If even a piece of it lives that's impressive.

By kattanna on 4/25/2011 12:37:43 PM , Rating: 2
I really don't find it negligent for a reactor to be able to survive a magnitude 9 quake when designed to withstand a magnitude 8 quake

and thats all that geologists thought that that fault line could produce, a magnitude 8 quake.

also why no public witch hunts for all those builders who built the homes and other buildings that were completely wiped out by the earthquake/tsunami?

the resulting mess of bodies of humans and animals along with the debris from all the ruined buildings and chemicals is FAR FAR more damaging to the environment then the nuclear plant.

yet, oddly.. you dont hear one peep about that.

"When an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song." -- Sony BMG attorney Jennifer Pariser

Copyright 2016 DailyTech LLC. - RSS Feed | Advertise | About Us | Ethics | FAQ | Terms, Conditions & Privacy Information | Kristopher Kubicki