Disaster by Design

Nuclear reactors use multiple safety systems to operate with low-risk. This series examines what happens when those systems fail—and explores what can be done to ensure better safety in the future.


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Latest Disaster by Design Posts

Nuclear Plant Accidents: Fermi Unit 1

, director, Nuclear Safety Project

Disaster by Design/ Safety by Intent #40

Disaster by Design

Jorge Agustin Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás, also known as George Santayana, wrote that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Disaster by Design/Safety by Intent #39 described the partial meltdown of the reactor core at the Sodium Reactor Experiment (SRE) in California. Workers at the Fermi Unit 1 reactor in Michigan must have remembered this accident pretty well, since they duplicated almost every key aspect of it just seven years later. Read more >

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Nuclear Plant Accidents: Sodium Reactor Experiment

, director, Nuclear Safety Project

Disaster by Design/Safety by Intent #39

Disaster by Design

The best aspect of the defense-in-depth approach to nuclear power safety is that one thing, even one very bad thing, is unlikely to trigger an accident. If offsite power is lost, onsite power from emergency diesel generators will automatically take over. If a pipe ruptures to drain cooling water from the reactor vessel, emergency pumps will automatically start up to supply makeup cooling water. If a pump fails, at least one other pump is ready to step in. And so on. It takes a lot of things to defeat defense-in-depth. Read more >

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Nuclear Plant Emergency Preparedness – Re-HAB

, director, Nuclear Safety Project

Disaster by Design/ Safety by Intent #38

Disaster by Design

It takes two to tango.

It takes a village to raise a child.

It takes between the tango and the child-rearing numbers to respond to a nuclear plant accident. Read more >

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Nuclear Plant Emergency Preparedness – Southern Exposure 2015

, director, Nuclear Safety Project

Disaster by Design/ Safety by Intent #37

Disaster by Design

Disaster by Design/Safety by Intent #35 described some of the limitations in the emergency exercises conducted at least once every two years for U.S. nuclear power plants. The exercises are scheduled months in advance and last but a handful of hours. Real nuclear plant accidents are never scheduled in advance and take weeks to stabilize and years to recover. The value of the biennial exercises is diminished by these constraints. Read more >

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Nuclear Plant Emergency Preparedness: Failure to Communicate

, director, Nuclear Safety Project

Disaster by Design/ Safety by Intent #36

Disaster by Design

Nuclear plant owners are required to develop plans for responding to accidents that describe actions to be taken by workers onsite as well as describing communications to local, state, and federal organizations so they can taken actions offsite. Among other things, the emergency plans detail when to activate the sirens that warn people in the community about an accident at the plant. Read more >

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