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The “Race” to Resolve the Boiling Water Reactor Safety Limit Problem

, director, Nuclear Safety Project

General Electric (GE) informed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in March 2005 that its computer analyses of a depressurization event for boiling water reactors (BWRs) non-conservatively assumed the transient would be terminated by the automatic trips of the main turbine and reactor on high water level in the reactor vessel. GE’s updated computer studies revealed that one of four BWR safety limits could be violated before another automatic response terminated the event.

Over the ensuring decade-plus, owners of 28 of the 34 BWRs operating in the US applied for and received the NRC’s permission to fix the problem. But it’s not clear why the NRC allowed this known safety problem, which could allow nuclear fuel to become damaged, to linger for so long or why the other six BWRs have yet to resolve the problem. UCS has asked the NRC’s Inspector General to look into why and how the NRC tolerated this safety problem affecting so many reactors for so long. Read more >

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Nuclear Bathtub Safety

, director, Nuclear Safety Project

Disaster by Design/ Safety by Intent #49

Safety by Intent

In recent years, Japan’s health ministry initiated a study in response to an estimate that nearly 14,000 people die annually in bathtubs, almost three times the number of people killed each year in traffic accidents in the country.

More recently, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention issued a warning because over a dozen people have died since 2000 working on bathtubs—due to exposure to methylene chloride, a solvent used to clean tubs being refinished.

This commentary addresses figurative rather than literal bathtub safety. Read more >

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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 Power(less) Plants

, director, Nuclear Safety Project

Disaster by Design/Safety by Intent #3

Disaster by Design

The primary purpose of commercial nuclear power plants in the U.S. is to generate electricity. When not fulfilling that role, nuclear power plants that are shut down require electricity to run the equipment needed to prevent the irradiated fuel in the reactor core and spent fuel pool from damage by overheating. The March 2011 accident at Fukushima Daiichi in Japan graphically illustrated what can happen when nuclear plants do not get the electricity they require. Read more >

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Meltdown Proof

, director, Nuclear Safety Project

Fission Stories #152

The Enrico Fermi Nuclear Power Plant near Newport, Michigan featured a sodium-cooled fast reactor. Read more >

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