NRC: Japan’s Nuclear Reactor Containment Intact

Monday, 21 Mar 2011 12:05 PM

 

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Radiation containment units at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear reactors are intact and the situation at the plant “is on the verge of stabilizing,” a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission official said.

Pools of water used to prevent fuel rods from overheating at units 3 and 4 are stabilizing, Bill Borchardt, executive director for operations, said today at a commission meeting in Rockville, Maryland.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said progress is being made in restoring power to reactors No. 1 and No. 2, and plant owner Tokyo Electric Power Co. said it had restored electric power to No. 3 and No. 4.

“Containment at units 1, 2 and 3 appear to be functional,” Borchardt said. “The fact that offsite power is close to being available for use at plant equipment is perhaps the first optimistic sign that things could be turning around.”

The nuclear regulator plans a review of all 104 U.S. reactors to assess safety after the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami on March 11 disabled cooling systems at the six-reactor Fukushima plant. Explosions, fires and radiation leaks led to the worst nuclear disaster in a quarter century.

“I don’t see a significant weakness” with the ability of U.S. reactors to withstand natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunami, Borchardt said today.

The NRC plans a 90-day review of reactor safety to assess preparations at the U.S. plants and will publish the findings, Borchardt said. A report on the NRC’s initial findings would be released after 30 days, he said.

Safeguards Reviewed

After the NRC’s review, the agency may require extra safeguards at U.S. plants if needed, Borchardt said.

“We have an obligation to the American people to undertake a systematic and methodical review of the safety of our own domestic nuclear facilities in light of the natural disaster and the resulting nuclear situation in Japan,” NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko said today.

Obama administration officials have said radiation from the Japanese plant won’t reach the U.S. They’ve also downplayed the risk of a similar crisis at U.S. nuclear plants.

Japan’s earthquake occurred in a “subduction zone,” where one tectonic plate is pushed under another, the NRC said in a statement on its website. Such regions produce the biggest temblors. The U.S. has one subduction zone, off the coasts of northern California, Oregon and Washington state, the NRC said.

Columbia Station

Energy Northwest’s Columbia Generating Station near Richland, Washington, is the only U.S. nuclear plant near this subduction zone. Its location, 225 miles (362 kilometers) from the coast, shields the plant from powerful earthquakes and tsunamis that may occur in the zone, according to the NRC.

Nuclear reactors built close to the coast in Southern California are near “slip faults” that produce quakes with magnitude less than Japan’s 9.0, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said yesterday on CNN’s “State of the Union” broadcast.

“You simply don’t get nines from those kinds of faults,” Chu said.

PG&E Corp.’s Diablo Canyon seaside nuclear plant in earthquake-prone California has been built to withstand “all environmental hazards in the region,” including a tsunami and an earthquake of as much as 7.5 magnitude, said Kory Raftery, a PG&E spokesman.

U.S. nuclear plants are built to withstand the “maximum credible” natural disasters for their location, including earthquakes and tsunamis, according to the NRC.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has called for Entergy Corp.’s Indian Point nuclear plant to be closed. The plant is about 24 miles north of New York City.

Indian Point Meeting

New York’s lieutenant governor is scheduled to meet tomorrow with NRC officials to discuss the plant’s safety, according to a statement from Cuomo’s office.

While the Indian Point plant is safe, the NRC may “look at whether this reactor should remain” after Japan’s nuclear emergency, which prompted U.S. officials to recommend a 50-mile evacuation zone for Americans near the Fukushima site, Chu said.

Entergy’s plants “are designed with multiple contingent backup systems to provide greater safety margins” and can cope with disasters, “including earthquakes and catastrophic flooding,” according to a March 14 post on its website.


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