Friday, April 1, 2011

Sustainability in Practice-Nuclear Safety

While media hovers around the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex in Japan, public concern hovers around the Columbia Generating Station in Richland, WA.

Columbia Generating Station is the only commercial nuclear reactor in the Northwest. There are also research nuclear reactors at Idaho State University, Oregon State University and Washington State University. There are over 100 commercially-operated nuclear reactors, of various types and models throughout the United States and more than 25 research reactors, Corey Hines, reactor supervisor at the WSU Nuclear Radiation Center said.

“The media exploited the fear when initial reports of the Japan nuclear crisis were being distributed, he said. “It wasn’t the earthquake but the tsunami that knocked out the pumps, generators and batteries. The reactors withstood the earthquake exactly how they were supposed to.”

Hines said the threat of a similar situation happening to the Columbia Generating Station is next-to impossible because it is located far enough inland that the possibility of a tsunami is non-existent. It is also far enough away from the Columbia River, about three miles, that flooding is not a significant threat, according to the Energy Northwest Web site.

Energy Northwest CEO Mark Reddemann was unavailable for comment but in a guest commentary published in the Tri-City Herald he stressed that nuclear facility employees across the country receive detailed and continuous nuclear and plant operations safety training.

“In addition to robust emergency response training and drills, reactor operators train one week out of every six to demonstrate proficiency in their primary responsibilities, and must pass an exam annually to maintain their license,” Reddemann’s guest commentary in the Tri-City Herald.

WSU and OSU both have one megawatt energy production research nuclear reactors. In comparison, the Columbia Generating Station houses a nuclear reactor operating at nearly 1,200 megawatts and the Fukushima nuclear plant produces over 2,000 megawatts.

“The OSU reactor is used only for research and produces one megawatt of power compared to the 2,000 megawatts produced by the reactor in Japan,” Lyn Smith-Gloria, a public information representative in the OSU department of nuclear engineering said. “It uses a small quantity of low-enriched fuel so even if a catastrophic event caused all the water to leak out, the reactor would not melt down or explode.”

Hines said in the event of an earthquake, the WSU reactor takes 0.9 seconds to go from full power to full shutdown. He also said the reactor is generally shut down at the end of the day and restarted in the morning after scram measures and safety checks are conducted.

“95 percent of our job is maintaining the reactor,” Hines said. “ We do daily and routine system checks; we have an eight-page check procedure before starting up the reactor. We are constantly doing preventative and scheduled maintenance.”

He also said there is no environmental or human threat in the minuscule chance the reactor leaked.

“We never want to say never but it’s hard to describe a situation where it (Columbia Generating Station reactor) would leak,” Hines said.

The Japan crisis may affect nuclear energy development in the United States.

Anti-nuclear campaigns are using the nuclear crisis in Japan as a reason why nuclear development should not be pursued in the United States. This crisis comes at a particularly crucial time in the legislative process as Senate Bill 512 IS, the Nuclear Power 2021 Act is currently being reviewed by the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

“We knew there would be backlash from the crisis in Japan,” Hines said. “It’s unfortunate but the other alternative is coal-powered plants that run on fossil fuels which are extremely harmful to the environment. Nuclear energy has to be a part of the solution.”

He also recognized the option of solar power but said it is not developed enough to compete with the energy amounts created from nuclear reactors.

The Columbia Generating Station is in the process of renewing its license, a process which takes about 30 months, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Web site. The original license for a nuclear plant is 40 years, with renewal periods of every 20 years. According to the Web site, the Columbia Generating Station licensee review should be completed in June of 2012.

Due to the volume of questions NRC has been receiving regarding the current situation in Japan and how a similar crisis would unfold in the United States, the NRC declined to comment on specifics of the issues unfolding abroad. The NRC is referring people with concerns to the NRC Web site for a list of commonly asked questions and answers regarding the local and global nuclear concerns.

No comments:

Post a Comment