ANS Releases Committee Report on Fukushima Daiichi

The American Nuclear Society’s Special Committee on Fukushima has released its assessment of the accident events, health physics and other safety-related issues of Fukushima. The March 8 report examined events and comparative evaluations, offering recommendations on how the U.S. nuclear power industry should respond to a Fukushima-type scenario.

The Committee was headed by Michael Corradini, chair of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Energy Institute Faculty Governance Committee and Director of the University of Wisconsin’s Institute of Nuclear Systems; and Dale Klein, currently Associate Vice Chancellor for Research in the Office of Academic Affairs of The University of Texas System and formerly Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The report noted that much of the international focus shifted away from the overall tragedy of the earthquake and tsunami and emphasized the accident at Fukushima—resulting in a great deal of misinformation about Fukushima and its impact on the surrounding community. While the report concludes that there were multiple failures—mechanical, human, political—Fukushima was no Chernobyl.

Significantly, the special committee’s review of data suggests that the off-site health consequences from Fukushima appear to be minimal. Immediate plant worker deaths were from the earthquake, not from radiation. Comparatively, a review of U.S. nuclear plant safety in the aftermath of Fukushima finds that there is no evidence the United States’ nuclear plant health and safety protection is deficient.

“We don’t know everything yet, but what we’ve learned from this study is that at the end of the day, we’ll have a nuclear program that’s safer and more robust,” said Klein at a news conference preceding release of the report.

Technical recommendations from the report highlight the need to emphasize a risk-informed approach to safety that extends to mitigate the consequences from extreme natural phenomena. Fukushima’s risk-informed approach for natural phenomena was insufficient, according to the report.

Some hardware modifications at U.S. nuclear plants may also be justified to deliver higher reliability and enhanced instrumentation to help decision makers at plants. The report stressed that better protection of back-up power systems is the best defense against failure in the event of extreme natural phenomena. However, the ANS authors add that any regulatory recommendations for improvements in equipment be subject to a cost-benefit analysis before additional regulations are implemented.

Regarding planning and evacuation zones, the report authors say they should not be based on arbitrary mileage. Weather patterns and emergency shelter locations should be included as part of a risk-based approach to evacuation planning. The NRC’s recommendation of a 50-mile evacuation zone for U.S. citizens in the area was “puzzling” to the expert panel. Klein and Corradini both said they have not been able to determine the technical basis to justify the 50-mile recommendation.

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