There needs to be tougher nuclear safety rules to be set and enforced worldwide so countries can prevent another accident like Three Mile Island, Chernobyl-4 in the former USSR in 1986, and Japan’s Fukushima-1 station this year, said a group of experienced nuclear industry and nuclear power regulation wags.
On the international front, they would have to debate whether they should start up a new international regulatory agency that could issue binding safety standards and do compulsory inspections, or whether they should emphasize national responsibilities for nuclear safety “in combination with rigorous international peer reviews.”
In a statement entitled “Never Again: An Essential Goal for Nuclear Safety,” and a cover letter to IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano, the group said safety requirements for existing and new nuclear power plants must undergo a thorough review, using modern tools, in light of the events at Fukushima-1 and all necessary measures taken to ensure they can withstand extreme challenges.
This included review of requirements for plants built to earlier safety standards, in view of prospects for their extended operation, they said, calling for “a more internationally harmonized approach in this area.”
Personnel must also undergo better training in accident management, they said, adding this is especially crucial for newcomer nuclear power countries with no previous experience in the technology.
“We are confident that only nuclear power that avoids being a threat to the health and safety of the population and to the environment is acceptable to society,” they wrote in the five-page statement.
Three of six reactor units at Fukushima-1 suffered core melt, and four spent fuel pools suffered from a loss of coolant that would have exposed highly radioactive spent fuel to the atmosphere, following a March 11 earthquake and tsunami that far exceeded the design basis of the plant.
Japanese nuclear safety authorities on April 11 uprated the accident from Level 5 to Level 7 on the seven-level International Nuclear Event Scale, indicating a catastrophic accident with broad offsite health and/or environmental consequences. Before, only Chernobyl earned the INES Level 7 classification.
Jukka Laaksonen, director general of the Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Institute and signatory of the letter to Amano on behalf of the “ad hoc group” of former industry and regulatory officials, said they do not know all the information about what led to the Fukushima accident.
One thing he did say was the potential impact of a tsunami was not included in Japanese nuclear safety regulations until 2006, and Tepco had assessed the design-basis tsunami for Fukushima-1 only last year, concluding the maximum height of such a wave would be 5.7 meters. The March 11 tsunami reached between 14 and 15 meters, according to provisional assessments since the accident. Experts agree based on information available so far that the plant’s reactor units shut down as designed after the earthquake, but the tsunami took them into uncharted territory for which Tepco was not ready.