May 27, 2011
A senior official of the U.S. nuclear regulatory agency said Thursday he had believed there was a “strong likelihood” of serious core damage and core melt in reactors at the Fukushima nuclear plant in the days after the March disaster in Japan.
“There were numerous indications of high radiation levels that can only come from damaged fuel at those kinds of levels, so we felt pretty confident that there was significant fuel damage at the site a few days into the event,” said Bill Borchardt, executive director for operations of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
His agency also had “suspicions” about the spent fuel pool conditions, Borchardt told reporters after a speech at the Japan Society in New York.
Based on that assumption, he said, the commission recommended U.S. residents in Japan remain outside an 80-kilometer radius of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, as opposed to the Japanese government’s directives for people living in a 20-km radius to evacuate.
Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the troubled Fukushima complex, said Tuesday — more than two months after the disaster — meltdowns may have occurred in the cores of the Nos. 2 and 3 reactors in addition to the meltdown already found to have taken place at the No. 1 reactor.
In the speech, Borchardt said that since the magnitude 9.0 quake and ensuing tsunami hit northeastern Japan on March 11, his agency has carried out a review of the 104 operating nuclear plants across the United States and confirmed their safety.
“The initial findings of the short-term task force is that we have not identified any issues that undermine our confidence in the continued safety of the U.S. plants or in the emergency planning for those facilities although it is entirely expected that they will recommend some actions for evaluation that would enhance either safety and/or preparedness activities,” he said.
He said the commission would issue a short-term report in July, reviewing the Fukushima crisis and lessons learned, to evaluate the regulatory agency’s approach in the United States. The review began a month ago, he added.
“We don’t have all the information that we will need to reach absolute final conclusions but to use whatever information we have today in order to decide whether or not we need to take regulatory action right now…to ensure public heath and safety.”
After the release of the short-term report, the commission will also compile a longer-term report, which Borchardt anticipates may take anywhere from six months to over a year, to “look at specific technical issues in more details” and “have more in depth stakeholder involvement both in the identification and resolution of the issues.”
The latter report will also look at other natural phenomena, including hurricanes, floods and tornadoes, as well as plant responses to such phenomena, and will evaluate the U.S. plants’ abilities to withstand a long-term loss of electricity like the one that hampered the Fukushima plant after the disaster, he said.
This article was posted: Friday, May 27, 2011 at 3:32 am