Tuesday 13 November 2007

Don't blame me

I was directed to the website of the group the SNP is a member of in the European Parliament (Green European Free Alliance) in my search for information on accidents at nuclear power stations.

I found the front page of the website a trifle disturbing, but that was only a design flaw. The report I was looking for was a little more upsetting.

Residual Risk - an account written by scientist types of events in nuclear power plants since Chernobyl (1986). I know you'll want to read all 116 pages yourself, but here's a couple of highlights (look away now if you don't want to know the score):

There have been some 3,000 events covered in the Incident Reporting System between 1980 and 2002 (I know, they say the report covers the time since Chernobyl and then take information from before). There are only 435 operating reactors covered by the system, so you can call it 136 incidents a year, or almost 7 incidents per reactor, or 1 incident per reactor every three years. Taiwan and Italy do not report on the system.

Of course, we might be safe as houses because there is no clear definition of what 'events' should be reported - just that “Events reported to the IRS are those of Safety significance for the international community in terms of causes and lessons learned.”

There's plenty more information in that report, but I particularly liked the story about Three Mile Island (a reactor famous for a reactor meltdown in 1979)
On Sunday, 7 February 1993, just before 7 in the morning, a vehicle came down the exit road at speed, passed the security booth (no barrier), straight into the Protected Area, smashed through the entry gates, through a corrugated metal door and into the turbine building where it smacked into and damaged a resin liner and the insulation on a steam line.

About 10 minutes later security guards approached the vehicle but couldn't find the driver. A Site Area Emergency was declared

The plant had a phone-based pager system, located outside of the control room in the shift supervisor’s office that could automatically notify State and local officials and the utility’s Initial Response Emergency Organization (off-site emergency personnel) in the event of an emergency, but the shift supervisor on duty in the control room had locked the control room fire doors when the incident started.

They tried to manually make all notifications from a telephone in the control room, but the numbers they needed were in the shift supervisor’s office, so they unlocked the doors, went into the office and picked up the list of numbers to call from the control room *instead of pushing the button on the emergency pager system.

Four hours after he entered the site, the driver was discovered hiding in a small space under the condenser pit in the turbine building which had been searched hours earlier, but was done with a brighter torch the second time. He was a mentally ill man who had recently been discharged from a psychiatric hospital and who apparently said before the event that he was “going to do something to become famous.”

The NRC sent an Incident Investigation Team to investigate the event and concluded that
“the event resulted in no actual adverse reactor safety consequences and was of minimal safety
significance.” - so that's OK then.

This event was not regarded as an abnormal occurrence, so it wasn't logged under the ASP programme.

Safe at last, safe at last, thank the atom, we're safe at last!

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