Friday 25 January 2013

New Safety Rules

Hello again
Hidden amongst the big news - the Algerian hostage crisis (10 Japanese have been killed) and the new government's economic policy (Abenomics), there have been some important announcements regarding strict new safety standards for Japan's nuclear power stations. The new Nuclear Regulation Authority is flexing its muscles and has made recommendations in three areas: upgrading facilities to withstand earthquake, tsunami or terrorist attack; re-evaluating the risk from seismic faults and tsunami; and new rules for evacuation.

Previously, safety had been left to the electric companies but the new measures are to be mandatory. The recommendations are to be reviewed by independent experts over the next few months (the authority is eager to be seen to be neutral) and are due to be implemented in July. Obviously this will determine whether the 48 closed plants can be brought back into operation. The two reactors operating at the moment have been told they can keep going until they shut down for routine maintenance in September.
Briefly the recommendations are:
  • facilities able to withstand earthquake and tsunami estimated at maximum values (not 'improbable' values), or the impact of a jet airliner
  • in the event of such an accident, mobile generators to provide power for 24 hours and enough fuel and supplies to keep cooling going for a week without outside help 
  • back up earthquake-proof control rooms (at Fukushima the offsite centre was only 7 kms away, inside the evacuation zone, and not radiation-proof so it was useless)
  • filtration equipment for pressure vents to prevent radioactive materials being emitted
  • fire-proof electric cables, measures to protect against cyber attack
The measures are said to be strict by international standards. I wonder if Hitachi will use them when it builds 4 to 6 new reactors in England and Wales over the next decades. In November last year Hitachi bought Horizon Nuclear Power, a company formed in 2009 when the UK's NDA (Nuclear Decommissioning Authority) sold two sites to two German companies RWE npower and E.ON. They abandoned the project when Angela Merkel decided after Fukushima that Germany would not build any more new nuclear power stations. 

In fairness, the UK is the only country in the world to have legally binding carbon targets: 34% cut by 2020 (over 1990 levels) and 80% cut by 2050, so at the moment some new nuclear plants are required to replace the old ones being decommissioned. 

That first year I wouldn't listen to those who commented on this blog that nuclear was needed to cut CO2 emissions. I'm still not sure. When I think of the havoc caused here, my gut feeling is to get rid of every nuclear plant in the world. But that's simplistic. Climate change is a ticking time bomb and action needs to be taken now. Stricter standards for nuclear? And more research on renewables? Is that the way forward?
Sorry, it's late, and I'm rambling.
Good night

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