The nuclear industry and regulators need to seek information about and prepare for rare hazards such as the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in 2011, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) says in a study released last week.
Rare happenings, both natural and human-caused, have brought about many of the world’s nuclear power plant accidents, including the Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylanvia, the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine, and, most recently, the Fukushima Daiichi catastrophe, NAS says in the report.
“There is some new evidence that some of these events are not as rare as perhaps we thought,” says B. John Garrick, a nuclear consultant and member of the committee that wrote the report.
The nuclear industry and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission should expand their risk analyses to include impacts from major disasters that could damage critical safety features and affect several nuclear plants at once, the report says. It recommends that U.S. nuclear plant owners train plant employees to deal with these events as they unfold, rather than just training them to respond to specific known hazards.
Many of the Fukushima Daiichi problems were created by failure of the plant’s power supply, which prevented employees and emergency responders from monitoring the state of the plant’s reactors. The report recommends improving backup power systems and designing ways to monitor reactor venting, heat buildup, and other changes during emergency situations. Maintaining communication is also critical, it says.