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Government Technology

Under Revised Quake Estimates, Dozens of Nuclear Reactors Face Problems 152

Posted by timothy
from the inspector-gadget-robot-arms dept.
mdsolar (1045926) writes "Owners of at least two dozen nuclear reactors across the United States, including the operator of Indian Point 2, in Buchanan, N.Y., have told the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that they cannot show that their reactors would withstand the most severe earthquake that revised estimates say they might face, according to industry experts. As a result, the reactors' owners will be required to undertake extensive analyses of their structures and components. Those are generally sturdier than assumed in licensing documents, but owners of some plants may be forced to make physical changes, and are likely to spend about $5 million each just for the analysis."
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Under Revised Quake Estimates, Dozens of Nuclear Reactors Face Problems

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  • by mmell (832646) <mike.mell@gmail.com> on Saturday April 05, 2014 @05:35PM (#46672659)
    The architect says this (bridge/power plant/building) will stand for (20/30/40) years with proper maintenance. Then, we should outright replace it. We know it'll cost x dollars now, plus y dollars of the life of the item. Sounds good, so we buy in.

    At the end of the lifespan, somebody who is not that architect says we can't afford to replace a (still perfectly good) piece of infrastructure. Let's agree that if we (inspect more often/inspect in greater detail/upgrade this piece here), we can get (10/20/30) more years of life out of it. Y'know, I can already hear the original architect screaming "That isn't what I said!".

    So now it's forty years later, and something the original architect may not even have seen coming turns Fukushima into a radioactive hotspot - or the bridge in Skagit County collapses - or an 8.5 magnitude earthquake levels the building, killing hundreds. The problem is that it's one thing to spend millions of dollars to have the object in question. Once people are used to it "just being there", nobody wants to spend even more just to keep it. They'd rather spend just a few dollars more and convince themselves that it's better than ever. Good on us for being so clever!

    • That's not how engineering works, or why Fukushima went into meltdown.

      Engineers specify the lifetime for the various parts of their design. They specify under what conditions they are considered worn out and cannot be used any more. Clearly if any worn out part can be replaced then there is no limit to the lifetime of the design. In practice this has proven to be true with things like aircraft and ships, and indeed nuclear plants. What kills them is when the cost of maintenance gets too high and building a new one is cheaper.

      In the case of Fukushima age had nothing to do with it. The problem was damage from the earthquake, damage from the tsunami (and the lack of upgrades that TEPCO were told they needed to do to the sea defence wall), and confusion in the following days. The plant itself was actually better than new, in that it had been upgraded over the years and all parts were properly maintained and functioning as designed. It was just an old design, although it is debatable how much better newer designs would have fared in the same situation.

      Age isn't the problem, bad design is. Fukushima was broken from day one, in fact it was even more vulnerable to major earthquakes than it was the day one hit it all those years later.

    • by thegarbz (1787294)

      No sorry. The architect says this xxxxxx will stand for xxxxxx years with xxxxx specific maintenance.
      Company runs xxxxx for the xxxxx years and then calls 3rd party inspectors to endorse xxxxxx for yyyyyy number of years based on yyyyy maintenance.
      Providing you perform yyyyy maintenance and seek re-endorsement periodically you can continue ad-infinitum.

      Most industrial plants have a design life of around 10 years. Most will happily run for 60 years providing you replace bits that have corroded, monitor corro

      • There are ALWAYS fundamental parts of the structure and inaccessible elements (pipes routing through masses of concrete or running under foundations for instance which are simply impractical to ever replace. In the case of nuclear power plants these things include highly critical parts like steel pressure vessels (which are degraded by neutron capture reactions amongst other things). You may be able to INSPECT these things, but once you deem that they've worn out its just game over, you decommission.

        Another

    • by guruevi (827432)

      Fukushima is not a hot spot. There is a lot of media surrounding it and sure, there may be some "bad things" there but there isn't life threatening Chernobyl-level activity (and even Chernobyl wasn't all that bad). I also wouldn't be concerned about Buchanan, NY getting hit by a tsunami, Long Island and NYC are among a few of the things that have to be passed by (and those would dissipate most/all of the energy). And if a tsunami hit there, well, then, we'd have more serious things to be concerned about lik

    • We don't look in a crystal ball and say "this will last 40 years". We look at expected modes of failure and estimate operational conditions, do a bit of statistics and then have some confidence that it will last 40 years.
      Then reality asserts itself.
      Years later people can come along and know the operational conditions instead of estimating them, look at expected modes of failure, examine parts prone to those failures, do a bit of statistics and then have some confidence that it will last another X years.
      It
    • and they still have the replaced parts of that bridge in Skagit County at pre interstate standards they should of build a new one with room for 3 lanes each way + full shoulders. Or at least build a new 3 lane one way with full shoulders and keep the old one in place as 3 lanes one way + shoulder.

    • by bentcd (690786)

      The architect says this (bridge/power plant/building) will stand for (20/30/40) years with proper maintenance. Then, we should outright replace it. We know it'll cost x dollars now, plus y dollars of the life of the item. Sounds good, so we buy in.
      At the end of the lifespan, somebody who is not that architect says we can't afford to replace a (still perfectly good) piece of infrastructure. Let's agree that if we (inspect more often/inspect in greater detail/upgrade this piece here), we can get (10/20/30) more years of life out of it. Y'know, I can already hear the original architect screaming "That isn't what I said!".

      The original architect necessarily has to be very conservative in his estimates because he has, in your example, 20-40 years of future uncertainty messing up his predictions. He cannot actually know how high the humidity will be, how much the ambient temperature will fluctuate, how much the soil will shift, what sorts of loads the facility will come under, etc., except as some form of probability distribution. And this distribution becomes more uncertain the further into the future he tries to plan it.

      After

  • by mdsolar (1045926) on Saturday April 05, 2014 @05:40PM (#46672693) Homepage Journal
    Humboldt Bay Nuclear Power Plant closed because of this situation. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H... [wikipedia.org]
    • by dj245 (732906)

      Humboldt Bay Nuclear Power Plant closed because of this situation. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H... [wikipedia.org]

      Perhaps partly but that plant was a piddly 63MW. In the 1960s they were building 500MW coal powered plants and rapidly scaling up nuclear power output. By the early 1970s, 800-1000MW nuclear power plants were the standard. The manpower requirements of a big nuclear power plant aren't substantially different from a small nuclear power plant. Humboldt Bay was economically obsolete. Other factors may have provided good excuses but IMO the underlying problem was the output was no longer competitive.

  • Lessons from Fukushima may keep two thirds of Japan's nuclear plants closed. http://www.reuters.com/article... [reuters.com] It could most nuclear power is a bad risk and should be written off.
  • Seriously, they would be better off with new reactors that can be built in a factory, installed quickly, can up their current stash of waste, and is much cheaper than dealing with these old unique reactors.
    • We need a bit more R&D before we get a reactor that worth mass producing. Why plan to build 100 of design X over thirty years when design Y developed only five years later shows far more promise before the first of design X is even operating? Then there's the monoculture problem that hit French reactors a couple of times where they all had to be shut down at once to fix design faults, so some sort of middle ground makes sense.
      Of course nuclear lobby groups killed off civilian nuclear R&D because i
      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        Why plan to build 100 of design X over thirty years when design Y developed only five years later shows far more promise before the first of design X is even operating?

        The same way that everything else gets built, it takes more than five years to get approval to make the thing you'll design five years later. You build now what you can build now and build later what you can build later.

        Of course nuclear lobby groups killed off civilian nuclear R&D because it was a treat to their investment in existing designs and the threat of a different fuel shortening the commercial life of their current plants (a shift to thorium and new plants running it had the potential to prevent the old plants competing and the entrenched nuclear lobby didn't like that).

        This is why we can't have nice things.

        Maybe in a few years we can buy reactors from India where they still carry out civilian nuclear R&D and do not have that paticular political roadblock.

        A few years is plenty of time to pass a law against that.

        • Nice of you to chime in to "correct" me, but it's may be worth looking at a bit of the history of nuclear power plants first before going on about weird stuff like "approval time". There are many physical reasons why construction of large projects such as these take a very long time even given a design, funding and a decision to go ahead - close to ten years for a thermal power station of any kind. Also you seem to have missed the point that we do not have any generation four reactors actually built so th
          • Actually, we have built gen IV reactors. Just not in many decades (sad).
            BUT, the thorium reactors will take time. I just wish that B&W or GA would take this on, if the feds fund it.
            Sadly, between the GOP pushing fossil fuel and the dems fighting nukes, I suspect that we will get nowhere fast.
      • Actually, mPower will be installed by 2020. [wikipedia.org] My guess is that if we helped them along, they could be ready within 3-4 years.

        What I would really like to see happen is for us to provide some grant money to build thorium at GA or mPower. Then simply require that they have similar control rooms, generators, etc. That will make it easier for training, etc.

        As to issues such as having a design flaw, by getting 2 very different reactor types, we solve that. In fact, ideally, we would put BOTH reactors on the s
        • by dbIII (701233)

          My guess is that if we helped them along, they could be ready within 3-4 years

          You may be right. The synroc I saw in 1988 was effectively identical to the finished product used in real nuclear waste management at an industrial scale for the first time a couple of years ago. The problem in the time between was getting funding for testing - which was taken as implying that existing methods of waste management (eg. keep stuff in pools of water indefinitely) were not perfect. Similarly you are writing about s

          • grant money to build thorium at GA or mPower

            That would be a bad idea and just a way to burn money unless they bring in some existing expertise due to the differences. A university or similar with the people who have already been working on such technology associated with GA, mPower or whoever is a different story. There's no point giving money to develop a new technology to the same people that squashed it last time - they have no real incentive to succeed and they do have an incentive for it to fail since it would compete with their existing products.

            Hmmm. I think I should have worded this differently. The idea is that the company like filbe does the R&D, engineering, etc work, BUT, the final construction of it goes to either GA or B&W. With this approach, it is one line of computers, one line of generators, one line of cooling, etc. that are fully debugged. The only real difference would be the reactors.
            But, yeah, I agree with you on having them do the work. I will say that GA already has done throium and does NOT want to kill. Look up ft. s

            • by dbIII (701233)
              People in GA were among those that drove the leader of the last thorium project out of the nuclear industry.
              • did not know that. Wonder why they would do that. They were the ones with the most thorium experience. In fact, ft. st. vrain's reactor was a great success. The real issue was the back-end.
                • by dbIII (701233)
                  The money available in the sector has attracted people like flies in addition to rampant nepotism at the management level. Such human flies go for the short term and would not even know where to start on the simplest of technical issues while the idiot nephews are just there to keep seats warm and watch the money roll in. Any change is a possible threat to the money flow to such people.
                  That's why the hope lies in India (ironically less of a corruption problem than the US nuclear industry) or in startups c
                • by dbIII (701233)

                  In fact, ft. st. vrain's reactor was a great success

                  Yes a lot of cool stuff was designed in the 1960s. The GA of today would not take a risk like that even if the government paid them for it because it would challenge some of their revenue sources.

  • The official report of The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission [nirs.org] reveals the collusion that took place with the regulator so improvements would not be put in place. This happened because the beleif system in the safety of Nuclear Power affected all of the safety proposals put forward within and by TEPCO. In other words a 'systemic' issue where the belief that a reactor is safe to be run to capacity, as opposed to a safety culture that certifies it to do so, is the main issue.

    A g

    • by MrKaos (858439)
      Just a minor correction here, I meant "put forward within and for TEPCO".
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      The official report of The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission reveals the collusion that took place with the regulator so improvements would not be put in place.

      I'm not going to read it, because I'm lazy; did they discuss the fact that was an absolute shit place to put the plant in the first place, and that they knew this fact when GE chose the site, and the US government forced them to put it where GE said, or that the Mark I was unsafe by design due to the spent fuel rod storage?

      • by MrKaos (858439)

        The official report of The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission reveals the collusion that took place with the regulator so improvements would not be put in place.

        I'm not going to read it, because I'm lazy; did they discuss the fact that was an absolute shit place to put the plant in the first place, and that they knew this fact when GE chose the site, and the US government forced them to put it where GE said, or that the Mark I was unsafe by design due to the spent fuel rod storage?

        No. A riverbed was a seriously braindead place to put Fukushima.

        The Mk I had several basis design issues, however these issues were made fatal by Tepco's criminal negligence. The two dasis design issues were: Gate pair seals in the spent fuel containment pool and reactor vessel exceed 70psi internal pressure. Both had a consequence of producing hydrogen and both were exposed because TEPCO did not maintain power to S class facilities (that contain radio isotopes) in accordance with the siesmic design guidli

  • by flyingfsck (986395) on Sunday April 06, 2014 @12:47AM (#46674233)

    The US nuke designs are very weak when compared to the French. The French containment buildings are incredibly strong concrete and steel domes, built on top of huge shock absorbers.

    Penny wise, pound foolish...

  • 100% of US nuclear reactors have a spent fuel problem: there is nowhere to dispose of it.

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