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Long Blackouts Pose Risk to US Reactors


Long before it happened in Japan, regulators in the United States knew that a similar, days-long power failure, whatever the cause, could lead to a radioactive leak in this country.

Alan Kolaczkowski, Nuclear Engineer: Looking at the blackout situations and losses of all power, we know that once those pumps finally die off — I pointed out that DC-driven, steam-driven pumps can operate for maybe like half a day — then you no longer can provide cooling water to the core.  Ultimately the core can overheat, a lot of that heat would be deposited to the containment, and if in a long term you’re not able to get the heat out of the containment, you can end up with releases to the environment.  The plants that I understand are in Japan are similar in design to the Peach Bottom plant that I studied here in the United States.  They are both BWR, I believe 4, Mark I-type designs, so the designs are certainly similar.  So, I would expect that the kinds of issues that the Japanese have would be similar to what we studied with regard to Peach Bottom here in the United States. . . .  Are there additional measures that perhaps can and should be taken to deal with a very prolonged loss of power such as Japan has had? . . .  To be able to say that we are adequately defended to be able to have a loss of power for days or even weeks — maybe that’s something that we should look into.

This video was released by Associated Press on 29 March 2011.  Cf. “What are the odds of a SBO leading to disaster at a US reactor?  Higher than you might think” (Dave Lochbaum, “Nuclear ‘Station Blackout’,” All Things Nuclear, 17 March 2011).

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