Fukushima’s Emergency Power: Design to fail.

More and more, Japan’s Asahi Shimbun news organization has begun to take the lead in pressing for answers to sticky questions arising from the Fukushima crisis.  In this article from June 17, 2011, they address the question of why the Daiichi NPP disaster plan was so awful.

Since we are all trying to absorb so much text these days, and the article is long, here are some of the high points:

The accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant following the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami of March 11 quickly worsened and spun out of control because the U.S.-styled design for its emergency power sources had been adopted without modification 40 years ago–a source at Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant operator, told The Asahi Shimbun.

In the U.S. design, emergency power generators are installed underground to guard against tornadoes and hurricanes. The Fukushima plant was, however, swamped when the tsunami rose more than 10 meters above the normal sea level along the coast and knocked out its power supply in the blink of an eye.

General Electric Co. and other U.S. enterprises took the helm in building the Fukushima No. 1 plant’s No. 1 reactor, which was TEPCO’s first nuclear reactor. The contract was called “full turn-key,” which meant that TEPCO had only to turn the key to start operations. All technical questions were left to the U.S. contractors.

Get the template together and boilerplate them out.  Doesn’t it sound eerily reminiscent of the BP Deepwater Horizon’s Gulf of Mexico oil platform where the disaster plan made sure to mention that no walruses would be harmed by any spill?  The Japanese must have understood this, so why wasn’t that obvious difference in potential crises addressed?

We built them the way they told us to build them, because they said they wouldn’t guarantee safety unless we built them according to the U.S. specifications,” recalled a former senior official at the former Ministry of International Trade and Industry.

It sounds like there are still the constant liability problems which are dominating discussions that should be dominated by a search for solutions.

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