NRA began their review of nuclear safety related to volcano’s this week. This would be considered a good thing for a country full of volcanoes.
The first meeting exposed some inconvenient problems with the notion of nuclear power plants and volcanoes peacefully co-existing.
“The Nuclear Regulation Authority, or NRA, guidelines require nuclear power plant operators to take specific actions if volcanic activity could affect operations. The actions include taking nuclear fuel out of the facilities.”
TEPCO has been trying to remove the spent fuel out of unit 4 for going on a year before they will have completed the task. The reactor was empty of fuel at the time of the disaster. Fresh spent nuclear fuel is usually considered safe to remove from the spent fuel pool after about 5 years. So removing fuel from the reactor and into a cask to actually remove it from a nuclear plant is not a quick process. There is also the matter of available casks to remove what is sometimes thousands of spent fuel assemblies. TEPCO cited just this year that they are still fighting a shortage of spent fuel storage casks. These casks have to be fabricated and require fairly high standards of inspection and quality control since they are expected to safely hold spent nuclear fuel for upwards of 20 years. This press release from Areva shows how slow the cask fabrication process can be.
Vulcanologists at the NRA meeting expressed the real problem with the current NRA plan.
“One scientist said there is usually advance warning of major eruptions. But he says it takes years to remove nuclear fuel and this would not leave enough time for removal. Another cited the absence of standards for determining what kind of phenomena indicate the possibility of a major volcanic eruption.”
Sakurajima, 50 km from the Sendai nuclear plant (the one Japan intends to restart first) is an active volcano. The volcano currently sits with an orange alert and restrictions against anyone going near it. The volcano has been considerably active since 1955 with 500 eruptions in 2013.
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