Back in January I wrote post, badly, about a problem with Nuclear Power Plants that no one seemed to be addressing which was that the huge amount of water needed for a Nuclear Power Plant to operate limits where they should be placed to the coastlines of the Oceans and Great Lakes. Going Nuclear
The nuclear crisis in Japan underscores this problem in a way I hadn't even thought of.
As of today it looks like the Japanese reactors will be brought back under control thanks to first of all 50 engineers who volunteered their lives (they've taken lethal amounts of radiation in order to keep the plant from melting down). Second to the huge amount of sea water that the fire departments and army were able to pour onto the reactors.
Because the reactors were built right on the coastline the Japanese were able to flood the reactors keeping them cool enough not to meltdown while power could be restored to the cooling pumps. Because of this action it looks like the high level radioactive fallout will be contained to an 18 mile radius. (This is all subject to change as the reports from there change hourly).
Looking at the Japanese Nuclear Crisis, it seems obvious that any new reactor built in the US (or anywhere really) should take the knowledge learned from this crisis and apply it to the design.
Unfortunately, from what I am hearing, this is not the case. They are looking at what happens if an Earthquake of historic size hits a reactor but that doesn't address the two basic problems.
First, the current reactors have active pumping systems to cool the core, so if something goes wrong and electricity can't power the pumps you get a situation like you have in Japan. It doesn't take a historic earthquake to make the pumps lose power. The HB Robinson plant in South Carolina was shut down twice in six months because the contractor used the wrong size electrical wire when upgrading the pumps.
Any new reactor needs to have a passive control system to cool the core in case of an emergency, or we will get another crisis like Japan.
Second, there needs to be a system in place to cool the entire plant in case of disaster. In Japan they came up with the plan to flood the reactor with seawater on the spot. They should have had the equipment in place for last ditch effort when the plant was built.
I am fairly pro-nuclear power, it has a lot to offer, but in order for it to be a viable alternative to fossil fuels these are seem fundamental engineering problems that need to be addressed.
By Darrell B. Nelson author of I KILLED THE MAN THAT WASN'T THERE