Sunday, April 03, 2011

Fukushima containment performance or failure from GE PR

My response to GE paper on containment performance. GE seems to be saying the containments performed like champs, and that they did not perform worse than the Three Mile Island containments which did NOT blow sky high:

Uh, the upper floor of reactor one completely blew out and the roof fell down onto the top level so there is no access until somebody/thing clear out the debris.

Reactor three top floor and roof are completely destroyed in hydrogen explosion that sent the roof about 500 ft into the air.

Reactor four explosion blew out roof panels, and destroyed concrete walls around nearly entire top level, with parts of lower levels. No word on damage to spent fuel pool.

All four reactors hit temperatures hot enough to essentially destroy fuel integrity and send enough radioactive iodine to be measured in milk in north america.

None of the concrete containment domes "blew up" spewing steam with radioactive badness across the globe, whether at "harmful" levels or not.

None of the reactors was designed to sustain such a failure - they are operating beyond all designed procedures, as described in the white paper, they were not designed to survive such a failure, and they have NOT survived in any manageable form besides improvised procedures such as the concrete pump. No procedure exists for disposing of radioactive water, nor for stopping release of radioactive steam / smoke or cooling reactor cores or fuel pools.

Japan deserves a big apology for America and GE for selling them plants like these even if we thought they were safe at the time.
Mark I Containment Facts and The New York Times

The New York Times published an online story last night and an accompanying graphic about the Mark I boiling water reactor (BWR) containment system used in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The story contains errors and distorts the facts about the technology with misleading comparisons of the BWR design and that of the pressurized water reactor (PWR).

The story claims that the BWR design is a “simpler containment.” The language suggests that simpler means weaker, which is not the case. In fact, there are containment design requirement differences. A PWR operates at over 2,000 pounds per square inch (psi). Conversely, a BWR operates at about half that – around 1,000 psi . In the event of a leak inside the containment system of a PWR, there are higher pressures that cause faster and larger volumes of instantaneous steam to be released. Therefore the containment has to have more free space in order to absorb the larger volumes of steam that are released.

Alternatively, a BWR operates at lower pressure and doesn’t have the same acceleration during a steam loss. Because the pressure loss is not as fast, the containment is not required to have as much free space and can be smaller in size. In either case, both designs are reviewed by the same regulatory processes – the same rules and the same requirements.

The Times also compares Three Mile Island and Fukushima, saying that the PWR reactor at Three Mile Island withstood a hydrogen blast. In fact, the hydrogen blast at Three Mile Island occurred within the primary containment. The hydrogen blast at Fukushima occurred in the reactor building – which is the secondary and not the primary containment. The indirect comparison between the blast at Three Mile Island and the blast at Fukushima is misleading.

Their graphic also confuses primary and secondary containment systems. They write: “Calculating how much heat needed to be disposed of, and with the torus to do that job, GE persuaded regulators that only a modest outer containment building was necessary.”

In fact:

The torus, which is a large, rounded suppression pool that sits next to the reactor core, is not the outer containment, it is primary containment.

By design, the outer containment is not a pressure containing building.

The reactor building (secondary containment) is kept at a slight vacuum to limit radioactivity release during refueling operations and during certain design scenarios.

The design pressures (meaning the pressures that each containment system is designed to withstand) of a BWR and a PWR primary containment are similar.
The Times also mischaracterizes the torus in a later description in the second paragraph. In fact, the torus is not kept at partial vacuum. It’s kept at ambient pressure. The secondary containment is kept at slight vacuum for reasons listed above.

The Times cites GE as one of its sources. GE did speak to them but the information they present is wrong.

Without a doubt, these issues are incredibly complex but that makes it all the more important for The New York Times to treat these issues with care.

Click to enlarge.

Learn more in these GE Reports stories:
* Setting the Record Straight on Mark I Containment History
* The Mark I Containment System in BWR Reactors
* An Update on GE Disaster Relief Efforts in Japan
* Facts on the Nuclear Energy Situation in Japan (Update)

Tagged as: Japan, Mark I, nuclear

Posted on March 19, 2011Print | Share this
Brent Weesner says:
March 20, 2011 at 10:55 am
If we really have to react on a Sunday morning to technical innaccuracies
in a non-technical newspaper, then we need to rethink the PR gameplan.
There is no disputing that TMI and Japan have had nuclear disasters.
Technical innacuracies in reporting will happen. I read them every day not
just in the public realm but in our own internal leadership publications.
Sure, as an engineer, it gets under my skin when Liberal Arts majors try to
act like they understand what they are talking about. Let it go.

Step away from the computer or flip to the Want Ads. GE has thicker skin than this.
If the technology is wanted, we’ll be there to sell it. You aren’t going to sway public
opinion with technical arguments.

FYI, when I was working for GE making nuclear weapon components and INFACT
won the Oscar for Best Documentary (I believe it was 1991) and shouted “boycot GE”
at the acceptance speech, we did not respond. Right move. Learn the lesson.

Anne Murray says:
March 20, 2011 at 10:57 am
Many thanks to the GE communications team working around the clock to communicate the facts regarding the Fukushima plant. You are doing a great job!

Irwin Mortman says:
March 20, 2011 at 7:26 pm
I worked for GE in the nuclear naval program which uses pressurized water reactors (PWR). Although the design of the PWR and the BWR are quite different I avoided giving the news media any serious credence. I was concerned the news media was using speculations in their reporting. There’s no doubt that providing any credible information of either the PWR or the BWR individually or as comparison s not straight forward task.

Thank you for providing credible information.

Francis Azzarto says:
March 21, 2011 at 2:42 pm
I worked in the same Naval Nuclear program that Irwin Mortman worked in and as much the subject of reactor designs, safety and risks are very difficult subjects it serves GE well to correct misinformation rather than ignor inaccurate reporting in such a major newspaper as the NYTimes. The fact is the reactors in Japan sustained the worst possible combination of events and still are maintaining some level of viable integrity. It speaks well for the GE design and the people and technology of Japan. As engineers it our responsibility to educate the public and not write ignorance. We have come a very long way from the technology of the 1960′s and 70′s and the public derserves to be educated with the facts of the tremendous progress.

Michael Cain says:
March 25, 2011 at 2:33 pm
It is quite evident that all that can be done is being incorporated in this disaster situation. It would behove the media to underego a specific class to underestand what it is they are trying to purvey to the public. would you let a domestic cat handler try to explain a wild lions motivations and actions.Not exactly the same scenario but a typical comparison. Thank you all involved Engineers.

Barry Woods says:
March 29, 2011 at 5:54 pm
Whether or not public opinion is altered by correcting the reported technical inaccuricies is irrelevant. Correct information needs to be given to the public, and GE has done just that. The media has not.

Often media coverage is erroneous, as Mr. Weesner (see his comments below) suggest because of the lack of scientfic/engineering education by many of those employed in the media.

At other times reporting is purposefully biased, by many in the media, to “sensationilize” their stories and thus attract readers/viewers/listeners. In he case of nuclear energy production, they can get by with this unprofessional form of journalism due to the public’s general lack of technical knowedge.

It is commendable that General Electric corrects reported inaccuracies, with regard to the nuclear facilities in Japan, as well as the current state of the situation.

It is only through proper knowledge of nuclear energy that the public can be induced to substitute reason over unwarranted fears.

Michael says:
April 1, 2011 at 11:40 am
Why SFP (spent fuel pool) is left outside the containment ?
The hydrogen explosion can destroy or damage the SFP also the cooling systems for SFP ?
How can be possible this big mistake in design ?

LT Brown says:
April 2, 2011 at 11:48 am
The media has persisted in saying it was the reactor when in fact it was the Spent Fuel Pool areas which have deflagrated. The error in the design for the SFP design falls with Hitachi and TEPCO as such a structure over the SFP in this country would get past the request for construction. The entire set of facilities sit on volcanic sand fill, not real solid foundation into the bed rock. Again the Japanese government and TEPCO licensing issue and responsibility. The facility being down so low near the coast line where they know a Tsunami and high water from Typhons (like a hurricane) is very probable thus one doesn’t put back up power systems on ground level outside the main building. These are Non-reactor issues in design done by TEPCO and their government regulatory agency (which has very little impact and nothing like the US NRC). Typically in this country, a back up power system from the main grid is from another offsite location which would not be affected by the same event (part of the safety basis analysis). Onsite backup generators are usually in more protected structures on on thop of the Aux Building, Key words are ‘would not be affected by the same event’. Looking at the issues affecting the situation in Japan, GE has done its work on making the reators safely shut down. I would wonder why the TEPCO management would not accept the intergrated analysis of the GE folks to make sure key elements for backup power were more robust and designed for such catastrophic events for the coastal site the reactors were placed. I think the future of reactor design will have the same protections as in US PWR facilities and future overseas units sold by companies in this country will consider the global impacts of localized events and insist that the entire facility be design more like the ones in the US. The SFP facilities will have similar safety structures, mitigation systems for SFP fracture/leakage. Major lesson learned here is that in the US and other countries we start to reprocess spent fuel assemplies as quickly as possible as not to have such exposure risk as has happened in Japan. The laws are on the US books but the Congressional powers have thwarted the implementation of the 1978 law and the $33 billion tax collected for reprocessing needs to be returned to its assigned account, and the IOU entitlement bunch must quit siphoning off such legally assigned monies. These funds provide for the DOE facilities with the dissolution, reprocessing, and waste encapsulation infrastructure to be modified to process the spent fuels from the ever expanding US SF assembly pools, wet storage and dry storage facilties onsite at the US reactors. We now see the real potential for a catstrophic event anywhere and ignoring the potential risk (both onsite and off-site as well as globally) is not a prudent path. Along side of this is the imperative learned that all facility safety systems adequacy need to be reviewed technically from an integrated event perspective often and upgraded often for the entire power facility.

Klaus says:
April 2, 2011 at 9:36 pm
There have been some very nice detailed discussions in the Economist and Bloomberg BusinessWeek. It would be quite informative were General Electric to discuss about the relative merits of passive safety mechanisms plus revolutionary technologies to migrate from water as cooling & moderation materials.

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