The earthquake which took place on March 11, 20111 in the Tohuku District, Japan triggered a massive tsunami which eventually caused a nuclear power plant outbreak. The tsunami, 14-metres in height struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which is located in the towns of Okuma and Futaba in the Fukushima Prefecture. This resulted in loss of power to the reactors of Units 1, 2 and 3.Along with this damage, the cooling system failed to work and there were hydrogen explosions which ended in damaging the nuclear plant. The damages also include extensive release of radioactive substances into our atmosphere and our earth. This accident certainly did loads of damages to Japan and its people. There are lots of theories regarding this accident's cause, but it comes down to either natural disaster or man-made disaster. The effects of this accident were tremendous in the aspect of social, ecology, sociology and health hazards. There were steps taken to assist in resolving the issue .In future, to prevent this kind of accident from taking place, proper safety measures should be implemented along with higher level of knowledge in running a nuclear power plant.
A massive earthquake with a magnitude 9.0 and convoying tsunami hit the Tohoku region in eastern Japan on March 11, 2011. It was then that the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant has been facing a calamity due to the power loss that resulted from the meltdown accidents. Three buildings which was housing nuclear reactors were entirely damaged from hydrogen explosions, and in one building, the nuclear reactions became out of control. The nuclear power plant isrun by TEPCO. TEPCO is one of the leading companies in providing electrical power in Japan. They operate about one third of electricity in Japan. Nuclear usage is popular in Japan to produce electricity. It is relatively cheap as compared to using coal and fuel. The Fukushima nuclear plant has six Boiling Water Reactors (BWR) and these reactors were designed by General Electrics (GE). The problem was the tsunami had destroyed certain units of reactors; alternative power source and this caused the cooling system to fail. This report aims to look into the causes of the accident, whether it was naturally occurring or human made. Also there will be a brief description about industrial process and operations of the nuclear power plant. Next, will be the impact of the accident on Japan in certain aspects. Moreover, the actions taken by the corresponding authorities were also discussed. Finally, the effective preventive actions were discussed as well, to avoid this catastrophic disaster in future. This case study is essential in order for me to learn and know about the nuclear power and the consequences of it.
2.1 Case analysis
On March 11, 2011 Japan was hit with a catastrophic accident in the form of a tsunami with a magnitude of 9 and measuring 14 metre. Due to this, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant suffered leakage of radioactive substances into our atmosphere. Even though this accident was initiated by natural causes, the cause can't be regarded as such. It was more of a man-made tragedy that had shocked the entire world. The regulating body and the operator for the nuclear plant were inefficient in performing their duties, which includes an assembly of errors and intractable neglect.
Japan is an earth quake and tsunami prone country which has a long history of this catastrophic events occurring. The authorities governing the nuclear power plant should have known that this will affect the safety level of the plant and appropriate actions should have been taken to ensure a minimal effect in the event that these disasters should happen. The administrative and governing authorities have failed to provide the basic security necessities by means of gauging the possibility of obliteration, organizing for containing collateral damage from such a disaster and implementing proper evacuation plans for the public in the circumstances of a severe radiation leakage.TEPCO, the nuclear plant operator had failed to provide a basic emergency response measures within the required time frame. This would have perhaps managed to contain the situation and less consequence would have incurred.
There was also the case of certain parties which had failed to follow the chain of command. The prime minister's office did not announce a state of emergency in the short time after the accident. The designed emergency response was for the emergency response unit to be the medium of communication between the prime minister's office and the plant operator,TEPCO.This is to ensure that the prime minister's office is well-informed regarding the situation.But in this case, the prime minister's office communicated directly with TEPCO and the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. This clearly shows the incompetence of the authorities to follow the procedures.
2.2 Industrial process and operation
Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Power Plant consists of six nuclear reactors and the types are the boiling water reactors (BWR). These reactors are light water reactors and they were all designed by General Electric (GE).These reactors have a total of 4.7 GW in power to drive the electrical generators. Reactors for units 1, 2 and 6 were supplied by GE whereas units 3 and 5 were supplied by Toshiba and Hitachi supplied the unit 4.
2.2.1 Working Principle of BWR
The BWR's working principles is as such, the reactors heats the water, which then evaporates to steam, and then drives the steam turbine. Then, the steam goes through a series of steam lines and into the turbine generators. These turbines are linked together and there is a long shaft connecting them to the generator. Electricity is produced by the generator, which is transferred to a transformer, which increases the electrical power. In the reactor's core, nuclear fission creates heat and then the cooling water boils, creating steam. After the steam is used to operate a turbine, it flows into condensers which are below the low pressure turbines.Here, the steam is cooled off and changes form into water. Using pumps, the water is pumped in to the reactor vessel. Inside the reactor's core, the water cools off the fuel fabrications by pumps operated with electrical power. In case of emergency, and the plant losses electric power supply, water is supplied by other set of pumps, operated by diesel generators.
2.3 Impact of the Fukushima nuclear disaster
The Fukushima nuclear disaster was the worst accident of a nuclear plant since the Chernobyl incident in 1986.Japan was in a grave shock as it involved matter of life and death. The impact of this accident can be seen in various ways to Japan and its people. Here are the various forms of the impact.
The Japanese society was tremendously affected by this disaster. Those who were living within 20 km radius from the plant, government agencies told them to evacuate hours after the accident. Peoplewithin the radius of 25 -30 km was initially told to stay indoors and not to get out of their houses. This changed when the prime minister's office ordered them to evacuate on 25thMarch. Many people lost their homes and job. Some even had to pay for the mortgage of their destroyed homes.
There was radiation leak from the accident into our earth and the atmosphere. The accident had emitted approximately 900Bq of radioactive substance. This had a vast effect on the area surrounding the site. The soil is apparently contaminated with serious radiation. Large amount of water was used to cool the reactors and later on deposited into the Pacific Ocean. This contaminated the ocean and the aquatic life in it. The fishes in the sea were affected by the radiation caused by the leakage of radioactive elements.
The country's economy was crippled as a result of this disaster. Nuclear energy was used in Japan to generate electric power to facilitate the need of growing industries and the people. The Japanese government had to fork out big amount of cash to repair the damages which the accident caused, the process of evacuation and relocation of the victims and the cost to contain the situation. There were also many foods from this affected place, for uses of the Japanese people. These foods can cause cancer and mutilation if consumed.
The people who were relocated suffered in various ways which affected their health. They suffered mentally and also physically. They were traumatised with the thought of losing their home.Also,it was reported that around 600 people died in the process of relocating. The radiation leakage affected the people around the area, which some experts suggests that they can be exposed to radioactive material. This can cause cancer and different forms of mutilation.
4. Actions implemented
The government agencies along with TEPCO had implemented some actions to sustain the damage caused by the nuclear disaster in Fukushima nuclear plant on March 11, 2011. However, the efficiency of their methods is very much questionable.
4.1 TEPCO's response
TEPCO is the operating company for the nuclear plant in Fukushima when the accident happened. Therefore, TEPCO were responsible in handling the crisis as soon as possible. However, TEPCO's post-accident actions received negative remarks as did the way TEPCO ran the nuclear plant. Shortly after the accident, it was reported that the chairman and president of TEPCO couldn't be contacted, in any way. Also, they both apparently had different views regarding the emergency response structure. This played a part in the delay of TEPCO's reaction towards the accident.
The manner in which TEPCO reacted to the situation reflected the quality of its emergency response manual. According to the manual, in a case of emergency, the reading of the reactor could be observed. However, this proved wrong when the accident occurred in Fukushima power plant as the power failure disrupted monitoring the reading of the reactor.
The designated emergency procedure in communication was abandoned.In case of an emergency, TEPCO staffs at the plant should be communicating with the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) with the off-site center being a medium. Due to the damage by the earthquake, the center had power failure.Hence; the situation at the plant was not conveyed to the prime minister's office nor NISA.This lead to a misunderstanding among the TEPCO's management staffs, NISA and the prime minister's office. The Prime Minister then decided to go to the site and direct the operations there. This consumed the time of the on-site operators, and the planned command chain was broken. If TEPCO did perform as by the rules, all these misunderstandings could have been prevented and all the agencies would have worked together for a common goal - handling the situation.
Even TEPCO's head office did notoffer much of technical assistance. As the condition continued to worsen, Masao Yoshida, the general manager of the Fukushima plant, asked CEO and Vice President Sakae Muto for technical assistance, unfortunately he was in transit from the off-site center at the time and was unable to reply.
4.2 Japanese government's response
The Japanese government's accident response system had a malfunction when the accident occurred. It was designed to be used in times where the earthquakes and tsunamis have destroyed the communication and infrastructures. The accident response system consists of several agencies, the Prime Minister's Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters,the Regional Nuclear Emergency Response and the Secretariat of the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters of NISA. As the system could not function in a preliminary stage, the prime minister's office got involved in the response to the accident.
The participation of the prime minister's office worsened the situation after the accident. Yet, it was the incapability of the Secretariat of the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters to meet and discuss vital information regarding the situation of the accident which had led to this. Furthermore, the governing body for Nuclear Emergency Response did not initiate any vital course of action, such as declaring an evacuation of the people in that area. The incompetency of these agencies to perform their designed duties, and no proper safety measures had worsen the situation at the accident site.
5.0 Effective preventive action
This incident has certainly raised awareness interest in the area of nuclear power plant and the proper measures to maintain its safety level. The government is responsible in educating the public regarding the use of nuclear power as well as working hand to hand with all the agencies involved. This is to ensure that another Fukushima disaster doesn't take place in future. TEPCO should be more efficient in operating the nuclear power plant. The authorities there should look into the reactor's ability to maintain cooling, in situations where the power loss is prolonged. TEPCO should also reconsider the design of the existing reactor and improve it, to endure prolonged power loss. Besides that, the staffs should be more 'occupied' in the sense that they have the proper tools and knowledge in handling an emergency situation. Furthermore, the operators and regulators across the globe should review their nuclear safety actions and be in touch with the public's query regarding nuclear power.
The safety condition of this nuclear power plant should be taken into consideration and proper measures should be taken to enhance the safety level of this power plant. One of the measures which can be implemented is the stress tests. The schematic of this stress test is regarding on analyzing the reaction of the nuclear power plant to enhance its external occurrence. Apart from that, the design of the power plant could beenhanced to sustain in times of emergency and not having a radiation leakage.
The NEA Committee on Nuclear Regulatory Activities has initiated the Senior-level Task Group on Impacts of the Fukushima Disaster. Apart from that, the settings of the emergency equipment need to be reassessed to prevent water from gettingin to the alternative generators. Moreover, the regulator should be checked and serviced to on a frequent basis,checking the safety level in the nuclear power plant to be in a more reliable state. The staffs in the nuclear power plant should also be more intelligent in performing their duties and to make crucial decisions in the nick of time.