This paper and commentary were first published in the Imperial Engineer, Issue Fifteen, Autumn 2011. The Imperial Engineer is the periodical magazine published for members of The City & Guilds and The Royal School of Mines Associations at Imperial College, London University, UK. This paper, together with discussion and our comments, is republished here with permission, March 2013. Copyright remains with authors Bill McAuley and Robin Grimes.

Editor's Note | Fukushima - by Bill McAuley and Robin Grimes
The Earthquake and its Immediate Aftermath  | Present Status | Root Causes | Then and Now
Health Scare Exaggerated | We Need Nuclear | 1000 Deaths | Editor's Postscript

Root Causes

It would be very presumptuous of this paper to pronounce too far on this topic but some general comments can be made. In spite of their age, the reactors survived an earthquake of unprecedented magnitude. However, the cooling systems did fail and the plans to deal with this eventuality were not adequate, as evidenced by the ad hoc nature of the initial response.

An obvious deficiency was the installation of the emergency pumping equipment at ground level. Since the probable consequence of an offshore earthquake would be a major tsunami, it is inconsistent to design reactors to survive severe seismic events but not carry this thinking through to the auxiliary systems. There is, however, a more subtle factor at work. During the last several decades, the international climate of antipathy towards new generation plants has encouraged extending the life of existing facilities. At the same time, cost pressures have tended to discourage capital improvements at these facilities.

Figure 2: Westinghouse's passive containment cooling system.
Figure 2: Westinghouse's passive containment cooling system.
Present Status  Present Status

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