April 19, 2011

JAPAN: Retired US nuclear engineer, 61, worried by lack of news from Fukushima

PRATT, Kansas / The Pratt Tribune / Highlight /  April 19, 2011

By Gale Rose

The recent silence from Japan about conditions at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility that was damaged in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami has a local man wondering just how severely the facility has been damaged.

The one thing he does know is that whatever is going on inside the reactors is very serious.

“It’s been kind of quiet out of Japan. This is not good,” said Eddie Petrowsky, nuclear engineer, area farmer and former employee of the Morris, Ill., Dresden No. 2 Nuclear reactor. “They’ve got some major problems.”

Petrowsky worked for two and half years as the lead nuclear engineer at the Morris facility, which is of the same type as the Fukushima facility, so he is familiar with its construction and operation.

When the earthquake and tsunami hit, Petrowsky watched with great interest how the facility would handle the crisis and control the threat of radiation contamination.

The Japanese are getting close to a point where they may have to turn each of the damaged reactors into a sand and concrete sarcophagus similar to the sarcophagus at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine following an explosion on April 26, 1986, Petrowsky said.

The people working at the accident site have been exposed to a lot of radiation and Petrowsky said that survivability was probably slim and the workers would obviously have a lot of health issues.

He wants to know why the Japanese didn’t bring in stand by generators. The country makes generators, American Navy vessels were in the area and had generators so why weren’t generators brought in, Petrowsky said.
Close call
The Morris, Ill., plant where Petrowsky worked suffered a unique accident before Petrowsky worked there that could have led to a disaster if not for a backup system.
The plant had two separate sources of outside electricity plus a backup diesel engine in case of power failure from both outside sources as required in U.S. nuclear facilities. A dual failure was never supposed to happen but it did.
A tornado wiped out the power feed on one side of the plant then missed the plant and took out the other power supply on the other side of the plant. But unlike Fukushima, the diesel generator kicked in and kept the water circulating and cool.
When the earthquake and tsunami hit the reactors went into shutdown or scram. Water is supposed to be pumped continuously to keep the reactors cool but both the outside power and backup power failed. It was never assumed that the plant would lose coolant but when all the power failed that is exactly what happened.

Without those systems the critical coolant water that helps produce steam and keeps the reactor temperate at a safe level did not circulate and the reactors and the fuel pool began to heat up, Petrowsky said.

“They were worried about the water level,” Petrowsky said.

The loss of water caused dangerous heat to build up leading to hydrogen gas explosions that damaged three of the plant’s six reactors.

Each of the nuclear reactors at the site has three containment vessels. The reactor is a containment vessel itself. Around the reactor is the primary containment vessel and around that is the secondary containment  
vessel, Petrowsky said.

There's more from Ed Petrowsky

One thing that won’t happen at the plant is a reactor exploding like a nuclear bomb. A reactor would blow itself apart long before it could explode like a nuclear bomb.

“It’s virtually impossible for a reactor to blow up like a bomb,” Petrowsky said.

Copyright 2011 Pratt Tribune.