Sunday, January 3, 2010

Nuclear Reactors and Evacuation Plans

Interesting article I noticed in the BBC got me thinking about nuclear power plants and evacuation plans in cases of emergencies. Mudslides in Brazil have damaged evacuation routes that would be used during a nuclear accident and so the local mayor is floating the idea that the nuclear reactors should be shut down as a precaution.

Nothing is operationally wrong with the nuclear reactors, but I suspect that as part of the licensing process the nuclear operators must provide proof to the Brazilian regulator that in the event of an accidental release of radiation, exposure of the public is limited to below key thresholds. If radiation escapes the facility, this means that members of the public must be evacuated to a safe distance within a given time frame. If they can't be evacuated within the expected amount of time then the impact on the public might be greater than is tolerated by the regulator.

A similar discussion surrounds the nuclear reactors sited in Pickering. When the reactors were first constructed the area around the nuclear reactor was far less developed than it is today, which means that the evacuation estimates may no longer be sufficient. Some anti-nuclear groups and persons have used this as fodder for their attacks, but in this case, they may actually have a point.

In all likelihood, the Brazilian regulator will make a judgment call regarding how long the road is slated to be closed and if the nuclear reactors should be shut down as a result. The utilities and local governments on the other hand, would be well advised to review their estimates on the how long an evacuation will require and to take actions (ie building new roads, 'safeguarding' old roads, etc...) to make sure that this sort of thing doesn't reoccur.


Powell lucas said...

What is all this B.S. overkill with nuclear power plant regulations. The same group of bureaucratic zealots, working in concert with the environmental fruit loops, have so shackled the nuclear industry that it now too costly to even consider utilizing this most efficient, and least polluting form of energy. The red tape for getting permission to construct a nuclear plant now takes 7 to 10 years. These regulatory fanatics now require so much redundancy to be built into safety systems that the costs have gone through the roof. They attach so much nonsensical and constricting requirements that plants have to be designed to take the impact of a 747 jumbo jet. What are the odds of this happening? And don't spout off about the catastrophic consequences of such an incident. Everything, every day is a calculated risk. What are the chances of anyone of us being in an airliner that goes down? What are the chances of anyone of us getting hit by a meteor? What are the chances of getting killed in an auto accident? Some of these odds are minuscule and some are of a higher probability, yet we still buck the odds daily in the one that has the highest chance of coming to pass.
A firm I once worked for has become the undisputed leader in developing safety programs for industrial applications. They demonstrated, with actual data gleaned from their many operating facilities, that to go from a 80% injury free workplace to a 90% injury free workplace was minimal.To get to a 95% injury free workplace increased the cost of safety procedures by double. For every 1% increase after that the costs doubled again. That's exponential cost increases.
I spent most of my working life in the petroleum construction industry and have watched the costs skyrocket to unbelievable levels; not because of direct labour costs, but as a result of all the non-productive additional support staff that was required to oversee and enforce government safety, environmental, and human resources costs. Now, many of these regulations were required and are useful, but the pendulum has swung to over-regulation and bureaucratic micromanagement. I once saw a 750 man crew shut down for half a day because one man had poured paint from a labeled container into an unlabeled container. What nonsense!
The largest aluminum smelter in the U.S. is ceasing operations because it cannot get sufficient electrical power to continue operations at a cost effective level. The reason for this is that the environmental crazies and their government hand maidens have prevented any new coal fired power plants from being constructed, due to emissions, and yet they block any attempts at constructing nuclear facilities which are non-polluting.
These insane bureaucratic regulations are strangling the economy of North America through attempts to make everything idiot proof and to demand that anything that is constructed be cleaner than clean. What madness! I trust that future generations will adapt to being unemployed while they live in the dark in unheated hovels.

Eric said...

I'm not disagreeing with you. There are far more accidents in conventional power plants than nuclear power plants. But one thing the nuclear industry has to counter-act is the fearmongering that has spread as a result of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.

So it pays not only to be cautious, but to be extra cautious and let everyone know that you are.

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