The Fukushima Nuclear Plant in Japan never anticipated the powerful tsunami that caused the failure of all its systems. Even today, several years after the event, the plant is under constant monitoring, and clean-up measures continue to be done to ensure the safety of the public. Whether other nuclear plant operators around the world are increasing safety measures to prevent another Fukushima disaster is a matter of public concern for everyone.
Assessing Climate Conditions
Many experts believe that the problems at Fukushima occurred mainly because the operators didn’t believe a disaster of this magnitude could never happen. Unfortunately, it appears that the effects of climate change may make these sorts of natural disasters even more common. Of course, different plants around the world will be subject to a variety of environmental conditions and factors. These individual differences will not only have to be properly assessed before construction, but also considered in ongoing repairs and reinforcement as plants age. Currently, the public is averse to investing more money in nuclear power that has so many cost considerations and possible safety hazards in an age of significant climate change. Tectonic faults, ocean currents, flooding and possible water shortages must be factored into any construction design and costs.
Better Fuel Technology
The high levels of heat that occur in the nuclear fission process are a major concern for any nuclear power plant operator. A new idea for safer fuel rods involves enclosing them in sheaths of silicon carbide that would form a tough ceramic coating that bypasses the splitting of water molecules into hydrogen gas that can ignite and explode.
Redundant Cooling Systems
One of the critical problems made evident by the Fukushima disaster was failure of sufficient generators and water pumps to continue to cool the hot fuel after the power systems failed. Redundant water cooling system are not only feasible but one of the more cost effective systems that can be put in place to prevent the overheating and hydrogen explosions that created the highly hazardous situation in Japan.
Another significant problem that occurred in the early days of the Fukushima disaster involved the failure of instrumentation that allowed the operators to know how much water was available in the cooling tower. This proved to be a significant handicap to providing remedial cooling in an expeditious manner. Relocating the instrumentation inside the tower yet outside the pressure vessel, while also switching from analog to digital displays, would allow operators the ability to evaluate the arrangement and condition of the fuel itself. In addition, the use of a “hodoscope,” an instrumentation device used to detect direction and intensity of radiation would help operators to determine water and fuel condition even under crisis conditions. These measures would serve to provide more accurate information about changing conditions at a plant in crisis and would allow faster implementation of remedial actions.
Although many of these new technologies are still in the development stage, they are eagerly being studied by nuclear plant operators who are actively seeking ways to prevent the next Fukushima disaster and make nuclear power safer for the public under all types of unexpected conditions.
Addison Appleby is an IT specialist and technology writer from Tucson, Arizona. She is fascinated by energy, robotics, and much more.