It can’t happen here! / Severe Accident Study? / It’s the Planning Basis, Stupid!

“It can’t happen here.” This is what the nuclear industry would have us believe.

A serious nuclear accident (a Level 7 on the INES – International Nuclear Event Scale – like Chernobyl & Fukushima) “can’t happen here.”

This (false) belief is why the “authorities” refuse to actually plan for a serious accident.

If they planned for “The Big One,” they’d have to change the “planning basis” around which Ontario’s nuclear emergency plans are made. & then “beef up” plans for a serious accident. This would cost the nuclear industry (& our government?) money. They seem to be agreed that they don’t want to do this. Yes. It does appear as though the folks who “protect” us really apparently have little desire to do so.

** A recommendation went to the Ontario Cabinet calling for a change in the planning basis, btw, way back in 1993. 22 years ago. The Chernobyl accident had happened in 1986. So the Cabinet had this studied & it was recommended to them that the planning basis be changed to deal with a more serious nuclear accident. But … it never happened. See Planning Basis Change – pages 84-100.

Who is Responsible for What?

The federal government is responsible for licensing nuclear plants (all nuclear facilities). The government agency in charge is the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC).

CNSC holds public hearings to review licence applications for matters such as the Bruce Power generating station, Ontario Power Generation (OPG)’s requests for licences for the Pickering and Darlington Nuclear Generating Stations, the Chalk River facility (& many others too numerous to name: uranium mines, nuclear research facilities in university locations, etc. etc.).

Problem is, the CNSC grants licences quite as though it were a Coke machine dispensing bottles of Coke. Pop in your change, out pops a Coke. Pop in your licence request, out pops a licence. I say this advisedly, btw, being a CNSC watcher for almost ten years now.

Read How Harper turned a nuclear watchdog into a lapdog’ to understand this better.

Off-site Emergency Planning

This is a provincial responsibility.

So the feds license the plants, and the Province is in charge of the “off-site” emergency plans. In other words, the nuke industry will mind its own facilities, but beyond the site boundary – beyond that metal fence – it is our provincial (& regional) governments that will pick up the pieces (e.g. carry out evacuations).

Actually, to be more accurate, a literally dizzying # of government ministries, departments, agencies and municipalities have a finger in the nuclear emergency pie. (See list in posting here.) Exactly the right # to pretty much guarantee that if an accident happens, so many things will fall between the cracks that emergency response will be slow, inefficient & utterly inadequate (as was the case in Japan, where the "chain of command" broke down, KI pills were not distributed, people died during evacuation, some people were sent in exactly the direction the radiation plume was heading, & some were not evacuated until more than a month after they should have been).

And, I almost forgot to mention, our provincial government (specifically, OFMEM or the Office of the Fire Marshall & Emergency Management under the Ministry of Community Safety & Correctional Services) seems to have no plan or desire whatsoever to change the planning basis. If you want to find out what they are up to there, you have to pry the secrets out of them using Freedom of Information requests. A discerning listener could tell by what OFMEM's Mr. Suleman said at the Bruce hearing on April 16th, 2015 that they have no intention of changing the planning basis. (April 16th transcript is linked here; relevant remarks by Mr. Suleman on pages 41 & 45 in particular & also 51, 84, 265. Relevant comment about responsibility for evacuation being municipal, by Mr. Nodwell on page 266).

But It Can’t Happen Here … right?

This is the line nuclear regulators have been using ever since the early 1980s, right after the Three Mile Island (TMI) accident (much TMI info here. Please note that the site creator, Arnie Gundersen, worked for the nuclear industry himself at that time).

It can’t happen here. It's virtually a nuclear industry/regulator mantra. They said it post-TMI, & they said it post-Chernobyl, & they said it post-Fukushima. And they are still saying it … but why in heaven’s name is anyone still listening??

In the U.S., the federal nuclear regulator (Nuclear Regulatory Commission or NRC) sat on a study post-TMI that provided inconvenient results as to the likely costs of a nuclear accident there.

As is very thoroughly explained in the book Fukushima – the story of a nuclear disaster, the NRC basically adopted the position “the chances of an accident severe enough to produce such death and destruction were so slight as to be hardly worth mentioning.”

So the sweeping under the carpet of facts inconvenient to the nuclear industry (& its so-called regulator, please note) began long ago.

Early 1980’s.

In Canada, we see, the sweeping began post-Chernobyl when the Ontario Cabinet’s recommendation (after having sent a committee off to study it) to change the planning basis was somehow mysteriously swept under the carpet, & disappeared into the sunset.

The Cabinet called to have the planning basis changed – in 1993. Post-Chernobyl, long pre-Fukushima. 22 years ago. It never happened. It’s not happening now, either. The nuclear industry has very long arms, & they can make things happen. Most especially, they can make things (a lot of things) NOT happen, also.

Inconvenient Truths: then & now

The only way to keep everybody quiet (if not necessarily “happy”), it seems, is to go on with this charade of “It can’t happen here.”

So the U.S. regulator, & the Japanese regulators (almost dizzying the # of agencies with fingers in the regulatory pie over there, but the Fukushima book explains how the regulator(s) there took its/their cues from the U.S. NRC) & unfortunately, the Canadian “regulator,” have been preaching “It can’t happen here” ever since the 1980s.

But not only in the U.S. & Japan (& Canada). Global problem.

The inconvenient truth of the potential for a nuclear accident ANYwhere there is a nuclear facility is so … inconvenient, it takes really a lot of noise to wake up all the sleeping souls who are busy denying the possibility.

You have to make really a lot of noise before anyone with any power or influence pays attention!

What about Durham Region?

Post-Fukushima accident (that plant is still a radiation-spewing machine, btw, & will be for a very-very long time; very nasty recent events), a skeptical GTA (Greater Toronto Area) public demanded at the 2012 Darlington hearing that our federal “regulator” – the CNSC – study the potential impacts of a severe nuclear accident.

The CNSC tribunal ordered CNSC staff to do such a study.

“Inconvenient” results were encountered (same way it had happened in the U.S. post-TMI, right?).

So CNSC senior staff caused the study to disappear, & a less-serious accident study was conducted instead. All this uncovered by Greenpeace Access to Information digging.

Read Request for Ruling Aug.2015

Déjà vu already … hmmm??

Who(m) You Gonna Trust?

Well. Seems like we can’t really trust the nuclear industry (take a gander at this list of nuclear accidents since the 1940s, eh?).

& we can’t trust the regulatory agencies (see above).

The so-called “science” of nuclear “regulators,” among other things, is very very suspect indeed. I recall hearing senior CNSC staffer Dr. Greg Rzentkowski, when asked by the CNSC tribunal head at the Pickering Hold Point hearing (May 2014), about the safety of CANDU reactors & likelihood of an accident, reply “… we can say the risk is zero, because there was never a significant accident in the CANDU fleet.” (Pg. 132 of the Pickering Hold Point transcript - & a pretty interesting exchange it is, too!)

Whoa. Really? That’s how risk analysis works?? Zero probability of event in the future ... ‘cos it hasn’t happened yet??

Not too sure anyone really wants to take that assurance to the bank! (Or to their insurance agency, but anyway you are not insured against a nuclear accident, dear Reader. Nope. You are definitely, definitely not. Don’t take my word for it; ask your agent!)

So It CAN Happen Here!

If you live in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area), this matters.

It matters because an awful lot of us are living in the Secondary Zone (50 K around the two plants). Pretty sure I live in the Secondary Zone of both plants, actually, though I live in Toronto's east end.

What we know from the Chernobyl & Fukushima disasters (accident is really too mild a word) is that evacuations took place to considerable distances. Chernobyl still has a 30K exclusion zone around it, 29 years later. In Japan, American service people were ordered evacuated out to 50 miles (not kilometres), & the citizens of Iitate (25 miles/40 kilometres away) were very belatedly evacuated on April 22nd, having been left for over a month right in the place where the radioactive plume was going – but that information was ignored because it was … inconvenient. Some people had to relocate six times or more. I wish I was making this up. (1000s or 10s of 1000s are still out of their homes & the Japanese government is trying to make people return to areas of too-high radioactivity. You didn't think this 4 1/2 year old crisis was over, did you??)

We are not ready for a Level 7 accident here. If anyone tells you we are, s/he is not telling you the truth. S/he may be deluded, s/he may be confused. But to say we are prepared for a serious nuclear accident is not the truth.

Just think how quickly Lake Ontario, source of drinking water for millions could become undrinkable. Sobering.

What to Do? What to Do?

  • Attend the DNA event on September 17th DNA Sept. 17 event
  • Attend the September 23rd event in Toronto.
  • Become informed. Do some reading. The DNA site has many useful postings (see list below), & each one contains useful links to yet more information.
  • Become a volunteer for Greenpeace or Durham Nuclear Awareness.
  • Check this out! Go to this site to find out how many would need to be evacuated if a serious accident happened at Pickering or Darlington (scroll down on the list for our local reactors).
  • Consider taking part in the CNSC hearing scheduled for Nov. 2-5. Details here.
  • Consider talking to your local politician(s) – whether you live in Durham Region or Toronto. Quite likely s/he/they don’t understand the planning basis issue, or that the Severe Accident Study is a sham (see previous post for useful links re: this study).
  • Ask yourself this: if a serious nuclear accident happens, do you know what to do? Where to go? How to reunite with your family members if they are evacuated when you're not with them? Where evacuation centres will be located? This article clearly indicated that people in Pickering & Clarington are ill-prepared for a nuclear accident. We need to get "the authorities" to prepare better, & then tell us all about the careful plans they have made ... don't you think?


Recent, Relevant Postings on this Site

Fukushima: What Really Happened?

A detailed account of what took place at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant beginning on March 11, 2011 is provided in the book Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster, by David Lochbaum, Edwin Lyman, Susan Q. Stranahan and the Union of Concerned Scientists (The New Press, 2014). On the Union of Concerned Scientists' Web site there is a detailed description of what the book covers.

You'll find reviews of the book here and here. (Of course, if you do a search on the book’s title, you’ll encounter more than just these two.)

The book is pretty well-indexed, so readers can look up words/phrases such as “beyond design basis” or “sea wall” or “potassium iodide” or “complacency and overconfidence” & find all the pages on which the particular topic is mentioned. There is also a glossary of terms.

As the list below indicates, the book goes into much detail about earthquake & tsunami research (both what was known & what was ignored), how the Japanese nuclear regulator operates, how TEPCO (owner/operator of the reactors at Fukushima) operated in the years before the disaster & then during the early days of the disaster, how the media in Japan operate, how emergency planning broke down, etc. etc.

Covered very thoroughly indeed, toward the end of the book, is how the U.S. NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) operates – which, as it happens, has a major bearing on how the Japanese regulator operates.

Much of what this book reveals is enough to cause nightmares, or at the very least, some lost sleep – especially if you live in the neighbourhood of an aging nuclear reactor –  or 10, as we do here in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

A list of important things covered in the book:

  • Emergency exercises are good mostly for PR purposes
  • Emergency plans fell apart badly in Japan
  • "Defense in depth" is not something that can be relied upon
  • How information about genuine risks (earthquakes, tsunamis) is swept under the carpet
  • "It can't happen here" has basically been the nuclear industry/nuclear regulators' mantra ever since the Three Mile Island accident (March 1979)
  • Regulatory agencies cannot be counted on to regulate
  • Risk analysis is not a real science & is essentially meaningless
Direction sign to Nukes
Direction sign to Nukes

Topics the book covers

  • Information about Japan’s history of earthquakes & tsunamis & technology related to predicting/preparing for them
  • A day-by-day accounting of the accident’s progression in the early days: quite detailed & technical
  • Explanation of what is meant by “design basis” & design-basis accidents
  • U.S. NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) involvement, including specifics about NRC head Gregory Jaczko (including his 2012 resignation)
  • Related information about U.S. reactors of similar design (General Electric boiling water reactors or BWRs)
  • Corruption at TEPCO
  • Collusion between nuclear industry & government
  • Manipulation of public opinion to favour nuclear energy
  • Revolving door between regulator & nuclear industry
  • Infrequency of inspections by the regulator (NISA)
  • Falsified reports, repairs that were not made, employees fired for reporting problems (** hair-raising information in Chapter 2)
  • Reliance on computer modelling vs. actual reality (i.e., ignoring evidence of possible tsunami if computer model says it is unlikely)
  • Communication manipulation (& “bungled communication”) during early days of crisis (Chapter 3) – among TEPCO officials, between various groups, to the public
  • No monitoring of quantity of radioactivity being released (Ch. 3)
  • “Lackadaisical attitude” toward robustness of spent fuel pools (Ch. 3)
  • Description of the lamentably poorly-thought-out care of spent fuel storage
  • Dangerousness of crowded fuel pools at U.S. reactors
  • Evacuation of U.S. citizens within 50-mile radius
  • Safety of dry cask storage at site during earthquake & tsunami (pg. 83)
  • “Sluggish” response of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) (p.105)
  • Media coverage: choppy, contrast between the foreign & the domestic (Ch. 5) which gave TEPCO a “free ride” (p. 107)
  • Explanation of Japanese “press clubs” (p. 110)
  • Bungled gov’t handling of radiation exposure/health risks (p. 108)
  • Public’s loss of trust in government due to not being told the truth (p. 111)
  • U.S. & its 31 boiling water reactors – questions about U.S. safety with respect to earthquake risks
  • Evacuees’ situation (some “forced to relocate 6 times or more”) – pg. 117
  • Futaba Hospital: bungled evacuation. Patients who died (pg. 118)
  • Iitate: symbol of breakdown of gov’t response (25 miles /40 km from plant. Gaps/failures in emergency planning: zones arbitrary, evacuations far beyond 10K necessary, people evacuated in direction plume was going, hospital patients abandoned & then died. Etc. Failure to trust data saying plume going that way. Early awareness of it being a “hot spot” – yet a long delay in evacuation) (pg. 118, Ch. 5)
  • Three Mile Island: March 1979: lessons NOT learned – Davis-Besse 1977 incident (Ch. 7)
  • 2011 incidents at 2 U.S. nuke plants (Fort Calhoun-flooding & North Anna-earthquake)
  • Value (or not) of biennial emergency exercises – pg. 154 (Ch. 7)
  • Nearly 160,000 evacuees (pg. 157, Ch. 8)
  • Fallout contamination (pg 159, Ch. 8)
  • Anti-nuclear protests at prime minister’s office in Tokyo (pg. 163, Ch. 8)
  • NRC safety measures discussions (pg. 167, Ch. 8)
  • Japan’s PM goes anti-nuclear (pg. 171, Ch. 8)
  • More NRC safety discussions
  • TEPCO bailouts
  • Gregory Jaczko's resignation (Pg. 177, Ch. 8); Allison Macfarlane replaces him
  • “It can’t happen here” myth at the NRC (Chapter 9)
  • Inadequacy of reliance on “design-basis” accidents/rules (pg. 188, Ch. 9)
  • The problems with risk analysis & “probabilistic risk assessment” (PRA) – pg. 192
  • The issues with GE Mark 1 Boiling Water Reactors (pg. 195, Ch. 9)
  • U.S. loose rules emulated by Japanese regulator (pg. 202, end of Ch. 9)
  • NRC manipulations to present nuclear as safe; unbelievable! (Ch. 10)
  • The SOARCA (State-of-the-Art Reactor Consequence Analyses fiasco): “Science” manipulated, obfuscated; this must be read to be believed! (Ch. 10)
  • Proposed nuclear re-start in Japan & associated citizen protest (Ch. 11)
  • Back to business as usual at the NRC (Ch. 11)
  • Re-org of Japanese regulator (pg. 240, Ch. 11)
  • Great map of evacuation zones illustrating the lack of “neatness” of where fallout goes, & where evacuations are necessary (pg. 242, Ch. 11)
  • Political scene in Japan – Abe re-elected (pg. 243, Ch. 11)
  • Finger-pointing after the accident, including TEPCO blaming first Mother Nature, then the regulator for not being strict enough (pg. 244, Ch. 12)
  • “It can’t happen here” mindset, both in Japan – & the U.S. (pg. 247)
  • Casual attitude of politicians in U.S. (pg. 247)
  • Fires at U.S. reactor, new regs, regulations NOT enforced (pg. 247-8, Ch. 12)
  • Other examples of problems at U.S. reactors (pg. 249)
  • Defense-in-depth both “a blessing and a curse” (pg. 250); its strengths & limitations
  • Problems with evacuation in Fukushima situation (pg. 251)
  • Various things that were not planned for in emergency planning (pg. 251)
  • NRC’s 2011 NTTF (near-term task force, immediately post-Fukushima) & how NRC task force recommendations for change in U.S. regulation came to naught (pg. 252-3)
  • NRC refusal to address beyond-design-basis accidents (pg. 252-3)
  • Industry’s FLEX (“diverse and flexible mitigation”) strategy: how this prevented necessary changes at the NRC & avoids dealing with stubborn risks/issues (255-6)
  • NRC’s continued defense of 10-mile planning zones in spite of lessons from the experience proving inadequacy of this approach (pg. 256, Ch. 12)
  • NIRS (Nuclear Information and Resource Service) proposal re: U.S. planning zones for emergency measures, i.e. evacuation, potassium iodide (pg. 256, Ch. 12)

** Conclusions: the NRC needs to make big changes in safety analysis

“In the end, the NRC must be able to tell the American public, “We’ve taken every reasonable step to protect you.” And it must be the public, not industry or bureaucrats, who define “reasonable.” (pg. 260, Ch. 12)

This document provides a lengthy compilation of quotations from the book. Many more pithy & informative quotations could have been included if recording all these quotes were not so time-consuming!

This is a very important book.

Why this posting now?

The problems that this book details about the intransigence of the nuclear regulatory agencies have not begun to be solved. The problems of collusion among regulators & industry & governments have not begun to be solved.

Since most "average citizens" (& even politicians) seem unaware that these problems exist (while those in power who do know, deny them), rassling with & solving them will be a very great challenge indeed.

In Durham Region (& of great interest across the entire Greater Toronto Area), we’re about to witness an expensive hearing process involving Ontario Power Generation (OPG)’s request to Canada’s nuclear regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), for a 13-year license for the aging reactors at Darlington (hearing to take place in early November).

People need to understand the kinds of problems that led to the Fukushima disaster that are laid out so very thoroughly in this book.

“Fukushima Daiichi unmasked the weaknesses of nuclear power plant design and the long-standing flaws in operations and regulatory oversight. Although Japan must share the blame, this was not a Japanese nuclear accident; it was a nuclear accident that just happened to have occurred in Japan. The problems that led to the disaster at Fukushima Daiichi exist wherever reactors operate.” (from the introduction to the book)

The Fukushima disaster was not caused by the earthquake or the tsunami; it is a man-made disaster that could happen anywhere there are nuclear reactors.

Toshimitsu Homma of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency stated in April 2013 at an international conference on Emergency Management (held in Ottawa) that the most important lesson of Fukushima was that before the accident, “There was an implicit assumption that such a severe accident could not happen and thus insufficient attention was paid to such an accident by authorities.”

** Note: same deal here in Ontario! Emergency planning predicated on a minor accident, not a major one. Plans = utterly inadequate. Recent editorial from Japan regarding evacuation issues there.

“The earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011 were natural disasters of a magnitude that shocked the entire world. Although triggered by these cataclysmic events, the subsequent accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant cannot be regarded as a natural disaster. It was a profoundly manmade disaster – that could and should have been foreseen and prevented. And its effects could have been mitigated by a more effective human response.” – Kiyoshi Kurokawa, Chairman of The official report of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (Pg. 9)

“A “manmade” disaster: The TEPCO Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant accident was the result of collusion between the government, the regulators and TEPCO, and the lack of governance by said parties. They effectively betrayed the nation’s right to be safe from nuclear accidents. Therefore, we conclude that the accident was clearly “manmade.” We believe that the root causes were the organizational and regulatory systems that supported faulty rationales for decisions and actions, rather than issues relating to the competency of any specific individual. (see Recommendation 1)” — from The official report of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (pg. 16)

“The Commission has verified that there was a lag in upgrading nuclear emergencypreparedness and complex disaster countermeasures, and attributes this to regulators’ negative attitudes toward revising and improving existing emergency plans.” – from The official report of The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (pg. 19)

** Other recent, relevant posts on this blog:

2 outstanding (& related) articles:

P.S. on October 17/15: On October 14th, DNA donated copies of the Union of Concerned Scientists' book to each of Durham Region's eight municipal Councils (& the Regional Chair) & reminded them all of inadequate nuclear emergency planning as well as the untruth of the "It Can't Happen Here" myth. Media article here. Copies were also later given to the Premier of Ontario & to the Minister of Community Safety & Correctional Services (the provincial ministry in charge of emergency planning).