Friday 6 December 2013

A bomb waiting to go off!

A new book declares that another Chernobyl or Fukushima-like catastrophe is inevitable unless nuclear power plants across the world adopt fully automated safety systems.

Automation Can Prevent the Next Fukushima  by Béla G. Lipták, P.E., a well-known automation, optimisation and safety control consultant with more than 50 years in safety control system design experience, explains that while the automation technology exists to prevent the vast majority of nuclear reactor disasters, the world’s nuclear energy facilities continue to rely on human operators to monitor plant conditions and manually take corrective safety measures when needed.

“It’s not a question of if, but only of when the next major nuclear power plant disaster will occur,” insists Lipták who, as president of Lipták Associates, advises energy firms and other companies on critical safety, pollution and environmental issues. “The seriousness of this ominous forecast could be much reduced if the nuclear power industry fully embraced automation safety. The safety controls of the 438 nuclear power plants that operate around the world today are outdated. Their designs are based primarily on manual operation. These plants need to be updated with safety systems that are fully automated.”
The possible consequences of severe nuclear reactor failures—explosions and the release of radioactive gases and materials into the environment—are so dire that fully automated systems are a must, Lipták emphasizes.

“In these plants, serious safety responses must be immediate and fully automatic,” he says. “Automatic safety systems are like air bags in cars. Their actuation must not be left up to human judgment. They must instantly detect the evolving dangers and must immediately respond to inhibit or mitigate adverse consequences.”

Lipták claims that automated safety systems would have prevented the Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters. He notes that even less sweeping improvements—such as redundant or self-diagnosing sensors and control panels with graphic displays—might have averted these incidents.

In his book, Lipták recommends that operating licenses or license extensions for nuclear power plants be approved only if the facilities meet the following design and automation requirements:
  • The plant should be able to automatically shut down the reactors even when internal and external electric power supplies fail and regardless of the actions of either plant management or operators.
  • The energy needed to automatically cool and safely shut down the reactors should be made available in an uninterruptible form, using either gravity, or the always-available energy of decay steam.
  • All primary containments should be inerted with nitrogen and both the primary and secondary containments should be protected against explosions by detecting both the presence of hydrogen or that of high pressure steam and by automatically triggering filtered venting, if either rises beyond safe limits.
  • The design should ensure that automatic shutdown systems cannot be turned off by anybody or anything, including cyber-terrorist attacks.

“Furthermore,” he adds, “standards, both national and international, need to be established that describe the designs of the automated safety requirements in the same detail as my book does and require a policy of openness so that the public is informed if a plant—for economic or other reasons—doesn’t meet these standards.”
The author, Bela Lipták, has had a fascinating life in his native Hungary and after he entered the USA as a refugee in 1956. He has published more than 200 technical articles and some 22 technical books, including four editions of the multi-volume Instrument Engineers’ Handbook.

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