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Fukushima, Japan – Constructing an Effective First Response

  1. Apr 4, 2011 #1
    There is much that I do not know specifically about this incident or about TEPCO’s policies and procedures for these events.

    I am not interested in assigning blame. Japan has authorities to handle that. A great deal of reconstruction, establishing timelines, evaluating communications, etc will need to be done. I want to leave that to them.

    Some of this thread may touch on forensic engineering, communications, policy, procedure, available resources, access to affected plants, authority of persons to act, autonomy of actions in the absence of communication, corporate culture, regulatory culture, the psychology of disasters and reactive vs. proactive crisis management, to name a few.

    What I am interested in are the practical aspects of what an effective initial response to this specific multi-disaster. What would it look like? What would happen? In what order would things happen? Who would do it? What would they need? Where would they get it? How would they know what was working?

    Given that about 8 hours are available to restore cooling to a reactor that was just removed from active service after the total loss of power http://www.osti.gov/bridge/servlets/purl/6124656-R8y05j/6124656.pdf a predetermined course of action must be in place. What is it?
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  3. Apr 4, 2011 #2
    There are tons of answers to your questions at: https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=480200

    but there is a lot of reading, much of which is beyond me.

    I'll try to give you a start. Psychological.

    An event, that was planned for in most respects, occurred, 9.0 mag earthquake. What wasn't planned for was the tsunami that followed. Yes you would say that some predicted this possible event, but humans are ruled, to some extent, by the "Just World Phenomenon".

    Would you willingly cross a busy street knowing that there's a real chance of getting run over. If you allowed yourself to embrace the random danger of existence you would be immobilized by fear. So we simple humans put aside our fear and cross the street every day, because failure to do so would ensure negative consequences.

    It's very hard for anyone planning a worst case scenario to be objective to the (N)th degree. A hundred years from now historians may look back at our time and say, "How could have they been so careless?" They would be wrong, just as some historians are wrong in their assessment of our past. We, all of us, take our best path toward a single goal. Survival...

    That's my Psychological perspective...
  4. Apr 4, 2011 #3


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    What constraints does one wish to apply to the problem? One could hypothesize on a single natural phenomenon (earthquake, or typhoon, or flood), or a combination of phenomena (earthquake + tsunami (flood) + . . . .). The current event was an earthquake for which the magnitude exceeded the design basis assumed in the plant design, AND a tsunami, which exceeded the design basis assumed for the plant design.

    Had the plant been able to maintain cooling of Units 1, 2 and 3, and the SFP at Unit 4, we wouldn't be discussing the resulting accident, although we might be discussing a leak if that containment has been damaged, as indicated at Unit 2.

    Utilities are required to activate Emergency Operating Procedures (EOPs) to shut a plant down in an emergency. The TEPCO staff probably did that. They had lost off-site power due to the earthquake, but they had the EDGs as backup. The problem started when they lost the EDGs (unplanned, and unanticipated), and then the batteries (batteries are really for instrumentation and control - not cooling systems). So not only did they lose off-site power (anticipated), they lost their only backup (unanticipated).

    So, they were dealing with a situation for which there is no game plan, e.g., how to get new generators and fuel supply in place, while the region has been devastated by earthquake and tsunami, while dealing with the fact that three reactors have lost cooling of the cores! Add to that stress the possibility that the primary systems, feedwater systems, and containment may have been damaged, but the extent of damage is unknown.

    There is a lot to be said for off-site backup of vital information systems.

    Of interest may be -
    Stephen A. Hodge
    J. C. Cleveland
    T. S. Kress
    M. Petek
  5. Apr 4, 2011 #4
    Thank you. I have been able to read the entire thread and (barely) keep up with it. I started this thread in order to keep from distracting from the focus of that thread.

    I realize that people have a sense that how things are is how they have been and how they will be. However, the people who design and establish the emergency procedures for nuclear power plants must look beyond their comfort level in planning. According to documents cited in the thread you link to they have done so. This situation presented unique problems with a very short window of opportunity for action. Given that those responsible for responding cognizant of the consequences (I an confident that they were) there is more inertia in the response than I can understand.
  6. Apr 4, 2011 #5
    I would say that the efforts to control these events have been heroic, but where humans are involved it's always a tangled mess of perception, action vs. inaction. While I'm not certain that events will be brought under acceptable control, I believe that the possibility for control has been bought by brave action and tough decisions from site management. This situation could have been a great deal worse. And it now stands a chance of becoming a "noted" footnote in history.
  7. Apr 4, 2011 #6
    Yes, until the damaged Unit 2 leak became apparent we might have been discussing how safe nuclear power was. And look at how the size of the earthquake was larger than the design specification. (I know that on-site it was lower than the epicenter.) We should build lots more of these, blah blah blah.

    If there was intervention in the first 8 hours that prevented the current event and allowed earlier detection, and intervention in, the Unit 2 leak this might just be an incident with minor consequences.

    What that early intervention might be, or have been, though I am endeavoring not to turn this into a criticism, is what I started this thread to explore.

    Thank you for the Accident Mitigation document.
  8. Apr 4, 2011 #7


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    Utilities have Severe Accident Mitgation Guidelines (SMAGs).

    To deal with the current event at Fukushima - they would have had to plan for obtaining back up generators and a fuel supply that could be put in place - for 4 units. They might have been fortunate to back up for one in place.

    Then they would need to be able to get it through a region in which roads had been washed away in some cases. The whole of N. Honshu has been challenged. Obviously, none of those communities on the NE coast were prepared - given the number of drivers on the roads, or trains flooded, or cars swept away by the tsunami flood.

    They needed more robust communications - cell phone system with its own independent power supply or satellite communications.

    Presumably, backup generators could have been obtained from other sites (other utilities) or the military. And the military should have some heavy lift helicopters to move heavy equipment over difficult terrain. Perhaps the military doesn't have such equipment or perhaps TEPCO doesn't have a line of communication to the JDF.

    The US could perhaps have provided the necessary equipment early on if the need was communicated.
  9. Apr 4, 2011 #8


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    Yah. But I don't think anyone thought it would go this far.
  10. Apr 4, 2011 #9


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    It's tough to parse all this. As Astro pointed out very early on, (don't site the generators on the seaward side of the plant) initial siting of the emergency generators in a sheltered location, along with their fuel supplies might have prevented a lot of this, although we don't really know how many critical cooling pumps and their controllers might have been compromised by the tsunami even if the generators had been high and dry.

    I was pretty flabbergasted to see a US barge full of fresh water being tugged to the plant. Japan has a lot of capital resources (though not much in the way of natural ones) and it's not a stretch to think that they could have planned for tsunamis and kept some pretty large barges (loaded with chlorination equipment) at hand in case some of their coastal cities were decimated and they needed to step in until utilities were restored.

    A friend of mine was tapped to help plan disaster response for US cities years back, and one critical lack that they identified was for medical care above and beyond the capacity of hospitals that try to run at near capacity to maximize income. Outfit hospital ships? What do you stock them with? Do you plan for rare contingencies? What happens for disasters in non-coastal areas (though most people seem to live near the coast and ports)?
  11. Apr 5, 2011 #10


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    It's pretty clear that they found themselves outside the realm of anticipation. That's where creativity and adaptation comes in.

    If I was onsite, I'd want the structural and piping drawings of the units, and the core monitoring data. I'd be looking for leak paths. Unit 6 of Kashiwazaki-Kariwa had a leak of water from the primary containment in the 2007 Niigata earthquake. Waterproofing of the penetration seals between the floor surface and uncontrolled area was defective. If there are cracks in the containment and/or SFP, then radioactive water could leak into the turbine building and sea. I'd be looking for a way to realign the piping systems to start treating the reactor water, and a way to depressurize the primary circuit through the stacks.

    I'd want the detailed decay heat and isotopic inventory from a core simulation/depletion code as well as the any measured isotopic data. I'd want to get a reasonable estimate of the amount of failed fuel - probably much of the 1b and 2b fuel. I would start planning a way to recover the dissolved fuel and fuel particles, which basically would mean adapting the processes used in fuel manufacturing and reprocessing plants.

    Another priority would be the spent fuel pools, since any fuel failure contaminates the upper containment which is how one accesses the cores. I'd be looking for a way to cover the SFPs, and decontaminate the reactor service floors. I'd also get some rad-resistant cameras in the SFPs in order to determine the integrity of the fuel, and then start plans to remove undamaged fuel, and subsequently damaged fuel.

    Another priority would be identifying leak paths and stopping the leaks from containment. I'd want a detailed radioassay of the radioisotopes that I'd be dealing with.
  12. Apr 5, 2011 #11


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    Does anyone know the amount of power they required to keep all four units safe once the batteries failed? It seems to me that one or more of their http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_combatant_ship_classes_of_the_Japan_Maritime_Self-Defense_Force" [Broken] could have set sail from Yokosuka and been to Fukushima within the 8 hour time frame and been able to supply power to the plant.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  13. Apr 5, 2011 #12
    I am not a student. I noticed an age poll somewhere in thread on this forum and at 57 I am more than double the average age here. If my writing does not contain a deferential element that might be more common it is in no way due to a lack of respect or trust. I am also a guy and I will not use three words if I can use two. There is a seven-syllable term for that.

    After a couple of decades as an aircraft mechanic for a major airline I have had a couple of experiences of arriving at work and sensing immediately that something was wrong. The first question from each of us is “did we have an aircraft go down?” The second question is always “what (aircraft) number?” From that point on each of us is checking to see if we worked on that aircraft, remembering what we did and trying to figure out if we just killed several (hundred) people. Until the circumstances and cause are known you are not the same. Afterwards, no matter what the cause, the seriousness of your approach to your work becomes firmer yet. That may reflect in my writing about this Fukushima matter.

    In aviation virtually the only control you have over catastrophic events is to prevent them. Once they start they are they are generally beyond the intervention of all but two pilots, and they have very little time. Hundreds of lives are at stake.

    In the nuclear power industry there are hundreds to thousands of lives at stake. The engineering has been so outstanding that even after these multiple onslaughts the result was one that allowed for 8 hours or more to intervene and prevent most or all of what has happened. From my perspective, you can see, that is a marvelous and most welcome opportunity that I would never be afforded.

    On the morning after the tsunami, because it kept intruding into my thoughts, I wrote down what I wanted to see done (if I were king of crisis management). I did not post it anywhere because there was too little known about what was being done at the time. I will make it my next post to give my perspective.
  14. Apr 5, 2011 #13
    Three or four things that have to work at units 1-3 are, first, the control room instrumentation or you have no idea about what is changing in a dynamic, aftershock driven situation second, the pump(s) driving seawater to the condenser/heat exchanger and finally, the pump(s) driving reactor water to the condenser/heat exchanger.

    Eventually the coolant circulation to the spent fuel pool has to be brought on line for all four power stations but the greater mass of water and lower heat load give you a little time to work on the more critical reactor cooling.

    I do not know the exact time that the TEPCO management knew about the loss of backup power at Fukushima Daiichi 1-4, however, several things should have begun happening immediately. They only have about eight hours. http://www.osti.gov/bridge/servlets/purl/6124656-R8y05j/6124656.pdf

    A Crisis Manager needs to be available 24/7. Most likely this would be a designated position, a title, with duties, added to an existing position that is regularly on duty at all times. They might act as the Designated Crisis Manager a week of shifts or other determined period of time. They would be the point of first contact, accessible at all times, and would initiate action by appointing persons to accomplish the following.

    Securing the services of cargo and heavy-lift helicopters should begin even before it is certain that they will be needed. Ascertain the lift capability of the heavy-lift helicopters. Send them to pick up the generators. (A tsunami indicates that there is no reasonable expectation of transportation into the region other than helicopter.)

    Contact government officials to get permission and cooperation for the landing of helicopters in unusual places.

    Locate, rent, borrow or buy the largest generators that can be lifted by helicopter. Arrange for them to be made ready for immediate use. If they require more than minimum set-up time they are of no use.

    Purchasing agents should be charged with locating and securing the availability of reels of heavy electrical cable and connectors of any sort that may be needed. Fuel for generators needs to be obtained and its transport arranged by helicopter. SDF may be the only source for fuel transport of any quantity.

    A call made to every power plant and maintenance unit in the company advising of the need for people to go immediately (within the hour) to the affected area by helicopter to connect emergency generators to the stricken plants. Skilled people who can think and act outside the box as well as strong young men and emergency generator repair people should be sought. Tell them to chose an area where a helicopter can land to pick them up and for their people to take anything they think they may need with them. Make sure they have their own communications. Relief reactor operators should also be brought in as those on site will fatigue and have the additional stress of the natural disaster and their families on their minds. Persons trained and equipped (clothed) to inspect cooling water intakes need to be transported to the site.

    Locate and obtain all spare radiation monitors, detectors and dosimeters and arrange for their transport to the incident site. Also people knowledgeable in their use to do a survey in case equipment has been damaged or things go bad later on with aftershocks. They should be present on site.

    Designate people to provide for follow-on services in subsequent trips. Providing food, water, cold weather clothing, gloves, portable lighting, batteries and supplies as best as they can calculate without waiting to be asked, and also tools, equipment and supplies as requested by those on scene.

    Designate a person or group to contact the manufacturer of the plant. Advise them of the situation as it is known and that they may be needed for consultation.

    Departure of the first helicopter should occur as fast as it can be loaded with strong young men and supervision to land establish and clear safe landing zones, mark them and then determine the best location for the generators being brought in.

    Helicopters carrying people and supplies can begin arriving in any order as soon as they can do so. The only reason to hold up an inbound helicopter would be to avoid interference with the delivery of a generator. Persons able to troubleshoot and repair emergency diesel generators should be brought in early. They may find one of the diesel generators can be put into operation quickly and hasten the return of operations.

    Heavy electrical cables can be dragged to the buildings and equipment to be supplied, by strong young men, and connected by those skilled to do so even before the generators arrive. Many aspects of recovery can be worked simultaneously. This is not work that can be done easily by people who must do everything by the numbers.

    Cooling water intakes need to be checked early on and cleared of tsunami debris for some distance so that it is not drawn in upon operation of the pumps.
  15. Apr 18, 2011 #14
    I am going to post the link to an article for comment. There is far too little information on the earliest aspects of this event to learn much from. Any additional information is welcome.

    http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/T110411004567.htm [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  16. Apr 18, 2011 #15
    Another of the very few articles on the actions taken early in the events of 3-11.

    http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/T110412006319.htm [Broken]

    Again, I am not looking to bash the folks involved. What lessons are here that drive a model for effective early intervention? What would that look like? What actions would have to be taken and when?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  17. Apr 18, 2011 #16
    This is only one source, but the statements are interesting.

    Obviously unprecedented action was needed within a short timeframe, which might not allow for normal consensus-based decision making.

    The top two TEPCO execs were away on business trips (one in China). Power, landline and cell service in Japan was severely disrupted so poor communications may have impeded action.

    The decision to send additional power supplies by road was hampered by earthquake damage. When the power supplies arrived on site the cables were too short. By that time the batteries to control the Core Isolation Cooling System were nearly exhausted.

    In hindsight it seems easy to say "just fly in whatever they need on heavy-lift helicopters", or for Japanese special forces to simply take whatever is needed by any means necessary to the site. However that would have likely required all parties to have satellite communications and very expedited (and probably unprecedented) civilian/military decision making, bypassing normal approval.

    I'm sure much will be learned about the Fukushima emergency response that Japan and all other nuclear nations can benefit from.

    The U.S. has NEST (Nuclear Emergency Support Team), equipped with their own aircraft always ready to respond. However their main mission is for "malevolent radiological incidents", not civilian utility accidents. Maybe each major nuclear nation needs a civilian version of NEST with pre-planned, pre-allocated equipment and procedures to respond to nuclear utility emergencies. But such emergencies happen so infrequently it would be difficult to maintain, like firefighters who only get called every 20 years.
  18. May 2, 2011 #17
    My response is underlined below. With practice I may be able to do this with greater clarity.

    Please do not take it as an attack that I responded to the individual parts of your post. You provided fertile ground for response as your line of thought reflected what many others have said.

    I however, do not believe that this was unavoidable. If it was, it cements the anti-nuke power argument, and intellectual honesty would drive most there.
    Last edited: May 2, 2011
  19. May 14, 2011 #18

    jim hardy

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    one more article for you to skim. one of the better ones.

    https://netfiles.uiuc.edu/mragheb/www/NPRE%20402%20ME%20405%20Nuclear%20Power%20Engineering/Fukushima%20Earthquake%20and%20Tsunami%20Station%20Blackout%20Accident.pdf [Broken]

    google will find it with just first line as search.

    i believe if somebody had sat down and explained that Oak Ridge mitigation report to the Japanese executives, and explained their electrical equipment in the basement made them sitting ducks, they'd have made the 'efficacious' preparations it suggested.

    As you said it's psychology.

    We sold them those contraptions. Makes the Toyota gas pedal issue look whiney, doesn't it?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  20. May 15, 2011 #19


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    Bravo. If the industry and it's regulatory agencies are unable to embrace the monumental failure of their systems here, then there is no hope for nuclear power.
  21. May 15, 2011 #20
    There are two new blog posts by EX-SKF regarding the death of a worker at Daiichi. It's probably a heart attack, not radiation connected, but I think there are still plenty of things to discuss about that event.


    According to him, there was no doctor at Fukushima Daiichi. So they just put the man inside a TEPCO vehicle and carried him to J-Village 20km away. Then doctors there performed CPR and an ambulance transported him into a hospital where he was pronounced dead.

    So, let's start with the facts. There are hundreds of workers doing all kind of technical works at Fukushima Daiichi right now. It's a very dangerous work environment.
    There's debris everywhere, leftovers by the tsunami and the explosions, probably unstable buildings, everything could collapse at every moment. Not to forget the radiation.
    Probably one of the most dangerous work environments currently in Japan, if not the most dangerous.
    And that there are hundreds of people working makes an accident very likely. First thing I'd try to do in that kind of situation would be to ensure safety of all workers. That would be safety principles, safety gear (helmets, dosimeters etc.) and, of course, an effective first response in case of accidents. And, because of the special situation we have there, a team of radiological skilled doctors.

    But apparently, there was nothing like this at Fukushima. Not even an ambulance on stand by. Which makes me really angry. They are basically leaving their people alone in case of any emergency.

    If there's a high risk work environment, rescue teams should be on stand-by IMO.

    Here's an example what they are doing in Germany:

    A few years ago, a chemical plant near cologne caught fire. Firefighters tried to get the fire under control since it was theatening large storage tanks. If there would've been an explosion, dozens of firefighters would have been hurt or killed.
    So they took precautions. They activated rescue teams all over the city. Over fifty rescue vehicles and hundreds of rescue workers were put on standy by near the scene, just in case the whole complex exploded (which fortunately didn't).
    And that's standard here in Germany. Even if there's no immediate danger, we're deploying rescue teams to events just in case there goes something wrong. For example http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJWhkmd4lQE" part of the rescue gear they put in place for loveparade 2008.
    And now there are hundreds of people working in a stricken NPP and there's nothing. That's unbelievable.
    Not even a medical helicopter to provide airlift. It could've been parked outside the exclusion zone... but no, they didn't use something like this.
    Again, in Germany there's a law that rescue workers must be on scene during 15 minutes. That's why we have dozens of medical helicopters. I know that rescue helicopters are a new concept in japan (there are a few "Doctor Helis" if I remember correct), but still they could've asked the JSDF for assistance...

    To make matters short: In my opinion, not having any rescue capability on scene is totally ineffective (plus it's probably resulting in mental stress for the workers, since they know that they are doomed if something happens) and outright criminal.
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