Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Volcanoes and Nuclear Power - The Absent Discussion

Volcanoes could pose a threat to nuclear facilities - perhaps greater than  admitted up to now  Photo: Jukka Seppälä/Creator's Fingerprints

One issue that has bothered me personally for some time now (in addition to nuclear power & solar storms  ) is volcanic hazards and nuclear power. I think this subjects has just been too difficult to analyze since it brings such horrifying scenarios with it that the main reason for ignorance of discussion would be something like this: "If Yellowstone blows up, we don't need to think about nuclear fallout - we'll end up dead, all of us, and there's no difference which one would be the cause."

But this kind of thinking rejects the logics as too painfull to be continued. The most probable case is that there won't exist any ELE -volcanic eruption on this earth during the next thousand years but thousands of smaller volcanic events that could have a high regional or national impact. And there's where this nuclear thing becomes important.

There was just recently a brief news that Hanford nuclear facility in the U.S.A. is having once more a serious radioactive leak. But when this Hanford case was analyzed, there occurred another hazardous possibility. The Hanford staff would have only less than 24 hours to change 7 000 filters of the facitility in case of volcanic eruption of the nearest volcano. Could that be possible? And what if the eruption and ashfall continues for weeks or months?


That article reminded me of the volcanic black swan ( ) that is hidden from the politicians, the common man and even from the nuclear industry. What if we'll get strong volcanic events near to nuclear power plants? If we'll get 20 - 30 inches of volcanic ash falling down from the skies. How would water intake filters and cooling systems, emergency cooling systems and power grids response to this kind of event?

And how about the structures of nuclear facility buildings? Well, perhaps the reactor buildings would not have any difficulty with coping the extra weight of hundreds of tonnes. The main issue would be the large turbine and generator halls, spent fuel storage buildings, high voltage transformers and such vital equipment that could be destroyed by falling ash.

If you believe this is not possible, you could check out this article about Chernobyl NPP turbine hall which was recently partly collapsed by the weight of the fallen snow. ( LINK -  DAILY NEWS: )

We were lucky the reactor was decommissioned due to that famous accident.

In Japan they have warned that Mt Fuji, the magnificant volcano quite near to Tokyo, may erupt in the near future with a great intensity. They are now making evacuating plans and updating early warning systems.




But no one - at least that I have noticed - have mentioned a single word of the risks that this kind of powerful eruption could  pose to the nearest nuclear facilities. And there are plenty of other active volcanoes in Japan. And over 50 NPPs (It doesn't really matter if the NPP is closed down as long as there is nuclear fuel inside the reactor or in the spent fuel pools - they have to be constantly cooled down).

I know that the designers of nuclear facilities have realized the issue but I think they have underestimated the risk and possible consequences as they did with earthquakes and tsunamis, dam breaks and superstorms and of course solar storms.

I think what we'll need now is a fair and open discussion; how to reduce the risks of nuclear meltdowns and radioactive fallout caused by volcanic events. But the question is: who will take the initiative?

Could it be NRC, or STUK or perhaps JNES? Or GREENPEACE, NIRS or UCC?
We'll see.



  1. Discussion is now going on in Japan:

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  3. I would like to say: "What did I say then!" But I don't ... :-)