This final opinion piece on nuclear power plants will consider natural disasters, terrorist events and how the cost of risk reduction determines how much safety is wan-anted.
An example of what Mother Nature can do to a power plant was seen at Big Creek One, a hydroelectric plant. A flash flood swept into the turbine hall and shorted out all of the control systems.
Even though buried under 20 feet of gravel, boulders and mud, the turbines ran on for over an hour, chewing up windings, control systems, and bearings. Siting a nuke plant will need to consider not just 100 year storms, which can happen three times next week for that matter, but the maximum possible storm � say a 15 inch dump on 2 square miles.
How deep will the water be when it gets to the plant? Will the control room survive and if not will the emergency shutdown systems survive long enough to effect a safe shutdown?
People go into a snit over earthquakes. Granted it is not wise to build over a fault zone, but it should be a simple design exercise to put in place an emergency shutdown procedure triggered by some level of shaking. Here in Idaho flooding and shaking are the most obvious natural risks, but one should also consider very carefully less well-known events such as an acoustic landslide, much like the Blackhawk slide in California.
Such slides can run for miles out from a mountain front at a slope of as little as 2 � degrees. A nuke plant should never be where such slides are possible.
Talking about terrorist activity involves a certain amount of caution, You do not want to lay out schemes and plans that will entice some nut case into trying an attack.
On the other hand, a terrorist group backed by a nation-state is going to be well financed, technically astute and will look at the nuke plant as a potential dirty bomb. The problem is to prevent a successful attack by a terrorist team.
Nuke plant designers generally haven’t the faintest idea how to go about designing structures to resist serious attack and local permitting agencies are equally inexperienced. Some things should be obvious. You design the control room to resist an external attack. This means properly designed walls, no blind spots, limitation on vehicle access, strict control over who and what enters the control room, absolute control over the ventilation system, doors that can not be opened by blowing the hinges off, the appropriate use of grenade traps, S-bend entries, triggering walls and so on, It must be physically impossible for a pickup truck with a camper or a Cat and trailer to get within 300 feet of the control room or containment vessel walls.
If you visit a power plant in northern Mexico, like Cerro Prieto, one of the first things you notice is a permanent military guard unit is stationed there. The control room crew should include armed guards who control all access to the control room and containment vessel and the control room crew should be proficient with arms as well.
To understand how a failure to provide for appropriate security can lead to disaster, it is suggested the skeptic read Chapter One in Tom Clancy’s book, Red Storm Rising.
All risk can never be eliminated short of not building the plant. What is done is to balance the cost of security and safety versus the acceptable dollar amount of damage and the dollar value of lives lost that still gives the desired return on the investment.
Down-winders are of great worth to themselves and their families but they are not worth much when calculating how much will be spent for safety and security. Think NIMBY!
Carl F. Austin is a Goose Creek rancher, geothermal explorationist and a lot of other things.