A Short History of Nuclear Regulation in the USA, focus on ECCS and Containment.

Extracted from : http://dwb4.unl.edu/Chem/CHEM869Z/CHEM869ZLinks/www.nrc.gov/SECY/smj/shorthis.htm#Safeguards
This is the NRC view of history.

“….Reactor experts were confident that in almost any situation the engineered safety features built into a plant and the containment structure would protect the public from the effects of an accident. But they were troubled by the possibility that a chain of events could conceivably take place that would bypass or override the safety systems, and in the worst case, breach containment. “No one is in a position to demonstrate that a reactor accident with consequent escape of fission products to the environment will never happen,” Clifford K. Beck, the AEC’s deputy director of regulation, told the Joint Committee in 1967. “No one really expects such an accident, but no one is in a position to say with full certainty that it will not occur.”

“…The rapid growth in reactor design placed a premium on the careful use of engineering judgment. In order to decrease the chances of a major accident that could threaten public health, the AEC required multiple back-up equipment and redundancies in safety designs. It also employed conservative assumptions about the ways in which an accident might damage or incapacitate safety systems in its evaluation of reactor proposals.”

“The regulatory staff sought to gain as much experimental data as possible to enrich its knowledge and inform its collective engineering judgment. This was especially vital in light of the many unanswered questions about reactor behavior. The AEC had sponsored hundreds of small-scale experiments since the early 1950s that had yielded key information about a variety of reactor safety problems. But they provided little guidance on the issue of greatest concern to the AEC and the ACRS by the late 1960s–a core meltdown caused by a loss-of-coolant accident.

Reactor experts had long recognized that a core melt was a plausible, if unlikely, occurrence. A massive loss of coolant could happen, for example, if a large pipe that fed cooling water to the core broke. If the plant’s emergency cooling system also failed, the build-up of “decay heat” (which resulted from continuing radioactive decay after the reactor shut down) could cause the core to melt. In older and smaller reactors, the experts were confident that even under the worst conditions–an accident in which the loss of coolant melted the core and it, in turn, melted through the pressure vessel that held the core–the containment structure would prevent a massive release of radioactivity to the environment. As proposed plants increased significantly in size, however, they began to worry that a core melt could lead to a breach of containment. This became their primary focus partly because of the greater decay heat the larger plants would produce and partly because nuclear vendors did not add to the size of containment buildings in corresponding proportions to the size of reactors.

The greatest source of concern about a loss-of-coolant accident in large reactors was that the molten fuel would melt through not only the pressure vessel but also through the thick layer of concrete at the foundation of the containment building. The intensely radioactive fuel would then continue on its downward path into the ground. This scenario became known as the “China syndrome,” because the melted core would presumably be heading through the earth toward China. Other possible dangers of a core meltdown were that the molten fuel would breach containment by reacting with water to cause a steam explosion or by releasing elements that could combine to cause a chemical explosion. The precise effects of a large core melt were uncertain, but it was clear that the results of spewing radioactivity into the atmosphere could be disastrous. The ACRS and the regulatory staff regarded the chances of such an accident as low; they believed that it would occur only if the emergency core cooling system (ECCS), made up of redundant equipment that would rapidly feed water into the core, failed to function properly. But they acknowledged the possibility that the ECCS might not work as designed. Without containment as a fail-safe final line of defense against any conceivable accident, they sought other means to provide safeguards against the China syndrome.”

“The Emergency Core Cooling Controversy

At the prodding of the ACRS, which first sounded the alarm about the China syndrome, the AEC established a special task force to look into the problem of core melting in 1966. The committee, chaired by William K. Ergen, a reactor safety expert and former ACRS member from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, submitted its findings to the AEC in October 1967. The report offered assurances about the improbability of a core meltdown and the reliability of emergency core cooling designs, but it also acknowledged that a loss-of-coolant accident could cause a breach of containment if ECCS failed to perform. Therefore, containment could no longer be regarded as an inviolable barrier to the escape of radioactivity. This represented a milestone in the evolution of reactor regulation. In effect, it imposed a modified approach to reactor safety. Previously, the AEC had viewed the containment building as the final independent line of defense against the release of radiation; even if a serious accident took place the damage it caused would be restricted to the plant. Once it became apparent that under some circumstances the containment building might not hold, however, the key to protecting the public from a large release of radiation was to prevent accidents severe enough to threaten containment. And this depended heavily on a properly designed and functioning ECCS.

The problem facing the AEC regulatory staff was that experimental work and experience with emergency cooling was very limited. Finding a way to test and to provide empirical support for the reliability of emergency cooling became the central concern of the AEC’s safety research program. Plans had been underway since the early 1960s to build an experimental reactor, known as the Loss-of-Fluid-Tests (LOFT) facility, at the AEC’s reactor testing station in Idaho. Its purpose was to provide data about the effects of a loss of coolant accident. For a variety of reasons, including weak management of the test program, a change of design, and reduced funding, progress on the LOFT reactor and the preliminary tests that were essential for its success were chronically delayed. Despite the complaints of the ACRS and the regulatory staff, the AEC diverted money from LOFT and other safety research projects on existing light-water reactor design to work in the development of fast-breeder reactors. A proven fast breeder was an urgent objective for the AEC and the Joint Committee; Seaborg described it as “a priority national goal” that could assure “an essentially unlimited energy supply, free from problems of fuel resources and atmospheric contamination.”

To the consternation of the AEC, experiments run at the Idaho test site in late 1970 and early 1971 suggested that the ECCS in light-water reactors might not work as designed….”

“The semiscale tests caught the AEC unprepared and uncertain of how to respond. Harold Price, the director of regulation, directed a special task force he had recently formed to focus on the ECCS question and to draft a “white paper” within a month. Seaborg, for the first time, called the Office of Management and Budget to plead for more funds for safety research on light-water reactors. While waiting for the task force to finish its work, the AEC tried to keep information about the semiscale tests from getting out to the public, even to the extent of withholding information about them from the Joint Committee….”

“News about the semiscale experiments triggered complaints about the AEC’s handling of the issue even from friendly observers. It also prompted calls from nuclear critics for a licensing moratorium and a shutdown of the eleven plants then operating. Criticism expressed by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), an organization established in 1969 to protest misuse of technology that had recently turned its attention to nuclear power, received wide publicity. The UCS took a considerably less sanguine view of ECCS reliability than that of the AEC. It sharply questioned the adequacy of the interim criteria, charging, among other things, that they were “operationally vague and meaningless.” Scientists at the AEC’s national laboratories, without endorsing the alarmist language that the UCS used, shared some of the same reservations. As a result of the uncertainties about ECCS and the interim criteria, the AEC decided to hold public hearings that it hoped would help resolve the technical issues. It wanted to prevent the ECCS question from becoming a major impediment to the licensing of individual plants.”

“The AEC insisted that its critics had exaggerated the severity of the ECCS problem. The regulatory staff viewed the results of the failed semiscale tests as serious but believed that the technical issues the experiments raised would be resolved within a short time. It did not regard the tests as indications that existing designs were fundamentally flawed and it emphasized the conservative engineering judgment it applied in evaluating plant applications. But the ECCS controversy damaged the AEC’s credibility and played into the hands of its critics. Instead of frankly acknowledging the potential significance of the ECCS problem and taking time to fully evaluate the technical uncertainties, the AEC acted hastily to prevent the issue from undermining public confidence in reactor safety or causing licensing delays. This gave credence to the allegations of its critics that it was so determined to promote nuclear power and develop the breeder reactor that it was inattentive to safety concerns.”

“By the summer of 1971, the AEC was an embattled agency, largely though not exclusively because of regulatory issues….The AEC’s response to the Calvert Cliffs decision brought a storm of protests from utilities who feared long delays in the licensing of plants that were nearly ready for operation. Schlesinger explained the AEC’s new position in a speech he delivered to a meeting of industry groups in Bal Harbour, Florida on October 20, 1971. He told his audience that although the long-term outlook for nuclear power appeared “bullish,” the pace of development depended on two variables: “first, the provision of a safe, reliable product; second, achievement of public confidence in that product.” Schlesinger declared that the AEC’s policy of promoting and protecting the industry had been justified to help nuclear power get started, but since the industry was “rapidly approaching mature growth,” the AEC must redefine its responsibilities. “You should not expect the AEC,” he announced, “to fight the industry’s political, social, and commercial battles.” Rather, he added, the agency’s role was “primarily to perform as a referee serving the public interest.” The message of Schlesinger’s speech was unprecedented; it proclaimed a sharp break with the AEC’s history and a new direction in the agency’s approach to its regulatory duties.

Schlesinger’s efforts to narrow the divisions between nuclear proponents and critics and to recover the AEC’s regulatory credibility produced, at best, mixed results. Many environmentalists were pleased with the AEC’s acceptance of the Calvert Cliffs ruling and with Schlesinger’s Bal Harbour speech. Their guarded optimism about Schlesinger’s attitudes was perhaps best summarized by the title of an article about him in National Wildlife magazine: “There’s a Bird Watcher Running the Atomic Energy Commission.” But major differences between the AEC and environmentalists remained; many of the same issues that had aroused concern before Schlesinger’s arrival continued to generate controversy.

The ECCS Hearings

One of those issues was the reliability of emergency core cooling systems. In light of the objections to the interim acceptance criteria for ECCS that the AEC had published in June 1971, the agency decided to hold a rulemaking hearing on the issue that would apply to all licensing cases. It hoped that this would avoid repeating the same procedures and deliberating over the same questions in case- by-case hearings and that generic hearings would provide a means to resolve issues common to all plants. The ECCS hearings got underway in early 1972 and stretched into 135 days over a period of a year and a half. When they ended, the transcripts of the proceedings filled more than 22,000 pages. The ECCS hearings led to a final rule that made some small but important revisions in the interim criteria. They also produced acrimonious testimony and front-page headlines that often reflected unfavorably on the AEC’s safety programs and that further damaged its credibility.”

end quote. (ACRS : Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards)

The Abolition of the AEC


“The United States Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was an agency of the United States government established after World War II by Congress to foster and control the peace time development of atomic science and technology. President Harry S. Truman signed the McMahon/Atomic Energy Act on August 1, 1946, transferring the control of atomic energy from military to civilian hands, effective from January 1, 1947. An increasing number of critics during the 1960s charged that the AEC’s regulations were insufficiently rigorous in several important areas, including radiation protection standards, nuclear reactor safety, plant siting, and environmental protection. By 1974, the AEC’s regulatory programs had come under such strong attack that Congress decided to abolish the agency. The agency was abolished by the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974, which assigned its functions to two new agencies: the Energy Research and Development Administration and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.[2] In 1973, the AEC predicted that, by the turn of the century, one thousand reactors would be producing electricity for homes and businesses across the United States. But after 1973, reactor orders declined sharply as electricity demand fell and construction costs rose. Many orders and partially completed plants were cancelled.[4]”

The Purchase of Reactors by Japan’s TEPCO during a specific period of US Nuclear Regulatory poor performance:

TEPCO’s first nuclear power facility, the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station’s No. 1 reactor (460 MW) began operation on 26 March 1971.

Immediately prior and at the time, controversy raged in the USA over reactor construction, specifically in relation to Emergency Core Cooling Systems (ECCS) and containment adequacy. It had been realized that core meltdown could occur in a loss of cooling accident (LOCA) and that the consequences of such an accident could result in a breach of the containment building.

GE maintains its defense of the design of the MK1 reactor as utilized by TEPCO at the Fukushima Diiachi site. However, GE engineers resigned in the 1970s over the vulnerabilities they saw in the design. US regulatory staff expressed grave concern over the lightweight containment structure and aspects relating to the Torus suppress pool.

Due to the AEC’s vast expenditure on experiment Fast Breeder Reactors, inadequate funds existed in the late 1960s and early 1970s. As a result full scale emergency core cooling system (ECCS) did not take place. The results of semi-scale tests caused the AEC concern. As a result, nuclear authorities attempted to keep the results public. Nader and Abbott document the situation in their 1977 book “The Menace of Nuclear Power”. While nuclear advocates condemned the book (eg http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=6230452) these writers provide what turns out to be a highly readable account of the technical, regulatory and cultural of the era in which the seeds of the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster were sown.

Nader and Abbott provide a documented chain of steps which they feared could lead to loss of cooling, core melt and containment failure. Further, they discuss the invention by GE of the concept of the “Reactor Park”. These “Parks” exist in some number in Japan, and Fukushima Diiachi is one such “Park”. The Parks consist of a number of reactors at the same site, in order to maximum profits and minimize local opposition from adjacent populations. If six reactors were built in 6 places, there would be six local protest sets. When six reactors are built on the same however, only one local resident protest set would be encountered.

The downside of course is that in the event of an accident, multiple hazards resulting from multiple damaged and emitting reactors delay or prevent remedial work and prolong the period of hazard. Indeed, the conventional view of the reactor 4 explosion at Fukushima Diiachi is that it, and the resultant fuel pool fire of March 15 2011 were caused by the explosion of Reactor Number 3. There is little doubt that the situation in Japan is worsened by the fact that multiple reactors revealed their designed in dangers at the same time, at the same place and from the same triggers.

Nuclear advocates however maintain the book is “irksome” rather than an early attempt at describing the inherent dangers of reactors. The book contributed to the alerting of the public. However, though nuclear experts knew of the dangers of flimsy containment buildings, the likely failure of ECCS, the possibility of coolant loss, meltdown, explosions and massive radiological release, and the amplification of risk posed by concentrations of reactors adjacent to each other in reactor parks, no attempt to remedy the hazards took place in Japan. This, despite the fact that US government and US nuclear regulators had a very strong hand in creating the Japanese nuclear industry.

I do not know what options GE suggested to TEPCO in the late 1960s and early 1970s during sales/purchasing discussions between the two companies. It seems obvious that the decision to site emergency generators in the basements of Japanese coastal reactors was a TEPÇO decision rather than a GE one. The decision to site the generators low rather than high should be examined, as it is most likely another example of an attempt to reduce costs rather than reduce risk.

Had the generators been mounted higher in the buildings, if earthquake did not damage cooling pipes (as some strongly suggest happened) then the disaster may not have occurred. At the very least the situation reveals not a singularly Japanese made disaster, as the Diet report has claimed, but rather an AEC cultural consequence as bequeathed by the USA to Japan. When the US changed its nuclear culture, with the abolition of the AEC, it did not similarly inform its nuclear colonies, such as Japan.

There is evidence that the NRC had, by March 2011, degenerated somewhat in its culture. Various events tend to indicate that the spirit of the AEC is alive and well in the NRC today.

In Australia, I can say that nuclear experts here persisted in their glowing praise of the Japanese nuclear industry, describing it as the ‘best in the world” at the time. The systemic and repeated explosions which wrecked multiple containment buildings after Emergency Core Cooling Systems failed in multiple reactors (The GE MK1 design being fitted with steam powered emergency pumps – which did not work when called upon), were noted by Australian experts. These experts described the explosions as being “Normal”.

The lies persist, as do the denials that there are real consequences in Japan.

It will take more than three decades to decommission the broken reactors, which are still venting their core material into the environment.

The events which actually occurred at Fukushima Dani remain hidden and unknown. At one state, that reactor reservation had its own exclusion zone. This was absorbed by the Fukushima Diiachi exclusion zone.

Perhaps no-one will ever know the full record of events and consequences of the March 2011 nuclear disaster.

Since the March 2011 disaster, Tepco has put repairs of Daini on the back burner. Only one unit—reactor 4—has its safety functions fully restored. Tepco expects it will take until March 2013 to complete permanent repairs to the other three units.

“Our current focus is to ensure that Unit 4 is kept in a stable condition and to provide permanent fixes to the three other units,” said plant manager Naohiro Masuda. “We will work hard so that people in Fukushima will once again be able to feel safe and secure living in the prefecture.”

During the Daini tour, Tepco showed reporters new safety features aimed at protecting against natural disasters, including a 3.6-meter-high levee created out of 232 bags of rocks piled up on top of each other, and a gas-fueled mobile power generator to serve as a backup in case the plant lost power.

Tepco invited reporters to stand right under the reactor of Unit 4—which still contains nuclear fuel—to show how safe the plant is.” The Wall Street Journal, Since the March 2011 disaster, Tepco has put repairs of Daini on the back burner. Only one unit—reactor 4—has its safety functions fully restored. Tepco expects it will take until March 2013 to complete permanent repairs to the other three units.

“Our current focus is to ensure that Unit 4 is kept in a stable condition and to provide permanent fixes to the three other units,” said plant manager Naohiro Masuda. “We will work hard so that people in Fukushima will once again be able to feel safe and secure living in the prefecture.”

During the Daini tour, Tepco showed reporters new safety features aimed at protecting against natural disasters, including a 3.6-meter-high levee created out of 232 bags of rocks piled up on top of each other, and a gas-fueled mobile power generator to serve as a backup in case the plant lost power.

Tepco invited reporters to stand right under the reactor of Unit 4—which still contains nuclear fuel—to show how safe the plant is. Since the March 2011 disaster, Tepco has put repairs of Daini on the back burner. Only one unit—reactor 4—has its safety functions fully restored. Tepco expects it will take until March 2013 to complete permanent repairs to the other three units.

“Our current focus is to ensure that Unit 4 is kept in a stable condition and to provide permanent fixes to the three other units,” said plant manager Naohiro Masuda. “We will work hard so that people in Fukushima will once again be able to feel safe and secure living in the prefecture.”

During the Daini tour, Tepco showed reporters new safety features aimed at protecting against natural disasters, including a 3.6-meter-high levee created out of 232 bags of rocks piled up on top of each other, and a gas-fueled mobile power generator to serve as a backup in case the plant lost power.

Tepco invited reporters to stand right under the reactor of Unit 4—which still contains nuclear fuel—to show how safe the plant is. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304141204577506531300365556.html

A bunch of Journalists standing under Reactor No. 4 is no guarantee of anything. The AEC’s full scale test of ECCS and containment came decades late, in March 2011. The semi scale tests, conducted decades earlier had indeed been proven accurate predictors of consequences. As have those who voice and wrote of their concerns and resigned their jobs over the state of nuclear culture and product design realities.

These concerns will not go away simply because industry persists with the myth that it is perfectly safe. It is not.

This article was written at the time TEPCO and world nuclear experts were denying multiple meltdowns had occurred:


The end result of months of industry reassurances, and after months of it labeling populations “radiophobic” is less trust and less belief in much that the industry has to say.

The coordination in bullshit uttered by nuclear industry on a global basis over the months since March 2011 has been as breath taking in its audacity. It has been entirely counter productive to the aims such spokes people seek.

Callous off shore utterances came from the Chief British Scientist, who, while the reactors where in meltdown, presented that merely as a future possibility, and who assured the world the reactors would spew their contents only over a few metres and only for few hours. British government officials were caught colluding with nuclear industry in order to spin soothing lies to the public. The resultant emails were made public and the morality of the nuclear circus was once again revealed.

The most callous were the Japanese utterances claiming Plutonium is ok for babies to eat.

The most glaring fool hardiness is the obvious flaws in evacuations zones which end before the fallout feathers do.

The most incompetent and care less decision involve the entrapment of people in high fallout zones by government policy.

The reactors are still breached and venting, though at greatly reduced rates.

British Chief Scientist Beddintgon: “In that situation you would get an explosion and radioactive material would be emitted. But it would be emitted to about 500 metres and it would be a relatively short duration of the order of an hour or so. Compare that with Chernobyl…”

Beddington needs to consider falling on his sword. The baloney and disaster worsening was not soley a result of Japanese cultural realities. It was primarily the result of World Nuclear Cultural Norms, the primary one being denial and deliberate, flagrant optimism in the face of the facts.

“This is normal” – A nuclear expert from Canberra describes the reactor explosions of March 2011.

Crap mate.



Internal emails seen by Guardian show PR campaign was launched to protect UK nuclear plans after tsunami in Japan

Rob Edwards
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 30 June 2011 21.36 BST

British government officials approached nuclear companies to draw up a co-ordinated public relations strategy to play down the Fukushima nuclear accident just two days after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and before the extent of the radiation leak was known.

Internal emails seen by the Guardian show how the business and energy departments worked closely behind the scenes with the multinational companies EDF Energy, Areva and Westinghouse to try to ensure the accident did not derail their plans for a new generation of nuclear stations in the UK.

“This has the potential to set the nuclear industry back globally,” wrote one official at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), whose name has been redacted. “We need to ensure the anti-nuclear chaps and chapesses do not gain ground on this. We need to occupy the territory and hold it. We really need to show the safety of nuclear.”

See above on the history of ECCS and Containment failure. Just one topic. Fukushima, clearly, is no demo of anything other than the fact that the decades old semi scale tests were proven correct in their negative predictions by the Fukushima mass reactor containment failures of March 2011.

I refer the reader to the Redfern Report which describes the lengths British nuclear authorities went to in order to investigate the plutonium contamination of people in the UK.

Nuclear Workers – Redfern Report – Statement to the House pdf

16 NOVEMBER 2010
“The Inquiry was established to investigate the circumstances in which organs were removed from individuals, and were sent to and analysed at Sellafield. However, as evidence came to light of similar work carried out at other sites and of studies involving non-nuclear workers, Michael Redfern QC was asked to make these additional cases part of his Inquiry…..
The report highlights unacceptable working practices within the nuclear industry, NHS pathology services and the coronial service, and concludes that families’ views were not always obtained as required under the Human Tissue Act 1961. ….
The Inquiry found that organs from 64 former Sellafield workers were removed by pathologists and taken for analysis at Sellafield between 1960 and 1991. In addition, organs taken from 12 workers at other nuclear sites were analysed at, or at the request of, Sellafield, giving a total cohort of 76. The Inquiry also found evidence of other individuals whose organs were analysed at Sellafield.
The report finds that there was a lack of ethical consideration of the implications of the research work the industry was doing; that there was limited supervision undertaken; and that relationships between pathologists, coroners and the Sellafield medical officers became too close.

The Inquiry has found that organs from a small number of former Ministry of Defence employees were removed for analysis. It has been difficult to establish the legality of a minority of these removals. Also, during the 1950s and 1960s the Medical Research Council oversaw research measuring levels of Strontium-90 in human bone obtained at post mortem. It was a national survey, involving over 6000 people, mostly children, and was not linked to former nuclear workers.”

This is the moral ground of the nuclear industry movers and shakers. The stealing of tissue ended in the 1970s under Project Sunshine. But in England the tissue theft continued into the 1990s as plutonium was secretly tracked in the tissues of children.

One Response to “A Short History of Nuclear Regulation in the USA, focus on ECCS and Containment.”

  1. CaptD Says:

    Super Article …. SALUTE

    This needs to be shared widely!

    Liked and Tweeted…

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