What can lightning do to a nuke?

from 12 August 2006

(by Diet Simon)

Can a lighting strike or a short-circuit put the safety systems of nuclear power stations out of action?
That’s one of the things the German environment minister, whose portfolio includes nuclear safety, wants examined at German nukes.

Sigmar Gabriel, a Social Democrat, has been prompted by the switchoff of several Swedish nukes to demand a check on German ones. A recent disturbance at the Forsmark station in Sweden was claimed by some insiders to have got close to a Chernobyl-type disaster. Gabriel is demanding safety checks at German nukes following his ministry’s inquiries with authorities in the federal states, which are the nuclear supervisors.

"By what’s known so far, the Forsmark disturbance cannot be transferred one to one and we don’t have to shut down any reactors here,” said Gabriel, “but it does raise issues that we have to clarify carefully.”

The Gabriel ministry says in a media release that in principle it has to be found out for German atomic power stations what would happen if electric overloads were carried into the plants from outside and what effects on the plants’ internal networks are possible. Plant documentation would have to be compared with their actual condition.

“The question is, can a short circuit or a lightning strike create a situation which makes the safety systems of the atomic power stations ineffective,” the release quotes Gabriel as saying.

The Swedish nuclear supervisory authorities say more investigations are needed there, especially as to how the instrumentation needed to run the reactor could fail. This was why, Gabriel is quoted as saying, all opinions on the transferability of the incident could only be provisional.

“I would have wished that the German operators of atomic power stations had responded somewhat more safety-consciously, rather than rush to market with mollifications,” Gabriel is quoted as saying.

The breakdown in Sweden, not caught by any previous safety analysis, shows that atomic power is so complex that such occurrences belong with the system-immanent risks of the technology, says the ministry statement. It continues: “It is not possible to examine beforehand all practically occurring possibilities, said the environment minister. ‘What we’re experiencing here, learning by doing, is normality in using atomic power. And that precisely is the problem of this form of energy,’ said Gabriel. This applied especially to older reactors. The federal environment minister therefore called on the operators of German atomic power stations to make use of the provision in the Atomic Energy Act to transfer remaining power production volumes from older to newer, more modern reactors. ‘That would contribute to safety in Germany,’ Gabriel said.”

The media release rejected the accusation by some federal states that the federal government had informed them too late. The release says on Thursday 3 August the first provisional analysis of the breakdown by the Swedish supervisors was available, which the Gabriel ministry had passed on with its initial assessment to the states the following morning. Before that only a report by the INES system of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had been available on the Internet. The states’ nuclear supervisors have their own access to the reporting system, the release argues, but notes that it provides no background information to its users.

A team of IAEA experts is to examine the system of government supervision of atomic installations in Germany next year, the ministry reports. “That has long been practice in other countries like France or Great Britain,” the minister is quoted as saying. In these check-ups the IAEA looks whether a country’s structure can be improved to international standards.

“As the federal government we want to submit to this check-up, but assume that it’s also in the interest of the federal states. This is certainly no subject for federal points-scoring,” Gabriel says in the release.
The release is available in German at http://www.bmu.de/pressemitteilungen/pressemitteilungen_ab_22112005/pm/37578.php

Bearbeitet am: 12.08.2006/ad

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