Japanese light water reactors had obvious design and installation issues

by Tom Devanney

The recent March 11th 9.0 Earthquake in Northeastern Japan caused serious damage to the Fukushima Nuclear Power station at Sendai.  This picture shows the installation before the catastrophic event. The four large tall square buildings are the reactor containment buildings. The light water reactors (LWR) inside generated most of northern Japan’s electrical power for industrial and residential use. They are at best, 15 feet above sea level.

The reactor containment buildings are lined up behind the pumping and control buildings. The reactors are completely safe, as long as the cooling mechanism and backup power are working. There are obvious issues with the plant design and installation.

  1. Site Selection and design. There are possible site selection flaws.  The containment buildings are lined up like pins in a bowling alley.  This subjects them to a tsunami that is barely 25 feet high, let along the March 18th wave of 70+ feet.  The tsunami scraped the entire installation to ground level save the concrete containment structures.  Backup power was at ground level.   The tidal wave put it under water and rendered it useless.   It takes seven days to cool a light water reactor down to ambient temperature.
  2. Nuclear Reactor Type. There are several types, gas cooled, light water, heavy water, and pebble bed.  The Fukushima light water reactors are safe and efficient if used in a location where they are not subject to tsunami wave action.  A better reactor design for this installation probably would be gas cooled. Gas cooled reactors would have not generated a hydrogen bubble after backup power was lost.  The resulting loss of power also subjected the spent fuel storage facility in all units to overheating.  Fukushima was a disaster waiting to happen.
  3. Power Generating Cost. Nuclear energy costs are now leaning in favor of nuclear power.  Current light water and gas cooled energy generating costs are about even.  In 1962 however, light water reactors were the answer.  GE and other reactor manufacturers were committed to light water.  There are nuclear waste issues, but disposal of both types are about the same.  On site storage of spent fuel is the standard.  Studies have shown that both types are currently close in energy cost.

The problem with Fukushima was a combination of several factors.  If the site selection alone were addressed, the plant would have been spared.  Safe to say, the nuclear power industry will never be the same again.

The websites below are available to research issues with nuclear power.  A basic approach is to evaluate seismic issues, address site location, insure an adequate source of water for backup and emergency use, and a study of which type of nuclear reactor best suits the market.

This picture serves as a warning to what can happen when simple common engineering sense is ignored.


Research issues with nuclear power

Gas cooled






Pebble Bed




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Posted by at 03:54 | Posted in Energy | 20 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Pete

    Minor detail. I thought the earthquake was March 11.

    • Reper

      Not so minor a detail! Thank you Pete!

    • Reper

      Not so minor a detail! Thank you Pete! (Editor)

    • Reper

      Disqus is showing the reply thanking Pete as being from Reper but it’s actually from oregonca (Oregon Catalyst – Editor)

  • Reper

    First positive and different outlook I have read on the Japanese Nuke incident.

  • Reper

    First positive and different outlook I have read on the Japanese Nuke incident.

  • Reper

    First positive and different outlook I have read on the Japanese Nuke incident.

  • Valley person

    They are perfectly safe as long as the cooling is working….and no one screws up….and nature doesn’t throw a big (and predictable) earthquake at it….and if they could figure out where to put the spent fuel….and if they transport that and store it safely for 1000 years or more.

    Unfortunately for Japan, a private sector utility company screw up may have made a big part of a small, overcrowded nation uninhabitable for years. The government to the rescue once again.

  • Rupert in Springfield

    There is a good and a bad side to everything. The bad side of this is of course the tragedy for the people of Japan as well as in all probability eliminating any near term extension of nuclear power in this country.

    The up side is, no nukes effectively kills the electric car in this country as even if all the other problems with them were solved, there is no viable means of meeting their electrical demand. Windmills and solar panels are good as prayer objects, but wont meet the demand. Current power production wont do it either, unless you believe everyone is going to plug in at the same time during low power demand, something that isn’t going to happen.

    My guess is by by nukes, say hello to more coal and natural gas. Whether thats a good thing or bad is a different question. It is, however, the inevitable outcome of a no nuke policy. Something born of the same dull thinking as the oil drilling moratorium.

    • Valley person

      People, nearly everyone, will plug in their cars at night Rupert, otherwise a period of low demand. And with or without nukes, no one is creating more easy access oil, so the internal combustion engine is not a long term prospect. Maybe bicycles and choo coo trains aren’t so dumb after all?

      Nukes were already going bye bye. Far too expensive and too risky. Private utility companies do not want to build them. They are however, building those wind turbines you say don’t work.

      • noibn
      • Gotcha222

        Troll, utilities are only building wind turbines as a result of mandates, subsidies & tax breaks.

        Wind turbines are an inconsistent generator of power and mandate a stable continuous-demand supply. Without so-called nuclear power and/or fossil-fuel power generation, there would be rolling blackouts at night, eclipsing any possibility of nighttime charging.

        btw, moron, internal combustion engines run on natural gas & hydrogen as well. Internal-combustion engines will be around much longer than your waste-generating body until such a time that a new technology is able to replace all current electrical power generation to permit the switch to a hydrogen-based/fuel-cell fuel economy (or whatever vision results from coming technology). As well, hydrogen also requires electricity to produce, and it isn’t coming from wind turbines.

        Finally, making emotional choices about energy based on flawed & falsified science doesn’t permit the nation to ‘spend down its capital’ (your asinine words) to invest in alternative technologies. It does, in fact, ROB the very capital that would deliver your emotional vision of the future.

        • valley person

          There is no mandate to build wind turbines. The mandate is to provide a certain proportion of non polluting energy. Utilities choose wind because it is presently the most economical of the available options. Nuclear is not chosen because it is too expensive and too high risk. Its a free market decision within the regulatory framework.

          Yes, wind energy in any particular location is inconsistent, but is also pretty predictable seasonally and daily. Wind energy dispersed over much of the nation in a linked grid is very consistent. Backup generation, particularly gas and hydro, can be quickly ramped up or down depending on how much wind is blowing at a given time. Nuclear plants can be shut down for months or years for maintenance or fuel rod replacement. How do we get by when that happens? They shift electrons around from available sources. Grid operators are apparently smarter than you think.

          The only major black or brownouts the US has had in the past few decades were in California courtesy of private sector Enron greed, not renewable energy, and in the Northeast due to seasonal overloading of conventional systems, no wind in the picture.

          Hydrogen energy has to be produced before it can be used. Wind is as good of a method for producing it as any. The challenge is transporting it from point of production to a usable location. And creating a market for hydrogen, which takes a lot of infrastructure someone has to pay for up front.

          Flawed science? Are we talking global warming? The only flaw is in your understanding of the science. Unless you think you know more than the National Academy and every other major scientific institution on the planet.

          Given your name calling skills, which are at 2nd grade level, I can’t take you seriously as an intellectual competitor with the National Academy. Don’t take it personally.

          • Gotcha222

            I call it like it is, troll.

            Keep writing; you make my case with every word & evasion/manipulation of posted statements. You know it; others know it. I tried to engage you; your response was illogical ignorance, evasion & obfuscation…a downright adolescent temper-tantrum. You lost the right to expect an intellectual debate because you have demonstrated no independent thought and refuse to or cannot engage intellectually. Rather, you evade & parrot other’s words.

            It seems I hit a nerve: Your lame attempt to obfuscate your refusal to engage my statements by mocking me as an ‘intellectual competitor’ is amusing. I’m honored.

            I’m ROFLMAO at your intellect, wanker.

          • valley person

            You tried to engage me by calling me a troll and moron? That is your version of engagement?

            Your problem is your argument is bupkess. So by all means stick to the name calling. Its your best bet.

          • Gotcha222

            Obfuscation again.

            You completely ignored debating me in a prior post.

            You lost the right to expect debate since you cannot engage in it and you now resort to personal attacks.

            Literally speaking, you ARE a troll and HAVE exhibited yourself with moronic thought. You come to Oregon Catalyst SOLELY to proselytize your view of the world, just as many other trolls have been tasked by the DNC to do not only of blogs, but talk radio as well.
            I ‘called’ you a WANKER.

            Also, it’s ‘BUPKIS’.


            I’m now getting the impression your IP would route to a regional campus (PSU?); you should ‘spend down your capital’ to reinvest in your sorely-lacking education…or maybe get your money back (if it was your money to begin with).

          • valley person

            I lost the right to expect debate? Poor me. Look dude, I don’t expect a rational debate from you or most other Catalyst posters. I may be a liberal but I am not naive. You resort to name calling, like many here, because you lack fact-based arguments. You continuously repeat the same tepid names to what end? Do you think you are making me feel bad, or is this how you make yourself feel better? Its pathetic.

            Let me clue you in. You aren’t making me feel bad. I doubt you even have the verbal capacity to make me feel bad. When someone, particularly at a safe distance (and anonymously) calls me names within the context of a political argument, its as clear a sign as can be that they can’t handle the argument.

            As for your assumptions (or thinly veiled threat if that is what tracing my IP amounts to,) you are free to make any you like. I find no need to make any at all about you. I’m not interested enough in you to bother.

  • HBguy

    Thank goodness our nation doesn’t have a history of hidden construction defects, politicizing insfrastructure locations and right of ways, Private companies who sacrafice safety for profit, scientists and engineers who will bend to the will of their employers, industry choosing less capable sub contractors because of insider connections, petty corruption and outright graft, and building inspectors who are overworked or incompetent.

    Boy, if we had any of that, I’d be worried. Thanks for letting us know that this is a uniquely Japanese problem and is unlikely to be replicated here.

  • noibn

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