• Dr Aris Candris

    (now former) President and Chief Executive Officer  

    Aris Candris

      

    What was your reaction to the natural disaster in Japan on March 11 and the subsequent accident at Fukushima?

    To the event itself - the earthquake and ensuing tsunami - I expect I reacted as most people did. The human toll was, and still is, stunning: nearly 20,000 people feared dead or missing. And for the survivors of that unparalleled natural disaster, it will take decades to rebuild.

    As for the events at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, I think that it is imperative to note that, after the earthquake occurred, all of the reactors at the plant shut down safely. It was only when the massive tsunami, approximately 45 feet high, struck the east coast that the Fukushima plant experienced a total power failure that disabled critical safety systems. What happened at Fukushima was a series of unprecedented natural disasters that exceeded the design basis.

    When an extraordinary and unforeseen natural disaster, such as the one that occurred in Japan last March occurs, it is human nature to respond with some measure of uncertainty.  And while some of the insecurity experienced by the general public resulted from exaggerations in the general media, I believe that the more serious issue was the lack of understanding of the unfolding events at Fukushima, and the true global repercussions of what happened there.

     Has Westinghouse been involved in the recovery operations at Fukushima?

    The immediate Westinghouse response was to set up an emergency response team to help our employees in the country. Once we ascertained that all Westinghouse employees were accounted for and safe, we focused more on the response to the area surrounding Fukushima, including making a substantial monetary contribution that went primarily to the Red Cross Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami Fund, and recovery efforts in Tokai, where the Nuclear Fuel Industries Ltd. is located. (Westinghouse is a majority shareholder.) 

    Westinghouse then turned to the recovery operations at Fukushima. In the first days following the disaster, we donated safety supplies and protective gear needed by workers that were shipped to TEPCO facilities. A few weeks later, we began participating in the recovery efforts in a greater capacity, including joining a team that was made up of Toshiba, Shaw Power Group, Babcock & Wilcox and Westinghouse, to assist TEPCO. In total, Westinghouse had more than 150 people in both Japan and the U.S. supporting the Fukushima stabilization efforts.

    Westinghouse has a great deal of experience in decommissioning and dismantling nuclear reactors around the world, and so it made sense to offer our support in this area. In response to the situation at Fukushima, we supplied four T-Hawk Micro Air Vehicles (MAV) from Honeywell to get up-close video and photos inside the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility needed for decision support in the initial days following the earthquake and tsunami. We then hired three trained pilots to operate the unmanned vehicles , which took video and still images of inside the damaged reactors and transmitted the information back to the surveillance team. This information helped greatly with later decision-making in the stabilization efforts.

    Today, we're continuing to provide technical support and expertise as well as equipment through integrated efforts with our majority stakeholder Toshiba to continue to support the Westinghouse post-Fukushima program.

    What actions has Westinghouse carried out in response to Fukushima?

    Westinghouse has always had an exceedingly strong and unwavering commitment to plant safety; we are proud of this and continue to contribute to the safety of nuclear energy plants around the world.  In fact, nuclear power plants in the United States are widely considered to be the most robust, and secure non-military facilities in the country.  But one of the lessons from Fukushima is that our level of safety, security and protection can be improved through planning and preparation.

    Already at Westinghouse, we are developing products that will address the kind of emergency situations encountered at Fukushima.  For example, we have developed an emergency fuel pool cooling system (EFPCS) to address emergency situations, such as the events that occurred at Fukushima.  This system consists of a permanently installed "primary" cooling loop located inside the reactor building or spent fuel pool (SFP) building, and a mobile "secondary" cooling loop.

    Another example is the SHIELD passive thermal shutdown seal, developed as a passive means of protecting the reactor core by preventing a loss of water inventory in the reactor coolant system (RCS), should an event occur that causes a loss of all seal cooling. The SHIELD is a fail-safe protection that will eliminate leakage from the RCP seal with no operator action, power or control logic required.

    In fact, Westinghouse has a complement of products and services to address our global customers' needs in identifying enhancement to plant safety, such as severe accident mitigation, spent fuel pool protection and station blackout coping, including a full range of modification services in response to insights from Fukushima.

     What does the nuclear industry as a whole need to do in response to Fukushima?

    Fukushima has reinforced the need to further prepare for the unexpected.  It is imperative to assess and, where necessary, incorporate significant new information as it becomes available. Some specific improvements that have already been identified (and in some cases incorporated) include the addition of improved defenses for external/environmental challenges; the extended ability to withstand loss of offsite power and ultimate heat sink (UHS); an increased emphasis on spent fuel pools; the evaluation of multi-unit events; and the incorporation of better operator training and emergency procedures.  As is our nature and practice, we will incorporate any lessons learned across the industry as the first step in a short-term and long-term review of enhancements that may be made at all nuclear facilities in the aftermath of the events in Japan.

    I also feel very strongly that as an industry, we have not been communicating as effectively as we should.  I believe that we need to step up our efforts to educate the public, not only about what happened at Fukushima, but also about basic facts regarding nuclear energy.

    What can be done at existing nuclear plants to ensure their safety in response to learning from Fukushima?

    As a first response, many safety authorities implemented reviews to see what lessons can be learned from the accident.  Countries with operating reactors set up programs to see how their fleets would perform in the face of a disaster that results in reactor shutdown and a prolonged loss of grid and emergency power - such as what happened at Fukushima Daiichi. In the United States, within weeks of Fukushima, the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) conducted thorough inspections of all U.S. plants. The reports from these inspections indicate that nuclear plants are generally well placed and are properly designed and maintained to withstand environmental impacts.

    To better coordinate on industry response activities and ensure that no gaps exist, the U.S. nuclear energy industry has created a leadership structure among major electric-sector organizations to integrate and coordinate the industry's ongoing response to the Fukushima Daiichi event.  One of the outcomes of coordinated industry activities is a strategy known as the "diverse and flexible mitigation capability," or FLEX.  It addresses many of the recommendations set forth by the NRC's Fukushima task force and takes into account some of the early lessons from the Fukushima accident on the need to maintain key safety functions amid conditions where electricity may be lost, back-up equipment could be damaged, and several reactors may be involved.

    Additional areas of focus include:

    • The maintenance and improvement of safety at the United States' 104 reactors
    • The identification and sharing of lessons learned from Fukushima
    • Improvement of the industry's response plan
    • Strategic communications outreach
    • Management of the industry's response to new regulatory requirements
    • Lessons learned from international investigations
    • Focus on existing technical solutions and adjustments to R&D priorities to support new safety programs


     What features do new reactor designs offer to address the issues faced at Fukushima?

    New reactor designs have evolved dramatically over the decades and some now incorporate passive safety features that would have prevented the type of accident that occurred at Fukushima.  The Westinghouse AP1000® reactor, for example, which has emerged as a preferred design for electric utility customers around the world, employs passive safety systems.  These safety systems rely on gravity, natural circulation and condensation to shut down safely and maintain the cooling process for three days, even with a complete loss of power and without human intervention, and then indefinitely with only minimal effort. 

    What do you now see as the future for nuclear power?

    As you may know, in December, the U.S. NRC granted the Design Certification Amendment to Westinghouse for the AP1000 design, and regulators in the United Kingdom granted Interim Design Acceptance Confirmation and Interim Statement of Design Acceptability.  And in January, the NRC approved Southern Nuclear Operating Company's (SNC) application for two Combined Operating Licenses (COLs) at the Vogtle site in Burke County, Ga. (USA).  The COLs authorize SNC to build and operate two AP1000 reactors at the Vogtle site, adjacent to the company's existing reactors.  This approval marks the first new nuclear plant approved by the NRC since 1978.  It is also the first license issued for both the construction and operation of a nuclear plant in one-step, under a set of standardization rules that was first approved by Congress in the Energy Policy Act of 1992.  Additionally, in China, four AP1000 plants are under construction, with many more expected in the coming years.

    Other markets for new nuclear plants include the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, Poland, Brazil, South Africa and India with no less than 30 other countries announcing longer-term interest in new construction.  Furthermore, Westinghouse is fully committed to the fuel and service segments of the nuclear energy industry.  Annually, the company provides fuel, maintenance and instrumentation and control equipment, or combinations thereof, to well over 100 operating nuclear plants throughout the Americas, Europe and in Asia.

    According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, world electricity demand is projected to double by the year 2030.  With this growth will come the need for large amounts of additional electricity.  We at Westinghouse, and others in our industry, favor balanced energy policies that promote conservation while making use of a wide range of generating sources such as coal, gas, renewables and, of course, nuclear. 

    The fact remains that nuclear energy is a safe, clean, cost-effective and reliable source of baseload power that is essential to both economic prosperity and a clean environment.  Already, nuclear energy in the United States produces more than 70 percent of all of our carbon-free electricity, in addition to creating thousands of stable jobs.  We in the nuclear energy industry look forward to continuing and increasing this vital contribution in meeting global energy, environmental and economic needs.