Posted by Gijs Verrest, Consultant Kepner-Tregoe, June 24, 2014

 

 

On 11 March 2011 Japan experienced a severe earthquake east of the city of Sendai, with a magnitude of 9.0 on the Richter scale. The quake cut off all external power supplies to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. As a result, the essential cooling of the reactor cores was threatened, risking a disastrous meltdown. However, within 10 seconds the plant’s emergency power system automatically kicked in. With power now supplied by twelve diesel generators, the cooling system pumps continued to operate, and the danger appeared to have been averted.

The earthquake also caused a massive tsunami that flooded the site of the nuclear power plant, filling the cellars - where the diesel generators were installed - with water. The seawater knocked out the non-waterproofed equipment, and the generators came to a halt. Fukushima Daiichi subsequently underwent a total blackout of the station. The disaster that followed was unprecedented, and had an enormous impact on people, the environment and the economy, both inside and outside Japan.

The Fukushima Daiichi example demonstrates that the many far-reaching consequences can be traced back to just a few poor decisions:

The Fukushima disaster, triggered by an earth-quake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, affected several nuclear plants in Japan simultaneously. We show that three variables were crucial during early stages of the disaster: plant elevation, sea wall elevation, and location and status of backup generators. Higher elevations for any of these three variables, or watertight protection of backup emergency diesel generators (EDGs) and electrical circuits, would have likely prevented the disaster at Fukushima Daiichi NPP.

Stanford, 2013: The Fukushima Disaster and Japan’s Nuclear Plant Vulnerability in Comparative Perspective

How can we explain the poor decision making and reactive attitude in the forty years since Fukushima was commissioned? In the article 'Think Clearly - beware the curse of Sloppy Thinking' we explore causes, effects and resolutions.

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