What Have we Learned From Three Mile Island 17 Years Later?
Preventing Future Chernobyl's
April 05, 1996
In 1986 there was a disastrous meltdown of a nuclear reactor at Chernobyl in the Soviet Union. At the time, this created an awareness of the issue of nuclear safety that many believed would bring massive changes. Ten years later, however, it is not clear that we have learned much at all that will protect us from another such incident in the future.
A report in March noted that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the U.S. may have done only a limited analysis of the issue of nuclear safety. The mission statement of the NRC promises full accountability, but the agency does not seem to take this seriously. Even in the face of the Three Mile Island incident, the NRC has failed to take serious action.
One fact that stated by Dr. Najmedin Meshkati, Institute of Safety and System Management at the University of Southern California. When a complex and not understood situation such that could cause of incidents and accident at nuclear power plants drives from human and organizational factors. However, human performances are considered to be very important issue based on the U.S. NRC study in 1985. This study reported that 65% of U.S. commercial nuclear systems failures involve human error. By relating this fact from Dr. Meshkati with Chernobyl accident, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have posted a summary report on the Chernobyl accident in 1986 upon their review meeting. This meeting held that the root cause of the Chernobyl accident is to be found in the so-called human element.
In fact, the chairwoman of the NRC, Shirley Ann Jackson, has stated that the responsibility for safety rests with the industry, meaning that is not the NRCs responsibility. She says that the NRC is only intended as an auditor and notes that by the time the NRC catches a problem, it may be too late (Pooley 48). With this approach, it seems that the NRC is courting disasters, and near-disasters, like those of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. Thus any learning from past errors is placed upon the shoulders of the industry itself in order to prevent any future mishaps.
Yuri M. Shcherbak noted that Chernobyl was important and has to be understood in terms of why it happened and its consequences if we are to prevent future such incidents. He also is not hopeful that these lessons have as yet been learned:Chernobyl has taught the nations of the world a dreadful lesson about the necessity for preparedness if we are to rely on nuclear technology. Humankind lost a sort of innocence on April 26, 1986. We have embarked on a new, post-Chernobyl era, and we have yet to comprehend all the consequences. (Shcherbak 49)
The New York Times indicates that ten years after Chernobyl, the effects are still felt in Belarus, leaving considerable fear in the region that the effects could get still worse. Chernobyl is remembered not because it was the worst industrial accident of recent times, for it was not. It is remembered because of its political significance, economic dislocation, and absolute and enduring fear (Specter A1). We cannot dismiss Chernobyl simply because it was not the worst disaster that has occurred, for its lessons are important to prevent a worse disaster from developing.
Dr. Meshkati indicates that the right to ascertain that all aspects of global nuclear safety program should be considered by the international community. According to IAEA's, safety culture requires total detection, which at nuclear power plants is primarily generated by the attitudes of a managers of organizations involved in their development and operation. However, one of the suggestion made by Dr. Meshkati is that organized international efforts, such as the G-7 project (The government of the G-7 countries and the commission of the European Communities), should as much as possible ensure the inclusion of all needed aspects of safety improvements (emphasis on human and organizational factors) of nuclear power plants in Central and Eastern Europe.
In the American nuclear power industry, whistleblowers have noted how many near disasters there have been over the years, and the fact that there has been no nuclear accident of the scope of Chernobyl in the United States is seen more as an accident itself than because of any wise planning by our regulators. This sheds a rather frightening light on the Three Mile Island incident -- not only could it have been as bad as Chernobyl, but it surpassing that it was not. Investigator George Galatis refers to evidence he found that suggested collusion between the regulatory agency and those it is supposed to regulate (Pooley 52). He also says that the NRC has undertaken much activity since his accusations but charges that they are no more than window-dressing (Pooley 54). It would appear that ten years after Chernobyl, we still have not learned the lessons of that disaster and might be courting further disaster as a result.
Pooley, Eric. "Nuclear Warriors." Time Magazine (March 4, 1996), 46-54.
Shcherbak, Yuri M. "Ten Years of the Chernobyl Era." Scientific American (April 1996), 44-49.
Specter, Michael. "10 Years Later, Through fear, Chernobyl Still Kills in Belarus." New York Times (March 31, 1996), A1, A4.
Dr.Najm Meshkati. Institute of Safety and Systems Management, USC. Testimony on the MOU (Dec 22, 1995), 1-3.
Since the Three-Mile-Island accident has been occurred in 1979, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant was occurred big accident and then, still, similliar accident were occurred. So, now, I have few questions about these nuclear power accident which are being occurred including recent nuclear power system which the Northeast Utilities that is belong to the Millstone. What is biggest problem exit in the nuclear plant? Why they got similliar problems since the Three-Mile-Island accident.
First of all, most nuclear plants problems are resulted from operational errors. Dr. Najamedin Meshkati strongly indicates that an error is affect of such factor complicated operational process, ineffective training, non-responsive managerial systems, non-adaptive organizational designs, haphazard response systems and sudden environmental disturbances rather than being the cause of the accident. For example, also, these plants, which I mentioned above, problems were cooling system problem but beyond the problem, the basical problem was ignored by the staff and operators that were operational and managerial system in plant because these system is the lack of relationship among facilities and does not share informations each other.
Second, In those nuclear power system have so many complex operational keys, buttons, gauges, and functional sites. Also, each functional site is isolated and there are few relationships among different functional sites which an operator does not know much the the other section. These kind of wrong human factor system layout and managerial system could make big explosion like another Chernobyl if those problems were not improved. Many similliar buttons or keys could be operated accidental wrong if an operator's small mistake or idle because in nuclear power supply system, any small errors must not be allowed. For instance, the Chernobyl explosion and Millstone problem were resulted from an operator and staff's misconcept and idle. However, sequently, the result of explosion gave many people very terrible pains, which, still, radiative effection has been killing many people and given them painful diseases, such as cancer, AIDS,and birth of deformed children.
Now, it is time to consider the human factor layout of each nuclear power system, otherwise we do not know when we could get second Chernobyl explosion accident. Moreover, we need check new managerial system to control, combine, share informations among different operators and staffs, as well as each worker, who were working in nuclear system, must remind that they take a responsible not only each nuclear plant but also many global human neighbors safety.
From: email@example.com (Chander P. Burgos)
Subject: TMI Report
I believe since the Three Mile Island incident, not much by theway of safety has improved in the Nuclear Power environment. There havebeen too many close calls at various nuclear plants since TMI that it is hard to convince me that safety is an important factor to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission(NRC) and power companies across the United States. Rather, revenues are much more of a priority. In the past year, two nuclear plants in the New England area have been halted by the NRC from producing power because of safety violations. It took more than four years prior to get any action from the NRC. The reason for this was simple economics, if a nuclear plant was to shut down, they would have to purchase power from a competitor to keep the flow of electricity to their customers, thus losing millions of dollars in revenues. The commission didn't consider the major issue, a possible meltdown if the safety standards weren't met. Instead it waived all safety violations because they believed that the violations weren't threats to a possible meltdown.
How is a meltdown possible with today's technology? Well to put it simple, we are still living in the past. It's been over a decade since the last nuclear plant was built it the U.S.. Most nuclear power plants are not equipped with the technology of today's safety standards. The main reason for this is cost. It takes money to upgrade these nuclear plants which of course the owners don't feel it's their responsibility to pay for it. Much of their belief is "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". The NRC's belief is that even though there have been incidents where problems arose at nuclear plants, that the emergency systems prevented a meltdown from ever occurring. By believing that we are safe in the hands of the U.S. government and the NRC is almost insuring disaster. It only takes one meltdown to cause a catastrophe as it did in Chernobyl.
I would not say that Chernobyl was the major cause for the Soviet Union to fall, but it did greatly affect how fast they separated from regions which were contaminated by Chernobyl. It wasn't even the fact that so many people died or became severely sick, it was more of an expense that they did not want to handle. And still today, ten years after the disaster in Chernobyl, there are still two active reactors producing electricity from the same nuclear plant as the one which caused so much torment to Eastern Europe. Haven't they learned a lesson? Apparently not. They would rather put human life on the line instead if closing down these "accidents waiting to happen".
What have we learned from the TMI incident? Not too much. Money talks in our country. And when the government sees something wrong with a system, a little green goes farther than the threat of disaster. Although I can say now that I am very aware how close we are to a possible catastrophe, the rest of the country is clueless to the magnitude of a meltdown. That is sure ignorance on our part, not putting enough pressure on the government and NRC to improve our nuclear facilities. Much of our citizens have seen TMI and Chernobyl on the news, but they always think it's not going to happen to them. But now I believe it can, since there is a nuclear plant only 70 miles away from me.
What Have We Learned From Three Mile Island 17 Years Later:
Implications for Future Chernobyls
ISE 370L, 1996
It is difficult to argue that anything has been learned from the disaster of Chernobyl or the disaster that was averted at Three Mile Island. Given that we, as human beings can always find room for improvement in a situation, one has to look with great thoroughness at the nuclear industry to find the lessons learned from Three Mile Island. The results of these nuclear accidents do not reflect the brightest side of human activities. After Chernobyl it became obvious that poor workmanship combined with poorly trained personnel and poor human-machine interaction will eventually lead to problems (Ten Years of the Chernobyl Era, 1996). While it seems fairly certain that no American utility or engineering firm would allow construction problems like those that occurred at Chernobyl, the difficulties that arose at Three Mile Island were also foreseeable. It usually takes a tragedy to create change.
The nuclear industry in the United States has gone to great lengths to ensure that unlikely combinations of circumstances do not create nuclear disasters. Yet no one at Three Mile Island was prepared for the likelihood of a single prolonged incident. The redundancy of the built in systems did eventually prevail, and only a small amount of poisonous radiation was released (Are we safer after Three Mile Island?, 1989).
Human nature being what it is, the need for electricity will persist and the will to create energy by using coal, oil, or nuclear energy will not disappear. The possibility that accidents will never occur again in the nuclear industry is next to zero. The lesson that must be learned is engineering combined with the persistent human ability to spot problems can reduce the risk of a nuclear accident to a very low figure. Persistence and redundancy are what works, even though one hundred percent efficiency may never be achieved. The lesson to be learned from Three Mile Island is that better though not complete answers to the difficult problems presented by the use of nuclear energy are available.
Earlier experiences with nuclear power generating plants should have alerted the industry and its regulators to the possibility of trouble and the means of avoiding it. A similar situation at an Ohio nuclear plant two years earlier was handled routinely; a report on it was filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission but the information was never disseminated (Yes: Nuclear industry has changed its ways, 1989).
Self-improvement and better human-machine interaction are the key to achieving safer nuclear plants. Complete safety can not be guaranteed and that must be accepted as a fact. Because of incidents like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, information on engineering and design of nuclear power plants is shared world wide through the National Academy for Nuclear Training (Yes: Nuclear industry has changed its ways, 1989). Though this institution was formed years ago, pertinent information continues to be shared world wide today. More improvement is needed. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission continues to look closely at any power plant that appears even slightly suspicious in its operation (NRC May Close.., 1996). The lessons of Three Mile Island are that there is always room for improvement, but we must be vigilant and welcome the opportunity.
Kerber, Ross. NRC May Close Two Plants Owned
by Northeast Utilities, Citing Safety. The Wall Street Journal,
Meshkati, N. Are we safer after Three Mile Island?
Los Angeles Herald Examiner, 4-28-1989, A 17.
Pigford, T. H. Yes: Nuclear industry has changed its ways.
Los Angeles Herald Examiner, 4-28-1989. A 17.
Shcherbak, Y.M. Ten Years of the Chernobyl Era.
Scientific American, 4-96, Vol. 274 No. 4. pp 44-49.
What have we learned from Three-Mile Island 17 years later ? (the implication for future Chernobyl)
In today's society, people are afraid creating a power plant to generate electricity because of the facts which are related to the greenhouse effect. In the 21st century, people need a reliable power resource to serve a large area, at the same time does not having output of greenhouse gasses. Here comes the nuclear power resource to play the most important role in generating electricity to satisfy human's everyday life needs. There are 428 nuclear power plants world wide operating in 26 different countries, and 110 operating nuclear power plants in the United States itself . Nuclear energy production will grow an average of 3.3 to 4.2% per year worldwide from 1988-2005 .
In contrast, each of these nuclear power plants has potential to create a threatening situation due to the radiation of radioactive when errors occur. Recall to the Three-Mile Island incident and also the Chernobyl, which show the negative impacts of nuclear power plant(s). These accidents, create the economic losses, serious health hazards, and long lasting environmental consequences . The meltdown of Chernobyl plant in northern Ukraine, shows the world how bad are the effects of radioactive spillout from the damaged nuclear reactor. The radiation of Chernobyl accident was probably equal to hundreds of times more than the radiation from atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 . This accident is not the same as other disasters like fire, earthquake, or floods. This one can be called as the worst case causing thousands of environmental refugees, long term contamination of land, water, air, and may be a forever damage of the ecosystems.
Moreover, the Chenobyl's release of radioactive causes many losses such as more than 300,000 deaths, more victims than World War 2, twice of the normal rate of birth defects among the people who live in the plant area, 150,000 people were seriously affected by doses of radioactive iodine (those who lived in Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia). The nuclear safety issue has been ignored by the nuclear power plant companies (organization) and the regulator such as NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission). The problem lies in ignorance of interactions between human, engineering, organizational, and managerial factors of such a system . Almost all of errors occur in nuclear power plants are from the combination of complicated operational processes, ineffective training, non responsive managerial system, non adaptive organizational design, haphazard response system and natural disasters . In other words, the failures of the system can be traced by investigating the interaction between the operators and technology, whether they are equally matched together and also the fact that how effective it is when the two work together.
In addition to the nuclear safety issue, politics, resource, and structural problems are considered as major causes. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the United States is giving only the passing thought to nuclear safety. They are careless about enforcing public safety, instead, they more concern about proping up an embattled or the economically straitened industry . They neglect the fact that nuclear regulation is the public's business. NRC would have waived a safety issue which is too expensive. When a problem arise in a company about the safety issue, NRC would only investigate the problem but they rarely give penalties to those who violate the regulations. Even in some case, the NRC threaten to make some nuclear plants out of business. The way the NRC acts and makes decision are now driven by the power of "money talks" and international relation policies . In conclusion, I really hope that there is going to be no more accident like Chernobyl nor Three Mile Island in the future. Everyone in nuclear power plant business (companies and regulators) must be aware about public nuclear safety and willing to take any necessary actions to prevent any violations . Human factor which simply illustrates the interface between plant workers and the technology must be applied and modified as needed. It involves the communication, operational processes, effective training, managerial design, and work station design. The last but not least, NRC totally needs to improve the way they handle themselves as the only regulator in the US towards the industries.
Three-Mile Island and Chornobyl are two locations where nuclear reactor accidents. The two locations, separated by more than mere miles of land and sea, are in two extreme ends of political ideology. TMI came dangerously close to having a nuclear reactor meltdown, while Chornobyl, unfortunately did.
The conclusion of the President's commission that investigated into the TMI incident blamed human error on the part of the plant operators. However, Yale University sociologist Charles Perrow had other explanations for the incident. He termed the incident a "normal" accident, caused by the unexpected interaction of 5 discrete minor events to create a major problem. In the defense of the plant operators, they did not commit any major errors or made any disasterous decisions throught the course of the incident. Probably it could be argued that they did not do all the right things in the event of a meltdown threat, but without adequate training, could they be entirely blamed?
In the TMI incident, three major parties could be linked to it. They are the manufacturers of the plant, the owners of the plant, and the regulatory board which oversees that operations adhere to set standards.
The manufacturers' fault obviously was in producing a plant with engineering errors and failing to take notice and remedying it at time of completion of the plant. TMI was not the first plant they made to suffer from faulty purvs, and a similar incident happened sometime prior to TMI but was effectively contained. The manufacturer failed to ensure that all other existing plants did not have the same problem. Instead, it chose to ignore the warning from that prior incident in attempt to save costs.
The owners of the plant prior to the incident received employee requests to have a gauge installed to show the position of a valve, which could very well have averted the whole incident. After ignoring the requests for sometime, it decided to install instead a gauge that indicates the supposed position of the valve, and not the actual position. Rather than helping plant operators in the event of a crisis, it further clouded and confused them. There were several other instances where the plant owners chose to cut costs rather than meeting safety standards to make their operations more profitable.
The regulating body did not enforce the rules that it was supposed to, and silently condoned the plant owners attempts to compromise plant safety for profits. They did this partly to keep plants in operation by allowing plants to operate with more profits.
All three parties were ultimately not blamed for the TMI crisis, but operator incompetency was. But truly, who was responsible for making the operatores more competent? Who was responsible for their training? Not one of the three parties assumed full responsibility for employee training.
Given the largely "normal" nature of the TMI incident, it is very difficult and unfair in putting the blame on any one party or individual just for the simple reason that it is impossible to predict and avoid such normal accidents. But the TMI crisis exposed the many flaws existing in the maanufacturer/owner/regulating body relationship. It is a very dependant and delicate relationship its success is crucial in operating an efficient and safe nuclear power plant. When a party is not doing its duty and a link is broken(in the TMI incident, all three were not doing their duties), the threat of a nuclear catastrophe becomes very real.
In my personal opinion, a strong and independant industry watchdog with jurisdiction is necessary. Currently, the NRC is fulfilling that position. However, NRC should be made more accessible to individuals who wish to lodge complaints against specific companies. This is because managment often employs underhanded tactics to curb dissent among their personnel. In this way, employees need not worry about retaliation from their employers, while companies still get the scrutiny they deserve.
As for the Chornobbyl meltdown, it was a more clearcut case of engineering error. The nuclear reactor RBMK was modified from old military reactors for nuclear materials and did not have reinforced containment structures in the event of an accident. A plant test went awry resulted in the worst technogenic environmental disaster in history.
The political implication of the disaster was equally impressive; it was said that the catastrophe accelerated the fall of the Soviet Empire and ended the coldwar.
In the instances after the meltdown, government officials chose to denythe the accident till sometime later, and political propoganda further understated the severity of the disaster, in direct contradiction to "glasnost" and openness. In doing so, the evacuation of people from the disaster area was slowed down and more victims from radiation resulted.
The cost of cleanup in the aftermath was staggering. Not only the crops and animals around the area of the power plan had to be destroyed, the ground remained unarable indefinitely. The government had to relocate residents in Chornobyl to other areas and provide for their living and benefits. Furthermore, to contain the destroyed reactor and prevent it from spewing any much more fallout, a "supersarcophagus" had to be constructed at the cost of upwards of 300 million dollars.
Prior to the collapse of the Soviet regime, the central Soviet government heavily subsidized for the cost of the cleanup. Despite strong opposition to the breakup of the union, Ukraine now has to almost single-handedly account for the cleanup. a 12% tax on revenue(the Chornobyl tax) was enacted to help pay for the cleanup, and it is uncertain how much longer will even that help to provide benefits.
Sociologically, there were many implications. After relocating the residents from the disaster area, the ethnic deversity there was destroyed and deemed irreparable. There were the obvious medical casualties from the disaster, but compared to the chemical leak in Bhopal, India, the casualty and the injury rate were less its half. Also, ecologically, the oil fires in Kuwait were more devastating than the fallout from Chornobyl. But the psychological trauma of the Chornobyl victims were far deeper. I attribute this to the uncertainty which exists in the effects of the radiation. The radiation was the most probable cause for the ten-fold increas in thyroid cancer among children in Chornobyl, but other than that, for the rest of the adults living in Ukraine, the injury was mostly psychological. Abortion rate there in the period after the meltdown increased drastically as women feared for the consequences of exposure to radiation. The worstly affected men probably are the!
"liquidators" who toiled burying the most dangerous wasted and building the present "sarcophagus". They are noted to have reduced immune systems and said to have developed "Chornobyl AIDS". Other than them, it was uncertain the extent of radiation have on the rest of the population in the areas around Chornobyl. In a survey undertaken to compare the health of residents in affected areas and other people in areas not severly exposed radiation, the result was that physically there were no significance disparities between the two study groups. However, the people in the affected were very much more depressed and traumatized.
I guess it was the fear of the uncertain that so deeply traumatized the Chornobyl victims. They probably led each day praying and hoping that they would not develop cancer the next day. That kind of existence is definitely painful, and after sometime, it could result in apathy, and ultimately losing the will to live. That kind of thinking in hundreds and thousands of people, I guess, would probbaly be the most difficult and take the longest time to repair.
Hossam El Baba
Almost everybody is familiar with what happened in Chernobyl on 26 April 1986. So far, many volumes have been written about the different causes of this industrial disaster and many more were devoted to the effect that this disaster had on the entire world. What has happened is not controllable any more; however, various lessons can be learnt from this accident that will aid in preventing similar future disasters.
Whether in the united states or in any other country, safety issues should have precedence over financial ones. Simply because a nuclear accident anywhere is a nuclear accident everywhere. Recently, in the united states, some actions have been taken by the NRC (Nuclear Regulator Commission) to highlight the importance of safety issues to some nuclear power companies that lacks it. Millstone 1 has been closed since an engineer pointed out to the NRC that three times the allowed amount of spent, radioactive fuel rods were being stored in the cooling pool( March 11, 1996 issue of the Wall Street Journal ). In other words, without this brave engineer, the NRC couldnt have made the same decision.
The major concerns of the NRC is the use of nuclear reactors and other nuclear facilities as well as the possession, use, processing, transport, handling, and disposal of nuclear materials. The agency has been criticized for failing to take prompt actions where nuclear plants were found to be violating the NRCs standards; for failing to insure that workers were properly trained .(The NRC and Americas Nuclear Power Plants ,1987). In the ( March 4,1996 issue of TIME) Chairwoman of NRC Shirley Ann Jackson said When we catch problems, it never makes the papers -but added to that with 3000 employees and just four inspectors for every three plants, we have to focus on the issues with greatest safety significance. We can miss things.
Again, financial issues have been taken into consideration regarding the safety of nuclear power plants whether by the NRC or by the nuclear power companies. People have to wake up and smell the coffee, the safety issues that have been compromised may lead to disastrous consequences that nobody will be able to solve . The NRC shouldnt give such excuses to people about bypassing some minor safety matters. If USA, the leading country have such a concern about the safety of nuclear power plant, what is the developing countries going to be.
In conclusion, the function of nuclear power plants is to provide electricity to people to make life easier for them. Are people willing to take chances regarding the safety of their country in terms of nuclear radioactivity? Probably not.
What have we learned from Three Mile Island 17 years later?
Implications for Future Chernobyls
Jayson D. Brown
Chernobyl was one of the world’s worst technological disasters.It relesed 200 times more radiation than the combined radiation from atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. The accident at Chernobyl happened nine years after the Three Mile Island (TMI) accident.
The accident at TMI displayed the need for human factors renovation at most nuclear power plants. TMI gave a scare that showed just how vulnerable nuclear power plants are to “operator error.” The problem lies in the human and machine interface. According to International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Summery Report on the Post-Accident Review Meeting on the Chernobyl Accident (1986) "“The root cause of the Chernobyl accident, is concluded, is to be found in the so-called human element.....The lessons drawn from the Chernobyl accident are valuable for all reactor types."
Worldwide there are 428 nuclear power plants operating, 110 in the United States alone. This number is growing as more countries gain the technology needed to produce nuclear energy. Each one of these facilities has the potential to become another Chernobyl.
One must remember that a nuclear accident anywhere has an effect everywhere. The regions affected by the Chernobyl accident was not only the Ukraine but also Belarus, Russia, Georgia, Poland, Sweden, Germany, Turkey and even the U.S and Japan received measurable amounts of radiation (Scientific America, April 1996). This displays that we are all at risk. Just because a country does not use nuclear power does not mean it is safe. The whole world is susceptible to nuclear power plant accidents.
What needs to happen?
Regulatory commissions like the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) run by the United Nations and America’s own Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) need to increase their role in nuclear power plant regulation. They need to gain more power to become a policing bodies and informative bodies instead of just auditing agencies.
There are several cases in the United States where the NRC has known of nuclear power plants violating safety policies but have not done anything about them. According to a study done by a group called “We the People” if NRC enforced all the rules some plants could not compete economically (Time, 4 March 1994).
This brings up the concern of politics. The highly influential utilities companies have been able to get away with breaking safety violations to cut costs by either influencing the NRC or intimidating the whistle blowers. Whistle blowers are people with in an organization who report safety violations. Security engineer Glenda Kay Miller was sent to the company psychologists when she raised concerns about the reliability of the Browns Ferry nuclear plant’s employee-identification system (Wall Street Journal, 20 March 1996).
Both the NRC, and on an international scale, IAEA must become more proactive. They need to do their duty as enforcers of regulations to ensure the safety of nuclear power plants both in the U.S. and around the world. As Dr. Najmedin Meshkati stated in his testimony to the U.S. Commission on Improving Effectiveness of the United Nations, "“We eed much greater commitment, communication and active cooperation among those who could make these systems safer-- the member states’ governments and regulatory agencies, international financial institutions, international specialized agencies, reactor manufactures, plant managers, operators, unions and concerned research communities."
The IAEA and NRC need to disseminate information throughout the nuclear community. One plant that has encountered a problem can help other power plants prevent the problem from occurring at the other plants simply by informing them on what symptoms go along with the specific problem. This sharing of data will allow plants to prevent emergencies instead of just dealing with them as they occur. The NRC and IAEA should head programs to collect the relavent information and making it available. The internet is an excellent medium in which to do this.
As you can see it is going to take more than one county or agency to institute these changes. It must be a collaborative effort by all parties involved, but it is not an unreachable goal. The late Nobel physicist Richard Feynman said it best when he was discussing the space shuttle challenger explosion," “for a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations for nature cannot be fooled."”
What Have We Learned From TMI 17 Years Later: Implications For Future Chernobyl
"What is now proved true, was once only imagined" by William Blake. Back in the old days before we had electricity, our daily activity was limited and inefficient when compared to modern standards. Inventors such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Eddison dared to dream about how to make our daily life more efficient. Soon electricity was discovered and a house could be full of light with the flick of a simple switch. As the year 2000 creeps upon us, the more we are hungry for more efficient ways to save time. Of course, more energy resources would be required to meet that demand. So far, nuclear power has supplied our demand for energy. Everyday, a gigantic amount of nuclear energy is generated to support our everyday lifestyle. Nuclear power has become such an essential part of everyday life that it can almost be compared to necessities like electricity and telephones, or perhaps even water and air. Life without nuclear power would be best compared to life without electricity. In fact, electricity is mainly generated by nuclear power. According to Hans Blix, the director of general of International Atomic Energy Agency, "nuclear power is the only source [aside from hydropower] now available to generate electricity in the quantities, form and reliability needed without producing any of the greenhouse gasses." 428 nuclear power plants are now operating in 26 countries to meet the heavy demands of the energy resources in the world. There are 110 power plants in United State alone. Nuclear power was once thought to be the perfect solution for energy scarcity until the tragedies of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl occurred. The Three Mile Island and Chernobyl incidents opened important issues about the safety of nuclear power.
What caused all those tragedy in both TMI and Chernobyl ? Are we safe after all those tragedy had occurred ? Are both federal government and NRC trying there best to keep us from the threat of the nuclear leaking radiation ? These answers are still unknown to us. So what is the really the cause of the those tragedies? According to Dr. Meshkati from U.S.C., as well as many other top investigators in the field, you can attribute the responsibility to human error and politics. Meshkati commented on the issue of human error refering to TMI that "an error is usually the effect of such factors as complicated operational processes, ineffective training, non-responsive managerial systems, nonadaptive organizational designs, haphazard response system and sudden environmental disturbances rather than being the cause of the accident." Furthermore, TMI was an example of human error as the operator training for a chain of accidental events as opposed to an isolated enent which was non-existent. According to Time magazine, politics played an important role in the disasters as safety became secondary and it all comes back to money. "When a safety issue is too expensive for the industry, the NRC pencils it away," says Stephen Comley, executive director of a whistle-blower support group called We The People, which has brought many agency failures to light. "If the NRC enforced all of its rules, some of the plants we've studied couldn't compete economically." In a rare point of agreement with activists, the nuclear industry also says regulations threaten to drive some plants out of business, but it argues that many NRC rules boost costs without ensuring safety. "The fox is guarding the henhouse," says Senator Joseph Biden, who is pushing legislation to create an independent nuclear safety board outside of the NRC.
Some people believe history repeats itself. In my opinion, however, advancements in technology and a better understanding of the nuclear power planet has eliminated the possibility for tragedies like TMI and Chernobyl to ever happen again. First of all, we should integrate the human factor skill and previous experience into the present day's nuclear power planet. By minimizing the human error, it will allow us to decrease the chances of the nuclear power planet's tragedy to occur again. Secondly, we should definitely prioritize the moral issue over money and politics. As a result, I strongly support the idea of forming an independent safety board outside of the NRC. This way, we will ensure that there are no money or political issues that will jeopardize our safety.
What have we learned from Three Mile Island 17 years ago?
(Implications for future Chernobyl)
Most of nuclear power plants are not ergonomically designed and can cause tremendous disasters just like Three Mile Island (TMI), Chernobyl, Milestones and many more. After the TMI accident 17 years ago, from human factor point of view we actually have learned a lot of things. However, we learned nothing for implications for future Chernobyl with the two left reactors because most of the causes were about the faulty designs and we cannot do anything on Chernobyl because the design of Chernobyl is already fault. Yes, we can apply what we have learned to build new nuclear power plants even though we have not applied them to new nuclear power plant perfectly. A design of a nuclear power plant will never be perfect enough because there is going to be a place to be improved in order to minimize the risk accidents to occur in a nuclear power plant. Later in this paper, I will discuss about what we have learned from the TMI and some suggestions for future Chernobyl and the suggestions can also be applied for other nuclear power plants.
The meltdown of the reactor's core in TMI was caused mainly by LOCA ( Lost Of Coolant Accident). The valve which was not closed and led to lose the water in the primary loop. The operator who was on duty had already switched the OPEN to the CLOSED but the valve was not yet closed. Since the indicator for the actual position of the valve was not present, the operator did not know that the actual position of the valve was still open. Thus, the operator thought that the valve was closed already. In addition to the OPEN and CLOSED indicator, the control board did not have an indicator for water level. The lack of the presence of this display led the operator to make a decision to cut the emergency water which caused the meltdown of the reactor's core. Because of this melting, the zirconium cladding of its fuel reacted with the surrounding hot stream to form a large accumulation of hydrogen gas. This hydrogen gas plus other radioactive gases flew into the atmosphere, and it was and still is hazardous to human and any other living creatures.
The other unfortunate situation in TMI was that the three visible persons related to the accident did not take the accident seriously. Those persons were the manufacturer, the officer from the Nuclear Regulator Commission (NRC), and the plant manager. This was one of the causes of the Chernobyl accident in Ukraine, Soviet Union. There were not a proper training for operators and stronger regulator. This had led to the worst technogenic environmental disaster in history which caused by operator error and lack of ergonomically designed control board. According to Yuri M. Shcherbak, the author of "Ten Years of the Chernobyl Era," the Chernobyl accident happened because one operator was conducting a test to see how long the generators would run without power and he had to disable the safety systems that could affect the result of the test. After a few moment, he realized that the situation had become hazardous and he pressed a button to activate the automatic protection system but unfortunately it was too late. It could not be protected but it was like speeding up the explosions. This explosions which produced 200 times more radiation than the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki caused the area within 30 kilometers of Chernobyl plant is now highly contaminated. The accident caused death and affected 2.6 million human being, including 700,000 children.
The Chernobyl area is still one of the most dangerous places which contains high radiation. This radiation is equaled to several thousand roentgens per hour. This massive accident has caused the Ukrainian government to spend more than 5% of the budget dealing with the aftermath of the Chernobyl. Most of the 5% goes to the housing and health care. This expense will surely increase if the other two reactors at Chernobyl are still operating. According to one of the radiologist who talked during the special presentation of CNN (Legacy of Meltdown, Sunday 4/7/96 at 6PM), most likely one or both reactor(s) would have the same accident as the one 10 years ago because they were all identically designed. Since the risk of having the same type of accident is high, Ukraine last December had signed the agreement to shut down the plant totally in year 2000. It is hard because these two reactors contribute 5% of the Ukraine's power and they need a massive fund which is approximately $4 billion to build another nuclear power plant to replace Chernobyl.
If nothing will happen to Chernobyl before it is shut down, the only suggestion that I have is that the NRC should keep their eyes really closed to Chernobyl or other plants to prevent any massive accident. By having the NRC checked the plant regularly does not mean that the plant is safer. As my instructor in my Human Factor (Najmedin Meshkati) wrote in his article on March 28, 1989, within each plant had dangerous potential for an accident of global magnitude. But, this does not mean that this kind of accident cannot be prevented. It can. For Chernobyl or any other nuclear power plants should focus more on the interactions of human, organizational, and managerial factors. These factors affect the safety of a nuclear power plant very much.
Another strategy that can be used is that if a nuclear worker raises a safety issue, he or she should be appreciated not punished. An article in Wall Street Journal discussed this issue where a worker filed a complaint of being harassed and dismissed after raising a safety issue. She was asked to undergo psychological evaluations which are used to combat drug abuse or to catch behavioral problem. It was obvious that utilities were abusing the rules to harass whistle-blowers and the NRC was aware of this. Therefore, I am suggesting that the NRC has to be careful in controlling its regulations in term of technical and managerial problems.
To minimize the risk of having accidents, both existing or future nuclear power plant are supposed to have adequate training so they can have qualified staffs. However, having qualified or skilled operators only is not enough without the correct design of control board in a control room. The design has to be ergonomically designed. The organization of controls and displays is important to minimize the operator's visual and reach envelopes and to reduce the operator's time to locate specific controls and displays. Moreover, the design of the control board needs to be segregated to prevent confusion. To have a good design is going to be expensive but it is worth to pay because it will reduce to risk of having massive accidents. Thus, the radiation in this world will not increase exponentially less human being and other living creatures are contaminated.