“We were shocked and depressed about the tragic events when they happened. After that, there is the nuclear part, we have offered support to Japan, and also we are looking after customers in the fleet and all over the world.”

What is your position on the event?

“The initial event, a really big earthquake and tsunami, was a very tragic and significant event in Japan. However I feel confident that it does not really change the safety conditions for plants in Europe. In terms of an initiating event itself, whether it is a plant in the Nordic region affected by ice, or a plant somewhere else where flooding might be an issue, I feel pretty comfortable that they are covered in safety cases. There might be other lessons, such as safety enhancements that might be implemented to take the plant beyond the safety levels today. This includes the obvious, such as improving safety in station blackout, or hydrogen mitigation. The most important thing is to look at the criteria that the European regulators and industry are developing together in the stress tests.”

If you were in charge of the stress tests, what would you cover?

“I would ask each utility to take a look at the initial events, such as flooding and the earthquake at Fukushima Daiichi, but not only that. They should evaluate whether their safety case is bounding enough for [their particular] region. They should take a look at some of the safety systems that were needed in this event. What is the situation for station blackout in the design basis? Also, maybe they should take a look outside the design basis. They should have a look at severe accident mitigation, if the unthinkable were to happen. If they have a partial or core melt situation, similar to the case at Fukushima Daiichi, what type of safety systems do they have.”

Have you been working with your supply partners on any particular issues that have come out of this?

“The first step is to understand the regulatory requirements and safety requirements coming out of this, and understand them. The second step is to work with customers and utilities to understand what are the potential implications of the new requirements, and what they mean in practical terms. Will they have no effect, or will there need to be more administrative changes, such as increased operator training, or will system changes and safety features be implicated? If it would be the latter, we are in the industry to support utilities, and would be happy to develop products ourselves, or involve suppliers.

“One thing I do feel confident of, and will definitely tell our suppliers, is that when it comes to the AP1000, nothing will be changed when it comes to safety. Whatever comes out of Fukushima Daiichi, we will still build and deploy the AP1000 without any design changes at all. We will take a look of course; but today I don’t see a need for any significant design changes.

“The whole safety case for the AP1000 relies on passive safety features. One of the conditions when we started to [design the reactor] in the late 1980s was a complete station blackout. If you have a major incident, you have all the water you need in the plant; you don’t need AC power deployed for 72 hours minimum, maybe even longer, without any operator actions required. We have also done some analysis that aims to take the AP1000 even further, and by taking out all power, even battery power, that shows that the reactor will be safe.”

It is a bit unfair though to compare the AP1000 functionality with a much older reactor. What about the safety systems of older Westinghouse type designs?

“Even though there has been devastation in Japan, our position is that the full European nuclear fleet was safe when it was built, even the oldest plants in the 1960s and 1970s, and they have continued to be improved with safety enhancements. There have been a lot of lessons learned, and implemented, and this will continue to happen, so that they will be even safer tomorrow.

“A lot of the implications of the accident, which are handled in a smart and efficient way in the AP1000 by using natural forces, are performed [in existing plants] by a lot of diversified active systems today. Those are safe too. I just believe that it is smarter to build a fleet of AP1000s than putting a lot of money into an older fleet. That doesn’t mean that they are not safe; but continuing to operate them has a high financial cost. You can make a comparison with cars; for sure you can make an older car from the 1970s safe, and drive it safely, but at some point it takes too much time and money to run. Then, it is better to buy a new car that includes the safety systems that operators of older reactors have to pay for.”

How do you see the impact of the crisis on the industry, and among your customers?

“From my point of view, the reaction has been quite sober. When Three Mile Island and Chernobyl happened, and I was working in the industry then, there was a much more dramatic reaction. It was a more emotional rather than a technical and science-based reaction. The reaction now is much more careful.”

How is Westinghouse involved in the response to the crisis?

“Toshiba is our main owner. We are working closely to support the efforts of people and engineers in the group (see box). Also, we have our own operations in Japan: two fuel facilities. One of the major tasks now is to restart those fuel facilities, which were hit by the earthquake. We have to make sure that the safety systems are working properly before resuming operation, which should be in a few months.”

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Toshiba’s support structure

Toshiba, which was a major TEPCO contractor, and also helped design and build the Fukushima Daiichi reactors, has donated JPY 1 billion ($12.5 million) to relief efforts. It formed a task group to support TEPCO, and dispatched engineers to Fukushima Daiichi.
It has assembled 1400 engineers from Westinghouse, Shaw, Babcock & Wilcox and Exelon Nuclear Partners to support the recovery effort; they have also provided technical stabilisation and recovery proposals. Toshiba has supplied equipment such as electric motors for cooling water pumps and other industrial supplies.