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Friday, October 07, 2011

"Iran's Bushehr will be the next Chernobyl"

From Fox:
The first Iranian nuclear power station is inherently unsafe and will probably cause a "tragic disaster for humankind," according to a document apparently written by an Iranian whistleblower.

There is a "great likelihood" that the Bushehr reactor could generate the next nuclear catastrophe after Chernobyl or Fukushima, says the document, which has been passed to The (London) Times by a reputable source and is attributed to a former member of the legal department of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.

It claims that Bushehr, which began operating last month after 35 years of intermittent construction, was built by "second-class engineers" who bolted together Russian and German technologies from different eras; that it sits in one of the world's most seismically active areas but could not withstand a major earthquake; and that it has "no serious training program" for staff or a contingency plan for accidents.

The document's authenticity cannot be confirmed, but nuclear experts see no reason to doubt it. It also echoes fears in the nuclear industry about the safety of a secretive project to which few outsiders have been granted access.
There was a similar story about the lack of safety precautions at Bushehr in the Telegraph last January:
The Russian scientists' report to the Kremlin, a copy of which has been seen by The Daily Telegraph, concludes that, despite "performing simple, basic tests" on the Bushehr reactor, the Russian team "cannot guarantee safe activation of the reactor".

It also accuses the Iranian management team, which is under intense political pressure to stick to the deadline, of "not exhibiting the professional and moral responsibility" that is normally required. They accuse the Iranians of having "disregard for human life" and warn that Russia could find itself blamed for "another Chernobyl" if it allows Bushehr to go ahead.

And from Bloomberg in March:
The 1000-megawatt power plant at Bushehr combines a German- designed plant begun under the rule of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in the 1970’s and Russian technology installed over the last decade. Safety questions have raised concern among some nuclear-power experts and in neighboring countries such as Kuwait, which is vulnerable in the event of a radiation leak since it is downwind about 170 miles (275 kilometers).

Nuclear experts cite potential safety issues due to the hybrid design, Iranian nuclear inexperience, the Islamic state’s reluctance to join international safety monitoring programs, and the unknown reliability of some of the original components.

Bushehr also sits at the junction of three tectonic plates, raising concerns that an earthquake could damage the plant and crack its containment dome, or disrupt the electrical supply needed to keep it safe, said Dr. Jassem al-Awadi, a geologist at the University of Kuwait. Bushehr was hit with a 4.6 magnitude temblor in 2002.
However, I received an email last March from someone who knows a great deal about a great many things who said:

Nuclear engineers are consistent that Bushehr can't produce the Chernobyl effect because it's water cooled and not graphite moderated. It was the use of graphiteto moderate the Chernobyl reactor's heat regime that enabled it to yield the high-energy explosion and spew radiation around the globe. The VVER-1000 former-Soviet design reactor isn't as full of failsafes as most Western designs, but nuke-heads say the model has been much improved. Under earthquake conditions like those besetting Japan, it would be likely to perform much like the Daiichi complex at Fukushima -- that is, key systems might well fail, but exposure of the core is next to impossible.

(h/t Silke, Daled Amos, JD)