UN to study effects of tsunami on nuclear plants

The United Nations atomic watchdog agency will start an international scientific conference in India next week to re-examine the risks to nuclear power stations from natural disasters such as last December's tsunami.

The five-day International Workshop on External Flooding Hazards at Nuclear Power Plant Sites will begin next Monday, 29th August at India’s Kalpakkam nuclear power plant. This withstood the giant waves that engulfed the small township nearby, home to India’s centre for atomic research.

The plant shut down automatically, with no release of radioactivity, after detectors tripped it as the water level rose. It was restarted six days later.

“Learning from the lessons of this latest tsunami as well as from other flood events that occurred in the past will allow the review, revision and expansion, as appropriate of the Agency Safety Standards on external flooding hazards,” said the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Installation Safety Director, Ken Brockman.

It is common for nuclear power plants to be built in coastal areas, using seawater as coolants for the reactor. The IAEA has stringent safety standards designed to guard against natural calamities like earthquakes, volcanoes, flooding, tsunamis and cyclones.

Japan will be providing guidance and sharing its experiences as it has developed systems to evaluate and protect reactors against the earthquakes and tremors regularly striking there.

France will also be presenting case studies as it Le Blayais reactor was hit by severe storms in December 1999.

India’s Kalpakkam reactor was given a clean bill of health after the tsunami, with the IAEA rating the event ‘of no safety significance’ on the international nuclear events scale.

By David Hopkins

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