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Japanese nuclear disaster: lessons to be learned

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Japanese nuclear disaster: lessons to be learned

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The scientific community is trying to learn the lessons from Fukushima.

The disaster in Japan has highlighted areas where nuclear plants might be vulnerable, especially those that have been in operation for a while.

Experts want to learn how to protect future generations from disasters like this one, that put entire populations in danger.

Euronews spoke to Luis Echavarri, Director-General of the Nuclear Energy Agency of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Beatriz Beiras, euronews:
“Mr Echavarri, the IAEA has confirmed that the cores of reactors 1, 2 and 3 of the Fukushima nuclear plant run a risk of meltdown. What does that mean exactly?”

Luis Echavarri:
“That means that the temperatures reached made the rods melt and could also make the fuel melt. That means that the fuel is becoming impaired and that it is producing more fission products and as full cooling could not take place, this process has progressed.”

euronews:
“But does that have an impact on radiation?”

Luis Echavarri:
“Yes, because the higher the temperature is and the more the fuel deteriorates, the more fission products are produced. And as a result, the radioactivity given off is greater. So the continuation of this process must be avoided. That is why cooling is needed.”

euronews:
“Can it cause an explosion?”

Luis Echavarri:
“No, no, not at all. That absolutely can’t happen. You must take into account that, for example, unlike the Chernobyl accident, here the safety mechanisms were activated quickly because of the earthquake. So the only heat is the remaining heat and in this situation an explosion caused by an uncontrolled reaction cannot happen.”

euronews:
“If water does not succeed in cooling the reactors, do you think that Tepco has other means of stopping this time bomb?”

Luis Echavarri:
“I think that water and other products like, for example, boric acid, are important in reducing the possible damage to the fuel. But it is difficult to find a solution apart from using water. The latest news we have had is that they are in the process of bringing in electricity from outside the plant and if that is confirmed, it would lead to the use of a lot more cooling systems in the plant and that could help enormously in getting the site back to normal. But, fundamentally, two elements are necessary: electricity and water.”

euronews:
“Should we be worried, for example, about the arrival of a radioactive cloud in other Asian countries or even in America or Europe? “

Luis Echavarri:
“No. I think the distances involved mean that radioactivity is going to be present, because the radioactivity will be felt across the planet, especially in the northern hemisphere – but at very low levels. The radiation is diluting, and the further it spreads, the more it dilutes. What is important are the areas closest to the plant. And gradually the radioactivity is decreasing. So I think that outside Japan, there is no need to worry, even if it will be experienced elsewhere because tiny quantities of radioactivity are easy to detect.”

euronews:
“You are a nuclear engineer. Briefly, as a technician, what are the lessons to be learned from this accident?”

Luis Echavarri:
“Briefly, it is difficult. I would say that, first of all, we have to analyse whether all nuclear plants are adequately prepared from a conceptual point of view to deal with bigger earthquakes or tsunamis than we had imagined and which are possible in certain places.

“We also have to make an in-depth analysis of the consequences of the tsunami; why it damaged so many emergency installations, if they could have been salvaged in another way, if there are extra safety systems to avoid this sort of situation. And we also have to look again at the containment units, emergency cooling systems, hydrogen explosions, fires, radiological protection, intervening in contaminated zones. They are all lessons that we are going to have to learn to apply to all the nuclear plants in the world – a process which has already begun. All regulatory bodies have already begun an analytical process to apply the lessons to their own plants.”