Japan nuclear safety – Dr. Charles “Chuck” Casto’s view and lessons learnt

Dr Charles Casto: the Fukushima disaster changed my life

Dr Charles Casto: the Fukushima disaster changed my life. We cannot let this happen again anywhere in the world.

Dr Charles “Chuck” Casto: leader of the US Government response to the Fukushima Dai Ichi Nuclear disaster

When President Obama expanded the Operation Tomodachi to include the nuclear disaster, Dr. Charles Casto was selected to lead the US Government response.

First time, where a first world country assists another first world country in a major crisis

We are very good at providing humanitarian support from first world countries to second or third world countries.

However, it is unprecedented for a first world country to assist another first world country in a crisis of this magnitude. The Fukushima Dai Ichi Nuclear crisis is without doubt the most serious international crisis we ever had in peace time. How do we respond to first world to first world crisis?

How do we respond in a prolonged “nat-tech” (natural – technology) disaster in a first world country?

Need for protocols and frameworks for information flow in case of large scale first world disasters

Dr Casto feels there is a need to establish international protocols and frameworks for information exchange and cooperation in the case of this kind of large scale disasters.

Time lost: It took 10 days until an understanding and a framework for the exchange of information was established

In this case there was much information missing, information was “unknowable”, since the reactors were unaccessible. Big disconnect in the availability of data.

No one engineer had all the information. Sources of information were unfamiliar. It was necessary to go high enough in the administration to understand the situation. It took about 10 days to establish an understanding

Kantai meetings started on March 21st, 2011 – about 10 days after the start of the disaster, until a framework for understanding the disaster was established and a rhythm for the exchange of information.

Speed of the response must be at least as fast as the speed of the accident evolution. Achieving sufficient speed is a challenge for Governments. Governments tend to be too slow.

Five crisis caused the Fukushima Dai Ichi accident:

  1. Earth quake
  2. Tsunami
  3. Nuclear event
  4. Societal crisis
  5. Policy crisis

To understand the Fukushima disaster and in order to solve and to respond it is necessary to analyze all these five crisis.

Fukushima Dai Ichi: A system breakdown, an organizational accident, imbalance of power.

It is necessary to understand the balance of power, the history of how the electricity industry developed over time, and how nuclear industry was established in Japan.

Most expertise rested in the hands of the 9 utilities, giving all power to the utilities. This imbalance of power is a major component of the accident.

Unless all five crisis are addressed and solved, including the societal crisis and the policy crisis, nuclear power is unlikely to start again in Japan.

Need to share responsibility.

Today most power and responsibility is with the regulator. However, it is necessary to share power and responsibility between regulator, Government, and the utilities.

It needs to be clear that the utilities are responsible for safety.

Need for national dialogue on how much risk the people of Japan are willing to accept.

Elected officials need to have a national dialogue to understand which level of risk the people of Japan are willing to accept. Only the people can decide.

The level of acceptable risk needs to be determined by the elected officials in dialogue with the people, that level of acceptable risk needs to be set in law, and then the regulator needs to regulate to this level of acceptable risk. It is not the role of a regulator to determine the level of acceptable risk.

If the national dialogue results in the result that no level of risk is acceptable, then there will be no nuclear power operating.

The Government needs to prove to the people that Fukushima Dai Ichi can be resolved.

The regulator needs to address emergency planning in dialogue with the population.

We cannot permit another accident like Fukushima Dai Ichi happen anywhere else in the world again.

When traveling through the evacuated zone around Fukushima Dai Ichi, it is clear that we cannot ever let such an accident happen anywhere else again in the world.

We have to learn about the science of nuclear energy. I want the Fukushima disaster to be treated in science books – not just in history books. We need to understand the science of nuclear power.

Q & A

Q: Do Mr Yoshida’s notes show that operating a nuclear power plant in emergency is too difficult to handle for humans?
A: We need an incident command system to be bigger than the crisis. Such an accident is too big for one single person. No one single person can have all the knowledge required for such a disaster.

Q: Are six or seven nuclear reactors at one single plant too much for one single plant manager?
A: Dr Casto worked several years on a three unit site. We should treat each reactor individually. We should have six or seven leadership structures for each reactor, and then one overall leader.

Q: Were we lucky that the disaster occurred on a working day, rather than on a weekend?
A: We need a command system that is of sufficient size. If we have more people than this its good, but we cannot have less than the sufficient size to respond to the accident.

Q: Prime Minister Naoto Kan has been under heavy criticism. Do you think if Abe and the LDP would have been in power, that the crisis management would have been better?
A: Without doubt the response would have been different with different leaders in charge. The difference I saw in Japan compared to other countries: in all other countries we have independent Government people at the site of the nuclear power station, who will be at the control room, and work independently for the Government. One of the issues of Prime Minister Kan was, that he did not have any independent source of information, he had to use other organizations, and he felt that he did not have a reliable source of information. It is necessary to flatten the organization. The people at the top need to be able to talk to the people on the location of the accident.

Q: With the reactors being US designed, did US teach Japan enough about disaster response?
A: We need to look at the evolution of nuclear technology and security over the years since the first introduction. In the US a huge amount of regulations was created since the beginning of nuclear power in response to Three-Mile-Island and other accidents. However in USA maybe we have too many layers of regulation now. Adding more and more layers of regulations does not necessarily improve safety.

Q: What could have been the worst case scenario?
A: I believe that after the first week the worst was over, when the water was cooling the cores I thought we had overcome the worst. So after March 15th maybe the worst point was overcome. Also there is not a linear relation between the number of reactors and the created damage. The radiation damage depends on wind, weather and many other factors. Overall I underestimated the severity of the accident initially.

Q: What did Japan do right?
A: Yoshida-san was absolutely right to inject sea water. Injecting sea water was key to mitigating the ultimate outcome of the disaster.

Q: What did Japan do wrong?
A: The isolation of the plant from the outside was wrong. The Fukushima Dai Ichi plant become more and more isolated as the accident progressed, and had to rely on their own resources. McArthur said – most failures in war time can be summed up in two words: “too late”. Not reacting fast enough, and not getting resources to the site in time.

Q: What have we learnt from the Fukushima disaster?
A: We learnt to make plants more resilient. We need the plants to be resilient for 72 hours, so that the national Government has time to bring in additional resources from distant locations.
In the USA we have established FLEX: two locations in the USA with massive amounts of equipment, which can be flown into the site if there is a significant problem. We have checked in advance that the equipment fits into the airplanes and can be transported properly. We need sufficient equipment available, but far enough away, so that it is not destroyed by a disaster at the site, as in the case of Fukushima.

Q: Japan’s Government says that today’s safety regulations are the highest in the world. Do you think this is true?
A: I think this is likely to be true for the technical aspects of the regulations – but I have not checked this in detail. However, the society issues and emergency planning, evacuation plants, sheltering plans are equally important. Maybe technical people are less interested in these societal aspects, but we need the policy and societal side in case the technology side fails. We cannot neglect the society and policy issues (crisis four and five above).

Q: What about the command structure?
A: I think for the initial 10 days the command structure was unclear, but was unified after the first 10 days from March 21st. Then we started the bilateral US-Japan meetings, and that also solidified the command structure.

Q: What do you think about Prime-Minister Naoto Kan’s helicopter visit to Fukushima Dai Ichi?
A: If I was in place of Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who did not feel he got reliable information, if I am the commander and don’t have anyone I trust on the site, I would also go and look.
I talked with Governor Thornberg of Three-Mile-Island: for him the lesson learnt was to “anchor the facts”. He interrogated the facts, and he interrogated the people who brought the facts. “Anchoring the facts” was why he succeeded in the Three-Mile-Island. A major leadership lesson learnt is that you need to understand the facts.

Q: How many experts did US send, and how did they help?
A: US Government brought in 150 US experts, the best 150 people we have in the USA in the nuclear industry, and we had regular meetings of about 30-40 US experts with the Japanese cabinet every day starting with March 21st, 2011.

Q: There are rumors that TEPCO wanted to withdraw completely from Fukushima Dai Ichi?
A: I don’t know the answer, maybe no-one knows. But I am sure there would have been sufficient protection and resources at Fukushima Dai Ichi to deal with the accident. Currently there is an enormous effort with large resources to deal with the accident, and there is much progress.
I believe that Yoshida-san at Fukushima Dai Ichi, and Masuda-san at Fukushima Dai Ni with their teams did an outstanding job given the situation and given the resources they had.

Q: Are you pro-nuclear?
A: I am not pro-nuclear, I am not anti-nuclear. I am pro-safety. Every human activity including nuclear energy has risk. Coal has risk. Gas has risk. The people need to decide what level risk they want to accept. If the people decide they want nuclear power, then I can help to make nuclear power safe.
Direct communication between Government, nuclear plant operator and population is required. In Three-Mile-Island the population found out about the nuclear accident because journalists overheard a walkie-talkie conversation at the plant, and the Chernobyl disaster was found out via Sweden. Why not establish a direct information link between the nuclear power plant and the population via mobile phones?

Dr. Charles “Chuck” A. Casto

Japan nuclear energy restart: former leader of US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) efforts in Japan explains lessons learnt from the Fukushima disaster
Japan nuclear energy restart: former leader of US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) efforts in Japan explains lessons learnt from the Fukushima disaster

Charles Casto was leader of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) delegation supporting the Japanese Government during the initial 11 months of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and to ensure the safety of US citizens in Japan during this period. For this work he was awarded the Presidential Distinguished Services Award in 2012. He is Regional Administrator for the Region III of NRC overseeing the nuclear regulation in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin, where he has regulatory responsibility for 23 reactors and a large number of other users of radioactivity. Previously Dr Casto has served many years as certified Reactor Operator and Instructor, and in many other leadership positions in the US nuclear industry.

Dr Casto’s talk and Q&A on YouTube

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