Thursday, October 25, 2012

Post # 73: The Canary, The Ostrich, and The Black Swan

November is an important month for those interested in the nuclear power industry's response to the March 2011 accident at  Fukushima Dai ichi.  The  American Nuclear Society's Winter Meeting will be the setting for the embedded "International Meeting on Severe Accident Assessment and Management: Lessons Learned from Fukushima Daiichi".  This four-day event will bring together experts from around the world to discuss the current status of the Fukushima Dai ichi plants, what we have learned / are learning from Fukushima, and plans for future activities related to Fukushima.  Specific topics to be covered include: severe accident phenomenology, severe accident sequence progression, severe accident management and mitigation strategies, severe accident simulation, and a number of other very relevant topics.

On Monday afternoon, Nov. 12, I will be presenting my recently-completed paper entitled, "The Canary, the Ostrich, and the Black Swan: An Historical Perspective on Our Understanding of BWR Severe Accidents and Their Mitigation."  This twenty-two page paper (with some 65 technical references) is my attempt to chronicle the evolution of our knowledge of commercial boiling water reactor severe accidents since the landmark Reactor Safety Study (WASH-1400) in 1975.  Here's the abstract of the paper...
" Between 1980 and 1995, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) was engaged in an intense effort to understand commercial boiling water reactor (BWR) severe accident phenomenology, severe accident progression, and the potential role of the reactor operator in severe accident mitigation. This paper presents a summary of the major findings and conclusions from that period. Both detailed accident- and plant-specific results are discussed.  The author, who was a member of the ORNL research team who performed the work, offers an historical perspective on lessons learned, lessons ignored, and lessons forgotten from that period. The relevancy of these findings in the post-Fukushima world is addressed.  Finally, the author discusses the evolution of the current risk-informed regulatory framework; and identifies some key questions to be addressed, and critical steps to be taken to inform the development of the new nuclear safety construct required in the wake of the Fukushima Dai-ichi accident." 
The title of the paper is, as you might guess, is inspired by the peculiar characteristics of three birds:

The Canary – which once served as an "early warning system" to miners of dangerous conditions associated with carbon monoxide and other dangerous gases;

The Ostrich – which is (incorrectly) known for sticking its head in the sand to avoid obvious imminent danger; and

The Black Swan – the symbol adopted in recent times for a major event which is deemed a surprise to virtually everyone when it occurs, but after its occurrence, is viewed as something that could/should have been expected or predicted.

The paper was motivated by my conviction that accidents like that which occurred at Fukushima Dai ichi are unacceptable (regardless of their cause) and preventable – if the nuclear industry truly commits itself to going beyond the expedient in it's response to the accident.

The full paper will be published in the Proceedings of the meeting and available on CD-ROM at the meeting and thereafter from the ANS. 

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