Fear of Fukushima Radiation Only Led to More Radiation

Paranoia on the part of Japan’s power utility Tepco may have helped make the crisis worse. Phred Dvorak reports for the Wall Street Journal.

The operator of Japan’s stricken nuclear plant let pressure in one reactor climb far beyond the level the facility was designed to withstand. . . . Japanese nuclear-power companies are so leery of releasing radiation into the atmosphere that their rules call for waiting much longer . . . before venting the potentially dangerous steam that builds up as reactors overheat.

File this under Cutting Off Your Nose to Spite Your Face. On March 12

. . . an emergency was brewing inside the plant’s No. 1 reactor. By around 2:30 a.m., the pressure inside the vessel that forms a protective bulb around the reactor’s core reached twice the level it was designed to withstand. . . . About an hour later, the reactor building itself exploded—a blast that Japanese and U.S. regulators have since said spread highly radioactive debris beyond the plant. . . . Experts in the U.S. and Japan believe the venting delay may have helped create conditions that led to the blast.

Hind sight is 50/50, but how might it have better handled?

U.S. protocols on handling accidents at similar reactors call for venting before pressure exceeds the design level. The same protocol is followed by plant operators using similar types of reactors in Korea and Taiwan, industry experts in those countries say. The U.S. approach . . . accepts the radiation released as part of venting as the price of possibly preventing a larger release.

One last cliché, if you can stand it: penny wise, pound foolish.