Research Team: M. V. Ramana with Ashwin Kumar
Among all electricity generating technologies, nuclear power is unique in its potential for catastrophic accidents. This study looked at both some organizational aspects of nuclear safety at the Department of Atomic Energy’s facilities and at the technical aspects of the safety of breeder reactors.
There is now an extensive literature on the various contributors to the safety of nuclear facilities that look at both the structural contributors to accidents and to the organizational characteristics that make for relatively, though by no means completely, safe operations. We studied the record of operations and accidents in Indiaís nuclear facilities to ask whether the DAE’s actions are consistent with what is known about operations that contribute to reliability. Our results suggest that the DAE meets very few of the demanding requirements for safe operations of a complex, high hazard technology. Some of the indicators of poor safety culture include repeated occurrences of avoidable accidents in its facilities, poor organizational learning from previous failures, questionable construction and manufacturing quality, and system elites not being sufficiently interested in safety and not listening to lower level staff.
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Safety concerns have been important in the suspension of many fast reactors worldwide. A challenge specific to safety in fast reactors is the so-called core disruptive accident (CDA), in which large energies can be produced. We looked at the energetics of a severe CDA in the Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor being constructed, from what is known in the openly published literature, and the capabilities of the physical barriers present in the design. Our preliminary results suggest that assumptions only slightly different from those the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) makes could lead to far worse consequences than acknowledged by the DAE. Additionally, many uncertainties are omitted in the DAEís published studies. These limitations of the severe accident studies are reason to question the safety of the PFBR design.
Kumar, Ashwin, 2007, "Nuclear Safety: A poor record", India Together, April 2, also available at http://www.indiatogether.org/2007/mar/env-nukesafe.htm
Kumar, Ashwin, 2007, "What Ails Nuclear Safety?î India Together, April 17, also available at http://www.indiatogether.org/2007/apr/env-nukesafe.htm
Kumar, Ashwin, 2007, "A poor record of safety in Indiaís nuclear facilities", Peace Now, 5 (2), May 2007.