• 2 days PDVSA Booted From Caribbean Terminal Over Unpaid Bills
  • 2 days Russia Warns Ukraine Against Recovering Oil Off The Coast Of Crimea
  • 2 days Syrian Rebels Relinquish Control Of Major Gas Field
  • 2 days Schlumberger Warns Of Moderating Investment In North America
  • 2 days Oil Prices Set For Weekly Loss As Profit Taking Trumps Mideast Tensions
  • 2 days Energy Regulators Look To Guard Grid From Cyberattacks
  • 2 days Mexico Says OPEC Has Not Approached It For Deal Extension
  • 2 days New Video Game Targets Oil Infrastructure
  • 2 days Shell Restarts Bonny Light Exports
  • 2 days Russia’s Rosneft To Take Majority In Kurdish Oil Pipeline
  • 2 days Iraq Struggles To Replace Damaged Kirkuk Equipment As Output Falls
  • 3 days British Utility Companies Brace For Major Reforms
  • 3 days Montenegro A ‘Sweet Spot’ Of Untapped Oil, Gas In The Adriatic
  • 3 days Rosneft CEO: Rising U.S. Shale A Downside Risk To Oil Prices
  • 3 days Brazil Could Invite More Bids For Unsold Pre-Salt Oil Blocks
  • 3 days OPEC/Non-OPEC Seek Consensus On Deal Before Nov Summit
  • 3 days London Stock Exchange Boss Defends Push To Win Aramco IPO
  • 3 days Rosneft Signs $400M Deal With Kurdistan
  • 3 days Kinder Morgan Warns About Trans Mountain Delays
  • 3 days India, China, U.S., Complain Of Venezuelan Crude Oil Quality Issues
  • 4 days Kurdish Kirkuk-Ceyhan Crude Oil Flows Plunge To 225,000 Bpd
  • 4 days Russia, Saudis Team Up To Boost Fracking Tech
  • 4 days Conflicting News Spurs Doubt On Aramco IPO
  • 4 days Exxon Starts Production At New Refinery In Texas
  • 4 days Iraq Asks BP To Redevelop Kirkuk Oil Fields
  • 5 days Oil Prices Rise After U.S. API Reports Strong Crude Inventory Draw
  • 5 days Oil Gains Spur Growth In Canada’s Oil Cities
  • 5 days China To Take 5% Of Rosneft’s Output In New Deal
  • 5 days UAE Oil Giant Seeks Partnership For Possible IPO
  • 5 days Planting Trees Could Cut Emissions As Much As Quitting Oil
  • 5 days VW Fails To Secure Critical Commodity For EVs
  • 5 days Enbridge Pipeline Expansion Finally Approved
  • 5 days Iraqi Forces Seize Control Of North Oil Co Fields In Kirkuk
  • 5 days OPEC Oil Deal Compliance Falls To 86%
  • 6 days U.S. Oil Production To Increase in November As Rig Count Falls
  • 6 days Gazprom Neft Unhappy With OPEC-Russia Production Cut Deal
  • 6 days Disputed Venezuelan Vote Could Lead To More Sanctions, Clashes
  • 6 days EU Urges U.S. Congress To Protect Iran Nuclear Deal
  • 6 days Oil Rig Explosion In Louisiana Leaves 7 Injured, 1 Still Missing
  • 6 days Aramco Says No Plans To Shelve IPO
Alt Text

This OPEC Strategy Could Boost Uranium Prices Next Year

Kazakhstan, the world’s largest uranium…

Alt Text

New Tech Is Transforming Japan’s Energy Sector

The tech that built bitcoin…

Alt Text

Russia’s Nuclear Sector Is Surging

With a long-standing nuclear tradition,…

RFE/RL staff

RFE/RL staff

RFE/RL journalists report the news in 21 countries where a free press is banned by the government or not fully established. We provide what many…

More Info

Five Potential Nuclear Disasters Just Waiting to Happen

Five Potential Nuclear Disasters Just Waiting to Happen

The troubles surrounding Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant in the wake of the recent earthquake and tsunami there have set off a debate on the safety of nuclear power in general. Part of the problem at Fukushima appears to be the plant’s outdated design and the engineers’ lack of foresight to plan for both an earthquake and a tsunami. But after Three Mile Island, Chornobyl, and now Fukushima, the question remains whether nuclear power can ever be truly safe.

In light of the disaster, RFE/RL takes a look at five other reactor complexes where safety has been an issue and which prompt concern for the future.

Metsamor Nuclear Power Plant, Armenia

Cooling towers of the Metsamor Nuclear Power PlantMetsamor was originally brought online in 1980 in what was then Soviet Armenia. In 1988, the area suffered a devastating 6.9-magnitude earthquake, the epicenter of which was just 75 kilometers away from the plant.

Officials reacted by deactivating Metsamor, but they were forced to switch the plant back on seven years later after the country lost access to energy sources in Turkey and Azerbaijan following the 1988-94 conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Because of its location and age, Metsamor is frequently cited as the most dangerous reactor in the former Soviet Union. The plant is now slated for decommissioning in 2017, but it continues to supply 40 percent of Armenia’s energy, and officials are said to be contemplating building another power plant there to replace it.

A dramatic improvement in Armenia's political and economic relationship with its energy-rich neighbors could reduce the need for a new nuclear plant at Metsamor.

The U.K.'s Nuclear Submarine Fleet

Over the past decade, the United Kingdom has seen a drawn-out debate over the importance of maintaining its vastly expensive nuclear submarine fleet, armed with nuclear ballistic missiles.

A number of incidents and declassified reports have drawn attention to the state of the reactors onboard the fleet. A declassified -- though heavily censored -- report released by the British Ministry of Defense (MoD) revealed serious design flaws.

A document leaked to “The Daily Telegraph” last year revealed that British nuclear submarines had been allowed to leave port with disabled safety valves that would have prevented the reactor from cooling in an emergency.

In 2009, a British nuclear-powered submarine of the Vanguard class, armed with nuclear missiles, ran into a French nuclear submarine that was also armed with nuclear missiles while on patrol. Both governments denied the incident was serious.

Cernavoda Nuclear Power Plant, Romania

Romania’s only nuclear power plant, Cernavoda, was designed in the 1980s by a Canadian company and commissioned in 1996. The plant’s two working reactors account for around one-fifth of Romania’s power needs, but the reactors have been plagued by problems. As recently as January, one of the reactors had to be shut down for maintenance. In April 2009, the site’s second reactor was also shut down briefly due to electrical problems.

While Romania is not as seismically active as Japan, the country does have its share of earthquakes. In recent times, the 1977 Vrancea earthquake – of 7.2 magnitude -- killed more than 1,000 people in Romania and Bulgaria. It destroyed some 35,000 buildings throughout Romania.

Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant, Russia

The Russian Federation’s aging fleet of nuclear power plants is a source of worry around the world. Many of the plants are slated for decommissioning but will likely continue to run past their expiration dates until replacements can be built.

Of these, the Leningrad plant may be the most worrisome.

It’s only 70 kilometers from St. Petersburg, Russia's second-largest city, with a population of nearly 5 million.

The Leningrad plant has been plagued by problems over the course of its lifetime. During Soviet times, news of nuclear accidents was tightly controlled, but in 1975 the station suffered a partial meltdown. In 1992, the plant suffered a radioactive gas leak. In 2005, a non-nuclear smelter explosion at the site resulted in one fatality and grave burns to two other victims. In 2009, an accident at the plant led to rumors of a possible coolant leak, which was strongly denied by Russian authorities.

Enrico Fermi Nuclear Generating Station, Michigan

Located on Lake Erie between two population centers -- Detroit, Michigan, and Toledo, Ohio -- the Enrico Fermi plant has two reactors, though only one is operating currently. Fermi 1 suffered a partial meltdown in 1966, though no radioactivity was released. It operated for a further nine years before being deactivated. The event inspired a best-selling book and at least one protest song.

The site’s second reactor, Fermi 2, continues to operate and, coincidentally, has the same make and model number of the reactors at the Fukushima plant in Japan.

In 2003, a power outage forced the Fermi 2 reactor offline for six hours, and the unit's backup generators failed to perform as planned. Though the site is not located in a seismically active region, the area does suffer from tornadoes and flooding. Last June, the plant suffered a near miss when a tornado passed directly through its two cooling towers.

By. Joseph Hammond

Copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.




Back to homepage


Leave a comment
  • Anonymous on March 17 2011 said:
    This article is not worth a lot of consideration, although on the basis of what I know about the technology of plants having a Russian design, I am surprised that there have not been more accidents.Certainly, I don't believe two of the author's five, and as for the problems in Japan, I take that as carelessness. The Fukushima plant should have been located somewhere else, and the Japanese should have started pulling down the other plants and replacing them with Gen 3 facilities like the one in Finland - "like", but perhaps not identical".
  • Anonymous on March 21 2011 said:
    Does anyone else think that a country that builds concrete structures by having men carry buckets of cement on their HEADS to the concrete forms, might have some issues concerning safety? Everyone is so concerned about Iran getting nukes (as in bombs). How about some concern about the reactors themselves? If Japan, one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world can have a melt down, what about the stone throwing, sword wielding, apocalypse generating Iranian government? Are you comfy with that? I don't think I am!
  • mark swann on August 20 2013 said:
    I believe the nuclear plants singled out are the tip of the iceberg. All nuclear plants with high power densities should have have passive cooling capabilities, i.e., a large reservoir of cooling water, situated above the core, which can be made available by a manually operated valve even if the plant loses all electric power.

    The problem with nuclear is the unending struggle between profit and safety. Because nuclear power is intrinsically dangerous, regulation is critical. But good regulation requires stable government and consistent energy planning. It is extraordinarily foolish to design an energy system which is wholly dependent on a problematic energy source.

    The other problem with nuclear is that it is not a good fit with democracy. While here in the USA, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission allowed citizens to intervene, the citizens never got anything significant for their trouble. And when a big accident does occur, with thousands of fatalities, citizens near other plants are going to demand that their nuclear plants be shut down. I can just hear them shouting, "You said this could never happen. You promised. Now shut down our plant before it kills us too." Japan has had a good deal of this.

    The irony of building nuclear plants to combat global warming is that the weather extremes already in the pipeline will cause massive nuclear accidents. Nuclear is too late to stop weather change from occurring.

Leave a comment




Oilprice - The No. 1 Source for Oil & Energy News