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12 OYS: Nuclear experts say no risk of Japan-like disaster at SRS or Plant Vogtle

Tony Umek

Tony Umek, vice president with Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, says nuclear power is "the safest industry from the standpoint of fatalities and injury." (March 15, 2011 / WRDW-TV)

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Tuesday, March 15, 2011

SAVANNAH RIVER SITE, S.C. -- Savannah River Site spans 310 square miles. That's larger than some cities. The nuclear energy used there is the same used at the failing nuclear reactors in Japan, despite the fact that it is not used the same way.

"It's the safest industry from the standpoint of fatalities and injury, there's no question about it," said Tony Umek, a vice president at Savannah River Nuclear Solutions.

There are no nuclear reactors at SRS. Umek says that means even the worst disaster here won't release the same radiation.

"Those accidents would not produce any events that would put anyone at the public at risk off-site."

At Plant Vogtle there are nuclear reactors. But some experts are clear that what happened in Japan won't happen here.

In a release, the Georgia Public Service Commission says:

"Japan is in a high seismic activity area, whereas the potential for an earthquake near the Vogtle site is significantly lower, and the magnitude of any earthquake is likewise much lower.

"The AP1000 (nuclear reactor model) relies on passive safety systems that rely on gravity, natural circulation, convection, compressed gas and condensation to maintain safe operation and shut down safely. Many of the enhanced features of the AP1000 design are specifically intended to eliminate the dependence upon mechanical and electrical support systems to keep the fuel cool during an event."

But Japan's disaster could actually improve safety at Savannah River Site.

"Those have design features that are primary, we have secondary features, in some cases, we'll have a third backup feature, and then we'll have a human response as an additional backup," said Umek. "What we might look at is the system designs and have we taken into account some things that perhaps they didn't take into account."

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