A brief overview of Bushehr nuclear power plant startup (Simplified)
Finally, nuclear fuel loading of Bushehr nuclear power plant started on Saturday 21 August 2010, aided by the Russians. In technology, Russia has always trailed US, although they have somehow been able to keep up with the final products, albeit at inferior levels.
Russia has a less stringent safety standard than the West, particularly US. Under strenuous circumstances, the lower safety standard could elevate minor events to major and serious events. Two serious weaknesses of the relaxed standards are quality control and adherence to the procedures. In US, the procedures are taken very seriously, even though they often seem silly to an untrained individual. It is not uncommon to see “turning the light switch on/off” as part of the procedure. The purpose of such minute details is to leave nothing to chance, memory, or interpretation. Every step MUST be retraceable and documented. Violation of any of the steps can lead to disciplinary and punitive actions, including dismissal. The importance of the procedures cannot be overemphasized. Lack of adherence to the procedures and quality control were the “reasons” for the accident at Chernobyl. Fortunately, the same type of accident cannot occur in VVER–an entirely different design –, although a sever accident can completely damaged the reactor much like the Three Mile Island reactor, but likewise without casualties or causing any damages to the surrounding areas. It should be noted that lack of proper training was the fundamental cause of the accident at Three Mile Island. Fortunately, detailed training and retraining are now mandatory at nuclear power plants in US.
The other weakness in Russian technology is in instrumentation and control. Their systems are not as advanced and fine tuned as those in US. To make up for these deficiencies, either the margins must be increased, which in turn affects the plant efficiency, or safety margin be compromised which affects the plant safety.
The fact that Bushehr’s components come from different vendors is not a cause for concern–components and parts for most US nuclear power plants come from different vendors. However, the fact that these components come from different vendors with different standards and practices is somewhat worrisome. In technology, the whole system is as good as its least dependable component. Nuclear grade manufacturing is quite different from non-nuclear grade manufacturing, you cannot cut corners. One bad actor could lead to serious consequences.
It is encouraging to know that Russian technicians and operators will be co-operating Bushehr plant for at least the first three years. This will give Iran the time to develop and institute a robust training program for Iranian operators and technicians while on the job.