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Revisiting Insights from Three Mile Island Unit 2 Postaccident Examinations and Evaluations in View of the Fukushima Daiichi Accident

Joy Rempe, Mitchell Farmer, Michael Corradini, Larry Ott, Randall Gauntt, Dana Powers

Nuclear Science and Engineering

Volume 172 / Number 3 / November 2012 / Pages 223-248


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The Three Mile Island Unit 2 (TMI-2) accident, which occurred on March 28, 1979, led industry and regulators to enhance strategies to protect against severe accidents in commercial nuclear power plants. Investigations in the years after the accident concluded that at least 45% of the core had melted and that nearly 19 tonnes of the core material had relocated to the lower head. Postaccident examinations indicate that about half of that material formed a solid layer near the lower head and above it was a layer of fragmented rubble. As discussed in this paper, numerous insights related to pressurized water reactor accident progression were gained from postaccident evaluations of debris, reactor pressure vessel (RPV) specimens, and nozzles taken from the RPV. In addition, information gleaned from TMI-2 specimen evaluations and available data from plant instrumentation were used to improve severe accident simulation models that form the technical basis for reactor safety evaluations. Finally, the TMI-2 accident led the nuclear community to dedicate considerable effort toward understanding severe accident phenomenology as well as the potential for containment failure.

Because available data suggest that significant amounts of fuel heated to temperatures near melting, the events at Fukushima Daiichi Units 1, 2, and 3 offer an unexpected opportunity to gain similar understanding about boiling water reactor accident progression. To increase the international benefit from such an endeavor, we recommend that an international effort be initiated to (a) prioritize data needs; (b) identify techniques, samples, and sample evaluations needed to address each information need; and (c) help finance acquisition of the required data and conduct of the analyses.

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