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Braving the Waves

The Great Wave of Kanagawa. A woodwork block print by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai.

With many countries having built nuclear power plants in coastal areas, it has become imperative to be prepared for emergencies that may arise as a result of external hazards such as tsunamis.

The rationale behind constructing nuclear power plants in coastal areas is to use the water for cooling these plants which are known to generate a tremendous amount of heat. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, however, exposed the threat that these power plants may face if nature takes a wrong turn.

To respond to such threats, the IAEA´s International Seismic Safety Centre has been working on assessing the hazards generated by external events and on preparedness in cases of emergencies.

"Following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, we worked toward laying out improved safety standards for the nuclear power plants," says Antonio Godoy, the Head of IAEA´s International Seismic Safety Centre. "Also, we are working with the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (USNRC) and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to develop a tsunami occurrence notification system," he adds.

In March this year, the IAEA successfully concluded a project on the protection of nuclear power plants against tsunamis and post earthquake considerations in the external zone (TiPEEZ), which was implemented using the extrabudgetary contributions from the Japan Nuclear Energy Safety Organisation (JNES) and the USNRC. The project, which started in 2007, has been an important step in preparing for nuclear emergency responses in case of tsunamis or earthquakes, says Godoy.

TiPEEZ System is an emergency response information management system that allows evaluation of the post-tsunami state of a nuclear power plant. It also helps evaluate offsite damages, (e.g., possible damages of bridges and roads in the vicinity of installations) and identify evacuation routes considering release behaviour of radioactive materials, location of shelters and arrangements of vehicles for evacuation. The system was developed by the JNES, while the IAEA played a key role coordinating its transfer to Member States.

Along with the TiPEEZ System, a tsunami simulation code (which is a computer algorithm) was also developed and distributed to the Member States. The code was used for computer simulations of tsunami conditions against which the TiPEEZ System was tested.

"India, Indonesia, Japan, Republic of Korea, Pakistan, Turkey and USA were some of the countries that participated in the project," says Godoy. "Through this exercise we not only gained valuable data on the seismic activities in different regions but also demonstrated the effectiveness of TiPEEZ System in emergency response," he adds. The TiPEEZ System has been developed in keeping with the safety standards that have been published by the IAEA.

Last update: 27 Jul 2017

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