Japan reactor design caused GE engineer to quit

NEW YORK Tue Mar 15, 2011 11:15pm GMT

Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant No.4 reactor is seen in this aerial view October 2008 file photo in Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan. REUTERS/Kyodo

Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant No.4 reactor is seen in this aerial view October 2008 file photo in Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan.

Credit: Reuters/Kyodo

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - A General Electric Co engineer said he resigned 35 years ago over concern about the safety of a nuclear reactor design used in the now crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan.

Dale Bridenbaugh said the "Mark 1" design had "not yet been designed to withstand the loads" that could be experienced in a large-scale accident.

"At the time, I didn't think the utilities were taking things seriously enough," Bridenbaugh, now retired, said in a phone interview. "I felt some of the plants should have been shut down while the analysis was completed, and GE and the utilities didn't want to do that, so I left."

Bridenbaugh said that to the best of his knowledge, the design flaws he had identified were addressed at the Daiichi plant, requiring "a fairly significant expense."

The Aptos, California, resident spoke earlier with ABC News, a unit of Walt Disney Co.

GE in a statement said it has had "40 years of safe operations" of its boiling water reactor Mark 1 technology.

"In 1980 the (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) issued a generic industry order assessing the Mark 1 containment," the Fairfield, Connecticut-based company added. "We responded to this order and issued it to all of our customers."

Following last Friday's 9.0 earthquake and tsunami, the Daiichi plant has suffered several explosions, and is now sending radiation wafting into Tokyo, 150 miles to the south. Authorities are trying to prevent a full meltdown.

Bridenbaugh said that after leaving GE he started a firm to advise state governments on safety issues. Like many, he said he is watching closely as events unfold in Japan.

"I feel sorry for the guys over there trying to handle that thing," he said. "On the other hand you can't say the Fukushima situation is a direct result of the Mark 1 containment. It is a direct result of the earthquake, tsunami and the fact the Mark 1 containment is less forgiving than some of the other reactor versions."

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel and Lewis Krauskopf in New York; Editing by Gary Hill)

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