Japan's nuclear powerplants have performed magnificently in the face of a disaster hugely greater than they were designed to withstand, remaining entirely safe throughout and sustaining only minor damage. The unfolding Fukushima story has enormously strengthened the case for advanced nations – including Japan – to build more …
"No imaginable disaster can result in serious problems"
Sounds like a failure of imagination Lewis! (the lead lined one please.....)
Exactly my point
Sellafield generators are also on the coast and there is a sleeping fault at the bottom of the Irish sea you know...
One that throws a wobbly every few hundred years...
So all that one needs is a tiny bit of imagination...
I was thinking it
I REALLY hope he knocked on wood after he wrote that. I can think of several things that would be more devestating than a huge earthquake.
Make mine a lead lined suit and nice seat on the moon thanks.
"Sounds like a failure of imagination Lewis! (the lead lined one please.....)"
Yes I could imagine one, but I suspect the point here being a natural disaster that actually leaves enough people alive to worry about radiation leaks. Posite a rather modestly sized meteorite making a direct hit on the plant, a natural disaster sufficient to scatter radioactive material far and wide over all the, umm, dead bodies all charred and blackened from the heat wash of several millions megatons of energy being released in one hit.
No Imaginable disaster
The nuclear plans have backup, the backups have backups, and those backups have backups...
What Hermes calls a "failure of imagination" is the call of the non-Engineer.
The Engineering worked. Nuclear energy is safe. Ni imagination required.
NUCLEAR ENERGY IS SAFE!
Jees. Where do you find these people.....
Radio-active material is inherently dangerous.
By all means applaud the design, engineering and construction skills of those who built the Japanese plants (they bloody well deserve it), but don't confuse this with the system being risk free.
A well-reasoned Lewis Page article that I can agree with and recommend, I think hell must have just frozen over :)
Great article, exactly what I was thinking about the 'disaster', and with teh detailed tech knowledge to back it up
Indeed, this is the only place I have seen reason and fact used.
Too many media are indulging in pointless scaremongering. This article is an awesome example of what research and analysis can do.
the critical fact is that Plutonium is staggeringly toxic - 50 picograms per kilo LD30 in mice after 30 days according to my 1980 "A" level databook, though strangely this figure is missing in more recent student material.
there is a case to include it in nuclear fuel in order to "rot it down" into less toxic and shorter lived isotopes, but BNFL, the proponents of MOX fuel are doing this basically as a fig leaf to get rid of unwanted "wrong isotope" plutonium produced during reprocessing for the "good" bomb stuff. IMO we should not reprocess due to toxicity risk. we should run uranium fuel for maximum cycle time and then bury it. until N-power is decoupled from N-weapon production we will never have public support for what is essentially one of the very few truly carbon-free power technologies. Plutonium refinement brings in too much risk both of poisoning and proliferation, and puts N-spooks in charge of the released data.
I really can't tell.
Seriously... the ongoing threat of major natural catastrophe, thousands of displaced people, radiation leaks... all proof that this technology is safe and reliable? Are you the nuclear version of that El Reg copyright "journalist"?
Didn't read the article?
Lewis is basically stating what I've already known for days. Most people don't seem to know about the containment chamber or even think that the Fukushima reactors are still running! From an unbiased POV, the reactors have proven that even being 40 years old and lacking the CANDU or Pebble-bed levels of safety, the protection features are still good enough to actually avoid another Chernobyl!
Even if the cores are stabilized and the situation is contained, that power plant is dead and will take years to replace. It will take years and a lot of money to figure out how to extract the fuel rods and decontaminate the area, and of course build a replacement plant.
I'm not saying that solar / wind would adequately replace a nuclear plant but if they had, then the aftermath of a quake would be a few of them laying on their sides. Biggest threat from renewables would probably be if a hydroelectric dam burst. For example I'm not sure I would be happy to live under any dam anywhere in the world no matter how many assurances I was given.
... they swap the core out for refuelling. A bollixed core is less of a big deal than you might think.
you say... "decontaminate the area" however, if you had read the article properly, you might have noticed that the are isnt contaminated.
Also, yes, it will take a while to repair / rebuild the plant, however the main point here is the safety issue.
This 40 year old plant, has been hit by a quake 5x more powerful than it was designed to cope with, and also a tsunami that wasn't even considered. Not only did it survive, the only death (more so, the only real casualty) was not related to the damage to the plant.
That one already happened
You mean like the Banqiao dam which broke and killed 100,000 people?
Yes, Because one thing Japan has is plenty of space to put solar panels and wind turbines.
Most land not used for recreation, industry, commerce and, housing is used for farming or is a mountain.
Japan more so than most nations tries very hard to control its power usage as they have very few natural resources nearby (not counting the current tiff over the potential Sankaku gas field).
It has very high levels of recycling and a number of innovative ways of reducing energy needs, but at the same time it has high energy needs due to things like transportation networks, heavy industry, medical industry, education and, home luxury (if you ever go there in the summer you'll understand).
WTF icon, I wish I had used that
The saterical comments are as in bad taste as the main article. Why have you been shot with so many red arrows? Surely no one thinks that another Chernobyl is good for anybody? Surely the incompetance of the Japaneese cutting the electricity to the cooling system cannot be praised?
So why was it 5 times weaker
You say the plant was designed to be 5 times weaker than required!
We're not talking swapping out a core. We're talking of decommissioning multiple reactors and facilities in a wrecked nuclear plant. That means cutting up and shovelling every last hazardous contaminant from concrete dust, metal, core, sludge, liquids into containers and shipping them off somewhere. Safely of course. That's going to take many months, probably many years to accomplish. It's not no big deal and in the best of circumstances decommissioning is non trivial task and is hugely expensive.
What containment chamber?
Blown 1000 feet into the air!!
I can see what you're saying but...
There was already an on-going project to replace the oldest reactors with reactors 7 and 8. These are 1380MW each, replacing reactor 1 (460MW) and 2 (784MW). The first reactors were given an extension of their service life to 2020.
As the containment for the reactors is relatively intact, and little has actually leaked, the problem of cleaning up is not as much of a problem as you'd think (and certainly no Chernobyl).
There's no renewable tech that can generate the power Japan needs in the space and budget available. There's few places for hydroelectric, it's not well suited to solar and wind turbines? Dont make me laugh.
Re: What containment chamber?
That was the roof, not the containment chamber.
Paris, because that's the icon closest to a facepalm.
yes it is
It is contaminated with sea water, which is a problem if you want to turn the power station back on again.
Consider that the public has no frikkin' idea about the actual state of the reactor and the disaster is still in progress; the release of this article based on half-assed data clearly illustrates its partisan and highly biased nature.
I like nuclear power, but this is just bad, highly opinionated reporting. You're going off at half-cock... at best.
0/10 El Reg. This kind of thing is not going to enhance your reputation.
Did you read the article ?
If you know nothing about some"thing", don't have an opinion about it until you do. And reading posters that are anti "thing", does not make you an experpert on said "thing".
I wouldn't quite say "Tosh", but I do agree the tone of the article is wrong. It really is too early to say the design has been a success and nuclear power is vindicated.
While it is a reasonable article in highlighting what *should* be happening by design, we do not know for sure exactly is/was happening, and won't for many months to come.
Given one impossible thing has happened in the last seven days, the laws of improbability clearly indicate anything else could happen next. Water at 500C makes a really hot cup of tea, and further earthquakes or tsunami could change everything.
Is Nuclear power safe? I don't doubt that largely it is. Is it cost effective? We don't yet know what the long term financial cost of nuclear power is, but we do know our grandchildren will be paying for the clean up.
Just the facts, ma'am.
Do you have some inside information that the rest of us are unaware of? Because until the matter is over and official reports are completed, you only know what you have been informed via a an opinion piece, based on information from a news agency, based on what a press officer told them.
Nobody here is an expert on what is occurring because we do not know. And anyone forming opinions based on this piece of opinion that laughably passes itself off as journalism is a fool.
Japan's closest "friendly" exporters of the raw materials they need to run fossil power plants are America and Australia, sure they can and do get it from else where, but do you want to be wholly reliant on a power source that is difficult to stock pile and the closest guaranteed sources are an ocean away when someone decides to cut your supply lines?
Read this and get re-educated
For those of you that are not actual nuclear physicists or work in a nuclear plant, try reading this:
Once you actually scroll down to the normal-font (non-italics) letter quoted, you'll have an actual understanding of what happened. Those of you that can't see the actual facts in this situation and keep spouting that "the whole area is contaminated" or "the disaster is still going on" can keep your FUD to yourself.
Re: Just the facts, ma'am
"this piece of opinion that laughably passes itself off as journalism"
Lol, what does that even mean? Yes, it is an opinion piece. It says so right there in the heading. I don't see much that's laughable about it, other than the possibility that the tone could be seen as a bit confrontational to those who would rather believe the torrent of scaremongering. It doesn't speculate any more than any other report I've seen and deals mainly in the facts; the biggest example of which being that the reactors have survived THIS FAR and that it is attributable to their design rather than any miracle or coincidence that the potential for disaster, even now, is orders of magnitude more limited than the mainstream press, who have been busily conflating PROBABILITY with CONSEQUENCE whilst wheeling on an endless parade of axe-grinding fearmongers from the likes of Greenpeace to scare the viewers and keep them tuned in, would have you believe. You only have to watch 5 minutes of the BBC's AWFUL numb-brained coverage to realise that this is true.
On that basis alone, no matter what happens from this point onwards, I'm inclined to agree with Page.
Thank you - a lone voice of common sense in a sea of eco-hysteria
Thank you Lewis for a cogent, well-reasoned and above all rational (in the Enlightenment sense) defence of nuclear power. Already the greenies and watermelons in the media are seizing upon the tragedy in Japan as an argument AGAINST nuclear energy - as you've explained, this is 180 degrees out from the rational interpretation of events, but we all know how quickly lies can get around the world. A particularly impressive example of the "this is the final nail in the coffin of the nukular industry" genre from Geoffrey Lean in the Telegraph, here:
...although somewhat gratifyingly, the comments below his article show he hasn't convinced many readers!
A little premature - but yes
I agree. My view on NP has steadily been shifting. The performance of these quite old reactors has so far been exemplary given extraordinary circumstances. If over the next week or two this is maintained, then it constitutes a strong argument that safe fission reactors can be - and have been - built.
Not Installed Here
There's are a few things about the reactor design which, when I heard of them, made me wonder if they would be built today. One or two things which might be OK in Kansas, so to speak.
But these aren't a reactor design used in the UK.
Three things seem clear:
1: There's a lot of people who know sweet F.A. about radiation.
2: There's a lot of reporters who can't even use Google.
3: There first guy I saw mention of, who put the radiation levels in any context, is the Captain of the US Navy aircraft carrier in the region. He wouldn't have that command if he didn't know something about the subject.
Perhaps the solution to any problems in the British nuclear power industry would be to put the Royal Navy in charge. (That isn't entirely a joke...)
Don't count your chickens...
...before they're hatched. You'll feel somewhat daft if now some unanticipated event occurs and fucks it all up. The Engineers and designers have been awesome, but can't think of everything.
Nuclear : "not much impact" = 56 deaths
At Chernobyl, this actually happened inside the containment vessel and the resulting explosion ruptured the vessel, leading to a serious release of core radioactives – though this has had basically zero effect on the world in general nor even much impact on the area around Chernobyl.
Other sources say:
Chernobyl disaster, 26 April 1986. A power surge during a test procedure resulted in a criticality accident, leading to a powerful steam explosion and fire that released a significant fraction of core material into the environment, resulting in a death toll of 56 as well as estimated 4,000 additional cancer fatalities among people exposed to elevated doses of radiation. As a result, the city of Chernobyl (pop. 14,000) was largely abandoned, and the larger city of Prypiat (pop. 49,400) was completely abandoned.
Wow... just wow.
"though this has had basically zero effect on the world in general nor even much impact on the area around Chernobyl"
So that's why nobody lives there, still, eh?
I'm just wondering if this article is definitive proof of the Many Worlds theory. Because the author is clearly living on a different version of Earth than the rest of us.
Coward: if you read the article you will see that the hydrogen explosion made little impact on Chernobyl not the incident as a whole..
Effects a lot worse...
...if you include the vast number of livestock that were affect (fatally, or through ongoing mutations) or the crops and ground soil in the 125,000 square mile zone. Human deaths were the only bit that gets the news.
Yes, Chernobyl could have been much worse, but it's by no means a "minor incident". But don't get me wrong - I actually agree with the sentiments of this article. Nukes are actually ok, if managed/maintained correctly.
56 deaths. Lets add in the 4000 additional cancer deaths. 4056 deaths. Still less then the number of people killed mining coal _every_ _single_ _year_ for you precious 'safe' electricity.
We dont even need to add in the vast numbers of people killed fighting each other over oil to see that nuclear is by far the safest, cheapest and greenest source of electricity. And to date its the _only_ source capable of running your precious electric cars without burning fossil fuels.
Even with your windscales and three-mile-islands and chernobyls, its still incredibly safe and clean compared to the alternatives.
As a footnote you could add CO2 based climate change into the justification for nuclear, but since the jury's out on that one we'll leave it.
compare and contrast that to banqiao.
And both the British and American governments and security services are 100% trustworthy too.
"We dont even need to add in the vast numbers of people killed fighting each other over oil to see that nuclear is by far the safest, cheapest and greenest source of electricity."
That's right everyone: factor in war and <my favourite power source> is safest! Of course if everyone needed to get hold of uranium, they'd be fighting over that, too.
"Even with your windscales and three-mile-islands and chernobyls, its still incredibly safe and clean compared to the alternatives."
The Windscale reactor fire was a close-run thing, apparently: cooling the fire with water was a last resort, and the whole thing could have exploded, precisely because of the high-temperature oxidation processes and the liberation of hydrogen already discussed in relation to the ongoing sequence of events that Lewis Page has foolishly decided to call time on.
Time to moderate that optimism with a bit of historical perspective, I reckon.
In actual fact, the 50 odd directly caused deaths, and 4,000 anticipated indirectly caused deaths are the figures reported by the IAEA in their 2005 report. Which has been widely criticised. Given the IAEA would cease to exist, or be necessary if nuclear programs were ended, it's not hugely surprising they conclude Chernobyl had little impact.
"Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment" published last year by the New York Academy of Sciences puts the figure for indirectly caused deaths as nearer 985,000.
Strange that the USS Ronald Reagan, 100 miles off shore, has detected increased radiation levels, and been ordered to leave the area, isn't it?
Strange also the japanese government evacuated 200,000 people in the surrounding area, if the situation doesn't threaten them. Perhaps they thought this was a good time to run a drill, as things are quiet?
Since any radioactive steam has been blown offshore, curiously toward the USS Ronald Reagen, it was an obvious choice to move the ship. The 200,000 people evacuated was precautionary in case there was a serious mishap, which there wasn't. It wasn't due to the current radiation leakage.
Now, re-educate by reading the letter quoted here:
re: So that's why nobody lives there, still, eh?
and wildlife seems to be struggling as well (despite having the advantage of no humans around)
>> Birds living around the site of the Chernobyl nuclear accident have 5% smaller brains
>> The largest wildlife census of its kind conducted in Chernobyl has revealed that mammals are declining in the exclusion zone surrounding the nuclear power plant.
Re: 56 deaths = your average holiday roads' death toll
Here in Brazil, the roads' death toll for last week's three days-long holiday of Carnival was upwards of 200 people. So if you tell me a nuclear facility exploded and 56 people died as consequence, I'd say that as grievous an occurence as it is, consequences overall were fairly limited. The fact that Chernobyl was deserted is also of somewhat small significance - the city pretty much existed in function of the reactor, so with it (mostly) shut off, there wasn't much reason for folk to stay around, radiation levels notwithstanding.
A further 4,000 people dead by cancer and almost 50,000 people forced to move away, that I'll concede was a pretty big mess, though I'd still like to size it up against the surrounding region and overal Ukranian population at the time. Anyway, other than being a colossal PR blunder for nuclear energy, I'd dare agree to Lewis when he says Chernobyl had litle physical impact in the world at large.
@AC: Nuclear : "not much impact" = 56 deaths
At Chernobyl, nothing happened inside the containment vessel because the reactor didn't have one.
Regarding moving the USS Ronald Reagan and 200,000 people out of the area:
In a few words, playing it safe. You don't wait until a potential threat becomes a real danger to start preparing for it. If it's reasonably possible to move people out from under tolerable levels of exposure to essentially zero exposure, that's the thing to do.
In the second place, exposure is cumulative, so it makes sense to minimize the time.
A helicopter flew right through the emissions from one of the explosions. On return, the crew were checked, their uniforms removed and destroyed, and they were thoroughly washed with soap and water. The result? Normal radiation levels.
The only source?
Um, hydroelectricity doesn't generate GHG (as long as you're out of the tropics).