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back to article Oh noes! New 'CRISIS DISASTER' at Fukushima! Oh wait, it's nothing. Again

The world's media is working itself into an unedifying state of hysteria (again) following the news that radioactive water has leaked from a holding tank at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, damaged two years back by a tsunami and earthquake which led to the death and injury of more than 20,000 people - though not a single one …

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"It's not global news. It's not national news. It would barely even be local news, in a sane world."

Too true. Unfortunately not much actually is significant news, and the 24 hour news channels have an awful lot of time to fill. They get as much mileage as they can out of situations like Syria and Egypt, but those kind of things do drag on so, and there's only so many pathetic sob stories and excruciating human interest puff pieces you can take before even an over-hyped scare story like the current Fukushima "crisis" becomes at least a little entertaining.

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Childcatcher

What about morning breakfast

Couldn't get away from it that morning, someone was in a boat on either BBC or ITV one even claimed it was the worst disaster ever (At which point I turned off the TV).

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Thanks

Thanks for clarifying El Reg..

I will sleep better tonight knowing that I am not going to die from radiation poisoning the next time it rains.

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Beta?

I think you might be getting Alpha and Beta confused.

Alpha doesn't go through skin and can be stopped by a piece of paper. Beta although much lower mass and therefore lower 'energy' (for some definitions of energy) can burn skin directly.

The bigger concern is that the beta emitters in question from a reactor are probably Strontium and Iodine which are biologically a bit unpleasant because they accumulate in bits of your body which you would prefer not to be spewing out radiation. Ingesting water full of radioactive Sr or I is rather worse than standing next to a much more active lump of an alpha emitter like Uranium or Plutonium.

Probably best not to drink large amounts of water from a waste pond at any large industrial facility then.

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Re: Beta?

True, however while alpha particles can be stopped by the skin they cause immense damage if inhaled or ingested, as Alexander Litvinenko found to his cost.

Beta emitting radioactive iodines have a habit of accumulating in the thyroid gland, which is why potassium iodide tablets are issued to people after a nuclear incident to 'fill up' the thyroid, preventing the takeup of the radioactive iodines.

Thyroid cancer is the most common cancer associated with nuclear accidents, but it's one of the most treatable cancers known, with well over 90% of people surviving.

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Re: Beta?

"Probably best not to drink large amounts of water from a waste pond at any large industrial facility then"

I found discovered this to my cost. I now have super powers but the weight of responsibility burdens me greatly.

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Unhappy

Re: Beta? followup

Today it is reported that 100 millisieverts measured was the limit of this measurement device. Retaking the measurement with a more capable device finds 18 times as much radiation. Maybe now we should start to be a little curious about the progress here. Maybe the author could do an update about how 1800 millisieverts per hour in 300 tons of missing water is no cause for alarm.

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MRI

We live in a world terrified of the word nuclear, to the extent that when technology is used to actually help doctora understand what might be wrong and heal us we rename it to avoid the word.

That's all that is wrong...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "Nuclear"

It doesn't help that there is a significant contingent who mispronounce the word and make it sound even more scary.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: MRI

No, we live in a world terrified of what nefarious purposes that governments put supposedly peaceful nuclear power generation facilities to - eg the Windscale fire being the result of a secret atomic bomb project. Windscale would have been quite safe, had not the UK government demanded that the facility produce weaponised plutonium in addition to electricity.

It is also clear to the average person that the materials involved in nuclear power production are significantly more dangerous than those used in other types of generation, and remain that way even after 'spent' and require secure storage for the foreseeable future.

Finally, and most telling, given the above and that power generation companies are after all capitalist profit making entities, the average person is used to such companies taking shortcuts in the name of profit and their habit of being economical with the truth.

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Re: MRI

The Windscale reactor was the epitomy of early nuclear reactor design overconfidence and ignorance. It made Chernobyl, infamous for its lack of a containment dome, look like a model of safety.

Windscale's design entailed a tunnel filled with a big block of flammable graphite, heating the graphite to hundreds of degrees with nuclear reactions, and then cooling it by blowing fresh air (you know, full of oxygen) over the hot, flammable graphite. Yes, truly a safe concept.

Surely nothing could go wrong in a reactor lacking adequate numbers of thermocouples to monitor the core's temperature; having only a single shutdown system (the control rods); and lacking any passive safety features. The one bit of lipservice to safety - which most of the designers thought was a waste of money - was a filter on the hot air exhaust chimney. (And it worked extremely well, though it was only treating the symptoms after the reactor caught fire.)

And you're incorrect about its operation. Windscale was *only* meant to produce plutonium for bombs, and completely designed around that goal, with no provisions for, say, power production. Later, Britain tried to make it produce tritium for hydrogen bombs to keep up with the Americans, and that's where some of the trouble began - this began producing hotspots in the graphite.

I love nuclear power, especially modern reactor designs with their elegant, brilliant passive safety systems. But I cannot say anything good about Windscale's design except maybe, "it was simple and cheap."

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Mushroom

Re: MRI

@Cray.

'But I cannot say anything good about Windscale's design except maybe, "it was simple and cheap."'

Well, it did achieve what it set out to do. Britain owns more plutonium than any other country. Ideal for fueling integral fast reactors!

http://www.isis-online.org/publications/puwatch/tab21997.html

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Pint

Re: MRI

"But I cannot say anything good about Windscale's design except maybe, "it was simple and cheap."

A bit like the politicians then.

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"They always have a back-up"

So just how did this disaster come about? Something to do with the back-up failing I seem to recall.

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Re: "They always have a back-up"

The disaster was 20,000 people being killed and whole towns and villages being erased from the face of the earth by a tsunami - which also took out a nuclear facility, killing nobody.

Nuclear power is safer even including Fukushima, Chernobyl and the rest than Coal, Gas - you name it. Nobody is claiming that nuclear is perfect. What we need is a SENSE OF PERSPECTIVE which will stop us doing what Germany did - ditch the only form of power generation which can power our civilisation WITHOUT Co2 release.

The trite way nuclear is being treated at such a critical time in our history is frankly sickening.

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Joke

Re: "They always have a back-up"

Including 2500 people who were killed when their train was hit by a Tsunami.

I hope the UK government learns from this and cancels HS2.

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Holmes

Re: "They always have a back-up"

"Including 2500 people who were killed when their train was hit by a Tsunami."

I'm fairly sure that didn't actually happen. I can't find any corroborating evidence, the Wikipedia page for the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami doesn't mention it, and a list of worldwide rail accidents from 2010 onwards (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_rail_accidents_(2010%E2%80%93present)) only states this:

"11 March 2011 — Japan — 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami – four trains are missing on lines running along the north east coast of Japan following an earthquake and subsequent tsunami. They are found later, it was just general confusion and phone network breakdown."

And 2500 people would be one hell of a big train.

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Re: "They always have a back-up"

There was a train taken out in the Boxing Day tsunami. In Sri Lanka I think.

A quick search and very lazy link to Wikiwoowah later shows I was probably right. Wiki has a death toll of 1,700.

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Re: "They always have a back-up"

They did have proper backups. We just have to accept the fact that it isn't possible to backup/protect against tsunami, volcanoes, asteroid impacts, and other such things we puny humans are powerless against.

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Mushroom

Re: "They always have a back-up"

in nuclear power your bckups have bckups what hppenes is each backup failes one after each other based on the servirity of the disaster till one holds but as each one fails your options to get the plant back working go down hill till the last backup leaves the plant a smoldering weck that will take decades to clean up but leaves the civiln population unharmed.

if I remember the disaster right the backups eventuley held but the cores are scrap.

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Re: The fossil fuel industry relies on this hysteria

quote: "to totally change the atmosphere past the point of no return"

Source? IIRC from paleoclimate estimations, we've had far higher greenhouse gas percentages (especially CO2) around before now; if it is truly a "point of no return" we would not be in the atmospheric position we are today, because we could not have "returned" from it all those millions of years ago.

Not that I'm disagreeing with your other points, but that quote seems an awful lot like the (unfounded) sensationalism we've seen wielded against nuclear power.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The fossil fuel industry relies on this hysteria

"So thank you, each and every one of you standing in the way of nuclear. You are helping guarantee that we'll turn Greenland into an ice free paradise after all."

Actually, thank you to each and every politician responsible for killing the future of renewable energy. If they just allowed the engineers to get on with the job of debugging the fledgling technology and designing scalable integrated solutions, then renewable energy could become a reality and economic success.

Instead, a combination of political stupidity (ROCs) and powerful lobbying and propaganda from the fossil fuel sector has ensured that renewable energy engineering will remain small scale and low priority.

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Mushroom

Re: The fossil fuel industry relies on this hysteria

@AC 15:57

"renewable energy could become a reality and economic success."

Nuclear is renewable by any sensible definition.

"Since energy sources derived from the sun are called “renewable,” that adjective apparently means that they will be available in undiminished quantity at present costs for as long as the current relationship between the sun and Earth persists, about 5 billion years. It is the purpose of this note to show that breeder reactors using nuclear fission fulfill this definition of a renewable energy source, and in fact can supply all the world’s energy needs at present costs for that time period."

http://sustainablenuclear.org/PADs/pad11983cohen.pdf

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The fossil fuel industry relies on this hysteria

There was no "WE" back then.

The planet will survive. Humans may have a fair bit of trouble doing so. That is what "point of no return" is about. The point where it turns into a mini Ice Age.

Think along lines of northern half of Europe and North America being under ice -- in 50 years' time. Think about where those people will go, how they will go, who will let them in and who will pay for it.

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Radiation Superstition

Indeed, there goes journalism again in its mission to inform and enlighten.

These days I never miss a chance to point out to people that Guarapari, the coastal town where my family spent summer vacation when I was a kid, is actually more radioactive than what Fukushima was in late 2011. A friend of mine actually got angry at me for this, insisting that some difference in the "kind of radioactivity" had to somehow make Fukushima more dangerous than Guarapari.

Alas, guess we can't so easily make up for forty-odd years of misinformation...

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Re: Radiation Superstition

Ahh yes, the usual "but that's natural radioactivity" claim that leaves me speechless, as if somehow it's magically different. I can only guess these people deal with blocked chakras and distance healing.

Nuclear is the sole viable option we have at the moment, but we need a stop-gap until the new stations are online - and that would seem to be shale gas (inter-alia).

All the protesters in Surrey also forget that their windmills kill 150 people per trillionkWh (Yottawatt?), solar 440, and nuclear (including all the disasters ever) a mere 90. So, not only do renewables fail in supplying power in a predictable and manageable way they kill more people too. But who'd let that get in the way of prejudice!

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Holmes

Re: Radiation Superstition

There is a difference though. In one case the radioactive material is a dusting or soil contaminant that you do not necessarily want to get into your lungs or generally into your body (can that happen easily? I dunno)

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Re: Radiation Superstition

Not trying to join the greentards in the campaign against nukes here, but I have to wonder how people are getting killed by windmills? Short of being underneath the thing when it explodes in a hurricane, I have to wonder just what they were doing? Not enough cliffs in the area to abseil down?

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Re: Radiation Superstition

"Atomic power is no more unnatural than when I sail my boat on Saranac Lake." Einstein

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Re: Radiation Superstition

In one case the radioactive material is a dusting or soil contaminant that you do not necessarily want to get into your lungs or generally into your body

Guess not, though people just love to bury themselves in it. They seem to enjoy the warmth it gives off, and some also believe it has "medicinal" powers.

I am obviously talking about Guarapari's beaches' sand, whose radioactivity comes from the thorium in the monazite ore mixed to it. Surprisingly, people don't think so highly of material from Fukushima, even though it's often less radioactive than Guarapari's.

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Boffin

Re: Radiation Superstition

They need regular servicing, and people fall. They're big huge things without much else around them, and people will drive into them.

More importantly, when it's icy, they can throw a chunk of ice hard enough to go through a roof at a distance of a mile, or parts of the blade through a roof at 3 miles.

Oh, and then there's the biggest killer - FIRE.

If it's too windy, they have to be stopped. they are braked to a stop and locked down. Sometimes the brake fails, or is applied too late or not at all, and the friction makes the unit catch fire. Good luck putting that out - they usually don't bother, and try to deal with the flaming bits flying off to stop it spreading. Sometimes that doesn't work, and at least one turbine fire caused a wildfire that destroyed an area of Australian national park roughly the same size as the fukushima exclusion zone at it's peak.

There's been over 300 accidents just in 2011 and 2012, 26 of them fatal, just one accident in Brazil last year (where a bus crashed into a section of turbine) killed 17, (that's more than half the count of Chernobyl, and... 17 more than Fukushima, the only two level 7 nuclear events) and I bet you've never heard of it, I hadn't.

Reuters video - http://www.reuters.com/resources_v2/flash/video_embed.swf?videoId=231891110&edition=BETAUS

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@Andrew N.

"There's been over 300 accidents just in 2011 and 2012, 26 of them fatal, just one accident in Brazil last year (where a bus crashed into a section of turbine) killed 17"

There's plenty of good reasons to favour nuclear power without suggesting that crashing buses mean that wind power is inherently unsafe.

I wouldn't want anyone to suggest nuclear power was dangerous just because a cement mixer crashed into a school on the way to build the new Sellafield or whatever.

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Mushroom

Re: Radiation Superstition

Ahh yes, the usual "but that's natural radioactivity" claim that leaves me speechless, as if somehow it's magically different.

It gets worse. Telling my friend radiation doesn't work like that, and that he was ill-informed about the subject, only got him angrier, but after he calmed down I convinced him to let me send some articles on the subject to his e-mail, so he'd see how the matter isn't at all like what is broadcast in the mainstream media.

And so I sent him various articles (ranging from scientific papers to Wikipedia entries) about nuclear engineering, natural radioactive areas in the world, facts about high-profile nuclear accidents and the like. His answer?

I'm sorry, but I don't agree to none of your justifications.

So a dimly remembered news piece on someone who died of cancer right after Fukushima's plant was hit by the tsunami is definitive proof that nuclear energy is Evil (C), but a scientific paper giving quantitative evidence that more people died in the evacuation than would be lost if they stayed put is a "justification".

Christ.

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Re: Radiation Superstition

People are killed when working on wind turbines (and rooftop solar installations) simply because they're at height - so the cause is simple things like insecure footings, and inadequate safety equipment.

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trillion kW·h

Yet Another Commentard, the short-scale trillion was used by James Conca in his report, so the unit is deaths* per PW·h.

* — The numbers are a combination of actual direct deaths and epidemiological estimates, and are rounded to two significant figures, per the report.

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Coat

Re: Radiation Superstition

@Mike Richards:

"...so the cause is simple things like insecure footings, and inadequate safety equipment."

Just like getting exposed to this puddle would be bad "footing" and "inadequate safety equipment" as well. If Windmills were designed like nuclear reactors, They'd be fenced off a mile out, they'd be surrounded by a concrete wall, have a pyramid shape (for extra stability), and the workers wouldn't be able to climb the unit to service the turbine in the first place.

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Re: Radiation Superstition

"People are killed when working on wind turbines (and rooftop solar installations) simply because they're at height - so the cause is simple things like insecure footings, and inadequate safety equipment." (i.e. the inference is they didn't die from renewables power generation)

So, I suppose by the same logic, you would exclude deaths from mining accidents in the statistics for the risk of coal power generation (or nuclear for that matter, assuming your raw material comes from a mine)?

We could also reduce deaths by drunk drivers significantly with such arguments. A car properly designed to cushion the impact with airbags would avoid unnecessary loss of life, so if a drunk driver mows over a pedestrian, he can blame the lacking safety features of the car rather than the lack of control at the wheel.

Renewables don't kill. People just die.

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Pint

Sanity from Lewis Page

While I disagree with Page's habitually unscientific pandering to climate change deniers, he is absolutely correct when it comes to pointing out the mass hysteria that surrounds anything "radioactive" or nuclear.

Compared to all other sources of energy we have today, nuclear is by far the safest -- especially when you factor in pollution (including CO2) from other energy sources. Now, if we could only see meaningful investment in generation 4 reactors, like MSR.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Sanity from Lewis Page

I also quite like the inclusion of links to select references, which should help with any pre-conceived objections that some might proffer.

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Mushroom

Re: Sanity from Lewis Page

@BrainBone.

I'll match your MSR and raise you an IFR.

http://www.monbiot.com/2011/12/05/a-waste-of-waste/

"In his book Prescription for the Planet, the environmentalist Tom Blees explains the remarkable potential of integral fast reactors (IFRs)(11). These are nuclear power stations which can run on what old nuclear plants have left behind. Conventional nuclear power uses just 0.6% of the energy contained in the uranium that fuels it. Integral fast reactors can use almost all the rest. There is already enough nuclear waste on earth to meet the world’s energy needs for several hundred years, with scarcely any carbon emissions. IFRs need be loaded with fissile material just once. From then on they can keep recycling it, extracting ever more of its energy, until a small fraction of the waste remains. Its components have half-lives of tens rather than millions of years. This makes them more dangerous, but much easier to manage in the long term. When the hot waste has been used up, the IFRs can be loaded with depleted uranium (U-238), of which the world has a massive stockpile(12).

The material being reprocessed never leaves the site: it remains within a sealed and remotely-operated recycling plant. Anyone trying to remove it would quickly die. By ensuring the fissile products are unusable, the IFR process reduces the risk of weapons proliferation. The plant operates at scarcely more than atmospheric pressure, so it can’t blow its top. Better still, it could melt down only by breaking the laws of physics. If the fuel pins begin to overheat, their expansion stops the fission reaction. If, like the Fukushima plant, an IFR loses its power supply, it simply shuts down, without human agency. Running on waste, with fewer pumps and valves than conventional plants, they are also likely to be a good deal cheaper(13)."

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And you thought Sharknado was scary enough... here comes PUDDLENADO!

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[citation needed]

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Zot
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Watching the NHK channel last year had...

...Doctors advising pregnant women to move away from open windows. This was their best advice because, well, what else could they do? It impossible to figure out what's real in that situation.

Although we don't know the real long term effects of the damaged rector are, it would be nice to know whether the Japanese government is going through total denial of the situation, or whether everything really is safe for now.

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Re: Watching the NHK channel last year had...

"long term effects of the damaged rector" tend to be minimal, but the short term ones are of the order of dropped babies at christenings and garbled names at weddings. Or falling into open graves (I've seen it happen!).

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Anonymous Coward

Alpha radiation does not penetrate skin. Beta does. Not much, but the bigger danger comes from ingestion as internal organs can be grossly affected by beta radiation.

That being said, I fully agree with the reporter. This story is baing hyped beyond reason. Thanks El Reg.

http://science.howstuffworks.com/radiation-sickness1.htm

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At the risk of...

a severe downvoting, it's worth remembering that the 'safety' of nuclear power is largely a product of neurotic attention to what could happen if it all goes seriously pear shaped. The 'safety' isn't intrinsic to the process, it comes at a phenomenal cost, as does the power produced.

Whether, in the long term, NP is significantly more 'dangerous' to overall human health when compared with other forms of generation is probably moot. But of all the means we have of generating electricity nuclear power is probably easily the most dependant on there being stable and reasonably affluent societies to maintain the systems that prevent NP from becoming a very long term problem to those who may lack the money, technology, or even the understanding, to keep the NP show on the road, let alone safe.

NP is a positivist technological gamble, it may pay off, but there are no guarantees.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: At the risk of...

That is true, no guarantees.

But that's the problem. Why is everyone so neurotic about nuclear fission power? Because when things go wrong, they can go wrong in a BIG way. Why were they so concerned about Fukushima? I guess the possible evacuation requirement of the most populous metropolitan area on the planet is not worthy of concern - or did everyone forget that little part of this topic?

Also, the waste lasts hundred of thousands of years and can contaminate a huge area if containment fails, as well.

So, in other words, it is the SCALE of a single incident that is of concern, not simply the odds of the incident occurring in the first place. Yes, yes, we need energy but any reasonable human being must consider how widespread a single nuclear incident's affect is felt - and that can be huge: there has only been 2 Level 5 accidents yet note how many people and how large a zone of influence was affected. That must count for something in the realm of "intelligent conversation".

Many nuclear plants around the world are aging, many beyond their original design perimeters. Nuclear embrittlement will become a greater and greater concern for these old reactor vessels and the companies involved (at least in the United States, where the power plants are privately owned) are attempting to squeeze every last dime out of their investments by getting operating license extensions from the NRC. Pushing a design beyond spec plus absolute desire for profits may just equal big problems in the future.

Maybe we've been lucky, maybe there will be no significant problems. But tell that to the people who live by, and in the shadow of, a nuclear power plant - it's easy to say "No concerns!" when you're not the one living there.

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@AC Re: At the risk of...

" it's easy to say "No concerns!" when you're not the one living there."

Meanwhile, thousands of people keep dying in road accidents or from lung cancer due to smoking or liver failure due to alcohol or...

... but they don't make for headlines which boost viewing/ reading figures.

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Re: At the risk of...

You do know that the technology has advanced with nuclear power significantly. Things change, technology advances. Something built 40 years ago will not be the same as what can be built now.

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