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 …
you go live near a nuclear reactor if you like.
I'll personally would rather see more geothermal plants being built. Best of both worlds reliable and renewable..
Well, impressive article. I think nuke power has been successfully sold to me. Bring on the big scary reactors.
Article is a joke in bad taste
The fact that radioactive heavy metal isotopes have been released into the atmosphere means the metal cores are in meltdown and the cooling systems have failed. The other three will probably melt down too unless they can fix the cooling.
To say this shows nuclear power in a good light is sarcasm at a bad time concidering the loss of life the event will cause.
You seem to be on the ground.
How is the weather over there?
Nice Propaganda Piece
I am pro-nuclear, for many reasons.
All the same, this article is tripe. It is also premature, which seems to indicate a rather slavering anxiousness to get on the soapbox.
While thus far there has been no major radioactive leak the description in the article of the tsunami hitting a few hours after the earthquake makes me question the accuracy in the rest of the article as there was no way near that much lead time between the quake and tsunami. This would seem to suggest that the performance of the reactors was better than suggested but it does make me wonder about the skills of the people doing research for the article.
Chernonyl WAS minimal impact on world
In the grand cheme of things, did Chernobyl really have THAT much affect? NO! We're not all mutants. Yes there is some mutation in the area around the plant but not enough to out-mutate normal evolution.
At the end of the day, the benefits of nuclear energy far out weigh the non-existent environmental costs, when nuclear plants are properly designed as the ones in Japan have shown.
this article is a joke no?
"intermediate radioactive isotopes of caesium and iodine are created during normal running. They have short half-lives and decay to insignificant levels within days of a shutdown" . Now I know this was written by an idiot but caesium 137 has a half life of 30 years. So we are talking about more days than anyone on this planet will live to get down to 1/16th of current levels.
You really need to stop making up physics on this site, maybe you should follow the advice of Feynman, who actually knew a little bit of physics: "For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled."
In the meantime we can finally find out what happens when you pump seawater into a loaded nuclear reactor, this is an experiment that has never been tried, or contemplated before.
Storm in a Murdoch teacup?
Finally, someone with facts and no axe to grind! Sadly, we have had the world excited by news hounds keen for a "real" story. As a physicist, I've been dismayed by the news coverage. CNN even brought out a rabid anti-nuclear "expert" who wanted to talk about the end of the world.
I think the article's assessment is correct. Good engineering, good planning, a willingness not to panic are all to be applauded. This is a major vindication for nuclear engineering. These reactors took two consecutive hits way beyond design specification and are still safe.
I did see a lot of oil tanks burning in the news coverage. I suspect these are doing more damage to the local environment than the nuclear reactors.
Is it just me?
Is it just me, or is this article just a re-hashing (uncredited at that) of Dr Josef Oehmen excellent article?
different point of view
You could write the same article from another point of view
1. The fukushima facility was underdesigned to withstand only moderate earthquakes, and without consideration of tsunamis. In the most seismically active place in the world, in fact the place that gave us the word tsunami, they built a nuke plant on the coast. What were they thinking?
2. Backup systems failed due to the unanticipated tsunami
3. Three reactors suffered loss of coolant accidents, the worst category of (initial) accident
4. Two reactors probably suffered at least partial core melting (the facts aren't in yet), which scraps the reactor.
5. Two reactors had to be flooded with seawater due to failure of the deionized water supply, which basically means these reactors are scrapped due to corrosion, instead of providing 10 more years of service.
6. The cost of dismantling three damaged reactors full of highly radioactive fuel may be substantially more compared to the cost of removing normal spent fule rods and decommissioning a reactor at end of life.
This is not engineering success. It is design failure. It is engineering failure. It is financial failure. The fact that so far the radiation exposure has been minimal is good, but it hardly excuses the other failures. Nuclear plants stand out for having these expensive failure modes that are not seen with any other kind of power generation.
The world was just beginning to think they could trust nuclear power again. New reactor designs may even be safer. Now, I don't know. If no high-level radioactives are released, and if the cost of scrapping three damaged reactors is not too extreme, maybe someone will still make that risky bet. Hope they're more careful than the Americans, the Russians, or the Japanese, 'cause all those countries have seen enough failures.
Meanwhile on Earth, any device that self-destructs when deprived of external power would rather qualifies as a booby trap.
I'm not so sure that this article is a good idea...
Let's wait until the reactors are well and truly stable and the potential contamination is better understood before we start congratulating nuclear power on any alledged triumph.
Personally, I can see several problems with the plants performance/design. A) a plant in a tsunami zone had critical backup generators located close enough to the water that they got taken out by a 15-30 foot tsunami. That's not all that huge a tsunami by Japanese standards--certainly not so if you look at the geologic record. Those diesel generators should have been located away from the water.
Also, the plant survived being 75 miles or so from the epicenter of an 8.9 quake without any significant structural damage. However, the nature of subduction zones is that the 8.9 quake could have happened much closer to the plant without a detectable fault line that can be taken into account in design or location of the plant. This is unlike good old California with it's slip-strike faults where earthquake epicenters occur within a few miles of a fault feature. As crustal material from the Pacific plate slides under Japan, a rupture could occur right underneath the country or a nuke plant, or just a few miles offshore. Proximity to the epicenter makes a BIG difference.
Considering the injuries to the plant workers, radioactive steam releases and damage (possibly/probably resulting in permanent shutdown and decommissioning) to multiple units, and the economic effect of the current shutdowns on the Japanese power grid, Fukushima should rightfully pass up Three Mile Island to become history's second worst nuclear accident. I suppose that we could still conceivably have a full-scale meltdown which could challenge Chernobyl as the worst accident of all time. However, even barring a meltdown, Fukushima represents a major nuclear accident.
Late to the party
Well, I'm at the bottom of page 4 (some of us had to work today) but here goes.
This article is full of half-truths evasions and misinformation it beggars belief. However here a a few points you might like to think about.
Talking about 'a years worth of radiation'. So how would you like to get a years worth of sunshine in 1 hour? It doesn't do you any harm each year so what's the problem?
Dismissing Chernobyl. Most of Northern Europe's farmers would disagree with you. So would the remaining people forced to leave the area. So too would the 'Chernobyl Kids' who get regular 'holidays' paid for by charitable people to get them away from the general area for a while at least - Interesting that there are no rich or even middle class people for miles around.
Totally disregarding the fact that decommissioning these reactors will be far from normal - for any conceivable value of 'normal'.
Assuming absolute accuracy from a people who, traditionally, would rather die than face disgrace. Considering the lies from ordinary corporations and politicians - this is at best naive!
Finally, it would seem that looking at disaster recovery scenarios in general when considering energy supplies.
Wind/solar/general renewables - days
Coal/gas - weeks
Hydro/Oil - years
Nuclear - millennia
Read the above article and have a look at the risk of a full containment breach if the core does indeed melt (as it is doing right now in at least one of these reactors) - it is currently at around 40 percent per reactor - we have 3 reactors, work that out, CRETIN (to the author).
I am pro nuclear, but this article is written by an intellectual midget with almost no understanding of the relevant science and frankly an embarrasment - there IS a REAL RISK in this situation of a major release of non-trivial radioactive isotopes - anything that can burn for years at temperatures of several thousand Kelvin is a SERIOUS event which is why there is international panic.
This article, the author, with countless STUPID mistakes made in extremely poor taste are an absolute disgrace at a time when thousands are dead and many millions are waiting for news of an extremely serious event.
I hope this IDIOT isn't being paid for this sh*t.
Is see where you are coming from...
But where the hell is the "poor taste"?
I don't see an "international panic" either except among talking heads.
Some minor fact checking
Iodine 131 has a half life of about eight days, not seconds. Cesium 30 years.
There is also a possibility with the MOX fuel in reactor 3 of strontium 90 and plutonium. Given these lifetimes, its only to be expected that some of these may blow over the fence before they decay.
You state that the Japanese engineers have ensured that hydrogen production does not happen inside the primary containment vessel. Hydrogen is being produced when the overheated zirconium cladding on the fuel elements reacts with water to produce zirconium oxide, and Hydrogen. To the best of my knowledge the fuel elements have so for remained within the core, so that is where the hydrogen is being generated.
I remain cautiously optimistic:
and have read the references you cite. I don't feel that complacency is in order. and I don't feel that this is an example of the nuclear industry operating in a well controlled situation.
So is Lewis going out to help with the clean up?
"unprotected person next to a reactor building might have sustained a year's normal dose from background radiation in an hour"
Using the same brilliant logic. On average every person in the UK consumes 8kg of chocolate a year. Now who on earth wouldn't mind having an extra years worth of chocolate in an hour? Setting aside the problems of being able to ram that food down throat in that time or the capacity of your digestive tract. That much chocolate in such a short space of time would likely posion you, so best book ahead at the local ICU or cemetery before you try it.
I should be dead then.
I've eaten 4kg in 90 minutes on more than one occasion without any ill effects ($SUPERMARKET had a BOGOF on 2kg bars, I left my self control behind)
I can't imagine than an extra 4kg would be fatal
The main lesson from the engineering standpoint
is that the diesel generators, being a link in the safety chain, where still built less quake/tsunami resistant than the reactors themselves. Which made them the weakest link.
Too bad this flaw was not noticed in 40 years - it would have been quite easy to fix.
I've been witness to a small-scale disaster in a datacenter. We had enough diesel capacity to power the equipment, but not enough for air conditioning. As a result, in a prolonged mains failure, we had to turn off a lot if equipment to prevent overheating. Same oversight on smaller scale.
The thermal decomposition, or thermolysis, temperature of water (H2O) is well over 2000 C.
If it's THAT hot inside a reactor, you have much more serious problems to worry about.
The hydrogen build up is due to zirconium oxidizing and releasing free hydrogen gas as a by product.
Credible until you minimized Chernobyl
Most of what you said here struck me as probably accurate, and I do have a background in physics. But you undermine your credibility in the way you treated Chernobyl. I don't think you would like to go live in the hot zone there, so you have to account for the displacement of the thousands of people who had to be evacuated permanently and lost all that they owned. That size of a hot zone in most European countries would be fairly disastrous to many more thousands of people, and that is the risk any highly populated country must weigh.
What I don't like about nuclear power
Note: These links are about a year old, I'd saved them on my computer, hopefully they still work.
There have been 200 near misses to meltdowns at US plants just since Chernobyl
Two major recent studies that indicate a relationship between proximity to nuke plants and cancer
nuke plants routinely release radiation the cause of these cancers
According to the NAS even low doses of radiation have adverse health effects.
@Dr Atomic, "compare to fossil"
That's silly, Dr. Atomic. Everything emits some radiation, coal included.
That fact does not make it entirely reasonable to concentrate as much radioactive material as technologically possible (or, well, perhaps not technologically possible) in one place.
There are reactor designs that are much safer than light water & graphite types. Case in point: heavy water reactors use the coolant as the neutron moderator... lose the coolant and the neutrons are moving to fast too cause the fission chain reaction... all you have then is a pile of warm fuel.
Heavy water reactors are not as efficient as designs that can melt down. Which fact I offer as a comment in general on how we assess risk and reward.
@E2 @"compare to fossil"
My point was that coal concentrates dangerous materials too and a lot more of them than people appreciate. We gotta have power because making more is easier than reducing demand, now how do we get there with the minimum impact on the environment... Nuclear is the only way out.
I've never been comfortable with for-profit corporations operating high impact infrastructure. Cost cutting will always be a force compromising safety, like the falsified Japanese records or the hexavalent chromium dumping in California.
I think this is dumbest article I have read on the Register
The work is not done yet. They are still trying to cool the reactors. When everything is stable I am willing to read an article about how safe or unsafe Nuclear energy is.
Conjecture is meaningless at this time.
..Just because the trees are growing upside down near Chernobyl, it doesn't mean the sky is falling down.
Stop worrying. Nukukar is great.
Offensive, inaccurate, unbalanced pro-nuke nonsense
I imagine you smugly consider yourself to be controversial. No, Lewis Page you are a twat.
Yes there's a lot of fear mongering anti-nuke sentiment going around, as there always will be when a nuclear power station explodes, but it doesn't balance the books to publish this rubbish. It's far too soon to say that this won't end very badly. And there's no doubt that these power stations are going to be out of operation for a long time if not indefinitely.
A shameful article, especially after the new blast
Looks as though the suppression tank is damaged. Workers being evacuated from the site as I type. A very evasive press conference from Tokyo Electric on NHK World now. Probably game over.
This article is in poor taste and was published before this dreadful nuclear drama played itself out fully. Not an article The Register should be proud of publishing. Irresponsible and shows no care for any of the dead and grieving families in Japan.
Very similar to the details in this article
Not very reassuring to me
At this point I would consider it premature to claim this a victory for nuclear safety... kind of like it would have been premature to claim a victory for deep sea drilling when BP claimed a mere 5,000 barrel/day leak. I personally take any industry or government claim with a grain of salt where gauging the magnitude of a disaster is concerned. I'll wait to reserve judgment on the severity until after this has played out.
I'm also not sure why the fact that the plant survived "a quake 5x more powerful than it was designed to cope with" is reassuring. Obviously the disaster scenarios were inadequate and it is thanks to over-engineering that this is not more serious. I would be very concerned about why the disaster scenarios weren't adequate (they should be MORE extreme than what nature can dish out).
Finally, it is an eye opener that 6 nuclear plants are all having cooling issues coincident with this quake. It is fortunate that shut-down procedures, safety checks, containment vessels, etc. have all performed so well, but it's not difficult to imagine any of these breaking down in a case where the facility was not as carefully designed or run. Despite all this, the problems are not simple... Japan is requesting assistance and getting help from international bodies.
None of this spells doom for nuclear power, but there are real lessons to learn. This event reinforces the need for reactors that incorporate passive shutdown designs that do not risk meltdown such as Thorium reactors, particularly as reactor density increases globally.
With this third explosion, described as the worst yet, this must be an even bigger triumph now!
When soemthinglike a reactor goes wrong it can take thousands of years to clean up the mess.
The nuclear industry has been trying to fool us into thinking its safe recently, and this has completely pulled the rug out. Now we see the start of the campaign to rehabilitate their reputation again, led by the likes of Page.
Fortunately the general populace has a well founded fear of letting the corrupt and incompetent run more reactors, and this event will reinforce that well founded fear. No ammount of false propaganda for the likes of PAge will change that thank goodness.
What a pity one cannot filter which articles one sees one the front page. Page and Orlowski would be the first to go for me.
What a piece of $....
This article fails on nearly every aspect of it, not to mention the most important part.
The f%%%% plant should have been designed to stand such an earthquake and the tsunami that naturally comes with it.
Though I am not against nuclear power I am strongly against how it is treated by most pro nuclear people....
First of all, nuclear plants are being built in an irresponsible way, they should by design be able to stand quakes, tsunamis, and the likes without any kind of fear about its safety.
If historic series show that a 7.5 earthquake is likely you should build expecting a 9.5....and the upcoming tsunami should not be able to affect critical equipment.
Also the article fails to reflect that the nuclear plant stood a 8.9 earquake that happened 75 miles away...could it have standed a 7.5 if the epicenter had been right under it?
I doubt it.
If a plant has an accident without a prior catastrophe, such as an earthquake, terrorist attack etc... it certainly proves that said plant should be permanently closed as it is inherently dangerous. (just try to recall small incidents worldwide)
By the way, nuclear pollution in the form of radioactive materials is by far more dangerous and prone to travel than any other form of pollution. A small amount is bound to pollute large areas, WTF are they thinking when they compare it with other sorts of pollutants?
Thousands of people dead, many thousands more missing and now 185000 evacuated due to worries about the safety of a nuclear reactor. Somehow Lewis thinks the most important thing in all of this tragedy is to use it as an opportunity to preach about how safe he believes nuclear power is.
I do, however, appreciate the irony of Mr Page recommending we read a website with large sections dedicated to debunking climate change sceptics.
Popcorn nuclear plants
Where's my nuclear power plant? I want one! NOW! Completely harmless, they are.
So, the journalist decided to write about an current event, labelling nuclear safe for consumption by all. Forget Chernobyl, he writes, we should have a (popcorn) nuclear power plants in each corner of the world at whatever the cost.
The said journalist couldn't wait (did it itch that badly?) until the crisis was over to proclaim the superiority of mankind over nature. Hurray, Engineers. Go forth and spread the nuclear goodness.
I believe "cost" is the one topic that break the nuclear argument. The cost concept is well understood by both environmentalist and capitalists.
What is the cost of a nuclear power safe that can be safe in Japan? What would be the cost of having all nuclear power stations in the world to the same standard of safety?
After that: what is the cost for future generations to safely store the nuclear "ashes"?
If you go a bit beyond your own navel and add the cost for your grandchildren and to the one hundred generations after them, you see that nuclear power is unaffordable.
And who cares about people getting leukaemia or thyroid cancer? That's a bunch of bull, isn't it?
Fantastic article and very well written indeed
No need for Dialy Mail/BBC/The Sun type doom & gloom diagrams either, plus I now undertand more about the operations of the Japanese nuclear facilities than I ever did.
I wish all journalism was a level headed as this!
Remarkably idiotic article even for the Register
The main point of this article is completely glossed over. The author doesn't even mention HPWC in the entire article. This is a fundamentally bad design that requires layers upon layers of safety systems--and obviously it is impossible to cover EVERY possibility that gets thrown at you. Actually, I'm much more worried about deliberate terrorism than accident--but look what happened here.
The key problem is that this kind of reactor is fundamentally unstable. It tends to get worse if anything goes wrong. A good design should fail in a safe way, and there are such reactors that are naturally inclined to relax to a safe state when unexpected events occur.
So the deeper questions that are not touched upon in this article are why ANYONE uses the unsafe design and why Japan adopted it. The short answer is the kind of military and industrial power abuse that Eisenhower and Teddy Roosevelt warned us about. The HPWC reactor was most suitable for military purposes, and that was probably the consideration that led to its adoption. After that, you had large companies (especially Westinghouse and GE) that were eager to make the profits. In the end, Japan basically buckled to the American pressure.
By the way, I live in Japan and I've written a few comments about the quake:
A cool head is required now - not demagoguery
This is an example of a situation where the author should have "slept on it" before hitting the SEND button.
Now, a mere six hours after the original posting, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano says the level of radiation around the quake-damaged Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant is high enough to affect human health.
Furthermore a University of Tokyo facility in Ibaraki Prefecture, 110 kilometers south of the Fukushima plant, has alerted the Japanese govt that it has recorded radiation levels higher than legal standards.
Rather than demonstrate that nuclear power is safe, the author may have reinforced the belief that proponents of nuclear power are likely to "shoot first and ask questions later".
Bad timing Lewis
You could have at least waited till it was all over.
Now, with a third explosion, a major fire, damage to a containment vessel, and GENUINELY dangerous radiation levels escaping (now with a warning to stay inside with windows shut!)........
Well, just terrible timing.
"At Chernobyl, this actually happened inside the containment vessel and the resulting explosion ruptured the vessel.."
New York Times News Alert
"BREAKING NEWS10:04 PM ET
Japan Faces Prospect of Nuclear Catastrophe as Employees Leave Plant"
The wins just keep piling up! Could this possibly get any more triumphal?
While I have no axe to grind myself...
This article was premature in the same way that most men are their first time out. We are just over 72 hours from the quake and tsunami, with nothing yet contained, and someone is going off half-cocked about how this is a win for nuclear energy concerns the world over. However, let's toss a little (boric) acidified seawater on this reaction.
First, as of 6 AM Japanese local time on Tuesday, officials confirmed that a third explosion had indeed damaged and weakened the containment of Rector 2, making any build-up of pressure in the reactor core that much more dangerous. Additionally, after the explosion, the radiation level climbed to at 11,900 μSv/h, which is approaching dangerous territory for anyone at the plant.
Second, Reactor 4 was suffering from a runaway fission reaction and nuclear material was actually burning in a fire, releasing much larger amounts of radioactive materials into the air than any previous situation at the plant. While Reactor 4 wasn't running, it still contained spent rods, which seem to be having a grand old time right now. (Update: While I was writing this, Japanese officials indicated the fire had been extinguished for now.)
Third, due to the containment breach, threat of further explosions, the aforementioned fire, and rising radiation readings, Japan was considering an evacuation of all workers from the site. Let me repeat that. They are considering a wholesale evacuation of all technicians and support personnel from the site, effectively ceasing any and all recovery and containment activity. In essence, the plant is being given up for dead, and it's entirely possible that Reactor 2, at least, will suffer a containment-busting explosion and/or meltdown, resulting in the release of uranium and plutonium into the air, let alone their decay products.
Fourth, if this does occur, a little known problem could be the cooling pools used to store spent rods. As Rector 4 is demonstrating, they still have enough energy left in them to burn and release radioactive material. The problem is that they are in cooling pools are lightly protected and poorly contained, and only have enough water over top of them to remain unexposed to air for a week or two. Clearly, a full-scale meltdown would make any kind of mitigation impossible, and they would soon begin burning and releasing even more radioactive material into the air at a rate much greater than the relatively contained reactor cores.
So, while I don't personally find nuclear power abhorrent or otherwise unpalatable, it seems like this piece was exceedingly short-sighted and resulted in the tarnishing of a reputation that had to this point been decent. It's unfortunate that someone clearly let personal bias trump the facts on the ground and didn't even let the events settle down to a point that experienced people in nuclear physics would say the threat was contained. Poorly handled by Mr. Page.
A better article would have been something like this: While we don't know the extent of the damage and fallout (har) of the Fukushima nuclear incident, we know that nuclear power is safe most of the time, assuming we aren't dumb enough to build on the coast in a tsunami-prone area that is very near a large fault. Such self-evident things, sadly, only become apparent after calamity strikes.
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