back to article Fukushima is a triumph for nuke power: Build more reactors now!

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 …

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  1. Hermes Conran
    Coat

    "No imaginable disaster can result in serious problems"

    Sounds like a failure of imagination Lewis! (the lead lined one please.....)

    1. Anton Ivanov

      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...

      1. sisk Silver badge

        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.

    2. Steve Brooks

      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.

    3. BillG
      Thumb Up

      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!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        FAIL

        Jees. Where do you find these people.....

        Idiot.

        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.

  2. Ian Ferguson
    Thumb Up

    Thanks

    A well-reasoned Lewis Page article that I can agree with and recommend, I think hell must have just frozen over :)

    1. James Micallef Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Amen

      Great article, exactly what I was thinking about the 'disaster', and with teh detailed tech knowledge to back it up

    2. Highlander

      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.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Black Helicopters

      MOX risks

      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.

  3. Not Fred31
    WTF?

    Satire?

    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"?

    1. Daniel B.

      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!

      1. DrXym Silver badge

        Proven?

        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.

        1. Andy Gates

          Dr Xym...

          ... they swap the core out for refuelling. A bollixed core is less of a big deal than you might think.

          1. DrXym Silver badge

            @Andy Gates

            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.

        2. D@v3
          Thumb Down

          title?

          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.

        3. Paul Harrap

          That one already happened

          You mean like the Banqiao dam which broke and killed 100,000 people?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            @proven

            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).

          2. Wayland Sothcott 1 Bronze badge

            So why was it 5 times weaker

            You say the plant was designed to be 5 times weaker than required!

          3. jonathanb Silver badge

            yes it is

            It is contaminated with sea water, which is a problem if you want to turn the power station back on again.

        4. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          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.

      2. Wayland Sothcott 1 Bronze badge
        Flame

        What containment chamber?

        Blown 1000 feet into the air!!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Paris Hilton

          Re: What containment chamber?

          That was the roof, not the containment chamber.

          Paris, because that's the icon closest to a facepalm.

    2. Wayland Sothcott 1 Bronze badge

      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?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Tosh!

    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.

    1. KirstarK

      title....

      What ?

      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".

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Thumb Down

        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.

        1. DF118
          WTF?

          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.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Stop

      Tosh ?

      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.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Cost Effective

        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?

        1. Ammaross Danan
          Boffin

          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:

          http://morgsatlarge.wordpress.com/2011/03/13/why-i-am-not-worried-about-japans-nuclear-reactors/

          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.

  5. David 132 Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    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:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/energy/nuclearpower/8379926/Japan-earthquake-Nuclear-power-under-fire.html

    ...although somewhat gratifyingly, the comments below his article show he hasn't convinced many readers!

  6. MeJ
    Thumb Up

    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.

    1. Dave Bell

      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...)

  7. kjmax

    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.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    WTF?

    Nuclear : "not much impact" = 56 deaths

    Lewis says:

    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.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      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.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        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)

        from http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_9387000/9387395.stm

        >> Birds living around the site of the Chernobyl nuclear accident have 5% smaller brains

        from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-10819027

        >> 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.

    2. David Ward 1

      reading failure

      Coward: if you read the article you will see that the hydrogen explosion made little impact on Chernobyl not the incident as a whole..

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Thumb Up

        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.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Thumb Up

          hmmm

          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?

          1. Ammaross Danan
            FAIL

            Carrier Leaving

            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:

            http://morgsatlarge.wordpress.com/2011/03/13/why-i-am-not-worried-about-japans-nuclear-reactors/

          2. Ray Simard

            @AC: hmmm...

            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.

    3. It wasnt me
      Thumb Down

      Wow......

      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.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Absolutely!

        And both the British and American governments and security services are 100% trustworthy too.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Wow......

        "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.

      3. Poor Coco
        Thumb Down

        The only source?

        Um, hydroelectricity doesn't generate GHG (as long as you're out of the tropics).

    4. Paul Harrap

      compare

      compare and contrast that to banqiao.

    5. xperroni
      Flame

      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.

    6. Ray Simard

      @AC: Nuclear : "not much impact" = 56 deaths

      At Chernobyl, nothing happened inside the containment vessel because the reactor didn't have one.

  9. Steve 149

    You're kidding right?

    "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."

    I wonder if the families of those who died of radiation sickness after the clean up would agree? Somehow I doubt it. What this shows to me is that not everything can be planned for. I'm not one for sensationalism but I wouldn't want to live near a nuclear reactor of any sort.

    Steve.

    1. David Ward 1

      reading failure

      the hydrogen explosion specifically didn't have much effect on Chernobyl is what he was saying, read the article before opening the spout..

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @David

        "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."

        That does not say the hydrogen explosion specifically didn't have much effect on Chernobyl. No matter how you squint your eyes or mind.

        It reads that a "serious release of core radioactives ... had basically zero effect on the world in general nor even much impact on the area around Chernobyl"

        Fuck knows what you were reading.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Flame

        Re: reading failure

        "the hydrogen explosion specifically didn't have much effect on Chernobyl is what he was saying, read the article before opening the spout.."

        You might want to look up "disingenuous" before dishing it out. Saying that the hydrogen explosion didn't affect anyone is like saying that the fuse on a bomb doesn't hurt anybody while discussing the aftermath of setting one off.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Big picture-getting failure

        That's right, it was an obfuscating point; a red herring. Only pertinent if Chernobyl really was a damp squib, therefore the mentioning of which lends it to being taken out of context and thus implies that was the purpose of doing so, such that those 'on the fence' or who were too young to vividly recall the event may be persuaded to dismiss Chernobyl as a non-event.

        I will admit that I don't know for sure, today, if the reports back then of increased radiation levels / isotopes in livestock in the UK in the months following it were accurate. But people who claim safety for effects that have never been evaluated due to taking hundreds, if not thousands of years to play out, but that are known serious cancer and gene disruption risks, are basically the same the anti-nuke lobby has always been up against, and include those who either thought it was safe for soldiers to walk towards ground zero, be it in Nevada, Australia or the South Pacific, or actually thought it didn't matter because that's what soldiers are for, and who claimed there was no danger in exploding bombs in Nevada upwind of towns, and who still deny seriously increased mortality rates among groups of service personnel (or actors!) were caused by fallout. By definition those who claim all-but-absolute safety for fission reactors can't be trusted as far as they can be thrown.

        1. Dangermouse

          Effects to be played out?

          I suppose, then, you can also apply the same logic to the 2,000 odd nuclear weopons tests - both subterrainian and airbourne - our masters have carried out in our names?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yes

      put emotio before thought

  10. Paul Johnston

    Just a thought!

    If most of the media is wildly inaccurate it obviously means the opposite must be the the truth.

    After all the IAEA is totally unbiased and objective as it is trusted scientific organization isn't it?

    It often seems to me the truth lies somewhere between the extremes.

  11. Cazzo Enorme

    Entirely safe?

    Try saying that to the family of the poor sod who died in the heating stack crane control room.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      re: Entirely safe?

      Er, wasn't that a crane accident, which could have happened anywhere?

  12. vonBureck
    Pint

    Let the tech people handle this

    Bravo! After the last days of media hysteria, scaremongering and pseudo-expert guest panels, finally someone has presented an actual technical analysis of what happened (and is still happening) at Fukushima. For some reason, world+dog seems to assume that if the authorities say that any nuclear incident is under control, they are quite obviously lying and we will all die (or at least grow in the dark, or spring an extra organ).

    Solid work, Lewis, you deserve to be linked all over the interwebs. The first time I regret not running a blog... Get that man a pint.

    1. Shane Orahilly
      Headmaster

      Grand Poobah

      Forced rhubarb grows in the dark. It's not such a bad thing. If you like rhubarb.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    No, it's a bit worse than this

    No, the molten "corium" lava can't make it to China, but it can certainly get into the basement; its temperature is above that of most metals you can think of and it happily melts concrete. Google the Chernobyl "elephant's foot".

    The article is premature; I doubt you'll see many, if any, of those reactors in operation again. They'll be fubared beyond "normal refuelling".

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      re: They'll be fubared

      They were reaching end of life anyway, ISTR reading that at least one was due to be decommissioned this year.

      1. dr2chase

        but this will not be a by-the-book decommissioning.

        Nothing like adding a little seawater to the mix. This is not exactly well-charted territory for operating a nuclear plant -- if you ever need to give Murphy's law a little extra help, just add seawater (this is generally true, not just for nuclear plants).

      2. CaptainHook

        End of life

        End of their life is irrelevent, the same could have happened to any plant with a similar design whether it came online 50 years ago or 5. The age makes the pill a little easier to swallow but Japan has still just lost at least 3 reactors which can't be replaced anytime soon.

        If this had been a fossil fuel plant, the moment they were switched off and isolated the fuel supply, the expensive parts of the plant would have been safe even assuming it survived the direct damage from the quake and tsumani.

        Reconnect a fuel supply (even just a tanker floating in that harbour they have) and the plant would have just resumed producing power very quickly. Instead, they have lost the reactors, the building which houses them, all the piping which was exposed to salt water and the area in general is likely to be hot enough to make working in the area difficult at best.

        What is the lead time on a nuclear plant at the moment?

        1. Eugene Crosser

          fossil fuel plant more resilient?

          "If this had been a fossil fuel plant, the moment they were switched off and isolated the fuel supply, the expensive parts of the plant would have been safe even assuming it survived the direct damage from the quake and tsumani."

          You do remember that it was the fossil power plant (i.e. Diesel generators) failure that has caused most of the trouble, do you?

        2. horos22

          wrt recovering a fossil fuel plant vs a nuclear plant.

          > if this had been a fossil fuel plant, the moment they were switched off and isolated the fuel supply,

          > the expensive parts of the plant would have been safe even assuming it survived the direct

          > damage from the quake and tsumani.

          umm.. yeah.. that's why they took the time to use filtered water, etc, and go by the book rather than head right to the seawater solution - they were hoping to salvage the equipment. The *other* reactors that went down are likely to come back online in a year or two.

          And anyways, you are missing something. In order for a fossil fuel plant to work, you need to transfer fuel to it, and hence all the infrastructure (train lines, gas pipes, etc) has to be online as well. And both coal and nuclear use a *boatload* of fuel - railroad cars each day.

          So I don't think that there is much to distinguish - time wise - between the two systems. With the coal plants, they'd still need to inspect the turbines and piping, still need to make sure that the boiler is intact and doesn't have any links, and they'd have the extra burden of making sure that the train system carrying coal (btw, which japan does not have) is robust and operating. And I thought that the one thing I saw was a train being physically picked up and tossed across the land. Who *knows* what damage has been done to all their systems, the surface might as well have been on the moon...

          Ed

      3. This post has been deleted by its author

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Happy

    Lessons indeed

    Major credit to the engineers that put the plants together, but I think the fact that generating systems were swept away by a big wave and some other serious shit happened, I think that if anything, this whole story re-inforces that there is no such thing as being too careful when it comes to this stuff, and there's no such thing as too many backup systems.

  15. Dave Murray
    Thumb Down

    Not much impact?

    I agree with the premise of the article that the Japanese plants have survived admirably so far and are a testament to their designers and I'm generally in favour of Nuclear power but to suggest that Chernobyl had little impact is ridiculous. Even the article you linked to illustrate your point states that animals are experiencing lower reproductive rates, lower survival rates, mutations and genetic defects, trees don't know which way is up and cancer rates in people living close to the affected areas are abnormally high. That is not "basically zero effect on the world in general nor even much impact on the area around Chernobyl."

  16. Fred Goldstein
    FAIL

    Hardly a great success

    With triumphs like this, who needs disasters?

    There have already been multiple cases of radiation poisoning, and damage continues to spread. This type of reactor is not particularly safe, nor are other current uranium designs. Apologists should stop trying to claim victory from obvious failure.

    Thorium (LFTR) reactors might be much safer; if they dump their molten fuel solution into the holding tank, it freezes and the reaction basically stops.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      heh

      "There have already been multiple cases of radiation poisoning"

      You're just lying now.

      1. Fred Goldstein

        Press reports are of multiple cases

        Like this story

        http://en.rian.ru/world/20110313/162978555.html

        "At least 15 people have been admitted to hospital with symptoms of radiation poisoning following an accident at Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant, the Kyodo news agency said on Sunday."

        Plant workers, not neighbors, are the primary ones in danger.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        bbc

        the bbc reported multiple confirmed cases of people with radiation on clothes and skin on saturday.

        whether that constitutes radiation 'poisoning' or not is another matter, but feel free to change places with them and argue semantics.

      3. Tim Parker

        Re : heh

        "You're just lying now."

        Anonymous Coward - heh, how appropriate....

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @bbc

          "the bbc reported multiple confirmed cases of people with radiation on clothes and skin on saturday.

          whether that constitutes radiation 'poisoning' or not is another matter, but feel free to change places with them and argue semantics."

          I'd love too, would short circuit the whole immigration process.

          Knowing a fair amount about such things I wouldn't be at all bothered.

          1. Kay Burley ate my hamster
            Thumb Down

            This is delt with in the article

            One years worth of background radiation. I saw the report, these people were being checked as a precaution not in a hospital but in the street. I would say going by that visual evidence they did not appear to be poisoned.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Alert

      LFTR

      Thorium reactors should have been the way to go back when nuke power was being studied. However, breeder reactors won out in the end not for safety reasons or efficiency, but because they create plutonium which was needed for weapons. Even after the arms race, there was so much invested in breeder reactors that no one wanted any reason to shut them down (including the US secretary of energy). Money trumps safety as usual. As a result, the safer alternative of a thorium reactor was buried and forgotten. The concept isn't even taught in nuke engineering classes anymore.

      China on the other hand is investing lots of money in building LFTR reactors and once again showing us westerners what idiots we are for not doing the obvious.

  17. Goldmember
    Thumb Up

    Good article...

    May be a little early to tell, but the content seems to make a lot of sense from the facts presented so far. The sensationalist 'we're doomed' reporting found in most of the media this weekend have driven me to despair. This is a welcome breath of fresh reporting. One question, however:

    "..performed magnificently in the face of a disaster hugely greater than they were designed to withstand"

    "Then the tsunami – which the plants weren't designed for at all – struck"

    Why, in a country founded on a faultline and prone to huge-scale natural disasters that can strike at any moment, weren't the ABSOLUTE WORST scenarios anticipated and prepared for at the design stage? This suggests there may have been a huge amount of luck involved, as well as good planning.

    1. Hermes Conran
      Alert

      Isn't tsunami

      a japanese word?

    2. ArmanX

      Define "Absolute worst", please.

      Obviously, it is hypothetically possible that a 10.0 earthquake could strike; in fact, it is altogether possible that a meteor crashes into it. Or an airplane. What about a direct missile strike? Or if a piece of the moon falls on it? Or an invading alien breaks in and drills through to the core?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        well

        The third layer containment is built to withstand a plane, the containment vessel makes the Twin towers look like a house of cards.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    "the tsunami – which the plants weren't designed for at all "

    "the tsunami – which the plants weren't designed for at all "

    Is this true? At least one comment on another Reg thread says the facilities were designed for a 6.5m tsunami but what they got was a 7m tsunami. Insufficient safety margin in the design, arguably?

    Anyway, putting thatalleged insufficient safety margin to one side: to summarise Lewis's article: "nothing went really really wrong with this forty year old technology ion this occasion, therefore the modern stuff must be reliable too". Any problems with that? Any problems with the global dominance of the bean counters and their quest for ever-lower costs and ever-smaller safety margins?

    1. Matt Bryant Silver badge
      Unhappy

      RE: "the tsunami – which the plants weren't designed for at all "

      "......Any problems with that?...." Maybe not for the Japanese, who can relie on their excellent engineers. But after years of killing off the UK nuke industry, we will probably have to relie on the "expertise" of the French - think Renault vs Honda.....

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Happy

        @Matt Bryant

        "we will probably have to relie on the "expertise" of the French - think Renault vs Honda....."

        If you thought *that* was scary.

        Saw a documentary about nuclear power in Eastern Europe.

        Wait till you see a reactor building with the word "Skoda" on the side.

        1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

          German

          Since 99% of the engineering in a Skoda is German I'd be happy to see it on a reactor.

  19. Matt Hawkins
    FAIL

    Nothing to see hear. All perfectly under control ...

    Yeah. It's so safe that the US navy has engaged reverse and moved its carrier out the way.

    I'm sorry but they built reactors and didn't consider tsunamis? They didn't consider a large earth quake? When you build something that is going to exist for hundreds of years (they still haven't decommissioned a nuclear power station because they don't know how to) surely it makes sense to consider events that may happen even if those events don't occur that often?

    "though this has had basically zero effect on the world in general nor even much impact on the area around Chernobyl"

    Of course. Nothing wrong with Chernobyl. Don't know what the World was moaning about. Little bit of radiation never hurt anyone!

    This continues to prove that despite the industry claiming everything is safe and under control it clearly isn't. They either can't be bothered or don't know how to take into account real risks. It would be like designing a power station in the UK to withstand 100mph winds ... because we only ever get winds faster than that a few times a century. Great until you happen to live at the time it does. Unfortunately safety costs money and you don't get rich by considering the welfare of people in 50 years time.

    Any we are going to let these muppets build more nuclear power plants in the UK? They can't even deal with the ones we've got! Their solution to nuclear waste hasn't changed in the last 60 years. It still involves digging a hole, chucking it in, and then leaving it for someone else to worry about for the next 10,000 years. The containers are shinier and more hi-tech but the technology itself is still prehistoric.

  20. Chemist

    For the last time !!

    "Steam which has been superheated as in a reactor core can break up into hydrogen and oxygen"

    NO IT CAN'T

    People have been going 2H20 > O2 +2H2

    The equilibrium for this reaction lies HEAVILY to the left at reasonable temperatures

    Water only dissociates to 3% hydrogen 97 % water at 2000 C . The water has to react with something to generate significant amounts of hydrogen This would seem to be zirconium in the fuel rod casings by all accounts

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      But lighter stuff still goes up, innit?

      Meaning that in that vented 2000 C steam there'd be a disproportionate amount of O2 and H2, the water bits having stayed behind. Though while I'm not saying zirconium can't be involved, I find that somewhat troubling. That with the supposedly careful engineering for safety in the face of a meltdown and all that. Yet another something to look for being addressed in the aftermath report.

    2. Wayland Sothcott 1 Bronze badge

      Yeah what ever..

      .. the understanding is that the water produces hydrogen which then explodes. This is what they say happened but it looks worse than that, like the fuel exploded.

      1. Ray Simard

        @Wayland Sothcott 1

        The fuel did not explode. It was hydrogen. To get an idea of just how destructive hydrogen combustion can be, look up video of the Hindenburg disaster.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F54rqDh2mWA

    3. Ray Simard

      @Matt Hawkins

      Just two things from a first glance:

      >"'I'm sorry but they built reactors and didn't consider tsunamis? "

      Of course they considered tsunamis. They didn't consider--or rather, they didn't design for--a tsunami as enormous as this one. It was about 5 times the design limit, and the safety margins are such that the plant came through very well, just not quite well enough to prevent this trouble.

      This is not a one-in-a-hundred-years event. It's a never-happened-before-in-recorded-history event. You can't build anything infinitely strong; you have to determine a worst-case design criterion, add in safety margins and build to that. It turns out that the next time around it will be necessary to establish the baseline higher, and to retrofit existing facilities accordingly. An engineering challenge, but one that will be met.

  21. The Indomitable Gall

    Now come on...

    "If this – basically nothing – is what happens when decades-old systems are pushed five times and then some beyond their design limits, new plants much safer yet would be able to resist an asteroid strike without problems."

    You're ignoring the fact that this is a plant built by the Japanese, and the Japanese have always been meticulous in their nuclear safety.

    The fact that the Japanese have built well-protected reactors doesn't change the fact that us pale-faced westerners have an ongoing habit of cutting corners and then when something goes wrong we shrug our shoulders and say "no-one could have anticipated a week of snow, not my fault guvnor."

    1. V 3

      falsified safety reports

      >You're ignoring the fact that this is a plant built by the Japanese, and the Japanese have always >been meticulous in their nuclear safety

      You should be aware of the fact that the 5 top executives of TEPCO (the plan's operators) resigned not too long ago, to take responsibility for falsifying safety reports at Fukishima.

      I live in Japan - I am generally in favour of Japan having modern nuclear power generating capacity - but the Japanese nuclear industry is no less prone to partial-truth, full blown mendacity and occasional cover-up than the industry world-wide.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        FAIL

        Yeah...

        Anyone remember that time when manual workers threw buckets of water and uranium sludge into a container during cleanup? No-one grasped what would happen eventually until the blue flash came. Five people died IIRC.

  22. rav
    Thumb Up

    nuke supporter

    Your observations are akin to a back-handed compliment!

    I wouldn't call this a ringing endorsement for nuclear power as the clean-up has not begun nor the impact of the clean-up. But you are right that for a nuke plant to maintain the core integrity after a massive earthquake shock and tsunami is indeed remarkable.

    I am sure that there wil be many engineering lessons learned from this event whether those lessons result in positve changes is yet to be seen.

    What is amazing that a country the size of Japan has 55 operating reactors with about 13 more on the boards.

    Clearly Japan is the world leader in nuclear power generation and that engineering leadership seems to have been well earned.

    As of now the battle to secure control and containment is not quite finished so any back slapping needs to be delayed some I think. Lest we jinx it.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @AC 14:33

    I thought Chernobyl didn't have a proper containment vessel. The Soviet reactors were of a far less safe design than most Western ones.

    1. byrresheim
      Big Brother

      wrong expression.

      Up to the summer of '86, the soviet design was not considered less safe, it was considered more economical than western designs, which were always hampered by luddites, envirocrazies and other do gooders ...

      After 86, it was obvious that nothing of the sort could ever happen in the west. Windscale never existed anyway ... oh, that would not be Sellafield nowadays?

      Anyway, I will keep pdfs of Mr. Page's interesting article, some little voice in my head tells me that it might disappear in the memory hole in a not to far future. We would not want that to happen, now would we?

    2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Boffin

      Quite so.

      Those RBMKs were also hard to stop. Apparently they behaved like car that first accelerates a good bit when you push the brake pedal.

      There is somewhat more here as we have 25th anniversary of the RBMK prang next month:

      http://bos.sagepub.com/content/67/2/19.full -- When safe enough is not good enough: Organizing safety at Chernobyl

      In particular check:

      http://accidont.ru/ENG/rodes.html -- Special features of reactor RBMK

  24. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  25. Antony 2
    Paris Hilton

    A title is required

    You mean the world isn't going to end and the Japanese are not going to abandon Tokyo and flood to our shores where they will work in Curry's and HMV?

    Paris, because she knows a little about fission.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Minor point

    Wasn't the quake officially a 9.0 quake not 8.9....

    http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/shortsharpscience/2011/03/powerful-japan-quake-sparks-ts.html

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Minor point

      I believe the Japanese Geological Survey is now suggesting it might have been a 9.0, but no-one else is yet agreeing in public. This may change in the coming days and weeks, but the original figure put out by all sides was, I believe, 8.9.

  27. rav
    Thumb Up

    Yes.....we need more reactors, we need more reactors today.

    Of course we are going to need more reactors unless you want to burn more coal and oil to keep all of your electric automobiles charged up.

  28. foolonthehill
    Thumb Up

    It's a relative thing.

    Significantly lifted from http://morgsatlarge.wordpress.com/2011/03/13/why-i-am-not-worried-about-japans-nuclear-reactors/ but at least it's a refreshing change from the suggestions elsewhere that these power stations represent a significant environmental/human threat. Compared to the lack of power/clean water/accessibility parts of Japan will see over the next few weeks, the nuclear impact (currently expected) doesn't even register.

    All that aside, the conclusions are entirely premature and you're just asking for trouble by titling it "Fukushima is a triumph for nuke power" and suggesting that they were/are "entirely safe throughout and sustaining only minor damage"

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Parachute suit

    The Flying Tailor must have though himself an instant success as his silk cape began to flap open. In the moment he was impacting the ground, his magnificent ego must have been mitigating the dead drop as a simple, slight miscalculation that would cost him a broken leg or a few broken ribs. It had not gone perfectly, but with a few alterations his design would be now ready for widespread implementation.

    As the earth compressed beneath him and his excess inertia bounced him briefly back into the air, he must have been thinking of penning a triumphant letter boasting of his engineering genius and the timid stupidity of his critics.

  30. Eiron Foyer

    N-Ho!

    Wonderful piece. It’s so refreshing to read a tongue-in-cheek article from a publication with a sense of humour. And so well disguised too! If I didn’t already know (from previous amusing items) that El Reg has – how shall I say – a well developed sense of the ironic – I might have even take it seriously!

    Personally, I’m now thinking about buying shares in the consortium which owns the 90 tonnes (or so) of plutonium currently stockpiled in the UK. I mean, ok yes, that’s enough to build around 11,000 Nagasaki-sized N-weapons, but think of the energy-generating potential! I’m sure that some time in the next 24,000 years humanity will find a way of safely using it. And in the meantime, the UK’s reputation for safe management and transparency in nuclear issues makes it an ideal repository does it not? Yes, ok, I know that Windscale ‘Pile 1’ is technically still ‘burning’– but there have been assurances that it will all be cleaned up by 2038 or so. And, as an added plus, the UK taxpayers generously pay to insure all the UK's N-plants – so I can’t really lose can I?

    In short, I'm cheered by your wonderfully optimistic outlook on the current scenario, and I encourage all your readers to give your article all the credibility and respect it deserves.

  31. The Other Steve

    Well then

    "That can only be true if an unbelievable level of public ignorance of the real facts, born of truly dreadful news reporting over the weekend, is allowed to persist."

    Since all previous attempts at eradicating hysterical ineducability about things nuclear have utterly failed, we can consider the truth to be pretty much fucked, can't we ?

  32. eric 2
    Thumb Up

    Excellent article.

    Despite some of the physicists here picking up on nits, the point of the article is well taken. These 'antique' nuclear power plants were subjected to an catastrophe well beyond their design limits, and did not produce the 'extinction event' that the Greenies always warn of.

    Build more nuke power plants, use less oil and coal, it's just that simple.

    Yes, the media circus clowns want you to think that these cores are melting to the center of the earth and the world is about to explode.....what's really happened is that they've been junked by the seawater and will need a complete refueling, and perhaps even replacement of the hugely expensive vessels, still not an environmental concern, simply a financial one.

  33. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  34. Jedibeeftrix

    Fukushima is a triumph for nuke power: Build more reactors now!

    "Fukushima is a triumph for nuke power: Build more reactors now!"

    Good article Lewis.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Lingo

    Here's the problem. The cost of cleaning up this mess. Who pays? The taxpayer?

    On top of the environmental cost this is not very cost effective.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      FAIL

      "Who pays? The taxpayer?"

      ... yeah, because up until this point the taxpayer hasn't benefitted at all from the presence of the powerplants. *rolls eyes*.

    2. byrresheim
      Thumb Down

      Simply a financial concern?

      Great. While - at least at this hour - indeed it seems as if a Chernobyl-like environmental impact has been avoided - let's hope this will still be true in a few days hindsight - you are talking about an enormous financial damage.

      Decomissioning those ruins will be several times more expensive than planned.

      Also, as another poster pointed out, a conventional powerplant could by now be restarted and be productive again in a few days.

    3. Aaron Em

      "N-weapons" and "N-plants"?

      The science fiction of 1957 called. It says it wants its Terminology of the Future back.

  36. Steven Jones

    Qualified agreemet, but a bit premature

    The conclusion is a bit premature and rather too triumphalist in nature. We'll see whether there are any more nasty surprises to come. Of course this has been something close to a worst-case scenario, but a rather predictable one. Tsunami is a Japanes word after all, and the consequences of such an event on nuclear facilities on the coastline of Japan ought ot have been forseen. At the very least I would expect to see any coastal nuclear installations being risk-assessed for this eventuality. Even coastlines further removed from fault lines could be vulnerable, albeit to smaller scale tsunamis.

    It's financially fortunately that these are old reactors near the end of their useful life. If this had occured during the early years of going critical then that would have written off several billion dollars' worth of generating kit. it should be remember that Three Mile Island didn't kill off nuclear power in the states just because of the consequences of the accident. The financial costs and the risks were probably even more to blame.

    At the very least there are questions to be raised over why these facilities were so vulnerable to a forseeable incident. It's probably that gas-powered plant would be repairable - once the core of a reactor is exposed or flooded with sewater it's just so much radioactive junk. So, I'd (conditionally) agree that the survival of such an incident without major loss of like shows nuclear can be safe. However, it raises questions of the financial costs and associated risks.

    Also, people should note that apparantly benign power sources can kill. In 1975 the collapse of the Banqiao Dam killed an estimated 26,000 directly (and many times that indirectly). Dams are vulnerable to earthquakes too. Once potential energy is concentrated in one spot, then it is always has the possibility of a disaster. Unfortunately consentrations of potential energy are the most useful.

  37. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    Egg/basket situation

    Okay, so far the engineering has done pretty well - but the underlying point for future development (or not) of nuclear power is risk. Not simply the obvious 'will it melt down and turn East Anglia/England/Western Europe into an uninhabitable wasteland' - which I accept with next generation thorium reactors etc may be really, really unlikely - but the basic risk to electricity supplies. Nukes are very big budget items. Get it wrong and you've wasted a hell of a lot of dosh. And no matter what you plan for there will be times when a reactor or set of reactors goes offline, even if it's only temporary (terrorist attacks, snow bringing down grid cables, floods, crashing Jumbo, industrial action - whatever) - and bang goes a sizeable chunk of your total generating capacity in one fell swoop, and the lights go off. This is what the Japanese are finding now. Going for a very widely distributed generation network, using a wide variety of small-scale, localised power sources (wind, wave, solar, fossil) gives overall resilience to the generating system, which you will never get with massive multi-gigawatt plants, whether nuclear, coal or whatever. And of course lots of small generation sources tends to smooth out expenditure and generate many more, localised jobs.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Don't be silly.

      At the rate our energy needs keep on going up, multi-gigawatt plants are not going to constitute sizeable chunks of our energy infrastructure.

      Don't forget that several milliard humans are only now catching up on this comfy civilisation thing and will need to have that powered. Even proposing to keep over half the world population in the dark ages because using less energy is the green thing to do is simply not realistic. To put it far more kindly than those that did deserve.

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Happy

      @Pen-y-gors

      "Going for a very widely distributed generation network, using a wide variety of small-scale, localised power sources ("

      Well that *might* democratize the power generation industry but that will increase transmission losses and massively complicate the billing and market arrangements in the UK.

      "Going for a very widely distributed generation network, using a wide variety of small-scale, localised power sources (wind, wave, solar, fossil) gives overall resilience to the generating system, which you will never get with massive multi-gigawatt plants, "

      Your problem is that *most* electricity generation is done by *big* multi-billion $ corporations who *like* big investments. They know how to do business plans for them, explain them to bankers and bankers *like* to loan out big chunks of cash for them (except in the case of 3 mile island, where a $1B asset turned into a $2bn.

  38. dlapine
    Thumb Down

    Missing a Few facts

    Please note that I'm a fan of nuclear power, but let's include all the facts, shall we?

    1) the 8.9 magnitude was at epicenter. At Sendai, the earthquake was about a 7. The plants were claimed to be designed to withstand a 7.9 on site.

    2)pumping seawater into a reactor is a last resort, not just a line of defense. Once you put seawater into the building, they will have to close that unit permanently.

    3)The radioactivity released was sufficient to be detected by the USS Ronald Reagan which was 100 miles off the coast. The claimed dosage was "1 month's worth in an hour" and the carrier was ordered to move out of the path of the radiation plume. -http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2011/03/carrier-ordered-further-away-from-radiation-from-japanese-nuclear-plant.html

    4) the explosions were caused by a hydrogen explosion in the outer containment building. The plant is supposed to have hydrogen gas burn out systems to prevent such explosions and they obviously failed.

    5) the hydrogen generated inside the reactor was due to the reaction of the zirconium cladding of the fuel rods interacting with the cooling water- which implies:

    - a) the rods were hot enough to react

    - b) portions of the rods were no longer covered by water

    - c) that the steam and radioactivity released had been INSIDE the containment vessel and released through the emergency relief values

    6) A third reactor has lost coolant pressure. You're touting the safety and design of a plant where they can't get and keep emergency generators online in 72 hours? Really?

    7) As a note, reactor 1 was 40 years old, and due to shutdown in 1 month. Reactor 3 just had a 10 year renewal after inspection.

    8) Lastly, the Japanese cabinet minister, Edano has been giving statements throughout, each of which has been understating the situation and downplaying the real events. I don't think that some level of scepticism is unreasonable about the official reports.

    1. dlapine

      Also, consider the information this article from the Reg

      http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/03/14/fukushima_update/

      I don't believe that we can consider this a minor release of radiation:

      "The hourly amounts are more than half the 1,000 micro sievert to which people are usually exposed in one year.The maximum level detected so far around the plant is 1,557.5 micro sievert logged Sunday."

    2. kjmax

      read what you quote

      Read the article you're quoting. It says helicopter crews based on the carrier that have been flying all over the place have had that dose, not the ship itself. Who knows where those helicopters have been, but it's safe to guess they'll have been closer than 100km to the Japanese mainland at some point !

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Good article

    I was wondering why there'd been no mention of control rods in the media. This article prompted a few minutes googling and now it makes sense.

    Two points though:

    a) It ain't over 'til it's over.

    b) What would the outcome be if they'd been fossil fuel power stations?

    1. dr2chase

      (b) hard to say. How good is your imagination?

      The problem with the nuke plant is that all the (potential) energy for months of operation is inside that containment vessel. So if things went wrong, they could go really wrong.

      I was going to say, FF, not so bad, but then I thought about great flaming oil spills spread by a tsunami. Never mind.

      And coal, is emitting a plume of radioactivity just in its normal consumption.

      Hydro, well, we've already got a tsunami, that would just add more of the same misery. Even if a dam was not breached, water could slosh over in the quake.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Alert

    Nuclear lobby PR

    The thing is that right from the first second that these reactors experienced problems, the PR-division of the nuclear power lobby have leaped into action behind the scenes. When I hear the soothing words from the commentators on the BBC and other news services, I naturally ask myself how much these messages are industry driven?

    And of course there are reassuring words from the Japanese government about how things are all under control are probably mostly accurate, but again they have a bias – the desire not to panic people.

    Just remember that billions of dollars are at stake here, and it’s not like the nuclear industry has never lied to anyone before.

    1. hplasm Silver badge
      Boffin

      Soothing words?

      Like th 'UN Nuclear Expert' with a beret on, scaring people with such gems as:-

      'These reactors release Plutonium all the time,not just when there is an explosion... but you can't detect it.'

      Total fearmongering Twat.Good job there was a proper scientist with a bow tie on to tell the truth.

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not much impact?

    Such is life in the zone.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Obviously....

      Get out of here, Stalker!

  42. whiternoise
    Badgers

    Great article, but...

    Please note (I posted this on a forum previously) that the physics in the beginning of the article is not technically correct.

    "As the hot cores ceased to be cooled by the water which is used to extract power from them, control rods would have remained withdrawn and a runaway chain reaction could have ensued – probably resulting in the worst thing that can happen to a properly designed nuclear reactor: a core meltdown in which the superhot fuel rods actually melt and slag down the whole core into a blob of molten metal."

    A runaway chain reaction *does not happen* in modern reactors. As the coolant boils off, the reactor tends to sub-criticality because the cavitation in the water - bubbles - decrease the amount of moderation; neutrons are not slowed as much and the rate of reaction decerases. For lay-scientists - we want slow neutrons in nuclear power stations because there is a higher probability of them initiating a fission reaction with the fuel. This is usually considered a mandatory safety feature in PWRs - it's called a negative void coefficient. It ensures that if everything goes to pot, the fission reaction stops.

    The latter part is correct though, meltdown can happen, but this is *not* due to runaway fission. It is due to products from the fission reaction undergoing beta decay, electron/positron emission, and heating the surroundings. It can get enough to cause the fuel rods to melt. The amount of time the reactor has been running will determine the amount of beta decay present - as it depends on the amount of waste isotopes present in the vessel.

    1. V 3

      BWRs?

      Is this physics appropriate to a Mark 1 GE BWR reactor? (That is a neutral question, I am curious. Your post mentions PWRs specifically.)

  43. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    Bullsh*t baffles brains

    The article is indeed very well reasoned. However it will not be persuasive outside of El Reg's readership. A more generally persuasive argument would be one which has the sole objective of provoking an emotional response.

    Lewis Page asks us to spread the word, but his argument incurs the overhead of analysis and the processes of induction and deduction. It is reminiscent of an old O-Level standard essay, and as such will find no "route to market" with the GCSE generation.

    If Page wants his argument to be generally appealing, he must first learn how to construct it without such blatant recourse to the facts, and without predicating its accessibility upon methodological frameworks of disciplined reasoning. Only then will it stand a chance.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Indeed

      Indeed, the low education standards in this country coupled with the emotive aspect attached to the word "nuclear" and you've got a recipe for Luddite attitudes to flourish.

    2. Paul Shirley

      not be persuasive with El Reg's readership!

      If Lewis wants his argument to be appealing, or even better, believable enough to deserve spreading, he needs to invent time travel. Then go back and unwrite the large body of blatantly biased propaganda with his name on it.

      If anything Reg readers will be less likely to be convinced by this than the wider public, we know his bias. Bias is bias, whichever way it swings and I know we won't get an accurate view of what happened till the courts force full disclosure 10+ years from now.

  44. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    On the plus side

    The limits on flights to Tokyo have resulted in much reduced radiation doses for lots of passengers

  45. Graham Bartlett

    @Not Fred31

    "Major natural catastrophe"

    So the nuke plant caused the tidal wave?

    "Thousands of displaced people"

    By the tidal wave. I've no objection to folks being moved bcos they weren't sure the failsafes really *were* failsafe. But if you want to compare apples to apples - industrial site to industrial site - then check out the state of the area around the oil refinery. Let's just say that the oil refinery did not put up with the quake and tsunami in a failsafe manner, shall we?

    "Radiation leaks"

    Radioactive material leaks from your cellar into your house every day. (Radon gas.) BFD. Worry about the oil contaminating the area around the refinery, if you want to worry about leaks.

    1. The Indomitable Gall

      Radon gas?

      "Radioactive material leaks from your cellar into your house every day."

      As the inhabitant of a third* floor tenement flat, the radon is vented out the windows of my neighbours and little reaches my flat.

      * That would be fourth floor in USese.

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Chernobyl mutant wildlife park

    Chernobyl is indeed thriving - for a city.

    For an area of wilderness it's in bad shape. Population densities are about half what they should be and mutation rates and mortality are very high.

    It's easy to look at pictures of deer wandering about the streets and think "well, there's no deer at all wandering about MY town; Chernobyl must be a wild paradise" but such thinking is basically retarded.

    None of which has anything to do with Fukushima and the PR spin that is coming out of there - that's a completely different load of bollocks.

    This morning we had a "controlled explosion" that left people injured and missing. That's a wide ranging definition of "controlled" from the same plant management that a few years ago were found to be falsifying their safety checks and not long before that were using fraudulent documentation in their fuel shipments.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yes, that five-year-old Nat.Geo report has been debunked since.

      Biologist Anders Møller from the University of Paris Sud in France has been examining the effects of radiation on animals around Chernobyl for two decades. "Areas with higher radiation have fewer animals, survival and reproduction is reduced, sperm are abnormal and have reduced swimming ability. Abnormalities are commonplace and mutations rates are much elevated," Møller said.

      Last year, Møller and Tim Mousseau published the results of the largest census of animal life in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone [1]. It revealed, contrary to the Chernobyl Forum's 2005 report[2], that biodiversity in insects, birds and mammals is declining.

      [1] - http://cricket.biol.sc.edu/chernobyl/Chernobyl_Research_Initiative/Introduction.html

      [2] - http://www-ns.iaea.org/downloads/rw/meetings/chern-forum-3rd-meetings-statement-rev.pdf

  47. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I think the Author is a little too early for April 1st?

    "new plants much safer yet would be able to resist an asteroid strike without problems". What size asteroid, please?

    While there is much technical information in the article it reads like a story rather than a report or piece of Quality Journalism I've come to expect of ElReg and LP.

    I have absolutely no doubt that Nuclear plant can be made appreciably safer still by the application of more modern design, build and operating techniques. Look what we've done with planes and cars over the past 50 years. But this, IMHO, does not trump the two fold problems of 100's of generations of potential Pollution and non-UK raw material dependence. Terrorist and other threats are no less for nuclear power than for any other form of bulk power generation nor can they be controlled any better.

    Nuclear plants are more costly to build and operate that almost any competitive technology and the costs will not diminish proportionately even if they become the generation system of choice and economies of scale are applied.

    An informative article, none-the-less.

  48. damian Kelly
    Jobs Halo

    Leaning to the pro nuclear but pretty close....

    Pretty close, shame about the poor chemistry re Hydrogen

    Might have been a little more sensible to give it 3 days (doesnt it take about 5 to drop this design to a 'off' temperature with fully functioning cooling?)

    Off course even if its all ok, and its pretty obvious its all ok at the moment, it will not stop fat block down the pub gobbing off, it went bang didint it?

    Steve because a little radiation can do us good......

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    Dr strangelove

    I thought the film was fiction until now.

    These magnificent reactors will have to be de-fuelled presumably, and the only technology that has been shown to be capable to do this so far is Russian conscripts!

    And there are still 1000 welsh farmers that might disagree with your analysis of the effect outside chernobyl (the sheep are still radiactive in them thar hills).

    Whatever, this article is like saying no-one has been killed in an avalanche, while the boulders are still rolling down the hill, its just plain daft but hey its one with the previous "fuku" jokes which are just so so desperately funny to reg-hacks sitting in London I guess. Maybe its time to take some grow-up pills!

  50. Chad H.
    WTF?

    So

    Having to deal with an evacuation of thousands evacuated from a 20m radius isn't serious?

    When was the last time a non nuclear plant needed that?

    1. IglooDude

      You...

      apparently don't live "downstream" from a hydroelectric dam.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Coat

      what?

      "Having to deal with an evacuation of thousands evacuated from a 20m radius isn't serious?"

      I was evacuated more than 20 meters from work during the last fire drill, so it would suggest not that serious at all.

      Mine's the one with the SI unit reference book in the pocket.

    3. Darryl

      Er, last Saturday?

      Earthquake causes dam to break in Japan

      Posted: Mar 11, 2011 9:01 AM by CNN Wire Staff

      Updated: Mar 11, 2011 1:09 PM

      (CNN) -- A dam has broken in Fukushima Prefecture, washing away scores of homes in the area, Japan's Kyodo news agency reported early Saturday. The Defense Ministry says 1,800 homes have been destroyed in Fukushima.

  51. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Are you joking?

    Sorry, but there are some severe question I need to ask.

    How can a Battle ship detect none existing nuclear radiation at levels elevated ~ 720 times? And why do you think that in Chernobyl massive death, 30 km2 not inhabitable area and massive loss of lives even to this time now is not an extremely problematic effect on nuclear power? Are you just kidding or do you really share the opinion you posted on?

    I am just shocked - I had to endure the Chernobyl deserter living in Europe at that time but you just might not be aware of these risks.

  52. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    VERY premature article

    I'd suggest ElReggers make their way to The oil Drum specifically http://www.theoildrum.com/node/7638 for an analysis of this. It seems this is just the start of what's goin on there and to suggest we move along as there's nothing to see is a little disingenuous at this stage.

    What I find interesting is the fact that Japan, for whom nuclear is more of a done deal than it is for us, still has had to contend with coverups and falsified records at these plants, which at least leaves some taint over the current events. What chance have we got, where these things get to be done in smoke-filled rooms, of actuallly having enough infomration to form valid views.

  53. Z80

    What's in a title?

    At the risk of sounding like a lame youtube comment, up-vote this if you can usually spot a Lewis Page article from the headline alone!

  54. ian 22

    Invest in nuclear now!

    The Beeb is reporting a second explosion and a "meltdown alert" has been issued.

    So glad none of this is indicative of a problem. Explosions, evacuations, meltdowns. Meh. Life goes on.

    What, no mushroom cloud icon?

  55. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    "and one killed in a crane accident"

    Wasn't the crane operator killed by the hydrogen blast, or was there seperate accident?

    Great write up! ***** good to see some non-nonsense in the news for a change...

    Just leaves one further question... The seawater radionuclitied issue is that the iodine problem?

  56. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    "Look what we've done with planes and cars over the past 50 years."

    Now look more closely, specifically at what we've done in the last ten or so years. We've allowed more and more safety-critical functions to be done in software. In the name of "efficiency" and "cost reduction" we've forced systems to work on ever tighter margins of safety.

    Do you really believe things have improved? Based on what? Have you asked anyone who is in the business whether they think things have improved? I have. It's not a pretty story. Les Hatton is a good (if unpopular) place to start.

  57. Si 1
    Thumb Up

    Bravo!

    Finally some balanced and non-hysterical reporting of the incident with proper insight into what is going on. Hopefully when all this is done the workers of the Fukushima plants will be commended for handling the situation so well. However, I'm sure the mainstream media will instead focus on FUD and scaring an ignorant nation into spurning new nuclear power stations by putting images of mushroom clouds on the horizon into their heads.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Consider....

      This _is_ Japan. If you are looking for a country outside of the unlamented Soviet Union where "losing face" has to be avoided at all costs [though for different sociological reasons], this must be it.

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge
        Happy

        Re: Losing face

        It's probably a toss up between Japan and China, but actually I think you'll find that national traits are just one factor. Politicians the world over will argue that the sky is down rather than admit they were wrong. So will I, for that matter.

    2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      That "meltdown alert" headline

      ...has been trotted out several times since the weekend and left in place on the front page for many hours after the small print in the articles and the live feed announced that no meltdown was at all likely, or even possible.

      Now I'm not saying who's right here. I'd just like to point out that on the evidence of their own output even the BBC reckon their headlines are scaremongering shit.

  58. Nigel 11

    Premature?

    Not a bad antidote to the doom-laden reporting elsewhere.

    It's all premature, though. It'll be a couple of weeks before we know for sure to what extent rdioactive containment has been breached. I'm wary of believing everything that we're being told. It may be true, and there again, it may be understating the scale of the problem. Either way I doubt it's going to be very significant in the context of a disaster on this scale.

    Odd, too, that no-one comments on the massive release of carcinogenic chemicals by huge uncontained fires at oil refineries and chemical plants. I wonder which is safer: 20km downwind of this failed nuke plant, or 20km downwind of a burning oil refinery? And whether it really matters at all, compared to the deadly impact of the quake and the tsunami.

  59. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Do me a favour

    Get both videos of the explosion up and watch them side by side at the same scale.

    1) Where was the shockwave you'd expect to see associated with a hydrogen/oxygen explosion in the second explosion.

    2) Why was the direction of the second explosion completely different.

    3) Why is there so much extra debris in the second explosion. (What looks like very thick pieces of concrete can be seen falling out of the debris cloud).

    4) Why was the second explosion some 4 times larger (estimated volume) than the first.

    I'm no explosives expert but I know a little, and I'm struggling to believe the second explosion wasn't from inside the secondary containment.

  60. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Titanic is a triumph to modern ship building!

    The Titanic is a triumph to modern ship building. It got hit by an iceberg, six chambers are damaged and still it is not sinking. You will see - in just half an hour we will be running again full speed to New York. This is a triumph to modern ship building. After this accident all ships will be built like the Titanic. Built more Olympic-Class ships now!

    Said Lewis Page, half an hour after the Titanic hit the iceberg. Lewis Page by the way has graduated from "Wikipidea University" with a degree in nuclear physics just a few hours ago.

  61. V 3
    Dead Vulture

    and the tsunami?

    So WHY wasn't the Fukishima plant designed to cope with a large tsunami?

    The main backup system for off-grid power DID fail, and through an entirely for-seeable event. (It wasn't designed for a 9, but tsunami could have occurred for a quake well within what it was designed to withstand - and incidentally, the quake as it was felt on-site WAS within the Fukushima design spec.)

    It's like security : implementation is all, and you have to look at the wider system. These are Mark 1 GE BWR reactors, which are known to have particular issues associated with them. They need active cooling, and the bodge to vent hydrogen was not (as far as I am aware) something in the initial Mark 1 design - it was added later by GE because the initial design was perceived to be potentially unsafe.

    Active cooling requires power, so the failure of the backup power is a failure of the wider reactor safety system.

    Your talk of triumphs is like talking about how strong link 1 is in the chain, and link 2, and link 3, then passing over the fact that link 4 is pretty dodgy. Who gives a damn about the strength of the individual links - it is the strength and integrity of the chain that is important.

    Don't forget this is the plant at which safety records were falsified recently, leading to the resignation of senior executives.

    You say, they never ran out of options: but flooding the core with seawater is an "option" is an the same way as hacking your arm off with a pen-knife is an "option" if you are handcuffed to a girder in a burning building.

    Like you, I am impressed that the plants survived the initial, gigantic quake with containment vessels intact and control rods in place - but the wider system clearly did NOT work as it was designed to. There should NEVER be a situation in which you have fuel rods exposed to the air as appears to have been the case to one extent or another at all 3 reactors. You say there has been no core meltdown - but there has almost certainly been partial meltdown and according to Kyodo news there may well be meltdown in progress. (The MOX fuel rods having a lower melt point probably makes them more at risk. )

    The hydrogen explosion events? Masashi Goto, who helped design the containment vessels at Fukushima and thus we assume knows a thing or two, is a little more concerned than you: he is quoted by the BBC as saying that his greatest fear is "that blasts at number 3 and number 1 reactors may have damaged the steel casing of the containment vessel designed to stop radioactive material escaping into the atmosphere." HE thinks that next 24 hours are going to be critical - so a little early for such a triumphalist article, perhaps?

    To pretend the current situation is somehow an unqualified success for nuclear power, as you seem to imply, is absurd.

    What exactly would you regard as constituting "failure" in this context ?

    Here is one definition: as soon as a reactor enters a state in which you decide you ought to evacuate x hundred thousand people, have a mass screening programme and distribute iodine tablets, then in all the ways that really matter in a democracy, that reactor has FAILED. (And the fact that in order to bring it to a safe state you have had to introduce material into the reactor that damages it irrevocably probably means that it has failed the test of economic viability.)

    You are not going to persuade the wider public that nuclear power can be safe, and economically viable, until you address what has gone on at Fukushima with a little more humility.

  62. PlacidCasual
    Thumb Up

    Good explanation of events

    This is the first article that has pulled together most of the technical elements of the story in a complete and easy to understand manner. I've been debating this stuff with my engineer friends but this article nicely sums up what we've come to learn over the last few days.

    Good work.

  63. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    The phrase "...all the way to China" is a euphemism in the USA for anything that cannot be stopped by human means (usually traveling downward as in "sink a well all the way to China")

    No-one coining the phrase really thought the core of the 3-mile island reactor would emerge in China.

    I can't speak for teh stoopidz of the internet generation though. I'd have said "unlikely", except there's the great Carl Pilkington showing us the public face of credulity in all things internet every week on the telly.

    1. hplasm Silver badge
      Stop

      Yes! You're right-!!!

      I know a controlled demolition when I see one! 111!!!!!eleventyone.

      careful now- You may not wear tinfoil, but lots of people who love opinionbites like that, do.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Pint

        Oh my

        The first to mention "nanothermite" will get 10 rad.

  64. Ben Bawden
    Stop

    Am I the only one who finds it a bit distasteful

    That Mr Page is capitalising on a tragedy such as this in order to bang his nuclear drum?

    He should have waited a month, and then written it.

  65. David Kelly 2

    Diesel Power

    Just think how bad this incident will harm *diesel* power. 54 comments so far and I'm the first to mention the whole cooling problem was due to failure of the backup diesel power?

  66. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge
    Boffin

    Wild!

    Lewis actually wrote a good piece. Unfortunately the title was a tad misleading.

    Of course notice the commentards in full force panning this and once again showing how small their pea brains are.

    I wonder if Lewis will write a follow up piece talking about the limited advances in Nuke tech design since these plants went active 40 years ago?

    Yes, these plants are now DOA when it comes to generating power.

    But that doesn't mean that they didn't fail correctly and that a nuke disaster had been avoided.

    Still the popular press is predicting doom and gloom because it sells newspapers.

    Of course after the clean up and there are no further casualties (other than the reactors themselves) then the newsprint world will write glowing articles to sell more news print.

    The bottom line... Nuke power is clean and its viable.

    As we become more power hungry its the best way to go.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      FAIL

      Anyone who holds a different opinion to my pre-formed one is a PEA BRAIN

      And plenty of commentards are also rushing to praise the article, too...

    2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Go

      On the other hand...

      He takes the risk of being proven wrong about it all.

      Doommongers and fearleaders on the 24h TV circuit will get their 15 minutes of fame and can never be proven wrong because it's either "I told you so" or "This time we have been extraordinarily lucky".

  67. Tigra 07 Silver badge
    Coat

    It appears the solution is simple...

    Everyone would be safer living inside a nuclear reactor!

  68. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    Just ridiculous...

    Funny to see how brainwashed the general UK public is concerning nuclear power...

    We are about to have a meltdown (using tidal, geothermal, solar or hydro energy this is not even possible - please see the article in the Associated Press: http://hosted2.ap.org/APDEFAULT/3d281c11a96b4ad082fe88aa0db04305/Article_2011-03-14-Japan-Earthquake-Nuclear%20Crisis/id-f8b543357ac54129905269b932c8af00) yet people cheer for it. The media is continuously publishing articles supporting the issue as Tony Blair has put the construction of new (and reopening of old) nuclear plants on the UK energy roadmap, and people are just gobbling it up (all the while thinking it's their opinion). But then again swallowing the cool aid is nothing new here: all the products have the "UK tax" (things costing the same or more in GBP than elsewhere USD), the leasehold system, the supposed parliamentary system (with a house of lords having to approve every single bill), internal "self"-regulation (OFCOM, Banks, Police, etc.), "Gordon Brown saving the world from the financial crisis" (was published in every paper from the Guardian to the Times, and the entire world was just laughing), etc, etc. The list is endless...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Big Brother

      Re: Just ridiculous...

      "But then again swallowing the cool aid is nothing new here: all the products have the "UK tax" (things costing the same or more in GBP than elsewhere USD), the leasehold system, the supposed parliamentary system (with a house of lords having to approve every single bill), internal "self"-regulation (OFCOM, Banks, Police, etc.), "Gordon Brown saving the world from the financial crisis" (was published in every paper from the Guardian to the Times, and the entire world was just laughing), etc, etc. The list is endless..."

      Great summary! Yes, everybody, welcome to the Land of the Britards!

  69. captain veg

    What's a Richter, Grandad

    Leave alone the hydrogen chemistry, you lost credibility at Richter.

    -A.

  70. V 3

    subtitle

    > Quake + tsunami = 1 minor radiation dose so far

    Lest we forget, the hydrogen blast injured 4 workers. A crane operator has also been killed - although it is not clear what the cause of that death was or whether it was related to the ongoing emergency.

  71. Frank Bitterlich
    Thumb Down

    I was already believing...

    ... that this article was countering the ongoing hysteria with a few facts. But then I read this...: "If this – basically nothing – is what happens [...], new plants much safer yet would be able to resist an asteroid strike without problems."

    Well, I don't know if that was some attempt at irony or whatever, but sorry, that discredited the whole article IMHO.

    Remember, what we are seeing now is the effect of "just" the failure of the generators driving the cooling system pumps. Not an asteroid by any means.

  72. Incredulous1
    Pirate

    Seriously

    How much did they have to pay you to write this pollyannish bit of spin?

    You think that this is a victory for the Nuclear Power industry? More like a Pyrrhic Victory!

    "A very costly victory, wherein the considerable losses outweigh the gain, so as to render the struggle not worth the cost."

    http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Pyrrhic_victory

    It's pieces like this that make me distrustful of the nuclear industry. The refusal to be honest and frank; in short the baldfaced lying. I happen to live 10 miles from a potentially dangerous plant. It was built almost on top of an active earthquake fault. The worry that those of us that live here have to endure whenever we have a tremor or hear about "incidents" like this has turned a lot of us against it. That plus the "incidents: that we never learned about until months or years later when some intrepid journalist brought it to light.

  73. Incredulous1
    FAIL

    Nuclear Power

    does indeed have potential for energy. Problem is, the human race is FAR from ready for it, either politically, morally, or technically. Nuclear power requires LONGTERM stability, something quite obviously missing from today's world. There should be NO chance for this kind of potentially catastrophic accident. Even Japan's top-notch state-of-the-art nuclear plants prove that now. They may be 40 yrs old but along the way upgrades have been made, yet STILL this happens. Now if those plants go into full meltdown there is a good chance that radiation will get into the atmosphere to drift around the northern hemisphere dropping fallout on everything and everyone.

    What if these accidents had happened in a country less able to deal with them than Japan? Yet there are over 400 of them scattered around the globe. That's 400+potentials for another major accident. John McCain who ran for President wanted to build another 800 in the US alone. Who of us is arrogant enough to think that, with all the royal F-ups we hear of all the time that none of those would ever go. But the nuclear industry's philosophy seems to be that the lives of some people are expendable so long as it's for a good cause, meaning the continuation of their industry.

    On top of everything else this article is in extremely bad taste, to say the least, seeing as people are going to die in Japan from this accident. Claiming that this is a triumph just shows why right-wing thinktanks and spinmeisters are so out of touch.

    1. IglooDude
      Stop

      Two items...

      "Now if those plants go into full meltdown..."

      #1 - "if" - big if. Odds currently appear to be extremely low, from the knowledgeable sources I've read.

      "...there is a good chance that radiation will get into the atmosphere to drift around the northern hemisphere dropping fallout on everything and everyone."

      #2 - Got cite? Because the knowledgeable sources I've read indicate that this is scaremongering BS.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      And people should remember

      e.g. Bhopal. PG&E. BP.

      1. Incredulous1
        Happy

        Cite

        https://qed.princeton.edu/getfile.php?f=Radioactive_fall-out_from_the_Chernobyl_accident.jpg

        The Times Complete History of the World (2007), p. 351. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd

        It's not hard to find maps of the drift of radioactive clouds from Chernobyl. I don't think anyone believes that soon as radioactivity is put into the air it just immediately falls down on the ground to make it convenient for us to bury. Of course they are going to drift with the prevailing winds. You might want to doublecheck those "knowledgeable sources".

      2. Bugs R Us

        @Bertam 17 - Forgotten already.

        All we need to do with major incidents is take away lessons learned. Then, use that to build better versions. Cost/benefit - it will always be a trade off between the two. And as I see it, benefit will always win out.

      3. IglooDude

        I don't think

        that Bhopal is relevant to this discussion - that was a pesticide plant, IIRC.

        But yeah, the other two are examples of loss of life specific to petro power.

    3. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Pint

      Be ok with nuclear....

      ...you MUST be a right-wing thinktanker.

  74. Andrew Gordon
    Thumb Up

    Alternatives?

    The one thing missing from this article is a comparison with the alternatives. While building nuclear reactors in an earthquake zone obviously has its difficulties, short of shutting up shop and going to live somewhere else, the electricity has to be generated somehow.

    Hydroelectric? One significant dam burst in this event destroying hundreds of homes. There's been little detailed reporting of this, but on the face of it much more human and environmental impact than the nuclear problems.

    Oil? Several refineries have been on fire (including some outside the tsunami zone). Oil handling facilities are inevitably on the coast and some must have leaked into the sea when struck by the tsunami; likewise there must have been injuries in the refinery explosions, but noone has bothered to report them separately from the general destruction (unlike the nuclear reporting). Still, nuclear again seems the winner.

    Coal? Japan has limited domestic coal, and you would have thought that mining in an earthquake zone would also be hazardous. However, coal does in general seem to be less sensitive to earthquake events, especially if you import it. Shame that coal is

    out of favour due to CO2. Also, coal tends to have its human cost spread over countless minor incidents rather than big disasters - big, heavy and awkward stuff to handle.

  75. scatter

    The nuclear spin machine cranks into action...

    But no one, even people living in an area that's tectonically inactive, is going to want one in their neighbourhood now.

  76. Nick L

    What's the expected working life?

    This is a premature article, but all the same I hope that Lewis is proved right. There's three major things about the situation that worry me, assuming that it all goes well:

    1. Reliance on power to provide cooling. If something's happened to affect the infrastructure so badly that it's knocked out the reactor, isn't there a good chance that the event would also knacker the cooling, which is the only thing stopping things going bang? (New designs are gravity fed, I understand?)

    2. Lifecycle for nuclear reactors. These are cutting edge technology from the 70s... Hacked to provide some form of venting, it seems from posts above. I'd imagine 4 decades is a good innings for this sort of thing where technology advances quickly, so I'd expect a maximum design operating life to be 30 years or less. I know that messes with the economics, but I'd hope it's just common sense.

    3. The designers catered for events at 7.9 on the richter scale, which "could not happen" according to them even if the 3 plates off the eastern coast of Japan decided to play nasty. Seems mother nature didn't get the memo?

    So I hope this is a qualified success for the nuclear industry after all, but the consequences would be:

    1. Cooling must work in scenarios a couple of orders of magnitude worse than worst case. New designs seem to cater for this.

    2. General point that nuclear reactors should have a well defined and quite short operational life to allow for the fact that what is acceptable 3 decades ago isn't acceptable now for any number of reasons

    3. The people who set what the worst case scenario is should not be the designers...

    On the whole, a good article in spirit but I do think it's premature.

  77. vanishment
    Thumb Down

    SHAME ON THE REG EDITORS

    The Reg can occasionally be entertaining with its headlines and rants on less significant issues, however the lack of research and often even basic journalism is getting pretty irritating. It's one thing to post a completely one-sided and poorly written piece on something as mundane as Steve Job's latest hit or a Steve Ballmer balls-up. It's quite another to post utterly asinine arguments on nuclear power with the apparent assumption that technological know-how = nerd-like ignorance. For Mr. Lewis' information, I was living in Munich at the time of Chernobyl and, thanks to the inept Bavarian government, we were rained upon without warning with plenty of radioactivity when the reactor's cloud made its way right across Europe. Much of the damage and confusion was due to the lack of integrity of all too many levels of government, from Moscow to Bonn. Couple such secrecy and stupidity with an aging reactor (or badly-designed/maintained newer one) and you're only asking for disaster. While credit is certainly due to Japan for containing the situation, one can only wonder what the outcome would have been in a country with less safeguards and less communication with the outside world.

    While small sections of Mr. Lewis' piece may be considered mildly informative, a more intelligent article presenting the various pros and cons and latest technological advances in the context of Japan's situation would have been more appropriate - and less an insult to the average reader and "technician".

    One might also consider one of the reasons for so many reactors in such a tiny area as Japan: Consumer Electronics. Yet, rather than sincerely investigate and report on alternatives sources of electricity and energy-saving devices, the Reg apparently prefers to be a cheerleader for unfettered nuclear energy.

    If, on the other hand, such "articles" are merely a ploy to grab attention, a-la-Sun-and-Daily Mail, we may as well be reading those and ignore the Reg altogether.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Paris Hilton

      LOL wut?

      It's "Consumer Electronics" now? How about industry? The one that's not "financial", ya know?

      You point about inept governance is well taken though.

      I remember walking through a presumably slighty radioactive rain, too and hearing mainly French Rubesoothspeak on TV in the days after, but that's "governance" and professional politicking as usual.

  78. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    RIsks exaggrated

    There was basically no effect from the radiation released at Chernobyl apart from the extreme exposures to the heroic wrokers who fought to control the situation in the first few days.

    The 4000 deaths are predicted deaths, not real deaths and no health effects from the radiation have been observed. To understand this you have to understand the incredible and unparalleled caution that is used with respect to radiation. RIsks and death rates are calculated based on very large exposures scalled to assume that the risks are proportional to the dose. This is not how we deal with other exposures for example to toxic or carcinogenic chemicals where a safe dose level is assumed. In the case of radiation health effects no safe level is assumed. Tt low doses the scaled risks are so low that it is very difficult to measure whatever the real effect is because there are so many much bigger health effects and risks in daily life. Many people believe the evidence is that low doses of radiation are BENEFICIAL although this is contentious because the evidence is poor after all the much bigger known effects have been removed.

    4000 sounds a lot but it is because so many people are assumed to be exposed even the tiniest insignificant individual risk sounds massive once it is multiplied by a big enough population. The added risk to an individual even on the incredibly over cautious assumptions used in the nuclear industry is actually tiny. It is fundamentally misleading bordering on dishonest. Similar rnumbers based on passive smoking or burning coal or eating McDonalds (releases more radiation than the nuclear industry) would be many many times greater.

    1. Paul Shirley

      we're still monitoring radioactive caesium contamination in the UK

      No effect apart from those 350+ UK farms *still* being monitored and subject to livestock movement and sales controls. 25 years on and we've not reached the 1st half life of the caesium contamination.

      You can pretend those 4000 notional deaths are fiction if you want, there was a cost to saving lives that will still be being paid long after we're all dead from Chernobyl. Of course we'll never know how many really died thanks to government ordered misreporting on Russian death certificates.

  79. Reg Sim

    Hmm, it was never a huge over ridding concern...

    ....for the plant going 'POP' that puts me off these plants.

    My main concern about nuclear power is the waste that is produced in normal operation, decommissioning problems, running costs, and of course mis management.

    And as for his reference to Chernobyl........ yes.... have you watched any documentary's on that?, I am sure many people have significantly shorter life's stopping it being worse than it was.

    Not to mention there are agricultural areas in Scotland that you still can't eat the live stock from, and the scientists were surprised by how long it stays in the ecosystem.

    As it only takes ONE bad nuclear accident to do significant harm, I forever plan on staying on Nuclear Powers ass giving them grief.

  80. Incredulous1
    Megaphone

    What we need

    NOW are REAL alternatives to dirty energy, and I include nuclear in that dirty mix since they don't even have a good plan for dealing with the hazardous radioactive byproducts other than, as another poster saliently pointed out, digging a big hole and chucking it in only to have to be dealt with by future generations when the containers housing all that waste break down.

    Think solar is a non-starter? Look at what this TEENAGER was able to accomplish with an old satellite dish and some mirrors!

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1351935/Eric-Jacqmain-invented-Death-ray-dish-intensity-5-000-suns.html

    The reason that Big Oil, Coal and Nuclear are so against these alternatives is because once you purchase the initial equipment (and government subsidies currently going to dirty energy could help pay for that) it's free! That's what they REALLY fear - that we will no longer be dependent upon them for our energy needs, forever having to financially suck at their teat.

    We need REAL alternatives now!

  81. E 2

    Partial triumph

    Perhaps it is a triumph for design of reactor containment vessels, and of course Chernobyl did not even have a containment vessel. But the hydrogen is produced inside the vessel as a result of (perhaps only partial) meltdown, and leaking out somehow, so the triumph cannot be considered complete.

    It is however a failure for disaster planning.

    The coolant failures were ultimately the result of damage to emergency generators and water pipes caused by the tsunami.

    Why exactly did nobody in Japan's nuclear regulatory body or at TEPCO consider the impact of such a tsunami?

    It's not like Japan isn't at considerable risk of earthquakes capable of causing this kind of tsunami.

  82. Dr Atomic

    compare to fossil

    Coal plants emit radiation and lots of it.

    Fukushima I and II have a combined power output of 9.1GW. Equivalent coal plants would have emitted 300kg of u235 and 110 tons of thorium to the atmosphere in the last 40 years (according to my degree from wikipedia). Oh and don't forget the mercury and aerosols emitted to the atmosphere or the arsenic and lead from coal ash dumps contaminating ground water.

    As for equating Fukushima reactors to modern ones, fine, do the same with automobiles or aircraft. I don't want to use either - modern versions are far, far safer.

    The Fukushima backup generators failed because they were placed closer to the shoreline than the reactors and no one expected a tsunami this large (stupid). Adding new generators is complicated by the wiring circuits being in the flooded basements.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Terminator

      "Look at what this TEENAGER did" in the dailymail

      Yes, and we would all be driving zero-point energy cars if Big Oil hadn't offed the inventors back when they were writing their patents in their parent's basement.

      I also believed these things back when I was about 10.

      Terminator icon, because it will be knocking at your door.

  83. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Coat

    Shurley not a *proper* LP article

    He doesn't say they'd be better off buying American *anywhere*.

  84. Guy Herbert
    Boffin

    "New York Academy of Sciences" publication.

    The AC who posted about Yablokov, Nesterenko and Nesterenko attributing 938,000 deaths to Chernobyl omitted to reference this statement:

    http://www.nyas.org/AboutUs/MediaRelations/Detail.aspx?cid=16b2d4fe-f5b5-4795-8d38-d59a76d1ef33

    Which is the politest total disavowal of any paper I've read.

  85. Anonymous Coward
    WTF?

    obviously

    sticking to facts will not prevent you from from following an ideology

    you might want to listen to medical personnel which spent the last decades working with their belarussian and ukrainian colleagues in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer patients, before you belittle the effects of chernobyl

    also, one of your news sources is sponsored by industry, the other tells me I am not supposed to trust others news-sources apart from a few others with the same opinion. Is that supposed to make me trust them? The final outcome of the Fukushima incidents is far from clear, and other experts are making it sound hardly as controlled as you do

    parallel worlds indeed!

  86. J 3
    WTF?

    Close to the sea?

    OK, I don't know much about nuclear power plant operation, but I suspect that they get built by the sea to be close to water for cooling (which, of course, needs to be purified first) -- except when there are other, freshwater sources inland, or course. Is that why Fukushima is close to the sea?

    Anyway, if that is the case, then why not build it a farther and pump the water. Yeah, it will cost a bit more. But given the alternative potential for problem, which was proven this past week... I suspect it is a small cost to have. As many mentioned already, tsunami is not exactly an Arabic word, is it?

    1. Robert Sneddon
      Flame

      Different types of water

      These are Boiling Water Reactors (BWR) -- water is sprayed onto the core in the reactor vessel to produce steam that then drives turbine-generator sets to produce electricity. That water is in a closed loop, in part because it is treated to remove dissolved oxygen, minerals etc. It is very pure water to prevent corrosion, buildups of deposits etc. in the pipes as well as preventing radioactive "daughter" isotopes since it is 99.99% hydrogen and oxygen. As a matter of interest the same sort of clean water is used in coal and oil-fired power stations that use boilers -- the deoxygenated water/steam reduces cumulative damage to the pipes and the blades of the turbines.

      After the steam comes out of the turbines it goes into external condenser units which are cooled by seawater pumped up from the shore. The steam turns back into water and is returned to the reactor for another go-through. They don't have any more deionised water to hand or they can't pump it into the reactor fast enough so they're going to use seawater which they have plenty of close to hand. They have accepted the reactors are never going to run again, much like triggering the fire extinguishing systems in a data centre means a nice future bonus for the area's server hardware sales guy.

  87. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Well...

    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..

  88. Dave 62
    Boffin

    sold

    Well, impressive article. I think nuke power has been successfully sold to me. Bring on the big scary reactors.

  89. Scott 39

    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.

  90. Wayland Sothcott 1 Bronze badge
    Thumb Down

    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.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      You seem to be on the ground.

      How is the weather over there?

  91. slart

    timing mistake

    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.

  92. Bugs R Us
    Go

    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.

  93. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    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.

  94. Dr_Jim

    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.

  95. Anonymous Coward
    Alert

    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?

    http://morgsatlarge.wordpress.com/2011/03/13/why-i-am-not-worried-about-japans-nuclear-reactors/

  96. Kurt Guntheroth

    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.

  97. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    booby trap

    Meanwhile on Earth, any device that self-destructs when deprived of external power would rather qualifies as a booby trap.

  98. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Boffin

    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.

  99. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Unhappy

    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

  100. Anonymous Coward
    WTF?

    Idiot article

    http://www.princeton.edu/sgs/publications/sgs/pdf/9_1lyman.pdf

    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.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Unhappy

      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.

  101. Laurence Cuffe

    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:

    http://thougtsintransit.blogspot.com/

    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.

  102. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    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.

    1. John Robson Silver badge
      WTF?

      Chocolate poinsoning

      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

  103. Eugene Crosser
    Boffin

    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.

  104. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    Factual errors

    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.

  105. quizquest
    Stop

    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.

  106. Incredulous1
    Stop

    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

    http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/press-center/reports4/an-american-chernobyl-nuclear

    Two major recent studies that indicate a relationship between proximity to nuke plants and cancer

    http://www.news-medical.net/news/2007/07/20/27840.aspx

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18082395

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2757021/

    nuke plants routinely release radiation the cause of these cancers

    http://www.reirs.com/effluent/

    http://www.hps.org/publicinformation/ate/q3710.html

    http://www.nirs.org/factsheets/routineradioactivereleases.htm

    According to the NAS even low doses of radiation have adverse health effects.

    http://www.nas.edu/gateway/foundations/jul05.html#2560

  107. E 2

    @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.

    1. Dr Atomic

      @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.

  108. Hud Dunlap
    Megaphone

    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.

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  111. Smokey Joe
    Flame

    In short..

    ..Just because the trees are growing upside down near Chernobyl, it doesn't mean the sky is falling down.

    Stop worrying. Nukukar is great.

  112. Keith Starsmeare
    FAIL

    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.

  113. Richard Bijster
    FAIL

    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.

  114. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Very similar to the details in this article

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2011/03/13/fukushima-simple-explanation/

  115. WebspaceMatt
    Thumb Down

    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.

  116. Anonymous Coward
    Unhappy

    Disgusting opportunism

    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.

  117. 42
    FAIL

    Unbelievable

    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.

  118. Nihilanth
    FAIL

    Third explosion

    With this third explosion, described as the worst yet, this must be an even bigger triumph now!

  119. Gerardo Korndorffer
    FAIL

    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.

    i.e.

    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.

    More over

    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?

  120. Shannon Jacobs
    Flame

    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:

    http://glimpses-of-familiar-japan.blogspot.com/2011/03/earthquake-adventures.html

  121. Raymond Wilson
    Thumb Up

    Chain reaction

    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!

  122. Name 7
    FAIL

    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?

  123. jofus2011

    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".

  124. Joe K
    Dead Vulture

    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.

  125. corestore

    Oooops...

    "At Chernobyl, this actually happened inside the containment vessel and the resulting explosion ruptured the vessel.."

    Prophetic words?

  126. Nihilanth
    FAIL

    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?

  127. Eric Olson
    FAIL

    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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